Wednesday 28 February 2024


Prickings are the patterns of dotted holes that lacemakers follow to make bobbin lace. Technically the pricking shown in the image is only half complete as I am pricking the holes for the pins as I work the lace. Traditionally, the pattern would have been pricked in its entirety before the actual lacemaking began. Most prickings were made from an existing pricking or a copy of the pricking. Copies were made by placing a piece of thin paper over the reverse side of the pricking then rubbing over it with something like heel ball to leave an impression of the dotted pattern on the paper; in the same way as brass rubbings are produced. The reverse of the pricking was used because pushing pins through card or vellum leaves the top feeling smooth but causes a rough surface on the underside where the pins have displaced the card.

Copies were made by placing the original pricking (or the rubbing) over a new piece of card on a cork base, then pushing a pin through the existing holes of the pattern or the marks on the copy to produce a new pricking underneath the original. This was done using a pin permanently fixed into a holder, like a bobbin shaft, or using a pin vice (shown here) which holds the pin firmly in place. Using a pin on its own would be extremely fiddly and probably hurt your fingers as pricking lace patterns requires firm, precise, pressure. This image also shows how a pricking for a length of lace can be cut so the two pieces interlock and a continuous length of lace can therefore be made by alternating them.

Sadly the phrase “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes” has nothing to do with lace prickings. It is said by one of the witches in Macbeth and is used to describe an ominous premonition, so it’s a creepy feeling rather than an overuse of lacemaking equipment!

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Bungalow lace curtains


I discovered these ‘bungalow’ lace curtains in a Lace furnishings catalogue for 1933-34. What unique features they have that makes them suitable for bungalow windows I do not know, but the period between the two world wars was a peak time for bungalow construction in the UK, which would correspond with the publication of this catalogue, so perhaps the manufacturers were just trying to tap into a new market.

There are six designs and they are all floral, with side borders that tend to take up about a quarter of the curtain each, and a bottom border of the same width. They range in size from 35 inches wide to 40 inches and are all 2.5 yards long and are sold as a pair. However, four of them are also available as fabric bought by the yard, presumably so the homeowner could make up curtains to their own specifications. The other designs in the catalogue seem very similar but they tend to be wider and longer than the bungalow curtains. Unfortunately no prices are given for any of the curtains.

Thursday 15 February 2024

Miss Channer’s lace mat


Catherine Channer was actively involved in the revival of the East Midlands handmade lace industry in Britain in the early twentieth century. She was a lacemaker, teacher and researcher and I’ve written about some of her work in this blog before. Today I’m looking at Miss Channer’s mat which she designed in the early 1920s using the technique for pricking the ground that she had developed following research into old lace patterns and their origins (see this blog of 24 October 2023). An image of the mat was published in her book Practical lacemaking published in 1928 which was one of the few textbooks for students and gave instructions and patterns for Bucks point lace. 

The mat in the book had been worked by Mrs Dixon of Clapham, Bedfordshire in about 1926 and is now in the collection of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in Bedford. The mat became famous as a challenge for skilled lacemakers in 1991 when Ruth Bean published Anne Buck’s book about Miss Channer entitled In the cause of English lace. A supplement was published at the same time comprising an image of the mat and a full sized pricking of it, which had been adapted by Patricia Bury from an earlier version in her collection. Since then many lacemakers have worked it and their handiwork can be seen by searching for ‘Miss Channers mat’ on the internet. No instructions were given for the original mat or for the version published in 1991 so it is also interesting to see how it has been worked by different lacemakers and the varying number of pairs of bobbins they used to complete it. I have never made Miss Channer’s mat but I do admire the skill and patience of those who have.

Wednesday 7 February 2024

Admiral Nelson inscribed lace bobbin

This lace bobbin is inscribed 'Nelson' in a spiral reading from the base to the top and is a patriotic inscription celebrating the famous admiral. Nelson was born in 1758 and died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He commanded the British fleet against the French during the Napoleonic wars and after winning several victories, including the Battle of Trafalgar, he was shot by a French sniper and died on his flagship HMS Victory. His body was returned to England and he was given a state funeral and buried in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Several years later it was suggested that a memorial to him, funded by public subscription, should be erected in Trafalgar Square in central London. The competition for the monument was won by Willian Railton and work on his column and the statue of Nelson (made by E H Baily) began in 1840. The column was completed and the statue raised on to it in 1843.

I think this lace bobbin was made by James Compton because the style of lettering is unmistakably his and the dark red and blue colours are also typical of his work. I assumed that the bobbin had been made to commemorate the death of Nelson, but James Compton lived from 1824 to 1889 so he could not have been making bobbins in 1805. Having done some research into the redevelopment of Trafalgar Square and the competition to produce a memorial to Nelson I now think that the bobbin was probably made during the early 1840s when Nelson’s column was installed. This would have been of national interest and there would have been images of it in newspapers and magazines. Also, at that time, James Compton would have been in his late teens and well established, helping his father as a bobbin maker.

Wednesday 31 January 2024

Renaissance lace on Elizabethan dress


This lovely lace on the edge of a ruff is depicted on the Rainbow portrait of Queen Elizabeth, which was painted in about 1600, probably by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger although there is a possibility that the painter may have been Isaac Oliver; it can be seen at Hatfield House.

Early needle lace developed from cutwork, in which fabric was cut away from a background, leaving a pattern of threads that were then oversewn. Eventually the background fabric was dispensed with and the pattern was laid out in threads which were then joined by stitching. The lace on the edge of her ruff shows a combination of these two types of needle lace, with cutwork on the lower part of the lace and a free edging around the outer part of the lace where the stitches were worked on free loops of thread. Early bobbin lace developed from the plaiting of cords, using thread wound on bobbins, to become a more open design and the figure of eight edging round the bodice may be a plaited cord. Patterns for both types of lace were available in pattern books that circulated widely in western Europe.

This pattern comes from Frederic Vinciolo’s pattern book for needle made laces, first published in France in 1587 and dedicated to his patroness, the Dowager Queen of France, Catherine de Medici, who had brought her knowledge of lace from her native Italy. It is similar to the edging on the Queen Elizabeth’s ruff with two layers of lace patterning and a more freely worked picot edging. This type of work was also known as ‘punto in aria’ (stitches in air) and as the book does not include instructions we must admire the lacemaker who could conjure such wonderful lace seemingly out of the air.  

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Filet lace dress decoration


Filet lace was popular for dress decoration at the beginning of the twentieth century, as these images show, and many were made by the home dressmaker. A special issue of the magazine Needlecraft, dedicated to filet lace, notes that stock collars (high neck collars as shown in these illustrations) ‘give an air of distinction to the simplest dress’. The magazine gives detailed instructions for making these collars, including the types of thread required, how to make the foundation net, and a variety of patterns, from the simple to the intricate.

As well as stock collars, both of the blouses shown here also have a filet trim running from the neck to the waist. One is based on an antique border pattern and the other is composed of square animal motifs. The magazine suggests that longer matching lengths of filet lace could also be made to trim a ‘dainty skirt’. It estimates that about 3 or 4 yards of lace would be required and should be placed 8 inches above the hem. If that doesn’t sound enough work, it also suggests that tucks above and below the lace would form a neat frame for the lace and that the material behind the lace should be cut away so the filet lace ‘shows transparent’. It does not suggest this cutting away of fabric for the lace on the blouse – in fact it explains that the animal motifs are worked in white thread and backed by pale pink material. It also advises that the animal motifs are separated by floral or geometric patterns because ‘too many quaint animal patterns together have a tendency towards the comic, which is most undesirable’.  

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Needle-run lace


Needle-run lace is essentially embroidery on net, which combines the beauty of stitching with the lightness of lace. It can be used to make quite large pieces of lace far more quickly than can be done using traditional handmade bobbin and needle-lace techniques. Needle-run lace was very popular in the early nineteenth century when lace machines could only produce net, but not patterned lace, so lace ‘runners’ were employed to embroider the net to make veils, stoles and collars.

To work needle-run lace the net background has to be stretched in a frame to keep the work taught. The pattern can be drawn in water-soluble ink on to the net or drawn on paper and tacked underneath it.

The design is then worked using a blunt-tipped needle and thread, first by outlining the design in a running stitch and then adding decorative stitches to produce shading. I enjoy making needle-run lace because it allows me to produce quite large pieces of lace with bold designs fairly quickly. For example, I used this technique in the series of mats that make up the body of work in Marriage bond, my research into Amy Atkin, the first female Nottingham machine lace designer who had to give up work on marriage; and you can see an image of one of the mats at the head of this blog.

Wednesday 10 January 2024

Harry Cross: Nottingham machine lace designer


I’ve been interested in the work of Harry Cross ever since I was commissioned to produce a response to his famous Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel and was introduced to the beautiful paintings he made of his designs for that iconic lace. I have written several articles about the Battle of Britain lace panel, but Harry Cross also left an archive of many other machine lace designs for curtains, tablecloths and bedspreads, as well as some beautiful sketch books, and I felt these should be more widely known about, hence my recent article in Text, the magazine of The Textile Society. The image above is a page from that article showing the completed Battle of Britain lace panel and two preparatory designs for it, one of the bombed Guildhall and the other of the lower section of the panel.

However, the focus of the article is not the Battle of Britain panel but rather how Harry Cross went about designing his work. It considers his art school training, and  how he learnt to develop pattern repeats and used his sketchbooks to play with designs and jot down ideas. It then looks at specific examples of his designs for lace fabric, tablecloths and curtains to explore his working practice, showing how he built up designs, how they developed from ideas in his sketchbook and how he presented the options to possible buyers. The final section about the Battle of Britain panel shows how Harry Cross developed his designs for the side columns from photographs of bombed London scenes and how he amended the words from  Winston Churchill’s famous speech about ‘the few’. It was particularly interesting to see how designs were produced before computers were available both for research and for designing.

My thanks to Barbara Cross (the granddaughter of Harry Cross) and the Lace Archive at Nottingham Trent University for access to the archive and The Textile Society for publishing the article.