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Lace is back in fashion and the traditional craft of bobbin lace is enjoying a huge revival. It is thought that the origins of lace lie in the Middle Ages, but no one is exactly sure. Lace probably developed from a mixture of weaving and embroidery around the sixteenth century. Lace making is very like weaving, but rather than using a loom, the lacemaker works from a pillow, plaiting and twisting threads into a pattern.
Lacemaking, like embroidery, was originally done by
professional embroiderers and braid makers. Middle class girls were
apprenticed to learn the skills – it was not just a hobby. At times good
living was earned by lacemakers.
As it was a painstaking task and so delicate, lace soon
became a status symbol and as important to the well dressed noble as his
jewels and furs. Charles the first spent £1500 on his personal lace and
linen, paying as much as £30 alone for a pair of metal lace shoe roses
– a lot of money in the early seventeenth century. Queen Victoria loved
bobbin lace. Both her wedding dress and her baby daughters’ christening
gowns were made from Honiton lace – a regional variation – and it is
said that many ladies were refused her company at tea unless they wore
lace in their hair.
However, the industrial revolution meant lace was produced
more cheaply and so it lost much of its appeal.
As more and more people learn the craft and pass on the techniques of lacemaking, so its popularity is on the increase again.
Lacemaking appeals to everyone. The mathematically minded
enjoy the geometry of the patterns. The artistic feel that they are
painting with threads and traditionalists love its history and the
collection of the beautiful bobbins.
The equipment needed for lace making is part of the crafts
charm and includes an exquisite collection of delicate tools and
trappings. As well as a special lace
pillow, there are bobbins, threads, a
pricking card and pins.
The thread is the most important factor in determining the
quality of the lace. Lace was originally made from fine linen thread, and
later from silk and metallic thread. Nowadays linen is more difficult to
find, but cotton and silk are available in a wide range of colours.
Synthetic threads should be avoided as they tend to stretch.
Lace is worked on a pillow. This is a calico bag stuffed
tightly with straw, usually with a dark cover to show up the lace threads.
It can vary in shape but the easiest to learn on is a circular shape.
Pins are used to hold the threads in position. These are
special lace making pins which are longer than ordinary pins. They are
made from brass and come in two thicknesses. The thicker pins are used for
simple basic patterns, but for more delicate work, the thinner variety is
used. Ordinary dressmaking pins are not appropriate as these are made from
steel and tend to rust.
Lastly there is the pricking card which is waxed card on to
which the pattern is pricked.
The Bobbins – these are the real collectors’ items. They
were originally made from wood or bone. You can now buy them in plastic.
Thread is wound around the shank of the bobbin and spangles are then made
from a wire loop of glass beads at the opposite end, adding weight to the
bobbin to give tension to the lace.
Bobbins often have intricately turned designs in exotic woods and many have bone, metal or pearly inlays. They can be inscribed to commemorate special occasions and the beads are often mixed with charms and shells for good luck. Young mothers would put the buttons off their first baby’s boots onto their bobbins.
There are many regional varieties of English bobbin lace but
Europe is where it originally developed with the main centre being
Flanders in the north and Italy in the south.
Touchan Lace – is geometric in character and quite
hardwearing, ideal for furnishings, trimming blinds, edging bed linen and
making mats for tables.
Bedfordshire Lace – Like Toucan lace but using a finer
thread, ideal for collars and cuffs, mats and medallions.
Buckinghamshire Point – With a background of fine lace and
design outlined in thicker thread, as patronized by Queen Victoria.
Honiton Lace – Lean, light and made from very fine cotton.
The Speaker of the British House of Commons wears a Honiton Lace jabot (a
shirt ruffle) and cuffs.
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