Adventures in Irish Crochet Lace

March 14, 2015 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Crochet, Lace | 2 Comments

I haven’t been writing about lace (or anything else — sorry for that) for a while, but for one of my current projects I do need lace — lots of it. I’ll write more about that project in a later post, but what’s important for the moment is that I want to include as many different kinds of lace as feasible. And of course I’m using that as an excuse to try something new to me. For this project I need small pieces of everything, so it is a perfect opportunity to experiment.

I have long been fascinated by Irish crochet lace and the ways it imitates the older and more elaborate bobbin and needle laces. You can see a few examples here and here from the V&A’s excellent online collection. Especially in the second image you can see clearly how Irish crochet lace is built: Individual motifs, often flowers or leaves, are worked and then connected by a background. While I have made some of the motifs before, I never tried to make a connected piece of lace with this technique.

For a pattern to use, I needed to look no further than my own hard disk, which houses a fine collection of digitized public domain needlework books. The one I ended up using is Thérèse de Dillmont’s “Irish Crochet Lace”, which I originally downloaded from the On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics. There’s lots of stuff there, not only about weaving but about all kinds of needlework. There doesn’t seem to be a way to link directly to specific entries, but the books are sorted by author, and you can find the book I used under the letter D.

Helpfully, the book has draft patterns for several lace edgings, and given the space constraints on the piece I am doing, I choose the narrowest edging available. Printing out the pattern and enlarging it to the size needed was the easy part. I made the individual pieces first, and then matched the pattern to their size, since a huge disadvantage of using old sources is that I generally have no idea what the thread sizes they recommend for a pattern actually look like. I used pretty much the thinnest thread I had on hand anyway, otherwise things would have gotten bigger than I needed.

So, how to get the pattern actually made up? The instructions in the book were not very extensive, so I went with my first instinct and set the pattern up like I would do for needle lace: Attach the pattern to a piece of cardboard and sew the ornaments down where they belong.

Irish Crochet Edging - PatternThat turned out to be a lousy idea, since it is nearly impossible to crochet next to the cardboard, as opposed to sewing like for needle lace. I also realized that I really needed to use a thinner thread for the connections for things to look even remotely good. This is where I was when I gave up in frustration:

Irish Crochet Edging - this doesn't workI ended up throwing the whole thing into the proverbial corner for a while, pretty much until I really needed the finished piece to go on with the whole project. At that point, I came up with what turned out to be a great solution: not only did it work, it saved me an additional step later.

For the project in question, I was going to attach the lace pieces to a dark ground fabric. So, why not use the ground fabric as the pattern? Being much more flexible than cardboard, it should be much easier to crochet on top of it, and I would end up with the lace already attached where I needed it anyway. I transferred the pattern to the fabric, and suddenly there was progress:

Irish Crochet Edging - in progressIt’s still far from perfect, but it starts looking like it’s supposed to be. I ended up doing a few parts twice, but it got finished fairly fast after that point. Here’s the finished piece after washing the markings out and pressing:

Irish Crochet Edging - FinishedNext time, I’ll show you what I made of this and other lace goodies from my collection.

Looking for a Flower Garden

June 2, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Posted in Fiber Art, Lace, Museums and Exhibitions, Tatting | 2 Comments

Wandering around Greenwich on my trip to London a few weeks ago, I also ventured into Queen’s House, lured in by a poster that had of all things something fibery on it! And my eyes weren’t deceiving me. There’s currently an exhibit by Alice Kettle at Queen’s House, named The Garden of England. It’s still running till August 18, 2013, so if you’re in the area go ahead and have a look, it’s free! It’s a small exhibit, just four or five pieces, but it seems to have left an impression on me, since my mind has been wandering around making flowers lately.

Flowers have long been a favourite motif for all kinds of needlework, so I started to rummage in historical needlework books. First, my favourite source, Project Gutenberg’s Crafts Bookshelf. Since I want to create free-standing flowers, to be applied to a larger piece later, I skipped the embroidery books and landed on the Bath Tatting Book. On closer inpection it turns out that the first three doilys presented there have a small flower as their basic unit. Just what I was looking for!

I then realized that my last tatting projects were long enough ago that I had forgotten how to make the knots. Another favourite to the rescue: the Encyclopedia of Needlework has the clearest tatting instructions I’ve ever come across. Half an hour later I was up and running. Here’s what I made:

Flowers from the Bath Tatting Book

What I did not expect just from looking at the pictures and a cursory readthrough of the instructions, was that the flowers are actually three-dimensional. I started with the rose shown in the middle. Here’s the doily it comes from:

Rose Doily from Bath Tatting Book

On the left there’s the cornflower from this doily:

Corn Flower Doily from Bath Tatting Book

On the right is the sorry attempt at the chrysanthemum from this doily:

Chrysanthemum doily from Bath Tatting Book

I’ve currently given up on that one. There’s a lot of picots and not many double knots holding them in place, so they tend to turn round or vanish when you’re not looking. Even after looking closely, in the current round I’m never quite sure if I’m tying to the correct loop, since those are loops I already tied to in the previous round. And there’s lots more of that kind of stuff coming when creating the spirals on the outer edge of the flower. I think the result would be stunning, but I’m not quite sure if I can pull it off. I may try to pick it up again in a few days or so.

Salisbury and Downton Lace

November 5, 2012 at 9:14 am | Posted in Lace, Museums and Exhibitions | 2 Comments

After Honiton, my last stop before heading home was Salisbury. This very nice town is famous mostly for its Cathedral (well worth the visit) and because it’s located near Stonehenge. As always, I first became aware of Salisbury because of a hint that there would be lace to see at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. Since I can’t resist that kind of call, and Salisbury happens to lie along the same train line as Honiton, I decided to pay a visit and see for myself.

Turns out Salisbury is a very pretty little town, and the area around the Cathedral is nothing short of impressive. The museum is situated in a historical building directly opposite the Cathedral. Judging from the building, I couldn’t wait to find out what’s inside. Here’s a view from the backyard, which gives a nice impression of the nature of the building:

The museum’s emphasis is on archeology, which isn’t surprising given the proximity to Stonehenge and the rich history of the area going way back in time. But as always, I was especially attracted by the costume collection. The collection mostly shows historical clothing that people from the area would have actually worn, thus giving an interesting glimpse into local history. In addition there are some exhibits especially interesting for the needleworker, like this stumpwork mirror frame.

Finally, a few display cases showed samples of Downton lace, which is what drew me there in the first place. Downton lace is very different from the Honiton lace I saw just a day before. While the former is very elaborate, and often huge pieces were worked, Downton lace is generally worked as narrow edgings. It gives the impression of being way more utilitarian than Honiton lace. The exhibits consist mostly of sample collections, such as they would have been used by the lace merchants to present and sell their work. The pillows used are cylindrical, which lends itself to the making of long lengths of narrow edgings without having to repin the work.

As always, the limited space in the exhibition doesn’t have much space for additional information. I was hoping for the museum shop to come up with something to take home to read at leisure, and I wasn’t disappointed. While I couldn’t find it at my first look around, the shop assistent helped me to a nice little brochure all about Downton Lace and its history, and at 50p it’s a real steal! Here’s the cover, with a painting of a lady at work:

Lots of information in a smallish package, which is just what I like to see!

I finished up my visit with teatime at the museum café, sitting outside in direct view of the Cathedral, which was next on my list of places to visit.

Honiton Lace

September 23, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Posted in Lace, Museums and Exhibitions | 2 Comments

I first came across the name “Honiton” in books on the history of lace-making, such as Chats on Old Lace and Needlework. Being eternally fascinated by all things lace, I found out a few years ago that Honiton does indeed have a museum, with lace being one focus of the permanent exhibition: Allhallows Museum of Lace and Local Antiquities.

Honiton never was quite in the direction of my travels during the last years, but this summer I still had a few days left to spend and so decided to go have a look. Arriving at Honiton around noon on a very nice late summer day, I found a pretty little town, mostly consisting of one street. Honiton is somewhat famous for its antique shops, and there’s also a pottery, which unfortunately is closed on Mondays, so I couldn’t go have a look-see.

But first priority was the museum, anyway. Housed in a historic building with an illustrious history right next to the church, it looks pretty small from the outside:

However, there are a few more rooms around the back, so it’s not quite as small as it looks. The first room has the tiny shop and a gallery of lots of different local things. A few stairs at the back bring you down to the Nicol Gallery, and this is where lace makers’ paradise starts. In this room there’s a display about the history of Honiton lace, and a big case with examples. There was old lace as well as modern, including a lace jabot and cuffs made for the Speaker of the House of Commons. They were made for and worn first by Bernard Weatherill, and since the current Speaker doesn’t wish to wear them, they get displayed in the museum.

In this gallery there were also a few stands for lace pillows, and at the end of my visit a lady started setting up her equipment to give a demonstration. She told me that they try to have someone in to demonstrate most afternoons, and gave me a few leaflets with more information about Honiton Lace. One of them was the FAQ you can also find on their website.

The Norman Gallery is the last room of the museum, and solely devoted to lace. In addition to lots of lace on display there’s information on topics such as Victorian mourning customs, and the developments in machine lace making that eventually made lace making by hand unprofitable.

Were there souvenirs? Of course there were:

The pile of leaflets at the back, and some postcards showing samples of Honiton lace. The museum included a second hand bookshop for mostly needlework-related books, and quite a few new brochures and books as well, but luckily there was nothing I absolutely had to have, since I had been exhausting my budget in Birmingham and Lampeter already.

Honiton was definitely worth the visit, I enjoyed myself very much and learnt a thing or two as well, just as it should be!

Bayeux – Tapestry and Lace

February 28, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Posted in Embroidery, Lace, Museums and Exhibitions | 1 Comment

After entering Normandy through its lace-making corner, I finally arrived in Bayeux, famous mostly for the tapestry that wasn’t even made here. The town greeted me with grey clouds and drizzles, but being that near to the atlantic coast, that’s par for the course. Bayeux had been on my list of places to visit from the moment I started planning this trip, and it didn’t disappoint at all. It’s a very pretty if a bit touristy town, and then there’s this:

Yup, that’s the museum that houses the famous tapestry. Totally worth it. The tapestry is housed in a specially built gallery on the ground floor of the museum, and I was variously advised to just go see the tapestry and skip the rest. The reputedly very good audio guide tells the story. Being not a particular fan of audio guides in general, I skipped that part and went into the gallery without having to hold something to my ear. What the audio guide seems to do is guide the visitors along the tapestry in a steady pace—good for moving lots of people along. Besides, I wasn’t there for the history, but for the needlework. So I hung back a bit, sought out the spaces in the neverending line of visitors, and admired the details. Even though there’s not really enough light for drawing in the gallery, I found myself a bench in the back and came up with this little tree:

Going back and forth a few times along the tapestry, I tried to take it all in, and when I’d seen enough, I checked out the rest of the museum. My advice would be not to skip that part, as tempting as it may seem. There’s lots of background regarding the history the tapestry shows, there’s an interesting video shown, and there may be special exhibits. I think I spent at least another hour in there.

As in most museums, you can’t get to the exit without going through the shop. Lots of merchandise, of course, and for once there was something I fancied: embroidery kits where you can recreate parts of the tapestry. A must-have souvenir for me. However, I didn’t get mine in the museum shop. When wandering around town the evening before, I noticed a small shop opposite the cathedral displaying those patterns. I was hoping to find a better selection there, and skipped the museum shop. In the shop, I found lots of patterns, including one I fancied and got, and a very friendly proprietor happy to show the technique. In addition to the traditional pieces, she also creates modern patterns using the old stitches. She also has an online shop, so you can do some virtual window shopping. Don’t get lost! Voilà, here’s my embroidered little tree:

Although the empasis is on the tapestry, there’s more needlework to be found. Bayeux has its own kind of bobbin lace, and there’s a lace school/shop you can visit right next to the embroidery shop. Unfortunately, the big city museum is currently closed due to renovations going on, but ordinarily there’d be more lace to be found there. I think that’s a good reason to go back to Bayeux once the museum has reopened.

Alençon and Argentan – the homes of French Needlelace

February 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Posted in Lace, Museums and Exhibitions | Leave a comment

Being a big admirer of needlelaces, Alençon and Argentan were very high on my list of places to visit in France. Both towns are preserving their history in the lace-making business, and the museums are splendid places to explore.

First up, Alençon. There’s a nice old town to see there, with a big church and interesting architecture. Sorry, no pics, since I managed not to take any. The Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle is situated in an old building, and combines the town’s history in lace-making with an eclectic collection of paintings and sculptures. The big draw for me was of course the lace. On the ground floor there’s a small “appetizer” room, giving a glimpse of what’s still to come. Apart from fine examples of needlelaces from different time periods, there’s a table where different kinds of laces are on open display, and you’re invited to touch and study them, and then take a guess at which kind of lace you’re looking. Easy for somebody who’s been interested in lace for a long time, you’d think – and I did get most samples right on the first try. But hand- and machine-made bobbin laces still confuse me, and this was no exception to that rule. Shows that machines can make a very realistic imitation of bobbin lace.

The first floor was mainly dedicated to paintings, and after a quick look round I went to explore the second floor – and was blown away. There’s a huge room full of mostly big pieces of lace on all the walls and in display cases in the middle. While the emphasis is on Alençon lace, a lot of other types of needlelace are also on show, so you can compare the different types. I went round the room two or three times, seeing something new and different each time. There’s a display explaining the technique of making needlelace on one wall, and a video is shown in an adjacent room showing the past and present of Alençon lace. The technique of making Alençon lace is part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since fall 2010, and lace is actively produced by a workshop situated next to the museum. Some of the pieces produced are on sale in the museum, and they’re incredible. To put the price tags into perspective, next to each piece there’s the number of hours it took to make it as well. Tiny pieces, huge number of hours. Looking at this makes you appreciate the huge amount of work that must have gone into making the big pieces in the museum gallery even more. All in all, an amazing place to visit, and one I’d definitely like to get back to another time.

The following day, I continue to Argentan. The town is considerably smaller, there’s another big church, and the lace museum is housed in a tiny building:

That tiny building houses a small but interesting museum. The right side of the ground floor houses the permanent part of the exhibition, showing the different types of French laces. On the left side a video is shown and there’s a small shop. The special exhibition upstairs is a pleasant surprise: “Dentelles d’ailleurs” – Laces from abroad shows laces from lots of different countries. In addition to European laces there’s also stuff made in Asia or America. Being able to see the different traditions on display next to each other is great fun.

All in all, two very enjoyable days in a part of France I probably wouldn’t have visited if it weren’t for the lace that was and is being made there.

Calais – Cité de la dentelle

November 30, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Posted in Lace, Museums and Exhibitions | Leave a comment

My next stop was Calais. One of the biggest harbours for passenger travel in the world, Calais is mostly a town people pass through on their way to or from a ferry. That’s exactly what happened to me on a few earlier visits. A journal article on the opening of the Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode in Calais convinced me to make Calais a stop on my tour. And it was a great decision, for experiencing a charming coastal town, sitting on the beach and watching the ferries as well as for a great and modern museum.

The view from outside already suggests the content: an old factory building was enlarged with a modern part sporting an undulating glass front—history and present combined into one attractive package. Looking closer, that glass front is decorated with punch card patterns!

Inside, there’s everything and more than expected. The permanent exhibition starts with a room displaying old laces. The room is pretty dark to protect the fragile textiles, and only gets lit a bit more when somebody enters. The laces are very thoughtfully presented—a whole history of hand-made laces in one room. Marvelous! Even though I’ve seen handmade laces in quite a few different museums by now, having all the different kinds in one room and being able to trace the development of lace following the pieces exhibited is great.

At the end of that room there’s a small hands-on area demonstrating how the different types of laces are made. You can try your hand at bobbin- and needle lace making using the ropes attached there, nothing small and fiddly! Since I already know the principles of making those laces, what was more interesting to me in that area was a presentation of the materials used: they took a small bobbin-lace pattern and made it up in cotton, linen, wool, and silk. Since the four pieces are otherwise identical, you can compare how the properties of the thread influence the final product: the sheen of silk, the crispness of linen, the fuzzyness of wool can easily be seen. It’s no wonder that linen was the traditional material for lace-making, since it brings out the pattern so clearly.

The next room delves into the history of Calais as a center of machine lace making. The impulse and the machines coming over from England, it’s no surprise that this harbour town became a center of the trade. Lots of different exhibits document that part of the town’s history.

Up one floor, there’s four Leavers looms in working order being used to demonstrate. Even though I had seen a working loom in Caudry the day before, it was still fascinating. I could watch those machines for hours. In the next room, the whole process of machine-lace making from design to finishing is shown,  and all the machines needed for this.

Lace is of course used in fashion, and the next room has a selection of lace garments of different times and styles on display. Always fun to look closer at the details.

Just when I thought I was at the end of the exhibition, there’s another room, combining a couple of different purposes: There’s a part of the room showing how modern materials and production technologies have influenced the medium, and there’s space for special exhibitions. When I was there, there was a presentation of objects playing with lace effects using different materials.

What else is there? A library with specialized books, a café, and of course a museum shop with a huge selection of books and presents. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and would come again in a heartbeat given the opportunity.

Next stop? Paris!

Caudry: Musée de la Dentelle

November 7, 2011 at 10:45 am | Posted in Lace, Museums and Exhibitions | Leave a comment
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The first needlework-related stop on my trip to France was in Caudry, which is one of very few places in France where lace is still being produced today. I first found out about Caudry lace when it found its way into the headlines earlier this year: the lace that was deconstructed and attached in small pieces to Kate Middleton’s wedding dress was originally produced in Caudry. You can find out more about the process of making that dress from the Royal School of Needlework’s press release (PDF Link).

A little bit of googling later, I knew there was a museum to be visited in Caudry. The Musée de la Dentelle de Caudry is small but definitely worth the visit. The building is a mixture of old and new:

The entrance and museum boutique is in the new glass building, the actual museum space in the old part. The subject of the museum is introduced by a short video, which is available with subtitles in quite a few languages. Afterwards a lace maker shows you around the ground floor, showing the whole process of machine lace-making from start to finish. Although the tour is in French, the guide was doing a lot more showing than telling, so I was able to follow things quite easily despite my mediocre French. I find the complexity of the technology involved breathtaking no matter how often I  see those machines, and seeing one of them work will never lose its fascination to me. The Leavers looms come originally from England. I have been to their birthplace in Nottingham before, but never seen one in action, I needed to come to France for this.  There’s two sets of Jacquard punch cards involved, three different sets of threads, and loads and loads of moving parts.

The first floor had a temporary exhibition of lace in fashion, with lots of lace on display. Of course there also was a current display with information about the lace used for the wedding dress of the year. After all, that’s something to be proud of!

My overall impression? It’s a place definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in the past and present of machine lace making. When walking back to the bus stop afterwards I came across this door with some exquisite metal lace in front:

Lace everywhere!

Needlepoint Lace—Flower Motif

February 8, 2009 at 8:23 pm | Posted in Lace | 3 Comments
Tags: ,

I’ve made another little bit of progress on my needlepoint lace motif from the Encyclopedia of Needlework and managed to finish all the lace fillings:

Needlepoint Lace Flower Motiv - Finished Lace Fillings

And while only practice makes perfect, even a little bit of practice helps a lot in how my stitches turn out, as you can see in this detail of the flower:

Needlepoint Lace Flower Motiv - Lace Fillings in Flower

I worked from the left to the right, and the fillings are symmetrical on both sides. You can clearly see that things went way better on the right side, when I already got the hang of the filling. The difficulty lies usually in the irregular forms of the motifs, so I have to start and end lines in different places and space the stitches correctly. So, any kind of stitch practice, as in a sampler with lots of squares, wouldn’t really help me. Properly inserting the fillings into those irregular spaces does take practice, and this kind of practice only comes with working more pieces of this.

So, on to the last step, buttonholing the outline. Since this is a relatively large piece of lace, this will be a major task, so don’t expect me to be finished by next week. In the Encyclopedia, this piece is shown with two different kinds of outline: The normal one as described in my Tutorial, and the high relief used in traditional Venetian lace:

Venetian Lace Motif from the Encyclopedia of Needlework

I’m tempted to give this a try with this piece, though it’s a lot of work and probably a mess keeping all those padding threads in line. I’ll report back, hopefully soon, on how things are going.


January 18, 2009 at 7:20 pm | Posted in Fiber Art, Lace, Past – Present – Future | 2 Comments

While cleaning up my crafts area, I came across a piece in progress that I’ve last shown in this post, over a year ago. So I started fiddling with it again, and made some more progress:

Needlepoint Lace Motif from the Encyclopedia of Needlework

As I got back into the project, I realized that achieving any kind of consistency with the lace stitches would take a lot of practice, and that is not very likely to happen when I can forget something in the corner for a year at times while being busy with other things. The problem is that I’m interested in way too many things to have the time and patience to achieve mastery in any one of them. I’m more interested in trying out things and understanding the basics of something than I am in knowing everything about one thing. No, that’s not quite right, I’d happily learn all about one thing if that wouldn’t steal time from other interesting pursuits.

With the amount of knowledge available today and multiplying every day, it’s become impossible to get even an overview of what’s out there to know, much less aquiring detailed knowledge in several fields at once. Most of us have had to become specialists in a narrow field out of necessity, since the body of knowledge even in a small field can be vast. The internet is playing its own role in making lots of knowledge available to everybody at the other end of a search. So, being naturally curious about a lot of things, fibery or not, I get drawn in all directions and never put in the time to go really far into one topic.

But why should I want to? While it might be nice to be a specialist in whatever area, I think having just basic knowledge of many different fields has its own benefits. One of the goals of this blog is to help keeping as many old needlecrafts as possible alive and well. And alive for me doesn’t mean 5 people on the planet know perfectly how to do it, but as many people as possible have tried it with a simple project and know the basics. If then a few people fall in love with a craft and want to go deeper,  so much the better. So I think I’ll go on providing tutorials and patterns for small projects in whatever craft takes my fancy next, and stop worrying about achieving mastery in any of them.

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