Tags: Bobbin Lace
As an expected and very welcome side effect of my vacation exploits looking at lace in Belgium I’ve been back at my lace pillow that had sat unloved in a corner for several years.
Having found over time that I have no use for lace doilies, and keeping the art stuff to quiltmaking mostly, what do you do? Quite a while ago I decided to just make lengths of lace, just like the ones that would have been used for decorating all kinds of things back when machine lace wasn’t invented. I’ve used some of those strips in my lace quilt (there’s one at number 10 in this post), and there was another one on the pillow, which I finished fairly quickly, because I needed the pillow for a new project:
It’s not quite one meter long (which is usually my goal for these strips), and I wanted to practice working with a single thicker thread as accent here.
So, that being out of the way, what’s the new project? Looking through the lace books available in my library’s catalogue, I found a little gem of a book about Flanders lace. It is the German version of Vlaanderse Kant by J.E.H. Rombach-de Kievid. Looking at the internet, this book doesn’t seem to have been translated into English.
This image from the wikipedia article shows pretty much exactly the pattern that’s currently on my pillow:
Another interesting thing I noticed travelling was just how unusual the lace-making setup I grew up with seems to be. I learnt making bobbin lace in the Erzgebirge region, and everybody there had cylindrical pillows mostly suited to making strips of lace. This is how mine looks like:
In Belgium and England I exclusively saw flat pillows, and smaller bobbins where the thread is wound at the front part. My bobbins have the thread at the back, protected by that dark brown sleeve that slides over the bobbin. There was a cylindrical pillow just like mine shown in the entry area of the Kantcentrum in Brugge, and when I asked the lady there about it she said she believes it came from Spain. Interesting. Off to practice some more Flanders lace!
Tags: Bobbin Lace
Brugge was one of the places on my must-see list in Belgium. It is one of those pretty old towns with lots of old houses and lots of water that I was to find several times during my week of traveling around.
Of course that also means the town is full of tourists and souvenir shops, but that’s to be expected. After a while I was taking care not to look into the windows of the souvenir shops, since the displays made me cringe. The lace that’s displayed as “handmade in Belgium” can’t possibly be both, given the prices listed. It has to be either machine-made or imported from somewhere where handwork isn’t as expensive. I wonder how many Asian tourists take home a piece of “Belgian Lace” that’s made the trip the other way round not long ago.
But I was here to see the real thing, after all. The Kantcentrum is located a bit off the beaten track in an unassuming building, so you’re not likely to stumble over it by accident.
The poster advertising lace-making demonstrations is one of the few things you can see from outside. Inside, there’s a nice little museum with old lace as well as new and lots of information packed into a small space. While buying my ticket, I was also instructed to go upstairs to see the demonstration when I was finished with the exhibition. To my big surprise, there wasn’t just one or two ladies sitting there with their lace pillows, but a whole room full! There must have been something like 15 to 20 women there. It seems like the courses they give double as the demonstrations for the visitors. I was able to see different lace pieces in various states of completion – great eye candy for sure.
As a nice lady in Antwerp would be telling me a few days later, the Kantcentrum is the place to go to if you want to learn to make bobbin lace. When gathering my links for this post, I stumbled over the summer courses they give – lots of interesting things, I’d love to go one day.
Tags: 2015 Challenge
As promised, I want to talk a bit more about the different laces in my 2015 challenge piece. Here’s the numbered detail picture of the left side again for reference:
- This is the lace we got for the challenge, which we had to include in our piece. It is a fairly wide, scalloped machine-made lace.
- I already wrote about this piece of Irish Crochet Lace, made by me.
- I made this bobbin-lace edging many years ago, and it has been sitting in my little lace collection since then. I think it is put to good use here.
- This is technically embroidery, but it is worked very similar to needlelace, just on a fabric foundation instead of completely free. I also wanted to include the literal number 20 to commemorate our anniversary, and this was the best way I could come up with to do so.
- A small tatting motif from a German tatting book I had from the library, so sorry for the missing reference, since I forgot to write it down.
- A similar motif from the same book.
- This actually wasn’t a butterfly when I started with it. The wings of the butterfly are cut out from a bigger piece consisting of lots of those motifs connected by bits of openwork. I got it together with a whole pile of other laces from my mom, and this was the fabric sample for her wedding dress. According to her it is Plauener Spitze, which also fits this kind of lace. I embroidered the body of the butterfly over the lace pieces.
- Reticella is one of the oldest needle-lace styles. I designed this heart myself based on historical examples. Here’s the original blog post about this one.
- A relatively coarse machine-made bobbin lace.
- I made this strip of bobbin lace to practice the little leaf shapes that make up the flowers in the center of the band. They are quite tricky to get right tension-wise.
I’ll get around to the second half of the quilt next time, and of course I’d be happy to answer any questions around this batch.
Tags: 2015 Challenge
To celebrate our twentieth exhibition this fall, my quilt group has come up with a special challenge project this year. As part of a fabric donation, we got a considerable length of lace which we decided would be the common material to use. In addition, the colour scheme used should be natural colours from beige to brown, making a nod to the 20th anniversery traditionally being the porcelain anniversary, and our lace having a beigish colour anyway. To top it off, the number 20 should play a role in some way, and this was the part that got me into trouble, since the size requirement of 40×40 cm hadn’t been changed.
Being interested in lace of all kinds, you can’t give me some lace and not have me think “I’m going to use 20 different pieces of lace here!” Collecting materials, I acquired my mom’s collection of mostly machine laces, looked which of my collection of handmade samples would be useful, and then tried to figure out how to put 20 different pieces into 40×40 cm. Turns out in order to not run out of space, I would have to keep things fairly simple. My original ideas where much more elaborate, with lengths of lace interweaving between the horizontal and vertical directions. But as is often the case, constraints ended up making it all better: the simple layout leaves space to show off the laces themselves, which was supposed to be the point, after all. So here’s the finished piece:
And since it’s the laces themselves that are the interesting part of this piece, I’ll do a detailed writeup of what you’re seeing here in the following couple of posts. As a teaser, here’s the left side all numbered so we know what we’re talking about.
Which lace do you like best, and why? Which one would you like to know more about? Mind you, since some of it has been gifted to me, I may have not much information on it either.
Tags: Irish Crochet Lace
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.
That 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:
I 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:
It’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:
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:
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:
On the left there’s the cornflower from this doily:
On the right is the sorry attempt at the chrysanthemum from this doily:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.