I’ve just spent a couple of days in Nottingham researching curtain lace, in particular the lace company J B Walker. The company was founded in the 1840s by Benjamin Walker who was one of the pioneers of lace curtain making. Like many lace companies it has had a complicated history since then, with different parts of the family specialising in different aspects of the business as well as various sales, mergers and acquisitions. The company history is fascinating but I was also interested to see some of the products of the ‘drapery and napery’ side of the company, basically curtains, tablecloths and bedspreads. The image above is a tablecloth made from a cotton and terylene mix, which gives a slightly more solid feel compared with a tablecloth made of cotton, but is softer than one made of terylene thread alone. It was also interesting to see drafts of lace patterns squared off and painted for the lace curtain machines as well as some day books used by John Walker describing meetings, thread prices and visits to factories, giving a good picture of the day to day running of the company.
Friday, 17 March 2017
I saw the exhibition A history of fashion in 100 objects at the Fashion Museum in Bath and was most interested to see what lace it included. The first showcase includes some beautiful embroidered and lace embellished gloves so I was not disappointed. There were small lace edgings in some of the dress on show but it wasn’t until the section on Regency fashion that lace became prominent. A frock from 1817 of madras lace (shown in the image on the left) was very delicate. According to the caption, the development of machine made net in 1809 meant that all over lace dresses were very popular at this time. A stunning example of a dress incorporating lace was an 1860s dress of pale green silk with applied black machine lace combined with a Bucks point handmade bobbin lace collar.
A red and white 1870 dress with bustle and low décolletage also included some pretty blonde style lace around the neckline. There was not much lace on show in the later, more modern, sections of the exhibition – probably because the interesting lace dresses were on show in the concurrent Lace in fashion exhibition. I did think the 2011 House of McQueen silk tulle embroidered gown by Sarah Burton was quite lace-like though.
Tuesday, 14 March 2017
I was intrigued to see this fashion doll and her wardrobe at the Fashion Museum in Bath because it reminded me of the teenage doll I had as a child. This one is called Miss Virginia Lachasse and she was modelled on Virginia Woodford, the house model for Lachasse of Mayfair. She was made in 1954 to raise money for the Greater London Fund for the Blind. Her clothes were made to scale in the Lachasse workrooms, her stockings were made by Aristoc and her cosmetics by Yardley. She even has tiny gloves and a handbag.
Friday, 10 March 2017
I saw this lovely dress at the Fashion Museum in Bath. It is a court dress from the 1600s and is the oldest dress in their collection. The fabric shimmers because although the warp is silk, the weft is silver metal thread which catches the light. It is decorated with parchment lace (see the close up on the left of the image). It gets its name because the larger elements of the pattern are formed from flat strips of parchment wrapped in silk thread. They are incorporated into the silk bobbin lace as it is worked. (The image combines two photographs from the book Treasures published by the Museum)
Tuesday, 7 March 2017
I enjoyed the Lace in fashion exhibition which ranged from the exquisitely handmade lace of the 1600s to the laser printed lace of today and covered quite a lot in between. I thought the lace in the handmade section was breathtaking. It included a Brussels Duchesse wedding veil from the 1860s that included bobbin and needle lace applied to a machine made net and a point de gaze needle lace shawl from the same period. The cape in the same case is also from the 1860s and is decorated with black Le Puy bobbin lace which was fashionable at the time. The cabinet also included a 1980 black dress made by Madame Osborn, the court dressmaker, which included quite large inserts of Venetian gros point from the 1600s, showing that lace was often reused. This was emphasised when I discovered a flounced dress by Catherine Buckley made in the 1970s from painted Nottingham curtain machine lace – I have seen examples of this painted curtain lace in Nottingham so recognised the material at once!
Going round the exhibition it struck me how soon machine lace took over from handmade laces. The evening dress in the image above dates from 1829 and is made of machine-woven gauze resembling blonde lace. A tatted wedding dress from the 1930s was an exception, but it had been made by Anne Goodwin for her grand daughter and was not available commercially. It was also interesting to see how quickly the handmade laces were copied by machine. There were examples of chemical lace mimicking Irish crochet and tape laces resembling bobbin lace. As well as a fabric giving the appearance of Carickmacross lace and a cream silk evening dress by Amalia Machado from 1959 for which pieces of machine lace were sewn on to the completed garment to resemble Chantilly lace.
I like the way the exhibition ranged from demure wedding veils to sexy red and black dresses from recent catwalks. One of my favourites was a 1991 see-through, black, imitation Chantilly lace dress by Karl Lagerfeld which Linda Evangelista wore for a photoshoot for Vogue. I thought it was aposite to end the exhibition with examples of laser cut and laser printed lace as the story of lace has always been about adapting new technology to bring lace up to date. My only complaint was that there was no publication to accompany the exhibition.
Thursday, 2 March 2017
Having seen so many lovely machine lace curtain designs recently, based on a grid format, I’ve been having a look at filet lace. I made some for the City and Guilds qualification, which involved making the filet net lace background as well – the type of thing that is easy once you’ve started and got the pattern going but you feel all fingers and thumbs when you’re trying to get it started. The ‘darning’ as well is not as simple as it seems and requires careful planning beforehand so you manage to cover all the squares evenly and the threads end up in the right place. It’s not really the way I like to make lace, I like the aspect of serendipity, rather than having to organise where each thread is going before I start. There is some beautiful filet lace around though. I remember seeing some lovely examples in the museums in Brugges. It is also the inspiration for much curtain lace so I need to carry on my exploration.
Thursday, 23 February 2017
I had an interesting day yesterday talking to the granddaughter of Harry Cross, the designer of the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel. Among the things we discussed was his approach to design and I was surprised to learn that he didn’t use sketchbooks. We are so used to using them today to draw from life, play with ideas, draw diagrams and collect information that not to have one seems amazing. Perhaps the companies he worked for had inspiration books for all the designers to use. I have seen some of these in archives, which may incorporate snippets of lace, fashion designs, pictures of flowers and architecture. Some are for general reference and others have obviously been assembled by individual designers for their own use. I wonder where he tried out his designs though, perhaps on pieces of paper that he then threw away once he’d produced the final design. Or perhaps the lace designers had to keep all the artwork with the design so it couldn’t be taken out of house and copied. However, it may be that the use of personal sketchbooks for designing is a modern idea which began with the development of City and Guild embroidery and textile classes as a way of learning and evaluating. Interesting thoughts that I will follow up!