Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Why bobbin lace fascinates me?

Bobbin lace is a craft that can be said to have gone out of fashion. This seems to have happened at the same time as the industrial revolution in the Edwardian period; a subject that has been covered recently both in the TV series, Edwardian Farm (BBC2) and the TV drama “Larkrise to Candleford” (BBC1). In the latter, Queenie goes off to Banbury Fair to sell her year's work of lace, but returns home very downhearted because the fashion has turned towards machine woven lace instead.

Making lace, as I learned while reviewing the Edwardian farm book, was already a time-consuming and not very well paid job to begin with. Queenie on the other hand reminisces on the social aspect of lace making where all the village's women and girls would be working side by side every day to produce lace to sell.

Ruth Goodman explains how hard a job it was. Lace was usually sold through a dealer and the woman who produced the lace received a pittance in comparison to the price that a shop would receive when selling the lace to the customer.

Nevertheless, it was a source of income and could be quite an important one to a poor family in the countryside. To see this source of income taken away and to be replaced by machines must have been devastating. It must have been equally as hard to see a craft so widespread nearly disappear altogether.

Other crafts seem to have had a revival over the last 20 years; knitting and sewing probably being some of the most popular and well known. But not lace, yet!

Is it more difficult to do? I don’t think so. Do you need more equipment and space? No more so than sewing. So why did the craft of making bobbin lace never really come into fashion again when others like knitting and sewing did?

I think that to answer this question we must look at the relationship between craftsperson and consumer. With knitting and sewing the craftsperson and the consumer can be the same person. After the industrial revolution there would still be people who knitted socks and sewed dresses for themselves mostly because they couldn’t afford the machine-made items. Knitting and sewing produce necessities that, if you can’t afford to buy, you then have to learn to make yourself. Whereas lace was always very much a luxury product. The craftsperson and the consumer of lace would not usually be the same person. So when handmade lace went out of fashion and there was less chance of selling it, there might not have been much point in producing it. A piece of lace is a luxury item and to spend your working hours producing it for your own pleasure is a luxury that few could afford.

Having said all this let's not think lace is all doomed. Let's rejoice instead that there were people for whom handmade lace was still valuable and who could afford to buy it. Ruth mentions that the Royal family especially, made a point of buying Honiton lace.

There are still quite a few lace makers around today. Some of them prefer traditional styles and some push the boundaries and produce very modern and exciting pieces. Since more and more of us today are able to spend time crafting for our own pleasure I want to encourage everyone to consider lace again. It may look complicated but it really isn’t, I promise!

What do you feel about lace? Does it look complicated? Are you unsure about what you would use it for?

Furthermore, I am looking for lace-makers to portray. If you know anyone or if you have pictures of a relative who made lace – please do get in touch. I’m very interested.

I have myself dabbled a bit with bobbin lace and found it very satisfying. Please feel free to comment on some of my work on Grey Duckling. It might not be to your taste but it was fun to make.

So to answer the question I posed in the title; Why Bobbin Lace fascinates me? I think it is a combination of being able to create such beautiful delicate items and the fact that it isn't that popular a craft anymore. It makes me want to shout from the rooftops 'come and try!'

The images in this post are copyright of Eddie Roued-Cunliffe. You are hereby granted permission to use them for non-commercial purposes as long as you credit Eddie and link back to this page. If you are using them and talking about this post I would love to hear from you in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Laura Morelli, Historic Crafts. Historic Crafts said: Where I reflect on my fascination of #BobbinLace : [...]


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