What are Sprigs, Brides and Prickings

handwritten text

My MA project title was originally Sprigs, Brides and Prickings. Even though the direction changed last summer (more on this later) I decided to keep the title.

laser cut lace designs

A ‘sprig’ is a single lace motif in Honiton lace. They were a kind of pre-mechanised production line before the development of lace machines in the 18th century. A girl might learn the trade by starting small and simple, working up to more elaborate designs as she improved. She could ‘earn as you learn’. I feel like my early research and work on this MA are like learning to make sprigs, starting with basic ideas and learning my new research craft as I went.

The brides or bars are the connections between sprigs. So, a person would buy individual sprigs and have them put together into a larger design. A skilful designer could make a beautiful design from simple elements. So, brides could describe the connections between my first baby steps into learning and research to make a bigger design.

Example of Brides or Bars joining motifs together. NTU Lace Archive 2018

Then finally, prickings are still relevant because they bear the ‘trace of use’. Prickings are cards for handmade bobbin lace, they have the design punched in to carry the pins. You can tell when they have been used and they show traces of their life, a bit like fossils show us traces of life in the rock. They may also contain codes about the type of stitch to be used in an area.

A picture of a lace sample and it's pricking
Used pricking and corresponding lace sample. NTU Lace Archive 2020

The story behind Charnia

An image of some words

I was looking for a story to tell during my MA first year, the project proposal I submitted in early July 2019 had talked about other artists telling tales with lace, such as Jason Holroyd, Carol Quarini, William Hallam Pegg and Harry Cross designer of the ‘Battle of Britain’ lace panel.

Although I’ve lived in and around Nottingham for almost 25 years, I actually grew up in Leicestershire, an area rich in fossils. Contrary to my expectation of spending the summer downtime exploring my project, I spent 8 weeks driving back and forth to visit my mum in hospital, past the site of an important archaeological discovery.

Fossils on display in London’s Natural History Museum, Oct 2019

In 1956 a young fossil hunter called Tina Negus visited Charnwood forest and took a rubbing of a fossil she found in the pre-Cambrian rock. In the 1950s we believed that life began in the Cambrian era about 500 million years ago and before that there weren’t any animals at all. Tina showed the fossil rubbing to her teacher. She was told that she must have got it wrong – the rock is millions of years older than the fossil could possibly be. A short while later, another young fossil hunter called Roger Mason came across the same piece of rock and well, to cut a long story short, it was named Charnia Masoni after it’s finder.

Tina Negus image from the Trowelblazers website, supplied to them by Tina Negus

Read Tina’s story on the Trowelblazers website here, and see Roger Mason interviewed here

Would Tina’s words have been believed if she had been a boy? There are plenty of stories where girls and women are not believed, and I wanted to amplify this one example. I decided to use this story and it’s implications as inspiration for my project.