Completed LaceLightBox

a picture of a woman with a wall mounted frame

Complete lacelightbox in situ. Photographs by Jayne Childs, thanks to Toby Britton for being my model.

Close up photographs of the lacelightbox reveal the play of shadow through the lasercut, text and bobbinet (Click on the gallery to read captions)
Below, final images of the small lacelightbox and the large lacelightbox in situ and different light levels

Making the final boxes

Woodworking tools

I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a lightbox of the quality I had envisaged, so I commissioned a local craftsman to construct it for me. Ian at Custom Woodwork in Cotgrave took on the challenge and accommodated multiple changes of plan after the Covid-19 lockdown.
He suggested we use a French Cleat hanging system, which means the heavier the item is the more securely it is held in place. The cleat is screwed to the wall and therefore easier to level before lifting the box into place.
The build quality of the boxes is fantastic and they work perfectly.

I’d been using the laser cutting facility at NTU, which had been great. Just before CV-19 lockdown, I’d cut my final design in light card and decided on a design for the engrave. Then… nothing was avilable for me to use. After a number of failed attempts to find someone to engrave the box pieces, I found Keith at Handytech. Keith has been a great ally, who picked up my prject with gusto and helped me find solutions to seemingly intractable problems. His laser wasn’t as big as the flat bed at uni, but he cut the large Charnia design from six individual pieces of card, which slotted back together perfectly. He also engraved the outside edge of the medium size box, again splitting my designs to make them fit in his machine.

Handytech

Final Layout, small box

Small Lace light box

The small lacelightbox is 475 x 310 x 175mm (landscape orientation). It is finished the same way as the other sizes, including the French Cleat hanging system. It is not engraved but I hope to get this done after the MA hand-in. I completed this box first, having decided to use embroidered lace and embroidery on net in layers within the box. The gallery shows some of my experiments with laser cut samples inside the box and layered in different ways

The final layers are (back to front) LEDs, single embroidered motifs, suspended on invisible thread, embroidery on net, perspex.

The embroidery on net comprises three vertical sections, stitched on one single layer of Swiss Tulle cotton bobbinet. From left to right the sections are the Charnia ‘fern’ design, undulating text as brides with single words picked out in phosphorescent thread, and the word ‘Charnia’ as vertical large text embroidery. (See image below)

Sustainability

A drawing of a fern

Living an examined life 

It can be easy to feel defeated in the face of climate change, plastic pollution and wildfires. But I was a teenager when reports of a massive hole in the ozone layer were met with a global effort to stop the use of harmful gases. Two years later the ban was in place. It is a complicated story, but we should have hope. (Note I wrote this in a pre-Covid world, where talk of hope didn’t feel so radically idealistic!)

an image of the words I Believe Her

There are a broad range of ethical and environmental issues associated with textile production. These include materials, working conditions, marketing, packaging and end of life factors. The 16 UN goals for Sustainable Development also cover areas including political economy and education. When thinking about ‘Sprigs, Brides and Prickings’ I found it helpful to adapt the Living Principles model Hamlett, Brink & Destandau (2011), concentrating on what I would describe as internal and external impacts.

Internal impacts would be the environmental consequences of material and manufacturing process, waste reduction strategies and energy inputs. The work sustaining a small business is also an internal economic impact. I have a high level of control over these impacts.

Material considerations would include the environmental impact of input factors such as threads, stabilisers and other consumables. I choose to use viscose rayon thread, which are made from wood pulp and break down naturally over time. Thread suppliers hold environmental certification for the thread and I am always open to alternatives. Any waste thread produced during embroidery is collected and composted. Waste stabiliser is collected and reused.

Embroidery is done in the JC Middlebrook studio, so has little to no impact on labour, negatively or positively. Energy for production is sourced from 100% renewable sources. Good Energy (2020).

External impacts are the impacts of the work in the wider world, for example political messaging in the work, end of life recycling and in-use energy requirements. The level of this impact is dependent on the end user but I plan to use design to mitigate.

During use, the LED lights could be placed on a timer or fitted with a motion sensor in order to limit energy consumption. LED lamps are extremely low in energy consumption, especially when compared with other types of lighting. They can be programmed create movement and vary brightness according to external factors, so they remain a good choice. I can use my contacts within the low carbon construction industry to model lighting of interiors

The method of construction I am aiming for will produce an item which can be easily dismantled into component parts for recycling. The Perspex front is lighter than glass, reducing transport impact, and at end of life can be recycled through appropriate facilities available in the UK. The lace could be returned to me for repurposing or composting if needed and the LED lights recycled through the WEEE scheme at local recycling facilities. I have designed dismantling instructions for the back of the frame to encourage responsible disposal, there could be a page on the product website showing how to dismantle. The wooden frames will be sourced from responsible or repurposed sources, made by a local joiner.

The design tells the tale of a girl who was not believed. The picot edge to the lace and lace embroidery ‘brides’ will carry the words.I will make sure that the story is readable by either creating a pamphlet to sit alongside the work AND/OR engraving the side of the frame with the message. The story can also form part of the product website. I intend to push the message of ‘I believe her’. In promoting this project and work I will also sustain a small business and preserve oral histories in my research into the Nottingham lace embroidery trade. This history could be included in future installations.

‘Living the examined life is a pain in the ass’ Yvon Chounaird (Founder of Patagonia), so let’s try to MMMake it easy…

  • Materials – I’ll strive to use the materials with the lowest impact, and strive to help others use them responsibly too
  • Method – I’ll work like a stiletto heel with the smallest footprint and the biggest impact.
  • Message – I’ll use design to tell a story and make it worthwhile

Alternative Market possibilities

lace is..?

I wanted to come up with ideas for using the lacelightbox, apart from commercial properties. The recession likely to hit the UK economy in 2020 could mean I have to take a new direction so here are a few ideas:

Community projects -I always felt I had little to offer for community engagement projects. Text as brides and picot have opened up the possibility of working with groups or individuals to create artworks based on stories or words. For example I tired this out when beginning to explore text as brides (see gallery below). I had a Zoom interview with textile artist Laura Mabbutt, who does a great deal of work int the community. We talked about the basics of community work, and how projects like this might translate into civic artworks with a lasting legacy.


Domestic lighting products such as smaller lightboxes, lampshades or table lamps. Smaller versions of the lightboxes I’ve produced. I already have a market for this through my exisiting business www.jcmiddlebrook.co.uk

Other lace ideas using text as brides and picots. I’ve also thought about simple individualised lace to mark significant dates. I’d avoided asking for sales during the CV-19 lock-down, feeling awkward about promoting commercial work. It took another designer/maker to point out that people are still having birthdays and anniversaries during the pandemic, so I promoted JC Middebrook lace using my Instagram and lo, made sales. It would be a simple thing to create work which allowed people to add names and dates to existing or new lace designs.

Text as Brides

Handwritten text as brides
Laying out lace and brides

As described in ‘What are Sprigs Brides and Prickings?’, a ‘bride’ is a traditional term for the joins between lace motifs. I was trying to scale up a design to fill the first of my lace light boxes, and bigger overall design size wasn’t working. I thought I could take multiple, smaller motifs, joined together with brides. I photocopied multiple motifs in varying sizes and began laying them out onto a large sheet of paper. The idea of using some keywords to make joins (pictured above) was somewhat tricky as the gaps between sprigs were too wide, making the overall fabric was too floppy, and the words were illegible.

My tutor suggested I try to flow the words between the motifs, making them much closer. I laid out the sprigs on my embroidery software this time, printing off an A4 layout. Using my trusty fountain pen, I took the short sentence I’ve been using throughout the project and wove it between the motifs, looping and expanding the letters to fills the gaps more fully.

“She found something interesting and took it to her teacher, who said don’t be silly we have already decided that isn’t possible”

It wasn’t easy to find a path through the motifs without doubling back, so I used single words in a contrast colour to add more brides

“Charnia” “Tina Negus” “I believe her”

I had to scan the hand drawn layout back into my software to make into an embroidery design, and worked through a number of way of digitising the stitches. Several test stitchouts and refinements required! As always it looks very different before the stabiliser is removed!

Stitching out on water soluble backing was effective, but I tried separating the two layers, the brides to be stitched onto net backing and suspending in front of the motifs (which of course would have to be joined with some kind of stitch)

Sketchbookwoes to joy -part 2

Sketchbook flatlay

By the time we got to 2020 I’d become comfortable enough to begin a new sketchbook/reflective. This post shows some of the pages form it. It was a mix of printed off photos, stitch samples, hand written text and FINALLY some sketching and drawings.

This gallery shows some of the pages, with samples photographed or scanned as flatlays. I tried to use some overlays and textiles with the pages. I love tracing paper overlays and used this a lot for planning layers in the design. (see the time-lapse video re-creating the small box layout -apologies for portrait orientation!)

How to reflect

sketchbook page

My reflective journal developed before I came out of my #sketchbookwoes. I think I was comfortable with it earlier as I’d given myself permission to limit what I wrote and to use my own style. Anna Piper was really helpful in this, and I saw her reflective journal (with it’s limited space for entries) as a starting point. I eventually used my reflective and sketchbook together and mixed in samples and technical info too.

I’m also considering the possibility of recording this type of thing for JC Middlebrook, and posting videos online showing some design and making process, as part of my social media marketing and promotion.

My second reflective journal, started Jan 2020

My eventual sketchbook/journal/technical file is almost full. I plan to continue using a book of this type in the future, possibly going back to a smaller one eventually. The ultimate goal of the reflective is to go back and look at it on a regular basis, to remember your reflections and continually refine your work as a result.

Steps to the final lacelightbox

The largest Lacelightbox was made and delivered to my studio in early May 2020

Strips of self adhesive LEDs on biodegradable foamboard for inside the lacelightbox

Trialling embroidery on net with the perspex and LEDs


I tried just using text on net inside the box (above)but it needed the laser cut card give hard shadows. So I commissioned Handytech to make the laser cut after much backwards and forwards where I learned my understanding of Illustrator wasn’t up to much.

I made the embroidered picot onto cotton bobbinet from Swiss Tulle (see this post for more detail) while waiting for the laser cut . Click on the gallery below to see the construction step by step

The lacelightbox in action