Thank you to everyone who has helped and supported me during my study and for this project. This list isn’t exhaustive but begins with Toby Britton, you haven’t always understood what the hell I was moaning on about but you kept me going.

Debbie Gonet, thank you for being my tutor. It must’ve made your day when talk of sketchbook woes turned to joy! Just don’t tell me to have fun with it…

Dr Gail Baxter, for your patience and support not simply with lace facts, for picking me up when I was on the floor, gently making suggestions and not expecting me to take them. The door of the archive was never closed to me, thank you!

Sue Turton, your support in the laser department has been invaluable, from the first steps to final (pre-lockdown) designs, and hopefully beyond. Thanks for helping me to explore the creative potential and being open to trying things out. Thanks to you Deirdre Nidrie, for sharing your MA experience and tips, and asking how it was going. Whatever my downbeat answer was, your reply was always ‘That’s exciting’. It was, too!

Prof. Amanda Briggs-Goode, Sean Prince, Maria Stafford, Maggie and the NTU FTK academic staff. In particular, Dr. Kerry Gough’s Advanced Research Module turned on the academic tap, helping me think of myself as a researcher and believe that the creative can have academic validity.

My fellow MA Fashion Textile Design student, studio buddy and all round positive person Kerry Gibson. Thank you for listening to my never ending owes and being so uplifting and sympathetic. You’re an inspiration! I’m just sorry we didn’t get the drinking sessions we had hoped for

A special mention to Ash Brown, my go-to IT guy and all round helpful person. Thanks for everything! Thanks Hayley Banks for your listening ear and cake supplied virtually or in person. Not forgetting Phil Simms, one of my oldest friends has been a sounding board, advocate and supporter. Thank you Phil for staying in touch through thick and thin.

Rachel Morley, you got most of the sketchbook woes poured into your ear -I’m so grateful that you were there to listen and not judge. Thank you for supplying off my initial art kit, and your ever cheerful presence! Helen Hallows has a special gold star for being the person to finally turn my sketchbookwoes into sketchbookjoy. Thank you Helen, your workshops are fab, and your art is inspirational too!

My external suppliers, Ian Howick at Custom Woodwork. your advice and skilled workmanship helped create stunning wooden boxes for my lace and lights. Keith at Handytech was a late addition to my team , thank you for your tenacity and for being an enthusiastic problem solver. Your laser cutting and engraving saved my project. Neil, Rose and the team at Coles Sewing Centre have always provided first rate support for my machines and embroidery software needs. Swiss Tulle in Chard, Somerset were kind enough to sponsor my cotton bobbinet and talk through exactly what I needed. It’s a beautiful product and a dream to embroider on.

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)

Design Inspiration – Charnia

A sketch of a harts tongue fern

Telling the story of Tina Negus and Charnia in words was one thing, but I also needed images and motifs for my lace design. The first stop was to look at the Charnia Masoni holotype held in Leicester Museum , and I even managed to buy a resin model of the Charnia fossil. The cast was really useful as it helped me get a feel for the segmentation of the ‘fronds’, tying back to that Sprigs idea of smaller pieces making up a larger whole. I drew the Charnia animal several times, recording a little video of a continuous line drawing using a fountain pen (see the post about ‘Sketchbook Woes’ for more on this! ) which was popular on Instagram, having quite an ASMR feel.

The drawback to using the fossil holotype, the hard material of the cast (and of course the fossil being solid rock) and the ‘solid’ feel and look to the holotype. Charnia fossils from around the world (see the examples at the ‘First Creatures’ exhibition in the gallery below) seem stiff and flat. Well, of course they do they are made from rocks formed under high pressure over millenia, I get it.

So how could I get some movement into the design, whilst keeping to the theme? My visit to the Natural History Museum found some ideas. In the significantly less busy Marine Creatures room I found samples of other sea creatures, anemones and Sea Pen among the coral (images above). The colour palette of creams and greys is a little washed-out, bleached by being out of water. In life these creatures can be vibrantly coloured, even changing colour to match the surroundings, and importantly, under the water they MOVE (check this Youtube video of a Sea Quill, full of water, moving on the sea bed)

See also this video from Oxford Museum of Natural History ‘s First Creatures exhibition. Here was the sense of colour, translucency and life I was looking for. Ammonites with tendrils, Charnia, Corals and Sea Pens shimmering with life.

Alongside this I was looking at ferns and leaf shapes from everyday life, drawing on the repeat pattern in their shape. It gave some something to sketch in real time, from life. I tried an number of techniques including ink and brush, pencil and my favourite fountain pen continuous line.

I set about drawing a vertical Sea Pen, each frond completed with a different type of lace filling, hand drawn from different sources, historical lace, photographs and samples. I tried to capture some of the movement as the creature sways in the tide. When embroidering, I captured some of the softness of the Sea Pen by adding stitched fringing to the design, and tried wiring some motifs too- to shape the lace after washing.

A picture of embroidered textiles

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.

Fossils inspiration – part one

A photo of 'Jerusalem' island in Barrow Upon Soar
Jerusalem Island in Barrow Upon Soar. January 2020 – the fairy lights are leftover Christmas decorations

I ‘m from Barrow Upon Soar in Leicestershire, it’s famous plesiosaur on the roundabout ‘Jerusalem Island’ just down the street from my house. The village was busy with lime working in the 19th century, and those mines yielded a number of marine fossils, including many complete plesiosaur and icthyosaurs. The whole Charnwood area was covered by ocean in the time when animal life was just beginning, so many fossil discoveries have been made locally. I’ve already posted about Tina Negus and her discovery of the Charnia fossil in the 1950s.

My mum Ann grew up in 1950s Barrow and remembers her Dad, a grocer, taking deliveries around the Charnwood Forest. Sometimes he took his daughter with him. I imagine Mum and Tina, being separated by only a few years and a few miles on that day in Charnwood. Mum has been an evangelical christian all her life, and sometimes struggled with the idea of fossils, dinsoaurs and evolution. But she’s cool with it now. (Good job really, or she isn’t going to like this project!)

In October 2019, I visited the Natural History Museum and checked out some of the fossils found in Barrow. I also saw plenty of other sea creatures, ancient and modern.

The holotype of the Charnia Masoni fossil found by Tina and Roger Mason is kept at Leicester New Walk Museum, as is the ‘Barrow Kipper’. I didn’t see any other Charnia fossils until I went to the Museum of Natural History in Oxford in February 2020.

I believe her…

I Believe Her

The story of Tina Negus back in the 50’s got me thinking about women and girls whose experiences are still not given credence today. The case of Harvey Weinstein, jailed for sexual offences in 2020, broke in late 2017 and when I began my MA journey was still in the media. Initially women who came forward to speak of their experience at the hands of Weinstein and others were not believed. On 15th October, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter,

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,”

the hashtag went on to become a phenomenon, with women from all walks of life (including this one) posting ‘#MeToo’ tweets. It became clear just how many women suffer everyday sexism and harassment, and yet only 1.7% of reported rapes were prosecuted in 2018 (The Independent 25 April 2019). The extent of everyday harassment prompted a number of questions from men I have known all my life, and the question ‘why didn’t you say anything?’ For many it was about taking on power, and putting one’s neck on the line to say something. If you weren’t believed then you put yourself in a precarious position at work, at school at uni, for no reason. Silence was safer.

So the story of a girl whose words were given no importance, whose discovery would have changed her future, seemed to fit this time. We have to start more sentences with ‘I believe her’

Text as Picot

sketchbook page

What is a picot? Pat Earnshaw says in A Dictionary of Lace (year) that a pearl, purl or picot is ‘a short loop used to enrich the outline of a [lace] motif, a border or bar’.

In bobbin lace, a picot is formed of two threads twisted into a loop and held in place with a pin. In Leavers (a form of machine-made) lace, picots are held in place using a fine thread called a support thread, which is withdrawn after manufacture.

A sketchbook page!

I was intrigued by the idea of using text around the edge of the lace as a decorative edging, but also to tell the story behind the design. (Click the gallery to read the captions)

I also like the idea of adding text as picot in a separate layer, or even separating it entirely from the shape it once surrounded, just leaving the space where the motif was. The text was too flimsy to hold it’s own shape, so I looked again at embroidery on net to hold the text. See ’embroidery on net’ to find out more

Telling Tales


I have been inspired by artists using lace or textiles to tell a tale. This may be in the form of a linear narrative such as the Bayeux Tapestry, or simply using related imagery to evoke a feeling in a piece (See Jason Holroyd’s use of industrial motif in his laser cut lace designs ‘Missing Industry’ and ‘Class Dismissed’.)

‘Design is a powerful conduit for change.’ (accessed 17/06/2019)

The NTU lace archive holds a few original communist-inspired drawings by the award-winning lace designer William Hallam Pegg. As artefacts, these have the delicate and ethereal nature of lace and prove that the beautiful can still be political.

A picture of hand drawn lace design
Hand-drawn Lace design. William Hallam Pegg, Lace Archive, Nottingham Trent University

The archive also holds some paintings by the original designer of Nottingham’s ‘Battle of Britain’ panel, made during WW2 to commemorate that famous battle. The figurative elements are not necessarily the designer’s strongest suit, but are balanced by the inclusion of many decorative elements. The lace panel itself is a beautiful item, despite the themes of destruction and sacrifice it depicts. It was made in curtain lace, which at the time was a large industry in Nottingham.

Also made in curtain lace, the Magga Dan panel depicts a famous Antarctic expedition, the elements of the story portrayed in shades of white, over printed with colour to bring it to life

Magga Dan lace panel. (Photo credit: Carole Quarini)

My travels to Germany have led to an interest in visiting Plauen, the German home of lace making. On my visit to Karlsruhe this Summer I’ll try to pull in visits to local Bauhaus Museum to see more lace and textiles. I will travel to Calais Lace Museum in September.
The Wiener Werkstätte was, for thirty years, a centre for applied arts in Vienna, not dissimilar to the Arts and Craft movement in the UK. The aesthetic is interesting, less floral than the historical lace we often see here. Thun-Hohenstein’s (2017) introduction to a recent history on the Werkstätte says simply “Zeig’ mir deine Spitzen und Stickereien, und ich sage dir, wer du bist” (p6)

Show me your lace and embroidery and I’ll tell you who you are!

A picture of modernist lace
Credit: Lace from Wiener Werkstätte

Darkness as inspiration

Image of magazine pages

I’d kept some pages from British Vogue 1996, a shoot by British photographer Nick Knight, using high contrast, saturated colour and very dark shadows. In another of his shoots for Vogue from 2004, ‘Shimmer’, shadow is used as a frame for the model. This has informed a way of photographing textile samples and highlighting parts of a sample.  

a picture of fashion photographs on a wall
Nick Knight: images from Vogue 1996

Alongside the use of darkness/light I am interested in ‘dark’ motifs or design themes such as skulls/bones or perhaps something shocking or unexpected in lace. See Jason Holroyd’s use of industrial motif in his laser cut lace designs ‘Missing Industry’ and ‘Class Dismissed’. See also the communist inspired designs of lace designer William Hallam Pegg held in the NTU lace archive.  

A picture of laser cut lace
Jason Holroyd ‘Class Dismissed’ 2012

Along with my other keywords: 

  • Translucent
  • Negative space 
  • Embellished layers  
  • Encrusted
  • Darkness is the most important. 

Real darkness can be difficult to find, especially in urban spaces, and particularly in places inhabited by the masses. In fact, darkness could be described as a luxury. ‘Darkness is a luxury not granted to Britain’s Council Estates’ (Sloane 2016).

Bright light will hide that which has a lower light level, which can only be seen through darkness. How many of us have been camping and gone outside in the middle of the night to answer the call, only to have our breath taken away by the amount and brightness of the stars? Dark Sky Parks have become a necessity for those wanting to see more than the largest and brightest of stars. According to Falchi et al (2016) 99% of the population of Europe and the US live with night-time light pollution.

A picture of a glow in the dark lace skull
JC Middlebrook: Skull 2015 (photo credit Ash Brown)

Darkness can be as necessary as light for revealing texture. When items are lit from behind for example, the texture or real properties of the material will be difficult to perceive. Turn off the backlight and more can be seen. This can have a philosophical meaning too. In the discussion ‘Dark retreats and sensory deprivation’ Tenzin Wangyal describes Buddhist theory of how removing expectation of external light during a dark retreat, you see more of the ‘internal light’ of your soul.  

Similarly, we can see how phosphorescent items are hidden until ‘normal’ light frequency is removed, leaving only the phosphors ‘glowing’ in the dark. Of course, this is a visual effect only. The phosphors glow all the time, we just cannot perceive them until the light conditions allow.

Do galleries find it challenging to exhibit items requiring darkness, resorting to displaying them behind a wall or curtain in order to exclude the light? Can the work hold the darkness within required to reveal hidden elements? 

A picture of a textile sample including beads and silk organza overlay
Jayne Childs: 2018 MA textile sample

Pieces are usually illuminated in the direction of the viewer’s gaze, if they are lit from the back the detail can be lost. Could this effect be exploited to draw the viewer in to examine one detail, only to reveal another? What happens if intricate items are lit from behind instead? Or if the light is withdrawn as the viewer approaches. What does the darkness, or lack of light, reveal? I will explore layering to create shadow, hide or reveal texture and add richness to the design. Translucent fabrics can add sheen without weight and bring lightness to the design.