Embroidery on net

a picture of embroidered lace

Working in the archive as research assistant for the ‘Lace Unarchived’ exhibition in 2018, I regularly came across the imprint ‘Property of the Federation of Lace and Embroidery Employers Associations’.
Embroidery on net is generally not considered by lace experts to be ‘Nottingham Lace’. The patterning is added to the background net as a second additional step, often in another factory altogether. As an embroiderer, I am interested to find out more about the embroidery side of the industry. Was it significant to the area; why don’t we talk about ‘Nottingham Embroidery’, only ‘Nottingham Lace’? Does the person on the street know or care about the difference?

Lace archive stamp
Many of the items in the NTU Lace Archive are stamped ‘The Property of The Federation of Lace and Embroidery Employers Associations’

For my Advanced Research Module I investigated an idea that Sharpe & Chapman (1996) included in their research with the tantalising phrase: ‘Embroidered Lace is not seen as a pure article’(p327). This refers to the trade of ‘running’ or embroidering the pattern by hand on pre-made net, made either by hand or machine (Earnshaw p53-4). But I was also interested in other types of embroidery and other types of net.

a net pattern etched on to tracing paper
Laser engraving on to tracing paper is still one of my favourite effects

I set about making my own ‘net’ or background for embroidery by engraving a net pattern onto different materials and then embroidering using my machines, or embroidering on a background to create patterned holes with a threadless needle.

Concentric needle holes made by stitching onto plastic film without thread

In the end I abandoned those ideas as I simplified and refined my project, but the samples I created using laser engrave on fine papers and silks are some of my favourites (look at the reflective video on laser samples!), and I will return to some of them very soon for JC Middlebrook.

sample pieces on cheap tulle, before final embroidery onto cotton bobbinet

In my final pieces I used cotton bobbinet from Swiss Tulle to give the lace some body and some stability to the layers within the lightbox. So I embroidered the text as picot layers onto bobbinet for the large lightbox and replaced all laser cut elements with embroidery on net in the small lightbox. The net could be pinned in place to avoid unwanted movement of the embroidery within the box.

Calais Lace Museum

Calais lace museum 2019

A Craft and an Industry

Michel Storm factory in the back streets near the lace museum

Nottingham once had many lace factories and supported industry in making lace machines and design of lace. Indeed, the art school here at Nottingham Trent University supported lace design and technical specialisms. There was a strong connection to Calais with many folk and machines from Nottingham making their way to France. Calais still has some lace factories and a large lace museum, while Nottingham has few remnants of the industry left.
(Click on the gallery below to see the captions)

I visited in December and was inspired to see working lace factories and machines. The process of making lace by hand and machine was explained very thoroughly.

The twisthand shows the lace machine operating, Calais

The contemporary gallery showed me how I can bring my design into an art setting, and the Olivier Theyskens fashion exhibit was simply a treat of darkness. Theyskens had created a whole collection in response to items of equipment and machinery held in the museum.

The contemporary gallery was showing ‘Dentelle etc…’ a year long exhibition of applied art

I found a new reflective and presentation style when I came back from Calais. The video below shows how I incorporated the two for my formative assessment in February 2020

Narrative in Lace

I want to have a narrative and text in my work. There are other lace artists incorporating text, here’s a couple: Caitlin McCormack (instagram @mistercaitlin) and Carole Quarini (@CaroleQuarini)

At first I wasn’t bothered about making the text legible, thinking it was more about the beauty of the lace. But after speaking with my talented friend Michaela McMillan, whose work is centred around storytelling, I came to realise that it was important that the narrative can be understood easily and the viewer can participate fully in the story.

I’ve been influenced by these two lace designers using text as part of the design, and to make political statements through their practice.

I first saw @MisterCaitlin on Pinterest but then found her on Insta. Her work is spiky and full of rage. I love that about it, lace can be seen as demure and feminine but so many lace makers are total anarchists.
From her website: Caitlin McCormack is a Philadelphia-based textile artist who works primarily with crocheted cotton thread, which is stiffened with glue and positioned to resemble osteological specimens. These works convey McCormack’s thoughts regarding the way memories become distorted with the passing of time https://www.caitlintmccormack.com/

Dr Carol Quarini.

I met Carol through Dr Gail Baxter, with whom I worked in the NTU Lace Archive. Carol is a prolific lace researcher and blogger, who visits so many cool exhibitions and places. I hadn’t expected her work to be quite so subversive, but there it is glorying in the profane (with maybe less swearing).
From her website: Carol is a textile artist and researcher who makes and studies lace. Her post-doctoral research studies the history, manufacture and design of net curtains and lace panels.
Her work around domestic violence incorporated words into the lace design, for example this lace coaster with the words ‘get off me’

Further experiments with lights

an image of a lace light box

If you have seen the film Arrival (2016), based on a short story by Ted Chiang and directed by Denis Villenueve, you will understand the boundary or border between the visitors and the people communicating with them. They wrote or drew their communications onto the border.​ The human protagonists were concerned with interpreting the communication. My light box experiments in 2019 put me in mind of the glyphs written on that border.

Arrival (2016)

You can see in the video below, I planned to make some kind of light installation, probably freestanding, for my second year. ​I planned to include colour and movement to the light and experimented with how big I could go, and how much distance between light and polypropylene.​

Jayne Childs: MA Lighting sample 2019

I also used the laser cutter to engrave the front of the poly to see what that looks like (nice, as it turns out, but no effect on the refraction)​. I liked that you can see some kind of pattern, even with the light off.

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.’

AIGA.org/roadmap (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

Nick Knight

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.  (Click on the gallery for my comments)

I loved the way that the black was so saturated, and the colours were so rich as a result. I liked that the darkness was used as a prop in the ‘Shimmer’ photoshoot. I tried to use this technique to photograph some samples. I didn’t go much further with the idea of photography in this style, but the depth of shadows and the jewel colour palette has informed the entire project.