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.

Text as picot layer

an image of the words text as picot

Ian had made the large box in April and I still had no idea whether I was going to be able to get a laser design to put in it, so I thought I’d crack on and at least make an embroidered layer. After the success of the text layer in the small box I decided to make the text as picot as a separate layer, as embroidery on net. Click on the gallery below to view how I went about it, more info in the captions

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)