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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Of the items held in the NTU lace archive, many were donated via the Lace and Embroidery Employer’s Federation, and stamped as such. When working in the Archive in 2018 I was interested to see this. Nottingham is widely-known for lace production up the mid 20th century, but I was curious to find out if what evidence I can find of the other side of the Nottingham Lace trade, that of embroidery on net.
Topics I could investigate are:
Industry and significance to the local economy, I am keen to capture oral histories if possible. There are a number of books about embroidery on net in French and German in the Lace Archive
Types of net –hand/machine made etc. Other types of embroidered lace, hand, machine made. I intend to interview current lace/net makers to find out about forms of net made, by hand or by machine and use this a visual inspiration for my embroidery backgrounds. Sharpe & Chapman (1996) included in their research into the 19th Century lace embroidery industry the phrase: ‘Embroidered Lace is not seen as a pure article’ (p327)
Materials – I have been laser engraving net designs onto a variety of translucent materials and am currently developing some embroidery for this backing. I have found that lace made from textile or laser cut paper has an interesting effect when placed between a light source and frosted polypropylene. The polypropylene refracts the light and the shadow cast appears to move. Multicoloured led lighting creates a layered shadow, breaking the light into its component colours which can look like stills from video glitch art.