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)

Material choices for final project

laser cut lace designs

I’m at the stage where I’m thinking about my final piece, and how to bring all of my ideas together into one design. I’ve decided to make a wall mounted light ‘box’, using colour changing LEDs to light it from within. The feedback at the February formative assessment point was that I should consider making the story more prominent, so I’ve decided to have the light box engraved on the outside. I’ve been thinking about a new design, incorporating a number of net/filling patterns.

I’ve also been thinking about material choices for the box itself. I want to celebrate local craftsmanship, so the outer box will be in wood, probably a pale wood ply.

The front will be frosted Perspex, not polypropylene. Perspex is more rigid and gives a smoother finish. Engrave isn’t quite so deep but the perspex makes more sense for a large piece. I think I’ll continue to trial the flexible polypropylene for other lights once the MA is over. I have found a recycled (and recyclable) Perspex supplier in Nottingham. Perspex keeps the weight down and is safe to laser engrave to I can continue the pattern onto the front.

LED light strips with laser cut lace design will go behind the frosted perspex

Inside the lace will be made using my usual technique, using rayon thread here. This is the most sustainable choice for embroidery, there isn’t a thread more sustainable than this. In some way’s Rayon thread is still problematic, the use of chemical dyes to colour it and it’s a water intensive process. Cotton thread production is impactful, plus it isn’t kind to my machines, creating more dust and fibre, which impacts in terms of service and longevity. Both rayon and cotton threads are degradable, leaving no eventual residue.

Rayon is great for embroidery as it runs through the machine well, has a super sheen and comes in the most colours. The shine is maintained after laundering and I find it’s softer than polyester embroidery. The only drawback is that I can’t choose phosphorescent thread if I avoid polyester. So I won’t have a glow in the dark element, although I could use a UV dark-light to get white thread to glow… I’ll also use paper and thin card for the laser cut items, which can be recycled or composted at the end of life.

The LEDs will be run inside the box, probably stuck onto foamboard (biodegradable). The foamboard means I can use pins to attach the lace and laser items to the box.

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

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

Historical Context

Lace archive stamp

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.

Credit : Nottingham Trent University Lace Archive 2018

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.

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.