The Charnia LaceLightBox Collection

It occurred to me that you may not know what my final collection looks like, or how it all hangs together.

Four colourful lightboxes hang on a gallery wall
The four Charnia LaceLightBoxes hang together to tell the story of Tina Negus

The Charnia LaceLightBox collection was completed in 2020 and is so far unseen in real-life by the general public (2021). It takes my lace designs from the domestic to a gallery setting. I shifted the emphasis from a ‘delight in delicacy’ to using strong forms, removing the textile from view, and yet revealing the effect through shadow play. The engraved LaceLightBoxes contain embroidered and laser-cut lace lit by colour-changing LEDs.

Fascinated by history, I explore new ideas. For example, I am using text as a picot edging to the lace – a relatively unexplored technique in traditional lace-making. The story told with this collection is of a world-changing discovery made by a young girl in the 1950s who went uncredited for decades.

A picture of Jayne Childs next to a wall mounted lightbox Charnia 1
Charnia 1

The collection comprises four craftsman-made boxes, 3 of which are lit using coloured LEDs, creating an ever-changing display. The contents of unlit box 4 are entirely visible like a museum cabinet, giving clues as to what is included within the other boxes. The collection uses lace, embroidery on net, laser-cutting and engraving, and found objects to communicate the story behind the Charnia fossil discovery. Recycling instructions and snippets of the narrative are laser-engraved onto the 2nd box exterior.

Charnia 4

I chose to push beyond the usual delicate forms usually associated with lace by using other materials such as hardboard, Perspex and phosphorescent materials. Laser-cutting seemed a natural choice, however took much experimentation to create designs which remained intact once cut, as they do when created in textile. I developed designs for laser-engraving onto the front of the box, to ‘glitch’ the light and shadow, revealing and concealing the design. Materials are chosen using my own sustainability framework, evaluating the internal/external impacts of the work. You can find the findings on this website.

The work aims to give voice to Tina Negus’ discovery of Charnia Masoni, which was uncredited for decades, and wider experiences of women and girls not believed.

framed lacelightbox
Charnia 3. I love this flame-orange part of the light colour sequence

Charnia 1: 1425x950x175mm

Birchwood box, laser-engraved Perspex front, colour-changing LED lights, cotton bobbinet embroidered with text, laser-cut mountboard ‘lace’.

Charnia 1 is the largest of the four LaceLightBoxes. It contains a laser-cut Charnia lace motif which fills the frame and is mounted approximately 40mm from the LED light strips using upholstery T pins. A panel of cotton bobbinet. embroidered with the phrase ‘She found and interesting thing and took it to her teacher, who said ‘Don’t be silly we have already decided that isn’t possible so it can’t be true’.’ A smaller version of Charnia laser lace stands in the lower left corner. The frosted perspex front panel is laser engraved in the lower right corner with a section of the Charnia lace motif.

Charnia 2: 710x475x175mm

Laser-engraved Birchwood box, laser-engraved Perspex front, static white LED lights, laser-cut card ‘lace’.

Charnia 2 is laser-engraved on each face with pattern and detail from the Charnia motif and narrative. The reverse of the frame has a request to recycle and contact details for the artist. Inside, static white LEDs cast a shadow of the blue laser lace Charnia suspended in front. When the lights are turned off the frosted Perspex front panel obscures but does not completely hide the motif.

Charnia 3: 310x475x175mm

Birchwood box, laser-engraved Perspex front, colour-changing LED lights, cotton bobbinet embroidered with text, laser-cut mountboard ‘lace’, hanging machine embroidered lace motifs.

Charnia 3 contains a panel of cotton bobbinet. embroidered with the phrase ‘She found an interesting thing’ used in Charnia 1, along with a larger cursive word ‘Charnia’. A machine embroidered Charnia lace motif is suspended to the left hand side. The frosted Perspex front panel is laser engraved with a fern lace design. The box is lit using colour-changing LED light strips.

Charnia 4: 475x310x75mm

Birchwood box, clear Perspex front, found objects, resin Charnia fossil replica, machine embroidered lace motifs, laser-cut mountboard ‘lace’.

Charnia 4 is the only LaceBox which is unlit. It contains a sectional laser-cut Charnia lace motif which fills the frame and is mounted at varying depths using upholstery T-pins. A replica of the Charnia Masoni fossil fills the lower right corner and a number of embroidered Charnia lace motifs and thread samples are suspended or attached to the background using T pins. The clear Perspex front panel allows a clear view of the objects inside.

Each box attaches to the wall using French cleat system and are constructed in such a way that the front panels slide out from the top edge.

The Last Post

Studio workspace

You can read the text of my evaluation below, or as an embedded document above.

Name: Jayne Childs
Course: MA Fashion Textile Design PT
Sprigs, Brides and Prickings – Evaluation

As a textile artist, specialising in digital embroidery, I combine historical influences with contemporary design to create wearable pieces and art.

I’ve developed my own interpretation of lace ‘sprigs’ and ‘brides’, both terms used in traditional handmade lace. Sprigs is a term for smaller motifs in Honiton lace which would be made individually, then joined together to make a larger piece, brides refer to a type of join between lace motifs. I’m using these concepts to tell a story within my lace design, and within the making. The work I created during my MA features a strong narrative.

I highlight the discovery of an important fossil close to my childhood home, incorporating themes of girls and women not being believed, and how light can reveal but also distort what you see. I was delighted to be awarded one of three 2020 Scholarships by the Embroiderers’ Guild, allowing me to continue developing Sprigs and Brides beyond my MA.

Project Proposal summary
The proposal was to make an illuminated panel for installation or interiors. I proposed to explore the concepts of lace, shadows and borders, and include theoretical ideas, the work of other artists, makers and designers, investigations into the potential of new materials and practical studio-based experiments.

My outcome was to be a wall-mounted or free-standing illuminated installation for interiors, possibly accompanied by a small collection or concept for domestic lighting. Lace, or other materials, placed between the light source (LEDs) and the frosted sheet would cast a pleasing, distorted image onto the surface. Movement would come from the viewer moving around the object and the use of colour changing lights within.

Delivering the project
After submitting my project proposal in early July 2019, I felt confident that I had an idea to pursue, allowing for a short period of narrative development. I liked the idea of creating a free standing installation and gaining the skills I would need to construct an artwork of high enough standard to sit in a hotel or office entrance.

There were two major crimps in my timeline. First, a week after submitting my project proposal in July 2019 my mum had a massive stroke. She lost the use of her left side and spent eight weeks in hospital learning to speak, eat and walk again. She went home to live alone just as we were to return to university. I, as the youngest, most local and least employed of my siblings, took on the responsibility of her care.

Fortunately, she doesn’t need full time care, but took up enough of my attention to wash out some of my brain and time. I was unable to go to Karlsruhe for the GEDOK exhibition, but my colleagues installed my work for me. I said no to things I would normally pursue, and only did one selling show in the run-up to Christmas 2019. I had less time in the MA studio and had to cut my working hours further to accommodate my studies. I decided to make a simple wall-mounted installation and outsourced the making of my lighting installation to a local cabinet maker. I had commissioned the work just before the second crimp in the road, the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UK went into lockdown just as the first centre of the epidemic in China was under control. I sympathised with the Chinese students on the course who must have been beside themselves with worry about their friends and family back home.

We packed up our essential work from the MA studio, not realising we wouldn’t see it again until a week before hand in (maybe). I left all of my first year work there, and retreated to the JCM studio at home. I don’t feel I was as affected by CV-19 as other students, having most of the equipment I needed there. I had to outsource my laser cutting and engrave and that was a huge headache, but mostly down to my poor software skills. On reflection I would not try to do the design by myself but let Keith (Handytech) work the line drawing up.
The lockdown was an emotional shock, which set me back by at least a month. If it had not happened, I think I would have finished my boxes earlier, and had more time for reflection and 2D branding work.

I’m very disappointed that I won’t get the chance to exhibit in July but am sure I will have other opportunities. I have been awarded an Embroiderers Guild scholarship, and if lockdown eases sufficiently, I will exhibit at the Knit and Stitch shows in London and Harrogate in October and November. If it doesn’t and the events don’t run, I’ll show them another time.

The Narrative
The story behind the project was inspired by weeks and months of driving across the Charnwood Forest to visit my Mum in hospital. As youngster, I’d knocked around with friends on Beacon Hill and in the Outwoods, as did my Mum and thousands of other girls who grew up in that part of Leicestershire. In the 1950s, a young girl called Tina Negus had also visited Charnwood. But unlike me and my Mum, Tina visited the area with a purpose. She was a fossil hunter, and the area around Charnwood is rich in prehistoric fossils.

During that visit, Tina found a fossil and made a rubbing onto paper, intrigued because it was in a rock that was way too old to have fossils in it. She showed it to her geography teacher, who didn’t believe her that the fossil was where Tina claimed. A local boy, Roger Mason, was eventually named as the finder of that sea creature fossil, it is he after whom it is named -Charnia Masoni. Charnia was an important find as it proves that life existed in the pre-Cambrain era and eventually Roger Mason became an academic geologist.

I told this story to my Mum who is a few years older than Tina Negus. When she looked my work, she said ‘yes, that’s how it was in those days. Girls weren’t valued in the same way as boys, perhaps if she had been a boy, she would have been listened to’.

I’m an instinctively reflective practitioner, which probably comes from lack of confidence and overthinking. The difference here has been capturing that reflection and applying the outcome. I don’t know how much reflective journal I will continue to write as it’s so time-consuming, but I hope capturing technical file has become second nature. Having been caught out when asked to recreate some older JC Middlebrook work, I have learned the hard way.

I think even ‘noting’ thoughts allows me to make decisions in a conscious way, providing accountability to myself, rather than stumbling into actions.

Concept keywords
I found keywords helped keep my project on track. Referring back as I wrote my reflective journal helped me to see how my project was progressing, and how relevant (or not) my activity:
• Darkness -Alongside the use of real shadows/light I was interested in ‘dark’ motifs or design themes. I’m not sure I explored this idea to its fullest conclusion but was happy with the motif development I achieved.
• Negative space – using the idea of the shapes between the shapes. Exploring the concept of what is left behind when a part is taken away. Not as big an influence on my design development as I’d thought, but I like to think I can return to this for further exploration as my practice continues.
• Translucent –I like the way shadows pass through translucent layers. The entire lightbox is created through the translucency and delicacy of light and shadow. The ethereal, moving shadows are the most important part of the installation.
• Encrusted – I was in love with very heavily textured lace, for example the 17th Century chasuble in NTU’s lace archive. I saw encrusting as a way of creating chaotic design, adding individual motifs in a seemingly random way. Most of what I eventually made is flat but has as much texture as a heavily beaded and encrusted embroidery. The idea of laser engraving on the outside of the box allowed me to explore encrusted visuals without danger of it becoming a ‘dust-catcher’.
• Embellished layers – building up layers using translucent textiles and encrusted outer layers to hide some detail, which may be revealed when illuminated. In fact the layers came be hidden inside the lightbox, creating sharply outlined or diffuse shadow.
• Illumination – in their 2008 book ‘Bright’ Lowther and Schultz categorise light installations as static, dynamic or interactive. The lightbox is dynamic, with moving light patterns, and could be made interactive with the addition of simple controls, available to buy online. For example a sound-responsive Bluetooth controller for the LEDs would make the light patterns change in response to music.

Aims and Objectives:
Looking at my aims now they seem a bit too easy and obvious. It’s been a good exercise to reflect on them at this point.
Aim 1: to develop my own style of visual research and to produce a portfolio of ideas for future reference. This took the longest time and least obvious as to how I achieved it. I would prefer to be able to look back and say ‘if I did these steps again I would achieve the same goal’
• Objective: sample different materials and styles of visual research such as sketch, collage, ink, painting, print, stitch
• Objective: attend drawing classes and produce a number of sketchbooks.
• Objective: use keywords when producing sketchbook pages to explore meaning

Aim 2: to research historic lace as a potential source of design inspiration and to look at beyond common current use as a fashion textile
• Objective: incorporate historical references from the NTU Lace Archive. A joy, plain and simple.
• Objective: Sample lace techniques by hand, use the motifs and techniques to inform the final project installation. I did very little of this [sorry Gail I know you tried] but actually I can see where my work is informed by traditional hand made techniques.
• Objective: Visit lace centres overseas in Plauen, Caudry, Calais. Also MYB curtain lace makers in Scotland. I made it to Calais and would have gone further, had life not got in the way.

Aim 3: Learn about smart textiles, electronics and lighting, and explore alternative ways of making ‘lace’ parts/sprigs from other materials and new properties
• Objective: Materials research into smart textiles and the use of electronics in textiles (esp. for illumination). Once I’d decided on a lighting installation, I moved away from this objective, for ease I concentrated on designing textiles to use with pre-formed LED strips.
• Objective: Research and develop skills in use of other materials and techniques, including leather, resin, laser cut fabric etc. Much laser cut was utilised
• Objective: create machine embroidery samples using other materials as a backing, using embroidery on net as inspiration. I used embroidery on net, although one might consider that laser engraving on different materials is a type of thread on background.

Aim 4: to make an illuminated panel for installation or interiors with the possibility of producing a further lighting range for retail sale. I consider the production of the lightboxes under lockdown conditions to be my greatest achievement I managed to create something beautiful and impactful when viewed in real life. The challenge now is getting that impact through a display screen.
• Objective: research the use of lighting to create mood, darkness to reveal phosphorescent items and technical construction of lighting panel.
• Objective: Explore the importance of darkness as a lighting element.
• Objective: Conduct materials research into phosphorescence and other non-powered forms of illumination
• Objective: explore new markets for installation or interiors. Develop website to reflect new brand values

Research Methods
I’ve told anyone who was prepared to listen that the Advanced Research Module was one of my favourite parts of the last two years. Kerry told us to refer to ourselves as ‘researchers’ and this seemed to open a door in my mind, I found the both book research and researching through my practice to be challenging and exciting.

The research proposal I wrote for the module sought to unravel some historical threads in the embroidery sector of the Nottingham lace trade, investigating the phrase ‘Embroidery on net is not seen as the pure article’. In fact I didn’t follow up with it in my MA is not a problem, I saw it as a way of learning how to put such a proposal together and would hope that I’ve learned how to make successful proposals in the future.

I proposed to keep a multimedia approach, using digital technology such as video and photography where appropriate to record my visual research. Maybe I guessed Covid-19 was on it’s way with everything becoming screen based. However, at the beginning of 2nd year I’d pivoted to using lots and lots of paper-based records, having had my sketchbook woes turned to joy. Going back to digital has been time consuming and painful, I feel like I’ve done everything three times.

I planned to create a small website as the project portfolio and commercial brochures to be available online once the project is finished. Had I had more time, I would have spent more time on branding and producing more public facing material. I wish I’d had time to produce the accompanying brochure, but it’s inspired me to develop something like this for JC Middlebrook designs, perhaps a swing ticket telling the story behind a motif or design.

Practice based research – I spent much of my time in experimentation and sampling to explore materials and technique. This is true and I was on track to finish those experiments at the end of March 2020. Then CV-19 hit and I lost time and focus to worrying about our health.
Artefact based research – I’m interested in unusual uses for lace, materials or non-garment uses for lace textiles. I did less of this than I wanted but in reality, some things had to go and I’m glad it was this.
Contextual research – This will include a literature review, practice review, material review and potential areas for further research. Learning what was contextual research was a liberation, recognising what influences you helps you understand why you work in the way you do.

Ethical and Environmental considerations
If I had more time (no thanks to Covid) I wanted to make more of my project’s environmental credentials. I plan to have this as a section on the public facing part of my website. It is engraved on the back of the mid-sized box which may or may not be completed by the time I hand in. I used a mix of materials in the end, mostly natural materials (wooden boxes, beewax finish, cotton bobbinet) but some less natural (LEDs, phosphorescent polyester thread for some text, Perspex). I used ‘greener’ choices where I could (biodegradable foamboard backing, recycled and recyclable Perspex) I’ve produced a small statement document about living an examined life, which I’ll upload to the website, but I think it needs more work to make it customer facing.

The lacelightbox outcomes are better in real life than I ever imagined. I eventually learned how to create visualisations and am beginning to develop my own visual ‘handwriting’. I have learned how to research properly and spent much time reading and writing. I enjoyed the Advanced Research Module and would love to continue as a lace researcher.

The UFOs – Unfinished Objects

Lace Display Box

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.



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.

Riding the Corona-coaster (and working from home)

The Covid-19 pandemic and resulting UK lock-down meant not only working from home (which I’m used to), but the withdrawal of the wider Art School facilities. Once the university had decided how the teaching would be delivered we settled in to online working. Of course the sense of isolation was acute, and like everyone else my world got smaller and more uncertain.

The emotional effect in the first of weeks of lock-down set us back as we tried to establish a new working practice. My mum, whose stroke in July 2019 had such a massive influence on my project direction, lives alone about 15 miles from me. But she showed great strength and tenacity, embracing her solitude and enjoying time alone. However stoic she was, the very real prospect of losing her once more played on my mind.

I used my sketchbook/reflective to explore how the pandemic made me feel, being able to get it onto paper acted like a placeholder for my feelings so I could move on.

Slowly I redirected my work, accepting that I wouldn’t get my laser cut or engraving through the university. I experimented with other ways to create shadow, for example strong embroidery on net, whilst researching the possibility of using external contractors. Winning the Embroiderers’ Guild Scholarship meant I had the funds to pay someone to do this work for me.

Digital hand-in has been a massive challenge, alongside the fact that all of my year one work is still in the MA studio, awaiting collection. If I don’t get in to collect it soon it will go undigitised. But I have let this go, it is simply beyond my control and I have more pressing worries.

I came out of my undergraduate degree into a recession and no doubt I will survive this one too, I am incredibly privileged in terms of class, race and status. I will work to support other women who may not be so fortunate, am hoping to support a student internships or apprenticeship if I can make this business work.

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