Yesterday I was winding the bobbins for the Torchon bookmark I’m making for my Made Up pledge and someone asked me what I was going to use them to make. ‘Oh, it’s just a bookmark’ I said, to which they replied ‘it doesn’t look like “just” a bookmark to me; it looks pretty complicated.’

That word – just.

It could’ve meant; this is a simple project beneath my current skill level. It could’ve meant the finished object wasn’t going to be useful, or worth it. Or it could even have been used to indicate deference to the other person’s perceived skill level. I often hear lacemakers and other creative types use the word just, to mean any or all of these things. “It’s just a simple edging I’m doing to pass the time”. “It’s just a Sorbetto for the summer”.

But the first lace edging you make, or Sorbetto top you sew isn’t ‘just’. It’s a big deal. It represents achievement, learning and a swell of excitement as a new world of possibility and creativity reveals itself.

Of course as makers it’s important to stretch, challenge and improve. But sometimes it is good to take a breather, and to revisit simpler things. If you put it into the context of literacy, which is what the Made Up initiative is all about, just because I have the ability to read Proust, doesn’t mean that he is all I have to read and it also doesn’t mean that I can’t equally enjoy reading Julia Donaldson to my children- the words may be simpler but the enjoyment is still there, and it’s still a fantastic use of my time.

Revisiting simpler projects can also remind us how far we’ve come; it lets us hone skills or experiment with new techniques. But most importantly it is also still creating. I’ll still have a beautiful bookmark by 10 September (all being well)….

And my simple (to me) little bookmark has already helped to raise lots of money for the National Literacy Trust. All of these things we’re ‘just’ creating will contribute towards unlocking that new world of possibility for others. And that’s just wonderful, as far as I’m concerned.

Young Woman Reading by Alfred Emile Leopold Stevens ; image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/173881235583244277/

Young Woman Reading by Alfred Emile Leopold Stevens ; image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/173881235583244277/


Book review: Contemporary Lace for You by Jane Atkinson

I have to confess that I’ve only ever really concentrated on traditional lace and techniques, occasionally using coloured threads but never really deviating in my techniques and interpretations. However I have always been intrigued and interested in contemporary techniques so bought Jane Atkinson’s book Contemporary Lace for You to find out more.


Most of the other lace books I have are either instruction manuals or just photographs, but this book was pitched somewhere in between, concentrating in large part on the creative process and design elements.This was a pleasant surprise and I spent a few evenings just reading the book, rather than flicking through to a pattern or technique that I was interested in, which I would usually do when I get a new lace book.


There was plenty of interesting information about how we think and how we find deign inspiration and in that respect I think it would be an interesting read for anyone creative, lace-maker or not.


The colours and threads Jane uses are beautiful and the finished pieces inspiring. The location photographs by David Bird are stunning using the Dorset landscape to enhance the pieces.


Patterns aren’t included in the book but are available on Jane’s website at: http://www.contemporarylace.com/index.htm which is well worth a visit even if you’re not after a pattern. However there is a whole chapter in the book on different grids and how to use them.


I’d love to try out some of these ideas and can see that I could easily combine working on my traditional lace with experimenting with new techniques on another pillow. Have you? Any tips for me?!?


Lace Here Now

I recently got my hands on the publication Lace: Here: Now which accompanied the series of events of the same name held in Nottingham in late 2012. It’s published by Black Dog publishing and available to buy online.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to attend any of the events in Nottingham, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment or understanding of the book. It is an easily accessible book- you don’t have to read the chapters (of which there are three- Lace, Here and Now) in order for it to make sense and I easily read it in an evening. It will also appeal to those interested in lace as a craft, a product or a social history.

Nottingham was the undisputed centre of the machine-made lace industry in the 1800s and the first chapter Lace covers the history of the industry in Nottingham, including a beautiful visual essay by Joy Buttress and Matt Gill. There were three main parts to the manufacturing process, the makers, the lace dyers and the manufacturers who finished the lace, sometimes in the workers’ own homes. It was rare to have a single factory completing all three stages so different factories sprang up dealing with each process. Having studied and then lived in this area of the Midlands it was fascinating to see how many lace factories were in the vicinity of where I used to live.


Image of map from the book and taken from: http://www.nottsheritagegateway.org.uk/themes/lace.htm

The next chapter Here focuses on lace in Nottingham, particularly the archives of lace and lace machinery.


Sample book donated by William Felkin containing lace samples from 1850 – Nottingham Trent University Lace Archive


Birkins Design Room, Palm St, New Basford on the visit of King George V (1914) – Nottingham Trent University Lace Archive

Images from the book and taken from: http://www.creativequarter.com/life/history-lace/

The final chapter Now looks at some contemporary interpretations of lace, including three case studies from Timorous Beasties, Cecilia Heffer and Teresa Whitfield. These provide interesting examples of how lace continues to excite, inspire and influence people in their creative work.


Image: Teresa Whitfield Black Lace Shawl detail; from http://www.teresawhitfield.co.uk/

The last chapter particularly got me thinking about the enduring popularity of lace, despite its decline as a handmade item. Lace as a product continues to be hugely popular helped in part by exhibitions such as Lace:Here:Now. It is perennially popular in fashion- from high end to high street collections


Above- Stella McCartney S/S14 collection

Below- Next signature dresses, 2014

next lace

and is used as a design for anything from umbrellas to stationery, see for example two items from the Paperchase store:

00518297_large 00518802

Lace remains ubiquitous for weddings of course, particularly following Kate Middleton’s choice of Carrickmacross lace sleeves on her gown in 2011


Lacemaking was big business throughout the 19th century- the Lace:Here:Now book cites that 60,000 people were employed as machine lace workers in the early 1900s in the East Midlands area- but the introduction of machine made lace negatively impacted on the handmade craft, a legacy which is still having its effects felt today.

Lace has moved from being commercial to being a hobby craft yet despite the huge resurgence in other heritage and handmade crafts in the UK in recent years, lace seems to be disappearing into the shadows. Traditional handmade lace of course had its own huge resurgence in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s- at one point the Lace Guild was the second largest guild in the UK and scores of books, events and lace groups appeared- but this seems to have slowed somewhat, at the same time as contemporary interpretation and subversion of lace- such as that profiled in the book- and the interest in lace as a design inspiration is on the rise.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in lace- it’s an interesting read, an important addition to the literature on lace and provides some fascinating data and images.

‘Cat’ching up…

I didn’t get much chance to do any lace last weekend as we had family staying, bonfire parties and by Sunday evening I had a massive headache so I know if I picked the lace up I’d end up unpicking more than I actually got done (or doing ‘reverse stitch’ as it’s more commonly known ;-)).

I did however have chance to visit my old lace teacher, Lorna, on Friday. She’s been making lace since the 1970s and was even lucky enough to do her PhD on lace-making. Over the years she has amassed a large collection of lace making equipment, books and resources and as she doesn’t need them all anymore, has been passing a few things to me as she knows I will use them, keep them and pass them on to other lace makers in the future. One of the things I’m hoping to do next year is start teaching after-school lace classes at my daughters’ school, so any extra equipment will be put to good use.

She very generously gave me her Honiton bobbins back in the summer as she won’t be using them anymore, which all have this distinctive ‘N’ on the end, signifying that they were made by a Mr Norman, down in Devon who apparently no longer makes bobbins.


This time, she had found some ebony bobbins she’s had for many years but had never used or spangled and wanted to pass them on to someone who may use them.


I haven’t yet done anything with them but think they deserve some beautiful beads so will be looking out for some spangles at the next North West Lacemakers meeting in December, when Jo and Ash Firth are the suppliers.

On the way home I stopped in Uppermill and browsing in Tow Path books found an old lace book I didn’t have called Lace in the Making with bobbins and needle by Margaret L. Brooke, originally published in 1923. I’ve often found lace books in there- there must be a seam of them coming from somewhere! I haven’t yet read it all but this extract did make me laugh:


especially seeing as when I was taking the photos for this post, I had a furry helper!


A collision of passions

I was down in London earlier this week with work and was soooo pleased that I found some time to browse in my favourite shop- Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street.

Persephone- exterior

I’ve been in love with Persephone books since 2002 when Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime broadcast the fabulous Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski. I listened intently for two weeks but avoided the final episode so that I could read the book and find out what happens for myself- it is literally the last page that all is revealed so don’t be tempted to jump ahead! My mum bought me the book for Christmas and since then I have collected a good few editions and none have failed to inspire, entertain or amuse me.


As well as the stories however, I also just fell in love with the books themselves- the plain dove-grey cover, the typeset and particularly the use of vintage fabrics and wallpapers of the era of the book for the inside covers and bookmarks, like these:

–          The delightfully named, ‘How to Run your Home Without Help’ by Kay Smallshaw- endpaper is ‘Riverside’, a 1946 printed dress fabric in rayon crepe


–          ‘The Crowded Street’ by Winifred Holtby, endpapers taken from a printed silk dress fabric. I get a triple word score of connections with this one- it’s Persephone, it’s fabric, and Winifred Holtby and I come from the same neck of the woods!


The shop itself is just a sheer delight. I have to limit myself otherwise I’d buy the whole back-catalogue at once and where would be the fun in that?!? They make such perfect presents and are displayed so beautifully in the shop.

Persephone- interior

I restricted myself to ‘Housebound’ by Winifred Peck this time, which of course came with the coordinating bookmark.

The staff are also incredibly helpful and recently sent me some endpapers which I’ve used to line the drawers of these two beautiful miniature chests which my very talented Dad made to keep my lace threads in.


The one on the left was his prototype, believe it or not- I think it’s pretty good for a practice piece! And I’m just so stupidly happy every time I open the drawers to see the designs peeking out from under the threads.



Isn’t it great when you can bring your different passions together in one place?