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