Lovers of antique lace should take a trip to the Black Country’s Lace Guild where exquisite lace from the past four centuries is on show.
The exhibition, made possible by the Arts Council’s Ready to Borrow scheme, sees museum exhibits taken out of stores and sent around the UK.
A Lace Guild guest blog for the ARTS FOUNDRY reveals more about the cottage industry behind many of the exhibits…
‘There is not a cottage in all the county nor that of Somerset where white lace is not made in great quantities so that not only the whole kingdom is supplied with it but it is exported in great abundance.’
Cosimo de Medici, 1669
Visitors to Devon in the 17th and 18th Century would remark on how common lacemaking was. There were around 2,500 lace makers in the county in the late 1600s, with more than 1,300 in Honiton alone.
‘The lace manufacture in England is the greatest next to the woollen…’
This statement shows the huge significance of lace at the time, and its importance to the national economy.
Lace made in Devon became known as Honiton lace by the 18th Century, perhaps because trunks destined for export were stamped with the word, but lace was made over a wide area of Devon.
‘…here is abundance of bone-lace, a pretty toy…
‘At Axminster you may be furnished with fine flax thread there spun. At Honiton and Bradnidge with bone lace much in request.’
The main features of Honiton lace include: sprigs or motifs, a gimp thread, Brussels ground, raised work and filling stitches.
Designs changed according the fashions of the day, but floral or naturalistic motifs abound across the passing fads. Net ground was made in narrow strips and joined together.
Workers were paid as many shillings as would cover the net. Mrs Treadwin records being shown a net 18 inches square, made in around 1800, which had cost £15.
Devon lace was worth up to £6 a yard, compared to Buckinghamshire lace at around £1.50 a yard.
Three Honiton lace dealers, James Rodge, a Mrs Minifie and Thomas Humphreys all left sizeable bequests to the parish, showing there was good money to be made.
Examples of Honiton lace are held in collections around the world, some pieces indistinguishable from Flemish lace.
Though of tremendous quality, Honiton lace never came to be as highly regarded as Continental laces. Despite this, people were prepared to pay vast amounts for lace from Honiton, and lacemaking was seen as a very honourable profession through the 18th century.
The shawl pictured above is believed to have been shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, during a brief resurgence of what was a dying art.
The advent of machine-made net had a disastrous effect on handmade industries and quality declined as workers tried to compete.
The lace that emerged was called ‘rag lace’ by the workers and by 1816 only 300 lace makers remained in Devon. Victorians favoured machine-made lace and prices fell.
It is largely down to modern-day devotees of Honiton lace that traditions survive. A network of expert teachers and lace aficionados ensure that this exquisite craft lives on.
Honiton Lace Workshop
Sat 1 – Sun 2 June
Doreen Creed is an experienced Honiton lacemaker, having specialised in it for more than 30 years. This is a great opportunity to learn from a true expert! To take part in this course you will need basic lace techniques. More details at the Lace Guild Events page.
Visit the Exhibition!
See Honiton lace exhibits and more at the Hidden in Stores exhibition featuring rare lace from the V&A collection which runs at the Lace Guild, Stourbridge until June 21. See their exhibition page for more details!
Images © Victoria and Albert Museum, Doreen Creed, and Lace Guild Archive.
The V&A Hidden in Stores Exhibition is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Source: Honiton Lace, P.M. Inder, Exeter Museums Publication No 55