BEDFORDSHIRE BOBBIN LACE

Characteristics

  • A guipure ground - plaited brides with picots. (this is distinct from a mesh/net ground.)
  • Clothwork pattern areas sometimes with a gimp to outline the design.
  • Designs of trailing lines: simple leaf and flower shapes.
  • Use of tallies or petals (like wheat ears) with square ends: often raised tallies.
  • Edging scalloped and finished with nine pin border.

History

Bedfordshire, in the English Midlands, includes Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire and is the renowned home to lacemakers for several centuries.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the English East Midlands counties had produced straight laces with net grounds. By the mid 19th C fine bobbin lace was in decline due to competition from machine made laces and because of the renewed interest in the more richly designed continental laces. Guipure laces (with brides/bars) were quicker and easier to make and came back into vogue in the 1840s.It had narrower edgings and insertions ¼ inch – 4 inches (6-100mm) wide, and was aimed at a modest market.

Maltese laces were very successful at the Great International Exhibition of 1851. As a result copies of the Maltese style were made in the Midlands and became known as ‘Bedfordshire Maltese’ but without the Maltese cross. Production increased due to demand, but competition from machines, forced down prices resulting in decline of design and workmanship. The earlier, more intricate patterns of stylized flowers and trailing cloth work set against complex grounds were largely replaced by the simpler ‘Cluny’ laces.

With the exception of the firm of Thomas Lester in Bedford, which became synonymous with quality, the industry suffered from poor organisation. Middlemen, who distributed lace to the cottages, saw their workers infrequently and had no control over the workmanship and patterns. With low pay and working 14 hours a day, there was no loyalty and workers had no incentive to provide new and better patterns.

By the end of the 19th C there was resurgence. Lace continued to be made commercially into the 20th C, but on a reduced scale.

References

Kurella, E Guide To Lace and Linens, Antique Trade, Norfolk, Virginia, 1998
Bullock, A. Lace and Lace Making, Batsford, London, 1981
Toomer, H LACE: A Guide To Identification Of Old Lace Types & Techniques, Batsford, 1989

© Valerie Cavill 2008

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