HONITON LACE

Characteristics

A series of motifs, "sprigs" of varying sizes worked separately then mounted onto a net ground (at first, hand-made and later made by machine), or joined by bars (brides), needle or bobbin made or bobbin made plaits Some lace was worked all in one pricking, including bobbin made net Pattern areas mainly cloth-work (closely woven) with some half stitch A gimp thread outlines design of leaves and flowers Bobbin made brides often decorated with picots Needle-made brides from 1880s Background of net, machine made from early 19thC Good quality Honiton is indistinguishable from Brussels.

History

Records show that by late 17thC, lace making was well established in East Devon villages around Honiton and is likely to have been brought from Italy. Honiton was already a textile town and having a well-developed system of out-workers and merchants was suitable for the production of lace.

Honiton lace was very expensive to make. Using very fine thread, the patterns take a long time to produce. Large pieces of lace were designed by an artist comprising many small sprigs. These individual sprigs were made by different home workers and then assembled by a specialist.

The designs, based on flowers, animals and other natural objects were used to decorate collars, shawls, bonnets and flounces of the nobility and the wealthy.
Lace was very fashionable for approximately three hundred years. The Royal family in particular loved Honiton lace. Queen Victoria was married in a Honiton lace veil and Queen Elizabeth II has a Honiton christening robe which has been used by her children and grandchildren.
In 1816, a Mr Heathcote perfected a machine to make net and within a few years good quality machine lace could be made very quickly and more economically though not as fine as Honiton.
The hand-made lace industry fell into decline as lace makers could not compete with the machines and the Education Act of 1870 meant few children were available to be trained. By 1940 nobody in Honiton was making lace for a living.

References

Inder, P.M. Honiton Lace, Exeter Museums Publication No 55. 1979
Toomer, H. LACE: A guide to identification of old lace types and techniques, Batsford, London 1989
Yallop, H.J. The History of The Honiton Lace Industry, Uni Exeter, 1992

©Valerie Cavill, May 2007

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