Lace Textiles

Scottish Lace

I attended an Embroiderers’ Guild Lecture by Brian Hill entitled “The History of Scottish Lace” on 2 March 2017.

Mr Hill outlined the history of lace making in Scotland. Weaving arrived in the area as the end of the 16th Century with Flemish refugees. Alexander Morton introduced lace making in 1876 (his company Morton Young and Borland Ltd was founded in 1900), and the technology of the new power loom was introduced in 1877. The industry declined in the late 1970s due to competition from Europe and Asia.

Darvel, Ayrshire (known as ‘the Lace Town’), at one time made lace for export around the world, particularly to India (a large market for lace, muslin and madras textiles (the latter was originally called Scottish Leno Gauze Weave)). Much of the ‘souvenir’ lace sold in Malta at one time came from his company, but that business has now been taken over by Asian manufacturers. The nearby town of Newmilns was also a centre for lace making and is home to the last remaining lace making company in the Irvine Valley: MYB Textiles.

Products include: lace curtains, lace table cloths, scrim curtains for theatres, cotton baby blankets (a best seller with the US company, Lands’end), yashmaghs, commissioned work etc.

The lace is woven on Nottingham looms, with Jacquard punched cards controlling the patterns, (some dating to 1913, when they were first introduced), then the work is sent elsewhere for finishing. The damp climate of the Irvine Valley is ideally suited to lace weaving as it suits the machinery and improves the strength of the cotton fibres (which can break if too dry, or succumb to mould if too moist). These looms can weave textiles up to 1220 cm in width. Manufacture is slow and controlled, with high levels of quality control. Many of the looms have been modified in recent years, and are connected to CAD computers, allowing for improved production rates, faster turnaround times, and more design options.

Handmade Lace

The Lace Guild has an instructional video showing the basics of making bobbin lace and needlelace.

My friend, Margaret, has shared some of her beautiful handmade lace work.

Margaret Weal, assorted handmade lace textiles

Margaret Weal, sampler showing the stages of making Ruskin linen work (also known as Greek lace), and a completed pouch.

Irish Lace

Niamh McCooey’s article ‘Life-saving Lace’ in Selvedge Issue 75, discusses the importance of lace in providing an income for families stricken by the potato famine, which began in 1845.

Irish lace is formed from crocheted motifs, such as flowers and leaves, which are then combined to make the finished product. This style originated with the published patterns of Mademoiselle Riego de la Blanchardiere dating to 1846, which themselves were influenced by Venetian lace. Venetian lace was made using needle-lace techniques, while the Blanchardiere patterns and Irish lace were made using crochet and cotton thread. French Ursuline nuns travelled to Ireland during the famine years, and shared their knowledge of crochet and helped the Irish lace cottage industry to develop. Both men and women produced the motifs, and local variations developed over time, with individual families’ designs being closely-guarded secrets. Articles such as collars, parasols and bodices were sold worldwide.

Irish lace

Crochet lace border, linen, Ireland 19th, century

Source:- Selvedge Issue 75, Page 49

Contemporary Practice

Lace is no longer just for the wealthiest in society, thanks to machine-made lace, it has become a staple of the fashion industry. A recent example of lace in fashion is Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. A contemporary artist using lace in her practice is Carol Quarini, who uses her background as a biologist and her interest in lace to explore issues such as ‘memory’ or ‘the uncanny’. Her latest commission is to make a modern response to the Battle of Britain lace panel. Her blog, lacethread, has numerous articles about different types of lace, and mentions her exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate, that I attended last year. [Edited 15/03/17: I have lately seen the work of Marie-Rose Lortet, whose work includes irregularly-worked, 3-D lace structures in the form of houses, windows or abstract shapes].

Final Thoughts

Although I am not likely to make any lace myself, I can quite easily imagine incorporating it into my work with re-purposed textiles.



McCooey, N “Life-Saving Lace”. Selvedge 75 (2017): 48-49. Print.

Websites:- Accessed 08/03/17 Accessed 08/03/17 Accessed 08/03/17 Accessed 16/03/17 Accessed 08/03/17 Accessed 08/03/17 Accessed 08/03/17 (for lace and madras fabric care) Accessed 08/03/17 Accessed 08/03/17 Accessed 08/03/17 Accessed 08/03/17

2 thoughts on “Lace Textiles”

  1. interesting read (I particularly liked the link to Carol Quarini…interesting work. Wondered why it was called Ruskin lace? and did a bit of follow up reading on that…. amazing how we meander about. Thanks for an interesting post.


    1. Now you’ve got me wondering! I will have to do some further research. This is just a brief overview, so I am sure that there is much more to find out about the subject, especially contemporary practice. Yes, Carol Quarini’s work looks interesting. I like the marriage of art and science.

      Liked by 1 person

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