My lace life

I have always been interested in Handicrafts; I could knit and sew before I went to school.  My dolls were the best kitted out in the neighbourhood!  My interest in lace began at the age of 10 when I started making macramé; I picked it up after watching a ten minute slot on a TV program.  I improvised in terms of the equipment that I used but managed to make bookmarks, hairbands a belt and even some string bags(they were in fashion at the time!)

One school holiday I was watching ‘Play School’ (the BBC have a lot to answer for!), through one of the windows a young girl was being taught lace by a relative.  I wanted to have a go!  Unfortunately at the time there was very little information available that I could find.  A few years later a magazine was published which had a series on bobbin lacemaking.  I managed to find some midlands lace bobbins(the unspangled ones where cheaper!) and pins in a local department store, I improvised for all the other bits and pieces (including a pillow!!!!!)  I made yards of the Simple Torchon Fan edging.  I don’t ever remember making a beginners bandage, I think I worked out how to do the stitches and jumped in at the deep end! I then found Pamela Nottingham’s book Torchon Lace which allowed me to progress a bit further.

Over the next few years I didn’t get very far, schoolwork and exams came first.  I had a wonderful time after A Level exams and the results coming out in which I made a lace Torchon collar, still with my unspangled bobbins and improvised pillow! Looking back on it now it wasn’t brilliant – the thread was too thick, the tension wasn’t wonderful but the stitches where accurate, I was proud of it.

It wasn’t until after I finished University (I have a First Class Honours degree in Maths from Leeds University) and was working that the lace bug really began to bite! Suddenly I had money and could afford to get some proper equipment! I was working in Hatfield in Hertfordshire at the time.  I’d seen classes advertised in the local paper but I’d only just got my first pay packet and they were just too expensive.  In January 1988 I joined the Lace Guild and consequently found out about all the wonderful suppliers! I bought myself a proper mushroom pillow (couldn’t make one myself due to hay fever) and lots of spangling packs.  

In March 1988 I went to my first lace day, not knowing what went on I decided not to take my lace pillow but to put some tatting in my bag, just in case (I’d taught myself to Tat whilst at Uni).  I had a wonderful time! Luckily I hadn’t taken much money with me and not many of the suppliers took credit cards at that point.  Lots of people were interested in my tatting, I thought their bobbin lace was much more interesting (and complicated!)

Shortly afterwards I joined two lace groups (Ware Lacemakers and Levistock Green Lacemakers) that I’d found through the Lace Guild.  I also started teaching myself to make Bucks Point lace, people in the groups were there to help when I needed it but basically I taught myself.  I attended a number of lace days and lace fairs in the next few months, my collection of bobbins and equipment grew.  In September 1988 I moved back to the North West to a new job, I even gave an additional weeks notice so that I could move back via Rugby and the Springett’s Lace Fair!!!!

Back home in Liverpool I decided it was time to join a proper night class.  In early November I started making Bedfordshire lace and progressed relatively quickly – by the Christmas I’d made two Beds/mixed lace butterflies to give away as presents.  I don’t think the teacher had ever had anyone like me in the class before! In the spring I did a Lace Guild assessment, I wanted proper feedback on my work which I passed.

August 1989 was a turning point in my lace career.  I went on a weeks Honiton lace course in Somerset for a week with Elsie Luxton.  It was like coming home – I’d found my lace! In the week I managed to make 4 small pieces one of which was raised (yes I really did say 4!!) I didn’t realise that most people would just about manage to finish the shell in a week, I’d done the shell, a rose, completed a small raised rose and was well on the way to finishing a Horseshoe never mind doing some raised work (normally unheard of until year 2 of the course!)

In the next year I made quite a few pieces from books.  Initially I found it very hard, because I’d been taught I hadn’t learnt how to be self-sufficient, I soon armed myself with some books and was well away.  In that year I worked 7 pieces (yes, I did have a full time job!) A friend has since told me that people were amazed as I kept getting the pieces that I had worked out of my bag! I do work very fast, but my work is accurate and well tensioned (the tension goes to pot if I work slowly).  In the same year I also started working towards City & Guilds Lacemaking at North Cheshire College (now Warrington and Vale Royal College).  Four years later I finished Part 1.  

I decided to continue, initially for pleasure but with the ultimate aim of doing Part 2 (once I’d worked some more of the Honiton pieces I wanted to).  I’ve never finished it because 18 months later I took over the class when Jane, the teacher, moved away! I had 4½ happy years teaching the class (and others that came along!)

By this time I had been on a number of Honiton courses, been taught my what I consider some of the best Honiton lacemakers/teachers, made some really good friends and made lots of pieces of Honiton.  

In 1998 I entered the Lace Guild Reflections Competition with a piece of lace I had worked from one of Barry Biggins designs (I can’t draw and despite having done C&G Part 1 hate designing).  My piece won first prize in the excellence of technique class from a published pattern! You can see Moggydon in my Honiton lace gallery.  One of my fondest memories of the competition was when I went to view the exhibition that there was a coach of ladies came up from Devon.  One of them commented that her favourite piece was the cat, she didn’t know when she said it that it was mine and I didn’t know who she was! I do now and take what she said as a real compliment.  Moggydon was missing from my living room for about 9 months in total, he went on his travels with some pieces from the exhibition and even got to London to have his picture taken.  His picture appeared in the January 1999 copy of NeedleCraft magazine in an article on the exhibition.  

In 1999 Caroline Biggins suggested that I send the Lace Guild a copy of my interpretation of Bird and Chicks (the only piece in New Designs in Honiton Lace which was not worked.  I sent a photocopy of the lace off.  The Lace Guild contacted me and said they’d like to use it on the cover, could I get it to them to be photographed.  Bird and Chicks flew off to Stourbridge to appear on the April 2000 issue of Lace (No 98)!

In the next couple of years lace took a back seat thanks to a busy job.  At the end of 2002 while surfing the net I found that the Kantcentrum in Brugge ran summer courses and that there was a 2 week course in Binche in July 2003 – trouble was it was year 2 of the course.  I e-mailed them to find out if there were still places.  They decided they would make an exception for me and allow me straight into year 2 – provided I could understand diagrams (well diagrams have never been a problem for me, I just had to learn the colours).  The next 6 months were very busy as I tried to work through all the patterns in Syllabus Binche I.  I had a wonderful time at the Kantcentrum in July, whole class lace teaching was a novelty, never mind teaching in four languages! It was great to see lace taught in a very different way and to be taught the technical/traditional side of a lace, changing a straight design to a circle was fascinating – the oval a couple of years later was just as good!

I’ve been to summer school for 2 weeks each year ever since.  I’ve learnt there is far more to this fascinating lace than being able to work it, you can only learn this through studying with someone like Anne-Marie and trying to understand the thought process she goes through when working out how to work a pattern.  I’ve now designed the 20 corners Anne-Marie told us in the first year we needed to do before we would be able to work one out for ourselves.  I’m almost there now, they just need the odd Anne-Marie tweak here and there!  Binche is currently my favourite lace, it is such a technical challenge, I feel like I am being stretched.  I still love Honiton but find it much easier to get my Binche out of a evening.  If you go to my gallery section you will see some of my Binche pieces, I do keep adding more as I work them.  I miss lace when I haven’t got anything on the go.

Now Anne-Marie has retired from teaching at the Kantcentrum I am learning some other laces, the latest being Chantilly and Mechlin.

In October 2008 my involvement with lace (or should this be Lace…) took a new direction when I took over as Editor of the Lace Guild magazine (Lace).  Six years later, having taken the magazine to full colour I decided time was right for me to move on with my lace making rather than writing and the April 2015 issue was my last.  I’ve got so much out of editing Lace and made some great friends along the way but editing on top of a busy job is now too much.

In July 2013 I taught at The Lace Guild’s summer school at Plas Tan y Bwlch.  I had a group of 12 students studying in a mix of Honiton, Binche, Flanders and Torchon lace

In 2016 I won three prizes in the Lace Guild’s Triennial Competition for two pieces of traditional lace, The Elsie Luxton Trophy for Honiton Lace, The Sue Dane Teachers Award for the best piece of lace by a teacher and the Richard J Viney Trophy for best piece of Circular lace.  You will find images of the two pieces of lace (a Honiton sampler and The Tournament) in the Honiton and Binche galleries respectively

In 2018 taught at The Lace Guild’s Summer School at Higham Hall in Cumbria, I had a group of 10 students learning Brugge Flower, Chrysanthemum, Binche and Chantilly laces.