Saturday, April 14, 2012

An Antique Honiton Lace Handkerchief

Isn't this beautiful? I knew that it was hand made bobbin lace, but thought at first that it came from Belgium, until a lace expert pointed out that it is, in fact, old hand made Honiton lace. I should have known, because I've been to the lovely lace museum there - on my honeymoon, a long time ago! It is as light as a feather and just as delicate, a will o' the wisp of a piece which must have taken a long time to make. The details of flowers and leaves and ferns, with tiny wheat-ears among them, is just stunningly lovely. I'm privileged to have been able to admire it for a while although I'm in the middle of 'rehoming' it now.

I love lace but don't feel that I know enough about it. If somebody in Scotland would organise a day's hands-on lace identification workshop, I would definitely sign up for it. There is nothing quite like seeing and touching the real thing. You can read a dozen reference books, and gaze at photographs until your eyes ache, but what you really need is somebody who knows all about a particular textile, the work itself and the history behind it - and you need to see and handle examples.

Some years ago, the Society of Authors in Scotland, of which I'm a member, organised a visit to the textile department of the Chambers Street Museum in Edinburgh - with a talk from the textile curator at the time. She had got a number of items out of storage and - as a very small professional group - we were allowed to look closely at them and handle them carefully. The linen shirt in particular made a huge impression on me. It was some 200 years old and as beautiful as the day it was made. Historical novelists like me often need to describe clothes and other textiles and researching these is - for me, anyway - one of my greatest pleasures in life.

Years ago, I also attended a talk about Ayrshire Whitework and now - with a small collection of this wonderful embroidery myself - I'm occasionally asked to do talks about its history to local and family history groups. I take a number of examples and allow people to handle them. The talks always go down very well, even with men, who generally arrive reluctantly, dragged along by their wives, and then realise that they are enjoying themselves. I don't want to do a lace making course. But I would really love to know more about bobbin and needlelace - not from a book, or a website, but from a real live expert!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Another Lovely Old Scots Sampler

I came across another lovely old Scottish sampler the other day, made by one Agnes Renwick Ballantyne in 1870. I love these samplers - they always lead me to speculate about the girls who made them. This one is very neat and still quite bright (I had to photograph it under glass, so it doesn't show up too well) with a characteristically Scottish 'strawberry border', cornucopias of flowers, two royal crowns and lots of family initials, including a D McD.

There's an excellent little book about Scottish samplers by Rebecca Quinton, the curator of costumes and textiles for Glasgow museums. It's called Patterns of Childhood. - specifically about the samplers from Glasgow Museums - and what very interesting samplers they are.

In fact Glasgow and its surrounding area is full of interest for textile devotees - visit The Burrell Collection for tapestries, and Jacobean raised work, as well as fascinating costumes. Go to the Kelvingrove Museum for some wonderful embroidery by Margaret MacDonald (Charles Rennie Mackintosh's wife).  Paisley has a museum stuffed with shawls. And if you want to go a little further afield, to Shambellie House outside Dumfries, you'll find a whole enchanting costume collection.