Saturday, June 07, 2008

Rosanna's Lace

First of all, an apology - I still haven't got Richard, his camera and my birthday presents in the same place at the same time. But I will. Oh yes.

If you have been bumbling along with me for a while, you may remember that my sister, while investigating the family tree, came up with a lace-maker. I've been looking into this a bit further, and found out some fascinating details.

Rosanna Reeves, our great-great-great-aunt, was born in Downton, near Salisbury in Wiltshire in 1838. In the 1851 census, at the age of 13, she was described as 'lace maker'. I realised this was most likely to be pillow, or bobbin, lace, so I wrote to the Victoria and Albert Museum to ask if they had any idea what kind of lace she would have been making.

I wasn't sure if they would reply, as I'd never contacted them before and didn't know if this was the kind of information they would have time to offer, so I was very pleased when I had an e-mail back within a week. The person who replied told me that it was most likely Rosanna had made Downton lace, a type of bobbin lace specific to that village. It was made for sale until the 1960s, but has been carried on by dedicated lace makers who work it for pleasure.

She also suggested I contact the Salisbury and Wiltshire Museum. I looked up their website and discovered that they have a whole gallery devoted to Downton lace. I would love to go and see it!

I've only tried a little bobbin lace, so I wasn't very clear on the different types - but I knew there were differences, so next I set out to find out what was distinctive about Downton lace.

Thanks to an informative site called 'Jo Edkins' Lace School', I found out that Downton lace uses something similar to Bucks Point ground (the basic 'net' of the lace - Bucks Point makes an almost hexagonal net), but combines it with a left-handed footside - every other British lace uses a right-hand footside. (This refers to the way the threads are twisted up the side of the work). Overall it looks more like Torchon lace, a continental lace, than it does any other British lace.

And no one seems to know why. Isn't that odd?

Even odder is the matter of the bobbins. I'm sure we've all seen those beautiful slender bobbins, intricately turned and shaped, weighted with circlets of beads, and perhaps even watched a proficient lace-maker as the bobbins seem to fly back and forth of their own accord. Well, Downton bobbins weren't quite that decorated.

In fact, they were short! They had very little shaping, and no beads, the weight being provided by the bobbin itself. They sometimes had messages pricked out on them, filled in with red or black lead, like other bobbins, or other decoration, but they had no fancy turning, and they tapered almost to a point. One site suggests they look more like Spanish bobbins than British ones.

Anyway, I have emailed the museum to ask if they do mail order, as their shop carries a set of notelets featuring a Downton lace maker, and three books on the subject (one history, and two sets of patterns).

I am mulling over a way to convert them into patterns for knitted lace....

Tigger says, "Zzzzzzzzz..............................."



Wibbo said...

Fascinating post - the Downton bobbins are lovely and they remind me shapewise (not sizewise, obviously) of the wooden bobbins you use for tapestry weaving. Family history research can be very enlightening - I've always had a hankering to live by the sea and found out that one branch of my family tree went to sea. Now I've moved the coast, it all seems fairly obvious... Regards, Jan

Heather said...

That's exactly why my brother is moving to Bridlington! All three of us miss the sea if we're not near it.

Tracey said...

I feel very drawn to the sea, but I always put it down to my maternal grandfather having been a ship's carpenter. Never wanted to trace any family, though.