Just by chance, we knocked on the door to the Lace archive at Nottingham Trent to see if I could take a look. I had twenty minutes, tops, to skim-view the Lace archive. How could it be possible to take in the wealth of history and joy within those books and drawers in such a short time – but I got an idea of what lies inside that tiny room.
The lace archive holds 75,000 samples of lace acquired by donations from the late 19th Century to mid 20th Century. Here lie books of technical drawings made by and for students.
When the Nottingham School of Art was set up in 1843 and young men were taught lace design, the sample books and drawings and books began to be donated for the students to use as reference and inspiration. The same is happening today – I have done the same.
My experience of that brief fleeting time in the archive room is of being completely blown away by what I saw and felt.
I was lucky. Gail Baxter, a Contemporary lace artist and Research Fellow at Nottingham Trent University Lace Archive was in the room and in twenty minutes explained and showed more to me than I could taken in during a whole day by myself. Gail showed me Paraguay lace and when I said that I would have cut the little fringes off on the lace samples – she said, ‘they are the eyelashes’ and I fell in love with the black lace with wheels and eyelashes. There was flocked lace, net, hand and machine lace, underwear and books with all manner of financial transactions in. I know where the Paraguay lace is, because Gail put it safely away for my next visit.
Genuine joy and enthusiasm raced through me when I was able to look at, hold, touch the samples.
A lasting memory is seeing the book that had been closed for many years to reveal the embossed impression of the lace sample pressed into the opposite page over years of time of waiting to be seen.
I’m spending time learning CAD. I don’t find it so easy but I’m not giving up. I’ve been a hand-knitter for about 35 years so I read knit in hand design and patterns and words. CAD is another world to me. The Blue sample above is a machine knitted sample that the Shima power knit machine at Uni chewed up and released rather begrudgingly after another person’s work was left on the rollers. The waste and cast on had a ladder and the pattern that I had designed from a hand knit idea inspired by Shetland lace, was not suitable in places, for transferring stitches on the Power knit machine.
What came out of the Shima, was something rather beautiful. Something ragged and torn with a raw cast off edge.
I used two double ended 2.5mm needles to pick up the cast off and cast it off safely and then I worked into the ripped part of the sample without plan or forethought.
The hand-knitted section in this machine knitted sample is knitted using very fine metallic and wool yarn in a lace edge pattern which mirrored the diamond that had been ripped away.
The result is raw, it’s rough, it’s unusable but I like it. It is not visually polite. I like the dirty blue colour of the sample and the bronze metallic yarn used to patch it.
What I am interested in is the palimpsest, the traces, the layers and stories:
The traces on the wall of the wallpaper / paint/ borders once layered over each other in a derelict house, exposed to the elements.
The 300 year old graffiti written into the walls of a castle.
The impression of lace on the opposite page in a sample book, after it has been closed for years.
A tear in a shirt.
The darn on an elbow.
The palimpsest of layers of words written in an old book.
I’m looking to express this in darning into the errors, holes, tears, rips in machine knitted lace to make something that both tells a story and can be beautiful.