I’m so in love with my new lace motif Inka! It has so many possibilities and I’ve so far only explored a few. I’ll show you a little of the lace design journey from tatty factory draught to super colourful lace items. There’s a lot to say so this may be a longer read than usual. I hope you enjoy the look behind-the-scenes.
I started the New Year 2021 like most people in the UK, hoping this year would be different but immediately entering a third Covid-19 lockdown. So, 2020 Deja vu… I had reduced work prospects -the university I sometimes work at is on remote learning- and my own MA studies are over. I needed to get going on something new to keep my hand in, creatively speaking.
Over on Instagram lacemaker Jane Fullman had begun hosting a lace challenge using the hashtag #lacechallenge_2021 for the month of January. I followed many talented lacemakers and saw how prolific and inspired they were. I knew I would soon feel intimidated so looked at what I had in the vault and began to climb out of the creative hole.
This lace design draught is, I think, an embroidery pantograph for using on a Schiffli embroidery machine. It’s likely that it came from one of the many factories near here making lace embroidery. In this process, designs are sketched out by hand at 1:1 scale, then magnified many times and redraughted as the pantograph. The pantograph is like a stencil for controlling the embroidery machine stitches. A single person could control multiple needles at once, moving the bar along the line of the draught and instructing the machine to make a stitch where needed. If you’re interested in reading more, I recommend Pat Earnshaw’s 1986 book ‘Lace Machines and Machine Laces’, this is page 242.
Although a noisy and laborious process, I’m told by people who have used pantograph with Schiffli machines that it gives a sense of connection between the puncher and the final embroidery. A Schiffli project run at Manchester Metropolitan University was called ‘Mechanical Drawing’ as the operator uses the pantograph mechanism to ‘draw’ with the machine. The computer control now replaces the pantograph, but the basic principle remains the same, multiple needles piercing the fabric across the width of the machine.
In this way ‘lace’ is created by stitching either onto a fine net which remains in the background, or onto a sacrificial backing which is removed in the next stage, leaving only the stitched threads. Sacrificial backings may include acetate satin, removed using a chemical process, water soluble fabrics or heat sensitive gauzes.
The lace design I’m using looks like it was intended for stitching onto net, as it includes disconnected elements which would not maintain their shape when the backing is removed. It’s drawn as a one-sided border design with a scallop running along one edge. I decided early on to omit this part, not wanting to limit the scope at this early stage.
My lace design process
Usually, I would spend time drawing out the design and making an outline shape, perhaps even deciding what filling shapes I want to use before heading to the PC. This time though, I could skip this step and go straight to my embroidery software. I only need a simple image to work from and I wanted to keep close to the original. When teaching people to use design software I would always advise against this, most beginners don’t have a plan when they begin digitising and it leads to flat and obvious design. I can occasionally look at a design and know instantly where to start, but often with lace it’s like taking a trip, you must plan your route from A to B.
At first, I tackled the whole lace design (except the scallop), relishing the prospect of creating an embroidery for net. I’d explored this technique during my masters degree and I was keen to return to it. But I usually work with sacrificial backings, which needs more background stitches. Unconsciously I’d begun to work in this way and before long I had a design which worked without net. It became apparent early on that using the whole design may limit my options so I decided to concentrate on one or two elements from the original draught.
I’d tried a couple of new ideas leaving space inside the flower petals by running the stitch halfway into the petal shape and back. this stitching needed an anchor thread to maintain their shape after the backing is removed. This method is used in Leavers lace production, to hold the shape of picot loops or other pieces while the lace is made. The thread is then cut or withdrawn. The thread is sometimes called a ‘draw thread’ from having been withdrawn.
I’ve also included one of my favourite elements, the satin ring or circle. These rings are easy to plot (for me anyway) but can ‘wriggle’ when the backing is removed so I use a lot of packing stitches inside them and try to anchor them at multiple points.
The Inka floral motif works at any angle, so I set it ‘upside down’ and added a short chain to create movement for some dangly earrings. Repeated with a short tail it also makes a lovely bookmark. The lacelet also includes leaf elements with their geometric filling. The petals make perfect buttonholes for easy and comfortable closure and more satin rings are scattered between the flowers.
I’ve also returned the design to embroidery, for which it was originally conceived. Repeated as a border on firm black organdie, the red motifs look stunning on this lantern. Inside the lantern is holographic PVC, it makes pretty stars from any point of light. Fairy lights are the perfect way to create those stars.
What’s in the name?
Ok… bear with me here as naming motifs is HARD. It needs to be easy to remember but that I won’t tire of too easily. I’ve named motifs after their direct inspiration in the past, but by the time they are finished they look nothing like their namesake! (I’m looking at YOU, Oakleaf!) So, naming Inka took some time.
Having tried and failed to find a relevant historical reference to the original drawing, I looked instead at the shape. The flower is kind of irregular, with petals only on one side. Flower shapes like this or with one petal bigger than others, are called ‘zygomorphic’. Examples of zygomorphic flowers include Orchids and Alstroemeria. Alstroemeria is also known as the Peruvian Lily or Lily of the Incas. Inca became Inka, and I’d settled on a name.