Pictures and Quotes about Bobbin Lace

Early drawings and painting
Quotes from Shakespeare
Quote from Don Quixote
Quote from Jacon v. Eyck
Dutch play
Dutch, Danish and Italian paintings
Quote from William Cowper
Traditional folksong
Later paintings
Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll
Quote from Alden's Handy Atlas Of The World 1888
Quote from Rudyard Kipling
Nursery rhyme
Larkrise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
Twentieth Century paintings
Patron saints of lacemakers
Lacemaker prayers

Early drawings and painting

Nüw Modelbuch — printed in Zurich in 1561

This seems to be one of the first pictures of someone making bobbin lace. It is from the Nüw Modelbuch (new pattern book) printed in Zurich in 1561. This book said that lace was brought to Zurich from Italy in about 1536. The pillow is flat, tiled at an angle. I think that the lacemaker looks like a man which makes him unique among these pictures. I can't see what the other person is doing.

Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617) The Lacemaker - Dutch

I found this drawing on a German index of art. It says that it is in the Rijksmuseum. It is by Hendrick Goltzius, who lived from 1558 to 1617, and is called Spitzenklöpplerin, which means the Lacemaker. The pillow is similar to the previous one, tilted at quite an angle, and there are a nice lot of bobbins. And what a ruff! I'm not sure of the accuracy of the dating of this one, but the custume looks about right for the date.

Gervasius Fabricius in 1613
This comes from the Album Amicorum of Gervasius Fabricius of Salzburg, dated 1613. It shows a number of women doing different crafts in a garden. The woman on the left (next to the woman with the dog) is working bobbin lace. The pillow is on a stand, and looks similar to the previous two, but it's a bit hard to see due to the painter's problems with perspective! There certainly don't seem enough bobbins for a serious pattern, and the lace shown looks more like Punto in Aria, an Italian needlepoint, made in an entirely different way. Still, perhaps the painter knew about bobbin lace and was painting from memory.

Quotes from Shakespeare

William Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night around 1601-02, and its first recorded performance is in 1602. In this play, Duke Orsino says:

O, fellow, come, the song we had last night.
Mark it, Cesario, it is old and plain;
The spinsters and the knitters in the sun
And the free maids that weave their thread with bones
Do use to chant it: it is silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love,
Like the old age.

This is an early reference to bobbin lace: weave their thread with bones. Small bones used to be used as bobbins, to wind the thread round. Bobbin lace is essentially weaving, with the pins creating gaps to form the patterns.

If you want to know about the song that Duke Orsino asked for, here it is:

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

There are other possible references in the Winter's Tale, published in 1623. In Act IV, scene IV, a peddlar called Autolycus sings his wares:

Will you buy any tape,
Or lace for your cape,
My dainty duck, my dear-a?
Any silk, any thread,
Any toys for your head,
Of the new'st and fin'st, fin'st wear-a?
Come to the pedlar;
Money's a meddler
That doth utter all men's ware-a.

Earlier a woman says to her lover: Come, you promis'd me a tawdry-lace, and a pair of sweet gloves. A tawdry-lace is a silk ‘lace’ or necktie, much worn by women in the 16th and early 17th c.

Still earlier, Autolycus describes his wares as:

Lawn as white as driven snow;
Cypress black as e'er was crow;
Gloves as sweet as damask roses;
Masks for faces and for noses;
Bugle bracelet, necklace amber,
Perfume for a lady's chamber;
Golden quoifs and stomachers,
For my lads to give their dears;
Pins and poking-sticks of steel-
What maids lack from head to heel.
Come, buy of me, come; come buy, come buy.

Of course these references to lace may not be bobbin lace. But perhaps the pins were used to make lace!


Quote from Don Quixote

Don Quixote was written by Miguel de Cervantes, in Spanish, of course. It was published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615. These quotes comes from a translation by John Ormsby.

from Chapter 6
"By the God that gives me life," said Don Quixote, "if thou wert not my full niece, being daughter of my own sister, I would inflict a chastisement upon thee for the blasphemy thou hast uttered that all the world should ring with. What! can it be that a young hussy that hardly knows how to handle a dozen lace-bobbins dares to wag her tongue and criticise the histories of knights-errant?
from Chapter 70,
"To tell you the truth," said Altisidora, "I cannot have died outright, for I did not go into hell; had I gone in, it is very certain I should never have come out again, do what I might. The truth is, I came to the gate, where some dozen or so of devils were playing tennis, all in breeches and doublets, with falling collars trimmed with Flemish bonelace, and ruffles of the same that served them for wristbands, with four fingers' breadth of the arms exposed to make their hands look longer; ..."
...
The duchess asked him [Don Quixote] if Altisidora was in his good graces. He replied, "Senora, let me tell your ladyship that this damsel's ailment comes entirely of idleness, and the cure for it is honest and constant employment. She herself has told me that lace is worn in hell; and as she must know how to make it, let it never be out of her hands; for when she is occupied in shifting the bobbins to and fro, the image or images of what she loves will not shift to and fro in her thoughts; this is the truth, this is my opinion, and this is my advice."

These are early references to what seems to be a common activity.

Note the reference to only using "a dozen lace-bobbins", a small number by modern standards.

I'm not sure about Don Quixote's advice. Personally I think of all sorts of things while making lace!


Jacon v. Eyck

I found this quote in a book "History of Lace" by Mrs. Bury Palliser, published originally in 1875. I don't know how accurate it is, but she seems to be careful with her references, and quotes dates, and so on. She says "In 1651, Jacob v. Eyck, a Flemish poet, sang the praises of lace-making in Latin verse:

"Of many arts one surpasses all; the threads woven by the strange power of the hand, threads which the dropping spider would in vain attempt to imitate, and which Pallas would confess she had never known; For the maiden, seated at her work, plies her fingers rapidly, and flashes the smooth balls and thousand threads into the circle, Often she fastens with her hand the innumerable needles, to bring out the various figures of the pattern; often again, she unfastens them; and from this, her amusement makes as much profit as a man earns by the sweat of his brow; and no maiden ever complains at even of the length of the day. The issue is a fine web, open to the air with many an aperture, which feeds the pride of the whole globe; which surrounds with its fine border cloaks and tuckers, and shows grandly round the throats and hands of kings; and, what is more surprising, this web is of the lightness of a feather, which in its price is too heavy for our purses. Go, ye men, inflamed with desire of the Golden Fleece, endure so many dangers by land, so many at sea, whilst the woman, remaining in her Brabantine home, prepares Phrygian fleeces by peaceful assiduity."

A little glossing: Pallas Athene was the Greek goddess of domestic crafts. Jason and the Argonauts were Greek heros who sailed to find the Golden or Phrygian Fleece. Brabant was a duchy in 1651, including the city of Brussels, which was famous for bobbin lace. When he says needles, he means pins, and the 'balls' are the bobbins, which had balls at the ends.

The description of making lace is wonderful. The 'thousand threads' are exaggerated, but with the 'innumerable needles' show that we are talking about a serious width of lace. The 'circle' must be the pillow, although the later 'globe' is the world. It describes the movement of the bobbins, and putting in and taking out pins. It also describes how it's used, to trim cloaks and tuckers, and provide collars and cuffs for kings. I like the comparison of the lightness of the lace and the 'heaviness' of the price!


Dutch play published in 1642

I found this on the web:

A play Frik in 't Veurhuis by M. G. Tengnagel, published in Amsterdam in 1642, mentions the trade of spelderwerkster or bobbin lacemaker (literally 'pin worker').

Grietje, a seamtress, teaches lacemaking to children. She complains about a pupil whose work is loose and dirty: "How can you work so dirtily, as if it was the coldest part of the winter? What's to stop you from working as white as anyone else? Just look at Elsje's work: that's as white as hail and yours is as yellow as tan. Work a bit more tightly too: it looks as if it's all muddled." We hear about parchments (patterns) being given out, work cut off a pillow and a new parchment being set up.

Later, Diewertje, a customer, asks to see samples of lace for some collars. Grietje shows her a whole box of lace, and tells her to put her spectacles on and look at it in the daylight: "There's Count Maurice's lace, the bosom lace, the doll, the mouse tooth, the death's head, the death's head with the arrow, the princess, the letter N lace, the tulip, the fan, the Italian floor, the double princess and so on." Earlier, Grietje scolds a lazy pupil, saying that the doll's pattern only has 18 bobbins, so she ought to be able to do a sixteenth of an ell in an hour, but she has only done one tiny scallop.

A sixteenth of an ell is about 4.3 cms or 1.7 inches. 18 bobbins or 9 pairs will only make a narrow width of lace. The Dutch Lacemaker paintings of the period (see below) seem to have a similar number of bobbins. This is very few compared with modern ideas.


Dutch paintings

Dutch oil painters of the 17th century liked to paint local scenes and people. Since lace was made there, it was a favourite subject of painters. They have closely observed their subjects, who are (Mostly) serious and intent on their work. The equipment is accurately painted, although there does sometimes seem to be rather few bobbins for a decent piece of lace. The pillows look similar - made of wood, with a flat base, and domed side to side, sloping towards the lacemaker. They often have a little drawer in the back. The bobbins have thin shanks and bulbs at the end, and of course, no spangles, as is common on mainland Europe today.


Nicolaes Maes - A Young Woman Sewing - c.1655 - Dutch

This lacemaker is by Nicolaes Maes, painted around 1655. She is sewing, with her lace pillow carefully put on a chair. This means that you can see the pillow from the lacemaker's side. The pillow slopes towards the lacemaker. There are a good lot of bobbins.

Nicolaes Maes - Old Woman Dozing - 1656 - Dutch

This painting by Nicolaes Maes is called Old Woman Dozing. It was painted in 1656. The pillow is put to one side while she has a little nap. There seem to be less bobbins than the previous painting - perhaps half of them are on the other side of the pillow. The pillow is the other way round to the previous painting.

Nicolaes Maes - The Lacemaker - c.1656–57 - Dutch

This lacemaker is also by Nicolaes Maes, painted around 1656–57, with her pillow on her lap. You can see scissors hanging down from a string.

Nicolaes Maes - The Lacemaker - 1655 - Dutch

This lacemaker is also by Nicolaes Maes, in 1655, with her pillow on the table.

Nicolaes Maes - The Lacemaker

Yet another lacemaker by Nicolaes Maes. The strip of lace seems quite narrow.



Caspar Netscher - The Lacemaker - 1662 - Dutch

This lacemaker is by Caspar Netscher, painted in 1662. This is more of a close-up, and you can see a good light (essential for lacemaking) coming over her shoulder. It would come from a window. She is alone without any other furniture except her chair. She seems to be putting in a pin, or possibly tightening the threads, but she seems to be left-handed. The painting is in the Wallace Collection, London.

Johannes Vermeer - The Lacemaker c.1669-1671 - Dutch

The most famous painting of a lacemaker must be by Johannes Vermeer. It was painted around 1669-1671. The lacemaker holds two bobbins in her left hand, while (I think) putting in a pin with her right. The pillow is resting on a wodden stand. This is a real close-up, which shows the intent, careful expression on the lacemaker's face and the delicate precision of the hands' position. This woman is definitely making lace. This painting is in the Louvre.



Pieter Jacobsz. Codde (1599–1678) - The Lacemaker - Dutch

This lacemaker is by Pieter Jacobsz. Codde. I don't have a date for the painting but he lived from 1599 to 1678. The pillow seems the same as previously, and she is balancing it on her lap. The pillow is definitely flat on the bottom, unlike the next painting. I like her hat!


Pieter Jacobsz. Codde (1599–1678) - The Lacemaker - Dutch

Another lacemaker by Pieter Jacobsz. Codde. This is the first lacemaker who is not concentrating on her work. You can see that while she has the pillow on her lap, there is either a base to the pillow or something underneath it. This appears in several of the Dutch paintings. It could be just a style of pillow, or that it raises the pillow so you don't have to hunch over the pillow as much to see what you're doing.



Jan Miense Molenaer (1610–1669) - The Lacemaker - Dutch

This lacemaker is by Jan Miense Molenaer. I don't have a date for the painting but he lived from 1610 to 1669. This lacemaker seems more interested in the male company! She has some scissors hung from the pillow.


Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667) - The Lacemaker - Dutch

This lacemaker is by Gabriel Metsu. I don't have a date for the painting but he lived from 1629 to 1667. The pillow is flat. The bobbins look similar, and again, there don't seem to be that many bobbins.


Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667) - The Lacemaker - Dutch

Another lacemaker by Gabriel Metsu. His lacemakers don't seem to be able to keep their mind on their work!



Gerrit Dou (1613-1675) - The Lacemaker - Dutch

This lacemaker is an engraving based on a painting by Gerrit Dou. I don't have a date for the painting but he lived from 1613 to 1675. This is the first painting which seems to show lace being made by artificial light (and in my opinion, vastly inadequate). It could be that the painting to its right is the original. The details are different, but the position of the woman is similar.


Gerrit Dou - The Lacemaker - 1667 - Dutch

The Lacemaker by Gerrit Dou, painted in 1667. This has a serious amount of bobbins, and you can see the pillow drawer (present in several paintings) is open. But again, she's not looking at what she's doing. A small genre piece by Dou could be sold between 500-1,000 guilders, where 500 guilders was approximately the price of an average house.



Pieter Cornelisz van Slingelandt - A young lacemaker is interrupted by a birdseller who offers her ware through the window - 1672-3 - Dutch

This lacemaker is by Pieter Cornelisz van Slingelandt and was painted in 1672-3. It rejoices in the title "A young lacemaker is interrupted by a birdseller who offers her ware through the window", which I take to be the equivalent of a phone cold-caller. What's more, she seems to be balancing her pillow on one knee, which isn't advised. A good spread of bobbins, though.


Pieter Cornelisz van Slingelandt - A Lace Maker (detail) - c.1670 - Dutch

Another lacemaker by Pieter Cornelisz van Slingelandt, painted around 1670 and just called A Lace Maker. A better balance of pillow, but she ought to be concentrating more. This is a detail of the whole picture.


Job Adriaensz Berckheyde - Lace Maker - c.1666-75 - Dutch

The Lace Maker by Job Adriaensz Berckheyde (Dutch artist, 1630-1693) painted around 1666-75. You can't see much of the pillow apart from the back, but there is a good spread of bobbins.


Danish paintings


Bernhard Keil (1624-1687) The lacemaker - Dutch

This lacemaker is by Bernhard Keil. I don't have a date for the painting but he lived from 1624 to 1687. This pillow is different. It is a round pillow, sometimes called a bolster pillow. It is just resting on a chair, and the woman seems to be kneeling on the floor. That would be awkward for working lace, but perhaps she has put the pillow down while she gets on with her knitting. I hope that the dog (or is it a cat?) doesn't knock the lace pillow over.


Bernhard Keil (1624-1687) The lacemaker - Dutch

Another lacemaker by Bernhard Keil, again undated. This pillow is another bolster pillow, and she is holding it on her lap. Keil's name is also written as Keyl or Keilhau.

I don't know much about Bernhard Keil. He seems to be Danish. He may be a puil of Rembrandt (or a pupil of a pupil). He worked in Rome. You may have worked out that I'm using Wikipedia here! The different style of the lace pillow to the Dutch pillows seems to suggest a different lace tradition, but since we don't know whether this is Danish, Italian, or elsewhere, it is a little unhelpful.


Italian painting


Giacomo Antonio Melchiorre Ceruti (1698-1767) Women Working on Pillow Lace 1720s - Italian

Women Working on Pillow Lace by Giacomo Antonio Melchiorre Ceruti (1698-1767). He was a Italian late Baroque painter, and the painting is around 1720s. They are using bolster pillows, and they are working on lace as a group, rather than as individuals. They also don't look very happy!


Quote from William Cowper

William Cowper lived from 1731–1800. At one point, he lived in Olney in Buckinghamshire. This was in one of the main lace producing areas of England. In a poem called Truth, he compares the French writer Voltaire (who he obviously disapproved of) to

Yon cottager, who weaves at her own door,
Pillow and bobbins all her little store;
Content though mean, and cheerful if not gay,
Shuffling her threads about the live-long day,
Just earns a scanty pittance, and at night
Lies down secure, her heart and pocket light;
She, for her humble sphere by nature fit,
Has little understanding, and no wit,
Receives no praise; but though her lot be such
(Toilsome and indigent), she renders much;
Just knows, and knows no more, her Bible true

However by 1770 the industry went into decline and in 1780, William Cowper wrote "I am an eye-witness to their poverty, and do know that hundreds in this little town are upon the point of starving, and that the most unremitting industry is but barely sufficient to keep them from it. There are nearly one thousand and two hundred lace makers in this beggarly town."


Folksong

This folksong mentions lace from Brussels. Brussells is, of course, famous for its lace. The song is traditional. It has been covered by several modern folk singers.

What did the wife of the soldier get
From the ancient city of Prague?
From Prague she got the linen shirt.
It matched her skirt did the linen shirt
She got from the city of Prague.

What did the wife of the soldier get
From Brussels, the Belgian town?
From Brussels she got the delicate lace.
Oh! the charm and grace of the delicate lace
She got from the the Belgian town.

What did the wife of the soldier get
From Paris, the city of light?
From Paris she got the silken dress.
Oh! to possess the silken dress
She got from the city of light.

What did the wife of the soldier get
From Libya's desert sands?
From Libya the little charm,
Around her arm she wore the charm
She got from the desert sands.

What did the wife of the soldier get
From Russia's distant steppes?
From Russia she got the widow's veil,
And the end of the tale is the widow's veil
She got from the distant steppes.

Later paintings

These later paintings seem to have more idea of the number of bobbins required, but the lacemakers themselves are less convincing. Look at how far apart their hands are, and compare this to the Dutch paintings, which show close together hands doing precise movements.

Vasili Andreevich Tropinin - The Lace Maker 1823 - Russian

This was painted by Vasili Andreevich Tropinin, a Russian, in 1823. The pillow is flat, but tilted upwards at quite a sharp angle. The hands seem to be doing the right things, but the effect is spoiled by the lacemaker, who seems to be more interested in the artist than the lace. In fact, the hands are very similar to Vermeer's lacemaker, so it's tempting to wonder if Tropinin copied them.

Vasili Andreevich Tropinin - The Lace Maker 1830 - Russian

Another lacemaker by Vasili Andreevich Tropinin, 1830. Here she looks as if she is finishing the lace, rather than making it, but at least we can see the lace itself, often missing from the other paintings.

Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin - The Lacemaker - Russian

The Lacemaker by Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin (Russian, 1842-1904). I don't have a date for the painting, but it must be later than these other Russian paintings. Note the bolster pillow.

Josephus Laurentius Dyckmans(1811-1888) The Old Lacemaker - Belgium

This is called The Old Lacemaker, by Josephus Laurentius Dyckmans who lived from 1811 to 1888. He was born in Lier, Holland and settled in Antwerp, Belgium in 1833. He taught at the Academy of Antwerp. The lacemaker has a flat pillow, and does have enough bobbins for a decent piece of lace. She is certainly looking at the lace, but the hands don't seem to be working lace. Perhaps she is just clearing the bobbins before starting on the next piece.

Joseph Bail (1862 - 1921) - The Lacemaker (La Denteliere) - French

This was painted by Joseph Bail, a French artist, who lived from 1862 to 1921. The pillow looks like a bolster-style pillow. The lacemaker looks as if she's bored with her lace! Also, she's facing the window, which would tend to put her lace working into shadow, I would have thought. Most lacemakers on this page are sitting sideways to the window, or with the light behind them, or outside.

Francois Antoine de Bruycker (1816-1882) - The old lace-maker - Belgian

The old lace-maker by Francois Antoine de Bruycker (1816-1882) - Belgian. The pillow is not a bolster one. It looks like a domed pillow, but I think it has a vertical bacl, like the early Dutch pillows. A nice lot of bobbins, and a pin cushion. And a cat, which I persist in thinking is not a good thing near a lace pillow!

Estella Canziani (1887-1964) -

Girl Making Lace, Savoy, France by Estella Canziani (1887-1964). I don't know the date of the painting, but the painter's dates suggest that this might even be 20C. It's an interesting pillow, a tiny bolster. It needs a stand, which looks rather unstable to me. Perhaps you're supposed to grip the stand with your knees, or perhaps there is a big base which steadies it, or you put your feet on it. It accurately shows the lacemaker keeping the bobbins in her hands, rather than lying them on the pillow. This is necessary with a bolster.

Otto Henry Bacher (1856 - 1909) - Lace Makers, Venice - American

This was painted by Otto Henry Bacher, an American, who lived from 1856 to 1909. It is called Lace Makers, Venice. It's a bolster pillow and you can see the lacemaker lifting a bobbin over its neighbour.

Robert Frederick Blum - Venetian Lace Makers, 1887 - American

This was painted in 1887 by Robert Frederick Blum, an American. It is called Venetian Lace Makers. These ladies seem far more interested in gossip than their work.

Anders Zorn - Lace-making in Venice, 1894 - Sweden

This was painted in 1894 by Anders Zorn, from Sweden. It is called Lace-making in Venice. These seem more intent.

John Fairburn - Lacemaking 1795 - English

This was painted by John Fairburn, an English painter, in 1795. A bolster pillow, and I don't know what her fingers are doing! She is working outside, which lacemakers often did, as the light was better.

Thomas Woolner (1825–1892) Pillow Lace Maker - English

This was painted by Thomas Woolner, an English painter, who lived from 1825 to 1892. The bobbins look convincing, and she has her bolster pillow on her lap, and looks as if she is working seriously, although I'm not quite sure what her hands are doing. Perhaps she is pulling the threads tight.

Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899) The Lace Maker - English

This was painted by Myles Birket Foster, an English painter, who lived from 1825 to 1899. A sentimental picture, but the lacemaker is intent on her work. There are pieces of cloth on her pillow, to protect the pillow and the lace.


The Hunting of the Snark

The Hunting of the Snark - an Agony in Eight Fits by Lewis Carroll was published in 1876. It's a long nonsense poem. Here's a few quotes from it - the only reference to lace.

There was also a Beaver, that paced on the deck,
Or would sit making lace in the bow:
....
But the Beaver went on making lace, and displayed
No interest in the concern:

Though the Barrister tried to appeal to its pride,
And vainly proceeded to cite
A number of cases, in which making laces
Had been proved an infringement of right.
....

The picture shows the beaver and the butcher. Unfortunately the butcher only killed beavers, which worries the beaver, rather. They do end up best of friends, though.

The picture unfortunately is not very convincing, with pins stuck in at random all over the pillow, and no bobbins at all. The pillow looks like a domed one.

The Butcher and the Beaver from The Hunting of the Snark

Quote from Alden's Handy Atlas Of The World

"Alden's Handy Atlas Of The World" was published by John B. Alden, in New York, 1888. It is an American atlas with statistics in it. It has the following snippet:

LACE

NottinghamPersons employed:10,500Value products:$29,782,980
The ContinentPersons employed:585,000Value products:$28,128,370

These are startling figures! Nottingham has one fiftieth of the people employed, yet makes more money! The figures may be inaccurate, or incomplete. Even for America, it seems an odd division, especially as lace was being made in other parts of England, and it is downright insulting to the famous lacemaking areas of mainland Europe to lump them all as "the Continent"! But the atlas might have been trying to make a point. Nottingham did make a little hand-made lace, but it is chiefly famous, especially by this time, for machine made lace. Perhaps the atlas was pointing out that the future of lace was machine-made, not hand-made. The other possibility is that the figures are only for machine made lace, and it is showing that Nottingham is pre-eminant.


A Smuggler's Song by Rudyard Kipling

This comes from Puck of Pook's Hill, published in 1906, but talking about the past. The 'Gentlemen' are the smugglers, and a young girl is being told not to be nosy, not to talk to the soldiers about the smugglers, and to 'watch the wall' when they pass by, so she can honestly say that she saw nothing. 'Laces for a lady' (not usually plural!) are one of the items being smuggled. Lace was taxed heavily, possibly to protect British lacemakers, or possibly just because being expensive, it was a good earner of revenue. The doll's 'cap of Valenciennes' would be made of lace.

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
            Five-and-twenty ponies,
            Trotting through the dark -
            Brandy for the Parson,
            'Baccy for the Clerk;
            Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine;
Don't you shout to come and look, nor take 'em for your play;
Put the brishwood back again, - and they'll be gone next day!

If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining's wet and warm—don't you ask no more!

If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you 'pretty maid,' and chuck you 'neath the chin,
Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!

Knocks and footsteps round the house - whistles after dark -
You've no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty's here, and Pincher's here, and see how dumb they lie -
They don't fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!

If you do as you've been told, 'likely there's a chance,
You'll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood -
A present from the Gentlemen, along o' being good!
            Five-and-twenty ponies,
            Trotting through the dark -
            Brandy for the Parson,
            'Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie -
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Nursery rhyme

I don't know whether this is about lace bobbins or some other type of bobbins, such as weaving. I have heard that children were set to wind bobbins to help their lacemaking mothers. It's a children's action rhyme. If it is about winding lace bobbins, I have a vivid image of the tangle they'd get into if they did all those actions!

Wind the bobbin up, wind the bobbin up,
Pull, pull, clap, clap.
Point to the ceiling, point to the floor,
Point to the window, point to the door.
Put your hands together, one, two, three,
Place your hands upon your knee.

A correspondent tells me "This sounds like the description of German bobbins in use. They have a wood outer casing. So the 2 bobbins are wound up, then their thread is half-hitched tight (pull). Then the covers are clapped on. Then each pair tied on (straight pin in pillow points up, bobbins hanging toward self/floor). Then cross and twist (window and door). Then bobbins grouped and set aside. Mom always told me 'hands on your knees' when I finished a step in learning crochet or knitting or weaving. Perhaps it is the same thing."


Larkrise to Candleford by Flora Thompson

Flora Thompson (1876–1947) wrote a semi-autobiographical trilogy about the English countryside, Lark Rise to Candleford. In the first part, dealing with Flora's childhood in the 1880's, she writes of some elderly women. There was Old Sally, "though still strong and acive, was over eighty", and Queenie, who "seemed very old to the children, for she was a little, wrinkled, yellow-faced old woman in a sunbonnet, but she cannot have been nearly as old as Sally". Queenie was a lace-maker:

Queenie at her lace-making was a constant attraction to the children. They loved to see the bobbins tossed hither and thither, at random it seemed to them, every bobbin weighed with its bunch of bright beads and every bunch with its own story, which they had heard so many times that they knew by heart, how this bunch was been part of a blue bead necklace worn by her little sister who had died at five years old, and this other one had belonged to her mother, and that black one had been found, after she was dead, in a work-box belonging to a woman who was reputed to have been a witch.

There had been a time, it appeared, when lace-making was a regular industry in the hamlet. Queenie, in her childhood, had been 'brought up to the pillow', sitting among the women at eight years old and learning to fling her bobbins with the best of them. They would gather in one cottage in winter for warmth, she said, each one bringing her faggot or shovel of coal for the fire, and there they would sit all day, working, gossiping, singing old songs, and telling old tales till it was time to run home and put on the pots for their husbands' suppers. These were the older women and the young unmarried girls; the women with young children did what lace-making they could at home. In very cold weather the lace-makers would have a small earthen pot with a lid, called a 'pipkin'. containing hot embers, at which they warmed their hands and feet and sometimes sat upon.

In the summer they would sit in the shade behind one of the 'housen', and, as they gossiped, the bobbins flew and the lovely, delicate pattern lengthened until the piece was completed and wrapped in blue paper and stored away to await the great day when the year's work was taken to Banbury Fair and sold to the dealer.

'Them wer' the days!' she would sigh. 'Money to spend.' And she would tell of the bargains she had bought with her earnings. Good brown calico and linsey-woolsey, and a certain chocolate print sprigged with white, her favourite gown, of which she could still show a pattern in her big patchwork quilt. Then there was a fairing to be bought for those at home - pipes and packets of shag tobacco for the men, rag dolls and ginger-bread for the little 'uns', and snuff for the old grannies. And the homecoming, loaded with treasure, and the money in the pocket besides. Tripe. They always bought tripe; it was the only time in the year that they could get it, and it was soon heated up, with onions and a nice bit of thickening; and after supper there was hot, spiced elderberry wine, and so to bed, everybody happy.

Now, of course, things were different. She didn't know what the world was coming to. This nasty machine-made stuff had killed the lace-making; the dealer had not been to the Fair for the last ten years; nobody knew a bit of good stuff when they saw it. Said they liked the Nottingham lace better; it was wider and had more pattern to it! She still did a bit to keep her hand in. One or two old ladies still used it to trim their shifts, and it wa handy to give as presents to such as the children's mother; but as for living by it, no; those days were over. So it emerged from her talk that there had been a second period in the hamlet more prosperous than the present. perhaps the women's earnings at lace-making had helped to tide them over the Hungary 'Forties, for no-one seemed to remember that time of general hardship in country villages; but memories were short there, and it may have been that life had always been such a struggle they had noticed no difference in those lean years.


Twentieth Century paintings

A couple of attractive paintings to finish off. These look like real lacemakers!

Edward Atkinson Hornel - Ceylon Lacemakers - 1908 - English

This was painted by Edward Atkinson Hornel, a Scottish painter, in 1908 and it is called Ceylon Lacemakers. I think this is a lovely picture. There are lots of bobbins, and serious pillows with rollers. You can see the lace as well, which other pictures miss, but not the pattern unfortunately.

Charles Spencelayh - The Lacemaker (Mrs Newell Making Lace) - c. 1920 - English

This was painted by Charles Spencelayh, an English painter, around 1920. Its title is "The Lacemaker (Mrs Newell Making Lace)". I think it's a bolster pillow. Mrs Newell looks like a convincing lacemaker, and I like her bobbins!


Patron saints of lacemakers

This is taken from catholicsaints.info.

St AnneMother of the Virgin Mary
St Crispian and St Crispin-286Brothers, who worked from Soissons, France. They preached in the streets by day, and made shoes by night.
St Elizabeth of Hungary1207-1231Princess. She married Prince Louis of Thuringa at age 13. Once when she was taking food to the poor and sick, Prince Louis stopped her and looked under her mantle to see what she was carrying; the food had been miraculously changed to roses. Upon the death of Louis, Elizabeth sold all that she had, and worked to support her four children.
St Francis of Assisi1181-1226 He dressed in rough clothes, begged for his sustenance, and preached purity and peace. Lived with animals, worked with his hands, cared for lepers, cleaned churches, and sent food to thieves.
St John Regis1597-1640Helped a group of country girls stay away from the cities by establishing them in the lacemaking and embroidery trade.
St Luke the EvangelistLegend has that he was also a painter.
St SebastianSon of a wealthy Roman family. Charged as a Christian, Sebastian was tied to a tree, shot with arrows, and left for dead.
St Teresa of Avila 1515-1582Born to the Spanish nobility. Mystical writer.

Saint Marie-Azélie Guérin Martin (1831-1877) was a lacemaker. Lifelong lay woman. Mother of five nuns.


Lacemaker prayers

I found these lacemaker prayers on the web. I don't know their origins.

Lord, let me grow old like beautiful lace, cherished and treasured and care for with grace.


Guide my hands with speed and grace
To weave the intricacies of this lace.
Let the bobbins weave with ease
To create a pattern that will please.

Let there be Love in its creation
And give it Artistry in its inspiration.
May special Care keep the threads from breaking
And give me Energy for its making.

Allow this lace to bring joy and pleasure
And give to others a lifelong treasure.

And finally, my favourite. This was found on the website of Chris Parsons (Bobbin Maker and Supplier of Beautiful Lace Bobbins) and he sells bobbins engraved with it.

From breaking thread and bending pins,
brittle parchment and unmarked pricking,
lumpy pillows, half hitches that run,
and people who say 'is that all you've done',
Good Lord deliver us.

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© Jo Edkins 2010