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THE ROMANCE OF LACE

Julia researches English lace-making, one of the major economic activities of the Devon area, for SOCIETY’S MOST DISREPUTABLE GENTLEMEN.

 

When Greville Anders finds himself marooned in the Devon countryside while he recovers from wounds suffered during a battle with privateers, he’s happy to further his flirtation with his host’s beauteous daughter Amanda by having her give him a tour of her father’s vast estate.

 

Along with fields planted in corn, mining on the Dartmoor, and flocks of sheep and cattle, Amanda’s father acts as a factor for his tenants who produce handicrafts. One of the most famous Devonshire handicrafts was Honiton lace, which was produced by craftspeople in their home cottages and then sent to the town of Honiton, where merchants marketed it to London and other large towns in England.

 

It’s thought that lace making originated in Italy in the 16th century and then spread throughout Europe. Some credit the lace making tradition in Honiton to Flemish weavers who came over to pursue the cloth trade, for the town had been a center for the weaving of wool and flax since medieval times. Whether Flemish weavers brought the techniques or not, by the time that Charles II was making lace collars and cuffs fashionable, the lace makers of the Honiton area were developing their unique style of embroidery, drawn-thread and cutwork.

 

Honiton lace is best known for its floral and leaf motifs, which were the result of several craftmen’s group efforts. The flower or leaf design would be made by one designer; then the pieces, called “sprigs,” would be stitched together into larger pieces.

 

The lace patterns were made using pairs of slender pointed bobbins. The lace maker would prick out a design on parchment, which was pinned atop a small, firm pillow stuffed with straw or sawdust. Pins would be inserted into the design, around which the threads would be woven and plaited to create the design. These flower pieces were then stitched to a net background.

 

During the mid-18th 19th centuries, it was estimated that nearly half the population of the area were engaged in the lace business. However, like many hand crafts, lace making suffered after the introduction of power looms.

 

Queen Victoria did her part to revive the craft. When she married Prince Albert in 1840, her dress was to be trimmed with Flemish lace, but the Queen insisted that the lace on her gown be English instead. An order was placed with Tuckers in the nearby town of Branscombe, who was then the largest employer of lace makers in the area. When the royal couple’s first child was born, the christening gown was also trimmed with Honiton lace; the gown was used for royal christenings for many years, until the cloth became too fragile. The royal family continues to order Honiton lace for special occasions; in 1981, Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding gown was trimmed with Honiton lace.

 

Allhallow’s Musuem, a 13th century former chapel that is the oldest building in Honiton, contains an extensive collection of historic lace; you can read about it at http://www.honitonmuseum.org. There are also many shops in town specializing in lace and the local pottery for which Honiton is also famed.

 

After Amanda gives Greville a tour of her father’s estate, he’s almost as impressed by his host’s vast and varied enterprises as he is by his beautiful hostess. I hope you will find Greville and Amanda’s story equally engaging.


 

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