For those who love hand made lace.
I first became interested in making needlelace after being given a “scrap box” of lace pieces by another quilter. Amongst the odds and ends of machine made laces, there were quite a few hand made pieces of bobbin lace, crocheted lace, tatted lace, all taken from garments. There were lace edgings and insertions and a few complete lace objects (doilies and antimacassars). One of the items in the bottom of the cardboard box was a brown, crushed and crumpled, slightly stiff lump of lace. I carefully opened it as far as I dared, and it looked like a piece of handmade needlelace. The color made me realize that it had been stored poorly for a long time and was highly acidified. There were a few areas that were stiff although most of it was slightly pliable and I knew that those really brown and stiff areas contained “dead” fibers that would not survive very long, but would soon turn to dust. What to do with it? It was not fit for study in its current state and I knew that if I moistened it to gently block it, it would probably dissolve in a self made acid bath! Although I know that the conservator's last choice is to wash an old fiber item, I decided that I would use this piece to hone my repair skills since it was pretty useless in its current state, so I would wash it. I prepared a gentle bath that was alkaline to prevent the acidified particles from destroying the fibers when they first hit the water. I let the item soak for a few days. After lifting it out of the bath (fully supported) and rinsing very well, I gently spread it out on a towel. It must have been an insert in a table item as there were little loops and an empty place in the center of this lace frame where a solid piece of fabric might have gone. There were loops on the outside perimeter too. Most of it cleaned up surprisingly well, but the “crunchy areas” (probably bleached at some time in the past) did dissolve. For stabilization purposes, I decided to make a “center” to help bring it back into the shape of a square. I attached the loops to my newly made center square. There were some parts where the fill stitching needed to be secured against unraveling, or areas that should be connected together but no long were. I repaired these some of these connections with 185/2 cotton thread that was finer than that used for the piece, using a beading needle to disturb the stitches as little as possible as I captured the ends of threads with a weaver's knot and secured them to the cordonnet and re-attached areas that needed it. There are many more repairs of this sort that need to be made to this piece. I also thought to reconstruct the areas that had dissolved, but how would I accomplish that? I had read descriptions of making needlelace, but had never seen it done. Perhaps now would be a good time to learn!
Below is a scan of one quadrant of the lace piece that I wanted to repair. You can see my hastily made center square for stabilization. Ultimately, this piece will need to be mounted on a support fabric or mesh, but until I finish with repairs, I will leave it as is, stored flat and supported.
Online I found the videos by Michael Dennis which demonstrated how to prepare the needle pad and apply the cordonnet, and how to add the fill stitches. Basically, every step I needed was shown, worked on a simple design. I had no desire to make the flower pattern in the demonstration, and I'm not one to make “samplers” of different stitches, so I drew up my own design after being inspired by the “Chateau Placemats” in this post(http://storage.ning.com/topology/rest/1.0/file/get/1133537421?profile=original). I liked the lily pads and thought that water would be a good subject, since any irregularities in my beginning stitches might be used as a design element. In any case, I wanted a my design to be a bit more “organic” and flowing than a traditional, stiff formal design. I started with DMC Cordonnet Special 50, and as I moved on to the smaller items, used 60, 80 and finally 100 for the cordonnet. Originally, I was using cordonnet balls that came in that box of lace, which I thought were “white”. When I ordered some finer cordonnet in white, I could see that what I had started using was “ecru”! So I decided to use both “colors” and make it part of my design. After applying the cordonnet outline, I started the fill stitches (lower right area first). I made one row of corded Brussels (using cordonnet 50) and decided that it was too rigid. After that I just made my stitches unsupported and flow with the water. I experimented with changing stitch in mid row to “shade” an area of fill. As I became more familiar with working on the piece, I kept using finer and finer thread. I used Aurofil 50/2 and any other threads that I had on hand as long as they were 100% cotton. When I finally got to the mesh in the background, I was using 185/2 (the mesh in the background around the frog is twisted button hole stitch with two overcasts per stitch on the return). The mayfly is held in place with single strands of 185/2. I chose not to pad the cordonnet with a top thread, but just button hole stitched over it.
There were many procedural errors that I made as I learned how to do this, but I am happy with the overall effect of the final project; my very first needlelace piece! :-D The thread around the perimeter is a “place holder” for a bobbin lace “frame” (which I have yet to design) and the “stems” have a loop at the end where it will attach to the footside of the lace frame. I've already drawn up a new picture for my second needlelace project, the same size as this one and have started to apply the cordonnet. I like the portability of needlelace. I travel a lot and I can take it with me where ever I go. It is very relaxing to build up a picture stitch by stitch!