"Of many Arts, one surpasses all. For the maiden seated at her work flashes the smooth balls and thousand threads into the circle ... 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, 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." Jacob Van Eyck, 1651.
I became fascinated by lace-making when I found out that in the late Elizabethan and early Stuart periods the craft employed thousands of women, working long hours by candlelight, yet the business side of it – the trade and sales – was almost always run by men. Van Eyck’s view of it is rather rosy, that no woman complains no matter how long a day they work! I thought it would be interesting to have a woman learn the business aspect from her father, and this is how the inspiration for A Divided Inheritance began.
There are many types of lace - bobbin lace, needle-lace, braid lace, tape lace, net, embroidered lace. Flanders claims to be the birthplace of lace, but can only produce documents referring to lace from 1495, though the Italians claim they have earlier records. Some people suspect that lace originated in China, as early designs have a distinctly oriental feel. But the flowering of lace in England was in the second half of the sixteenth century, when lace became an openwork fabric, created with a needle and one single thread (needle lace) or with multiple threads (bobbin lace).
Pillow lace, using a straw pillow and pins to painstakingly manipulate the individual threads only became very popular in Elizabethan times as prior to that the supply of pins was limited. In the reign of Henry VIII, the price of ordinary pins was about one penny each and so fishbones and even thorns were sometimes used as pins to hold the threads in place. Apparently Queen Catherine of Aragon taught lacemaking to some of the inhabitants of Ampthill when she was resident in the castle in 1531, while awaiting her divorce from Henry VIII, and a pattern named after her is still in use. (Sadly, the castle no longer stands.)
Starch was developed too during the reign of Elizabeth I and Shakespeare mentions 'free maids that weave their threads with bones...' in Twelfth Night. So the lace ruffs of Elizabethan times were probably stiffened with starch and bones. James I of England had a ruff made of a length of lace 38 yards long which took many women months to complete.
Lace production has always been driven by fashion, and these ruffs, which demanded bold geometric needlelace, were gradually replaced in the early 1600’s. Now the trend was for softer collars which needed relatively narrow bobbin lace. At the same time the fashion for gold and silver lace increased – it was used to edge gloves, shoe roses, jackets and sashes, and also to provide surface decoration for doublets or bodices.
Poor children were encouraged to be lacemakers to make them more self-supporting. An experienced lacemaker would teach children from her home or cottage. In 1699 a child might earn 1 shilling and 8 pence a week and a proficient adult 6 shillings and 6 pence.
During my exploration of lace I became familiar with cutwork and picot, Reticella and Punto in Aria (stitches in the Air). A whole world of lace – most of which could not squeeze itself into my novel, no matter how much I would have liked to include it all! And as books do, my initial idea was taken over by subsequent ideas, and now the lace theme is confined mostly to the beginning of the book. But I hope you have enjoyed my brief taster and will want to examine this beautiful craft more through these links:
Sources: The Lace Guild
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About the book
Elspet Leviston’s greatest ambition is to continue the success of her father Nathaniel’s lace business. But her dreams are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of her mysterious cousin Zachary Deane – who has his own designs on Leviston’s Lace.
Zachary is a dedicated swordsman with a secret past that seems to invite trouble. So Nathaniel sends him on a Grand Tour, away from the distractions of Jacobean London. Elspet believes herself to be free of her hot-headed relative but when Nathaniel dies her fortunes change dramatically. She is forced to leave her beloved home and go in search of Zachary - determined to claim back from him the inheritance that is rightfully hers.
Under the searing Spanish sun, Elspet and Zachary become locked in a battle of wills. But these are dangerous times and they are soon embroiled in the roar and sweep of something far more threatening, sending them both on an unexpected journey of discovery which finally unlocks the true meaning of family . . .
A Divided Inheritance is a breathtaking adventure set in London just after the Gunpowder Plot and in the bustling courtyards of Golden Age Seville.