A snippet and an extension of a recent article about Marwood that was published on Style Bubble blog about what is special about English lace...
How did you first hap upon English lace makers and what is it particularly about English lace that makes it so special?
A friend had visited an English lace manufacturer and thought it would be of interest to me. Since starting the Marwood blog I have loved the behind the scenes process and found it integral to designing the product... knowing how things are done and why; the amount you learn from the manufacturers is invaluable. Also, I had just picked up a vintage English lace collar piece as inspiration and so the timing was perfect.
I visited the family-run lace manufacturer and found that they've been making specialist spun lace using Leavers machines since 1845, creating their own unique patterns along the way. John Leavers developed a machine in 1813 that produced patterns and backgrounds at the same time. The Leavers machine introduced the production of intricate lace patterns similar to those created by hand - these patterns are created by trained draughtsmen. Leavers lace can be cut and it won't fray due to its construction of loops and twisted cotton. The recognisable feature of this factory's lace is small cotton nodules that are raised off the surface.
Is it a dying craft?
Definitely. When I went to the factory I was shown around every part of the process by Kate who works there. The fascinating machinery and process is so specific and requires constant man power and attention to draught the patterns, set up the machines, fix them, understand them and maintain the standards. I was shown some drafts that date back to the beginning of the 20th century that are still relied upon today and I think there is only one man left who can draft up new patterns. They also have problems with their supply chain - no dyeworks in the UK so they have to use one in Calais and it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain cotton with the right count and twist. This all follows a world trend as lingerie etc now mainly use the cheaper mass market raschel lace that can produced in its millions of metres in the Far East.
The current Leaver Lace manufacturing process works to produce a quality product, so why update it? This theory wouldn't be a problem if there was an abundance of trained workers waiting to fill positions of those who are retiring.