Wednesday, October 29, 2014

From Clogs to Education, by Janet Sunderani

And the clogs?

Well, my father had an expression - From Clogs to Clogs in Three Generations.  It was a dire warning to remember that clogs , a mark of poverty and of hard work, were worn by people who, through hard work, industry and thrift, made a good future for their children. If we squander our inheritance, we will end up wearing clogs again.  My grandmother wore clogs and so did her children until their grammar school days, much to their mortification. Aunt Edna was sent home from school for wearing clogs as they were too noisy and was told to return in leather shoes.

I have a tiny pair of traditional Lancashire clogs made by Walter Hurst of Hindley - his was the last family clog making business in the UK.  He was a customer of the bank where my father was manager. Dad bought them for my son Michael when he was born. They are bright red and quite beautiful. Michael has never worn them. Notice the metal on the soles and heels of the clogs. They improved wear and kept the wooden part out of the wet and dirt on the mill floor. Mr Hurst's business has now closed and he has retired. His family made clogs for the workers of the six cotton mills and 16 mines in the area for 103 years.  His son, a pharmacist, did not follow into the clog making business. It was a dying trade and neither clog making nor shoe repair could maintain the family. We live in a disposable society where cheaply made goods are built, not or service but for fashion, and then quickly discarded.

Our embroidery is an exception to this and a link to that heritage of industry, craft and thrift. We are a tribute to both the clog makers and the clog wearers!

So I am off now to find my clogs and do some gardening.

Want to know more about Clog Dancing?

Back to Janet's voice and my research.

Among the many things that interest me is the teaching of needlework in schools; it has died out completely.  On the Antiques Roadshow is a sample folder or book, stitched by a young Irish girl in Kildare, of beautiful tiny garments pin-tucked, smocked, embroidered, hemmed and buttonholed to show off her skills to prospective employers.  I could not find pictures though I did find a picture of the instruction manual used by the teacher as an example and guide.  It is heartbreakingly beautiful.

When I saw the item being valued it gave me the shivers to think it was the work of a small child and it was the means of securing her life and her future.

It seems to me that many Victorian industrialists tried hard to provide for those unable to work or fend for themselves.  They felt a social and moral obligation to do so.  I am sure they lived comfortable lives themselves too, but they did provide employment, housing and education for their workforce. JP Coats certainly did so to the benefit of my ancestors. The company's attitude to their workers and their education shows how enlightened they were.

Does this demonstrate that when one educates a girl, one can change life for future generations?

The other sampler I found was stitched by a woman, Lorina Bulwer, living in a lunatic ward in a workhouse around 1900. It was featured on the Antiques Road Show in the UK. Anyone who has read What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman will know that one did not have to be a lunatic to be incarcerated in an asylum. It could be a matter of convenience for someone else. This is a video you really do need to see. It is a sampler like no other and is well worth connecting to the Antiques Road Show to see and hear about it. Please view this video even if you miss the others.

How privileged we are to be able to sew for leisure and pleasure.

Ferguslie Half Timers School was one of the finest school buildings in Scotland. Built in 1866 by the Coats family, they hired eminent architects to build a "palace of education". It was described as "an admirably equipped school" and a "model of beauty and appropriateness". It is now, unfortunately, derelict having suffered fires and then been left open to the weather. A drawing and floor plan of this school can be found from the link above. Half Timers were students who worked half a day in industry and went to school for the other half of the day. If you search the web you will find a video of the Ferguslie school in its current condition.

Eagley Mills owned by Chadwicks and then JP Coates has fared much better. It was closed in the 1970s and has been converted into residences. See the transformation of this old mill building.

In 1750 James and Patrick Clark began work in the loom equipment and silk thread business in Paisley, Scotland. In 1830, James and Peter Clark inherited the business naming it J. & P. Coats. The company expanded and is now an International provider of threads and other textile items and operates under a variety of names. One of the brands we all recognize is Clarks Anchor Embroidery Floss.

Social history tells us of the lives and times of our ancestors and the conditions in which they lived. I am hoping that these articles focussing on the daily lives of ordinary people will keep the details of their lives within our memories.

This is a good moment to offer profound thanks to Janet Sunderani without whom the last two blogs would not have happened. I have enjoyed this trip into our history about which I knew nothing. Researching for pictures and videos has been interesting and rewarding.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Silk, Stockings and Clogs, by Janet Sunderani

1980s Britain was a difficult time to graduate from university.  With a degree in English and no discernible job skills apart from a willing heart and an urgent need to earn my keep I felt very lucky to land a job with a textile company in the Midlands. Filigree Textiles made knitted voile, Jacquard lace, lace insertions and trimmings from Diolen. This polyester thread was used to make the sheer and lace curtains so popular at that time in the UK.  They also owned E. A. Richards, a manufacturer of traditional Nottingham lace tablecloths, bedspreads and trimmings using machines that were already over 100 years old.

To take a tour of Leavers lace mill and see a working lace making machine watch the video below. Yes, I noted that it is in Rhode Island.

It is still possible to purchase Nottingham Lace. This tablecloth (Aintree design)can be found at the site below. Lace Story, also on this site, contains more information. The Lucilla pattern is 100% cotton and hand made. From cruising the web and reading the advertising, my impression is that there is an increased interest in using lace thanks to Downton Abbey.

I had a grand title, Marketing Executive, but in reality my job was a gofer. Officially I assisted in all aspects of our participation in national and international trade fairs. Included were purchasing of sales materials, display stands, packaging and print. Other duties could find me doing anything from cleaning the showroom, ironing samples to fetching and delivering urgently needed goods and trimmings.  I felt lucky to have a job and was rarely bored.

I loved living in the Midlands near to Nottingham. We settled in Belper in a tiny cottage on Mill Lane. Our neighbour, Dina, had lived on that street all her life and worked for the local stocking factory, Brettles, where she was a 'leg straightener'. She pulled the knitted stockings over a leg form prior to them being steam finished and becoming fully fashioned. That is, acquiring a leg shape.  We moved and our new next door neighbour was 'Dina's other leg'. This means that she worked the other shift but worked on the same leg forms. I don't think stockings are made like that any more.

If you would like to see a leg straightener at work, watch the following video:

No. 17, was our neighbour on the right. This was an interesting cottage as it had been squeezed into the triangle shape between our house and the house further up the lane.  At the front is a brick structure which was a nail makers workshop.  As most of the mill workers were women and children, the men needed employment too. Belper was a centre for nail making and there are several nail makers cottages in the town. No. 17 was about twelve feet wide at the front but only three or four at the rear. All the cottages were tiny. I do not know how they brought up families in such small houses.

Take a tour of 17 which has been renovated to a desirable residence. The bathroom has a heated towel rack which is an attraction living with the general dampness outside the home. Dina and her husband continue to live in the same house on Mill Lane.

Belper was also home to other manufacturers.  Thorntons made wonderful toffee and chocolate and the smell was amazing. Strutts cotton mill and Silkolene had closed by then. Silkolene had developed a conditioner for silk weaving that became Swarfega - a hand cleanser used by mechanics.

I was often sent to Congleton to Berisfords where they made silk ribbon and trimmings. The route took me through the beautiful Derbyshire Peak District by way of Ashbourne and Leek. The countryside bore the evidence of its industrial past.  This was mining country. Most of the girls who sewed the sheer and lace curtains were the wives and daughters of miners. The Victorian industrialists had taken full advantage of the confluence of coal, water, steel and a labour force to build substantial factories. This moved knitting and weaving out of the cottages and into large purpose built mills.

Wardles Silk Mill dominated the town of Leek though It was closed even then.  The Victorians built those buildings to last. The Wardles had been a prominent family and several of them had been mayors of the town.  Many of the mill owners of that time built schools for the children of their workers. This had a radical effect on the social mobility of that class as their children received an education for the first time.

For more pictures of the Wardle and Davenport Mill in Leek, go to:

Refer also to Dyeing and the Silk Industry during the Late 1800s. Posted on this blog Monday, November 25, 2013.

In a way I felt completely at home in that industry.  My grandmother had been a mill girl before her marriage and worked as a child (1905-1915 approximately) in a cotton mill as a halftime piecer.  Under the looms, she joined together the threads as they were woven into fabric.  She worked mornings and went to school in the afternoons.  School included a nutritious hot lunch cooked on site. I wish I had paid more attention to her stories. All the local girls worked in the mill. It was much better money than being in service in a large home. Her husband was a chauffeur.  Even married girls worked in the mill; their babies were brought to the mill for nursing at lunchtime. My Aunt Edna always credited her scholarship to Grammar School to the excellent education she received at the JP Coates school which used the strict Scottish education system. JP Coates made embroidery supplies. My great aunt Alice stitched the sample tapestries used in stores publicize their wares.

I often thought of the family connection as I drove through these Midlands industrial towns. The UK was in the midst of a hard recession.  Company profits were down 20% and manufacturing output was down 15%. Inflation was 17% and unemployment had reached 1.5 million.  Evidence of this was everywhere in the closed shops though the area was better off than some.  Race riots occurred in the major cities triggered by arson attacks on the homes of racial minorities.  The prisons were in uproar too with riots and hunger strikes. Peace camps were set up at Greenham Common to protest the siting of nuclear missiles as the USA slid towards war with Iran.

However Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who was deeply unpopular, declared her intention to continue her policies announcing "the Lady's not for turning", and her Minister of Employment advised people to "get on your bike and look for work!"

One bright spot in all this was that Prince Charles and Lady Di were married and we were all invited to watch on the telly. As she swept down the aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral, her magnificent silk dress had become a little crumpled from the confines of the glass coach. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of things to come.  The silk for the dress was woven in Suffolk, not Macclesfield. Filigree Textiles designed and produced an official souvenir lace panel to commemorate the occasion which sold very well in Japan.

The Lace on the bodice of Lady Diana's wedding gown.

Like Wardles Mill, the factory I worked at is now derelict. Unlike Wardles the modern building did not last a hundred years. Filigree Textiles swallowed up its competitors and centralized its manufacturing into a new factory. I am not sure how much of its lace and voile is still manufactured in the Midlands. Cheap imports of excellent quality textiles from Eastern Europe were already threatening the market even in the 80s. Filigree had begun to buy lace rather than make it.

Information regarding lace keeps arriving:

"Do you know how to tell good lace from cheap lace? It’s the variation of the size of the holes.  The more variations, the better the quality. This variation also causes the woven fabric to feel fairly stiff. Manufacturers would starch cheap lace so that it felt like good quality lace". (Sheila McCoy)

Most of the old mills are derelict or transformed into flats or historic museums for the tourists. Which amounts to a glimpse at Britain's manufacturing past and a trip to the tearoom.

Each generation of the industry, each innovation seems to have been shorter than the previous ones.  Cloth and thread were home produced for hundreds of years. That is, home grown, home spun and hand woven.  Many generations would have worn cloth that was produced, cut and sewn within a very few miles of their homes.  When the Victorians built the massive mills my grandmother worked in, wearing her clogs, they must have expected this marvellous new technology to last for many generations. The buildings and the machines were built to last. And yet I probably do not own one item in my closet that was made in North America. That is, made from American cotton, woven, cut and sewn all in North America.

In fact probably almost half of my wardrobe has more to do with the oil patch than the cotton patch, sheep fold or silkworm.

And the clogs? Janet has so much to share with the readers of this blog that it has been divided into two instalments. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 20, 2014

From Lace Back to Stockings

The last posting on Lace triggered some interesting responses. Among them was the fact that a wedding dress was made of Nottingham Lace. Another reader wondered where one finds pieces of chunky old lace with which to play creatively. A third observed that the only place in the UK where lace continues to be manufactured is in Heanor in Derbyshire. And there was an email from Jeri Ames in Maine, USA with a request to share this blog with the members of

That will be a pleasure and I hope that the lace makers will find this blog interesting though tangental. And for any readers with links to RSN in the 1950s, my name during my RSN days was Ann Nind. While a student there, I completed two and a half years of the three year course all in an 18 month time period. I worked hard for the first time on my life. It was a skill I really wanted to pursue but employment prospects were almost negligible. Hence the move into Occupational Therapy.

One never knows what will happen when one starts a blog. And it's all rather exciting!

Lace is a huge subject and my blog barely scratches the surface. Further information on the history of Lace can be found in the article Lace by Sheila A. Mason, BA, FRSA.

Machine knitting was invented about 1589 by William Lee, a vicar of Nottinghamshire. The Stocking Knitting Frame made it possible for workers to produce knitted goods up to 100 times faster than by hand. The industry was primarily based in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. The workers required quick sight, a ready hand and retentive faculties. It was a hard and demanding way to earn a living. Queen Elizabeth 1 refused to grant Lee a licence to produce stockings as she feared that it would result in financial hardship for the hand knitters. He went to France where he and his brother developed the machine further and within a decade he was able to produce long silk stockings for the gentry. Prior to this, stockings were hand knitted at home by every person available much like the production of Dorset Buttons.

I am reminded of Malvolio in Twelfth Night written by Shakespeare 1601/02. By then, his yellow stockings had become a fashion item and it did not take long for them to become established. The cross gartering was not so normal! White was the usual colour and stockings were made of wool or cotton with silk being the most expensive. Fashion dictated colour changes and the inclusion of designs such as clocking as the machines became ever more complex.

The hand operated stocking knitting frames were an integral part of a cottage industry in the homes and cottages of Nottingham. A good light was essential and the high set wide windows in the photograph below indicates that a knitting machine was installed in the upper rooms. It was a family occupation. The men operated the knitting machine, the women did the sewing up and the children wound the hanks of wool onto cones. The machines became better, larger and faster. The industry boomed. The hand operated Stocking Knitting Machine depicted below is very different to the complex machine being demonstrated in the video at the end of this entry,

These four cottages in Stapleford near Nottingham were purpose built for the home based stocking frame knitters. The large windows on the top floor let in as much daylight as possible. In 1844 there were 16,382 stocking frames in the area. But the home industry was in decline because the availability of steam power made it increasingly attractive for the industry to move into factories. As a result, many of the machines in the homes fell idle and the welfare of the workers deteriorated. To earn the same money, the worker now had to toil 16 hours a day whereas previously he worked 10 hours. Their living conditions became deplorable with a diet consisting mainly of bread, cheese, gruel and tea on which they grew emaciated, pale and thin. As you will see in the video, operating a machine by hand requires strength and coordination.

This photo and the information were found in a wonderful collection of pictures: English Cottages by Tony Evans and Candida Lycett Green, ISBN 0 297 78116 2.

As the 19th century progressed, fashions changed. Men wore trousers and no longer needed long stockings. In the years from the 16th century to the 19th century it became harder and harder to make a living from operating a knitting machine. This is a brief synopsis from a long and informative article at

A Google search of Framework Knitting Machines will lead you to YouTube videos of these machines in operation. You will notice that working the 100 year old machine requires good body strength and concentration. The knitter, Martin Green, can be seen in the following video which includes an explanatory soundtrack.

The beautiful lace shawl pictured at the end of one of the videos reminded me that I have a similar shawl given to me by an English friend on the occasion of the birth of our first child. It is like gossamer and is in excellent condition because it has been treated as a treasure.

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief trip into the Land of Lace.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Some History of Lace

It is a long time since you have heard from me. Life got in the way.

I would like to introduce you to Janet Sunderani. Reading this Blog brought back her memories of growing up in the Nottingham area of England and the stories she heard from her grandparents and neighbours who worked in the stocking and lace industry. Official history does not record what it was really like to work in the textiles factories that have long ceased to exist. These recollections fill in the gaps between the official records, photos of machines and statistics and it is important that they be recorded.

Making lace by machine required technical innovation, experience and dexterity. The machinery no longer exists and the needed skills no longer exist either. Janet says that it is a lost art that is unlikely to be reborn.

Photo from

The article contains considerable information about the industry and the developers of the machinery.

Another interesting site is

Here you can watch the trailer of a movie. It shows the lace making machines and the jacquards that control the patterns. The white room where the ladies checked, cut and hemmed the finished lace is included. The jacquards are the cards that control the pattern that is being woven.

Of note is the Battle of Britain Panel. Thirty eight identical panels were produced; each one took a week to weave. They were presented to the RAF and Commonwealth units involved in the Battle of Britain, to important personages and to each of the Commonwealth countries. The panels each measured 14' 9" high by 5' 3" wide. They are national treasures. The machine used 40,000 jacquard cards all of which were destroyed after the panels had been completed. Below is a portion of the lowest part of the panel. To see more go to Googles Images- Battle of Britain Lace Panel. A search of the relevant sites is a very interesting experience.

Lace making machines were a development of the machines that made stockings. But that is for the next article. Stockings were produced in high volume whereas lace was a limited industry. During World War II, the factories and production were revamped to produce mosquito netting and camouflage nets.

Janet drives two hours each way to attend our Guild in Guelph. Her reasoning is that we are a teaching Guild and she wanted to learn new techniques. She is an immaculate stitcher and we enjoy her presence among us. She has enriched our Guild as much as we have taught her. And it is totally thanks to her that this article and the one to follow are here for you to enjoy.

To my followers in Canada, Happy Thanksgiving.