Museum at Home > Lace and Embroidery
Lace first developed in Europe during the sixteenth century. There are two distinct types —needle lace and bobbin lace and the display in the museum includes bobbins, a lace making pillow and several fine pieces of lace, including some that is thought to have belonged to Jane Austen.
Typically made from linen, and later silk or metallic gold threads, followed by cotton in the nineteenth century, needle and bobbin laces were often named after the region or town where they were made. Honiton lace is one of the best known in the west country, but the villages of Beer and Branscombe were also famous for lace making. Lyme was less well known, but references are made in the town’s records to lace makers living and working here.
Lace making was a cottage industry, with the majority of lace being made in the homes of the workers, who were often the wives of poorly paid labourers and fishermen. Often these people were controlled by shop owners, who employed teams of workers to produce the lace for sale in London and other markets.
One square centimetre of lace could take up to 5 hours to produce. Large pieces such as collars or handkerchiefs could have taken up to 1,000 hours. Because of its painstaking, time-consuming production lace was a very expensive luxury, often the costliest part of any outfit.
Dating from the turn of the 18th Century, the Court Suit on display in the museum, is made of English woollen cloth adorned with stunning embroidery and silk buttons. Court Suits were statements of power and wealth and gave the wearer access to the Royal Court even if they didn’t hold an official position or title.
The exquisite embroidery of the waistcoat and jacket would probably have been done in a professional workshop, with coloured silk in stem, satin stitches and French knots.
Famously Beatrix Potter, who came on holiday to Lyme Regis, found inspiration for her book The Tailor of Gloucester in a Court Suit she saw at the V&A, telling her editor, Norman Warne, ‘I have been delighted to find I may draw some most beautiful 18th century clothes at S. Kensington museum’.