Malmesbury Lace

Malmesbury BobbinsIn the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lace was a vital fashion accessory, not only did it look well but it was an indication of how affluent you were as lace was expensive. Centres of lace making grew up around the country and Malmesbury was one such centre with its own individual patterns. Malmesbury lace was made in fairly narrow strips and so was particularly suited for joining other pieces of lace and for edging childrens’ clothes.

Because Malmesbury lace was so fine and intricate, bobbins were developed which were plain, smooth and with flat ends. Other lace centres, where less intricate patterns were used, developed their own individual bobbins which could be much more elaborate and intricate.

Our museum has an unrivalled collection of Malmesbury lace and Malmesbury bobbins.

Particularly of note is Annie Goodfield's work which was included in the trousseau of Princess Alexandra. In old age, Annie Goodfield was part of the later twentieth century lace making revival when she gave a demonstration during the 1968 Malmesbury Festival of Flowers.

Example of Malmesbury LacePatterns used by another prize-winning Malmesbury lace maker, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Barnes are now in the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office, Lizzie Barnes and her daughter Dorothy continued the tradition of lace making in Malmesbury through the twentieth century. Dorothy Barnes is significant in the survival of Malmesbury lace as she prepared written instructions based on the techniques she had learnt at her mother's knee in the 1930s.

Patterns, Product and Method

Example of Malmesbury LaceMalmesbury lace is made on a particular style of large, round cushion known as a "peel". This is set on a "pillow horse". The pattern or parchment has fabric ends; pins are placed through this fabric to attach the parchment to the peel. A thick thread is used to outline the work, this was called "bunting", but is now known as "gimp". the threads used in the pattern are called "straight cotton" and "basket filling" depending on their function. The former are "passive" while the latter are the"tallies" which are worked to form the pattern.

Typical work includes inserts to be used in cuffs, collars and edgings as Malmesbury lace is made with fine threads which lends itself to such items.

There are more details in our booklet Malmesbury Lace and on our Lace CD; available from the Museum shop.