21st Century Lace At The De Morgan Centre Wandsworth

By Caroline Lewis | 02 April 2008
Impressionistic picture of sea and sky made out of lace

The Lonely Sea and the Sky. Photo: Peter Smith

Exhibition preview: Beguiling Time at the De Morgan Centre, London, until May 31 2008.

You may have watched with amusement a scene in the recent BBC adaptation of Cranford in which Imelda Staunton desperately tries to restore the whiteness of a precious piece of lace by soaking it in milk. The delicate collar had passed through the digestive system of the cow she keeps.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel is set in the 1840s, just as the industrial revolution forced crafts like lace making into decline. Yet intricate, handmade lacework had been a valuable material and status symbol for several hundred years before then, with pattern books known from the 16th century.

Now that machine-made versions are readily available and it is mainly favoured by the over-55s for net curtains, it doesn’t have the same appeal at all. And you’re just as likely to find it trimming cheap knickers as expensive lingerie.

The De Morgan Centre in Wandsworth, London, is challenging such ideas about lace with a showcase of work by contemporary lace makers who give the ancient craft a 21st century edge.

Textile sculpture featuring a lacy sprial within a tub

Ann Allison, Images Unwound. Photo: Peter Smith

The UK-wide 98 Lace Group is marking its 10th anniversary with the exhibition Beguiling Time, with the express purpose of dispelling preconceptions that it is the preserve of old ladies in bonnets from days gone by.

Inspired by music and poetry, the innovative pieces on show range from wall hangings to bags and vessels, all demonstrating the surprising possibilities of the textile.

Plastic, paper and raffia, metal, linen thread and wire are worked in different combinations to bring thoroughly new textures and colours to the craft, which echo the methods used to create fine pieces in the past.

Lily Wills’ sculptural piece, Apple Blossom, is inspired by the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful, while Haiku Streamer by Sue Mclaggan is a refined and beautiful work.

The 98 Lace Group is so-called because it was formed in 1998 at a gathering of textile teachers and artists with the aim of reviving and maintaining the ancient skill of lace making.

Textile sculpture consisting of multicoloured interconnected tubes covered with lace and ending in tassels

Ann Brammer, Limbo Rainbow. Photo: Peter Smith

Textile artist Cas Holmes has curated the exhibition.

“All pieces presented for selection demonstrated skill, time and patience,” she said. “I chose work which married the traditional skills of handmade lace with new ideas and materials to give a contemporary ‘twist’, where the design and ideas went beyond the technique and demonstrated that this 15th century craft had a relevance to the art and design of the 21st century.”

Highly skilled members of the group are offering a rare opportunity to learn their craft at the De Morgan Centre in a series of workshops for children and adults. Contact the museum for details. Work on show is also for sale.

The De Morgan Centre for the Study of 19th Century Art and Society houses a rare collection of work by William De Morgan, the most important ceramicist of the Arts and Crafts movement, and the pre-Raphaelite paintings of his wife, Evelyn.

This is an exhibition preview. If you’ve been to see the show, why not let us know what you think?

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