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Quotes about Bobbin lace in Larkrise to Candleford

Flora Thompson (1876-1947) wrote a semi-autobiographical trilogy about the English countryside, Lark Rise to Candleford (1945). In the first part, dealing with Flora's childhood in the 1880's, she writes of some elderly women. There was Old Sally, "though still strong and active, was over eighty", and Queenie, who "seemed very old to the children, for she was a little, wrinkled, yellow-faced old woman in a sunbonnet, but she cannot have been nearly as old as Sally". Queenie was a lace-maker:

Queenie at her lace-making was a constant attraction to the children. They loved to see the bobbins tossed hither and thither, at random it seemed to them, every bobbin weighed with its bunch of bright beads and every bunch with its own story, which they had heard so many times that they knew by heart, how this bunch was been part of a blue bead necklace worn by her little sister who had died at five years old, and this other one had belonged to her mother, and that black one had been found, after she was dead, in a work-box belonging to a woman who was reputed to have been a witch.

There had been a time, it appeared, when lace-making was a regular industry in the hamlet. Queenie, in her childhood, had been 'brought up to the pillow', sitting among the women at eight years old and learning to fling her bobbins with the best of them. They would gather in one cottage in winter for warmth, she said, each one bringing her faggot or shovel of coal for the fire, and there they would sit all day, working, gossiping, singing old songs, and telling old tales till it was time to run home and put on the pots for their husbands' suppers. These were the older women and the young unmarried girls; the women with young children did what lace-making they could at home. In very cold weather the lace-makers would have a small earthen pot with a lid, called a 'pipkin'. containing hot embers, at which they warmed their hands and feet and sometimes sat upon.

In the summer they would sit in the shade behind one of the 'housen', and, as they gossiped, the bobbins flew and the lovely, delicate pattern lengthened until the piece was completed and wrapped in blue paper and stored away to await the great day when the year's work was taken to Banbury Fair and sold to the dealer.

'Them wer' the days!' she would sigh. 'Money to spend.' And she would tell of the bargains she had bought with her earnings. Good brown calico and linsey-woolsey, and a certain chocolate print sprigged with white, her favourite gown, of which she could still show a pattern in her big patchwork quilt. Then there was a fairing to be bought for those at home - pipes and packets of shag tobacco for the men, rag dolls and ginger-bread for the little 'uns', and snuff for the old grannies. And the homecoming, loaded with treasure, and the money in the pocket besides. Tripe. They always bought tripe; it was the only time in the year that they could get it, and it was soon heated up, with onions and a nice bit of thickening; and after supper there was hot, spiced elderberry wine, and so to bed, everybody happy.

Now, of course, things were different. She didn't know what the world was coming to. This nasty machine-made stuff had killed the lace-making; the dealer had not been to the Fair for the last ten years; nobody knew a bit of good stuff when they saw it. Said they liked the Nottingham lace better; it was wider and had more pattern to it! She still did a bit to keep her hand in. One or two old ladies still used it to trim their shifts, and it was handy to give as presents to such as the children's mother; but as for living by it, no; those days were over. So it emerged from her talk that there had been a second period in the hamlet more prosperous than the present. Perhaps the women's earnings at lace-making had helped to tide them over the Hungry 'Forties, for no-one seemed to remember that time of general hardship in country villages; but memories were short there, and it may have been that life had always been such a struggle they had noticed no difference in those lean years.

The Lacemaker (Mrs Newell Making Lace)by Charles Spencelayh

This was painted by Charles Spencelayh, an English painter, around 1920. Its title is "The Lacemaker (Mrs Newell Making Lace)".