The Honiton Lace Shop

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What is Honiton Lace ? Honiton lace is one of the many varieties of hand-made bobbin lace produced commercially over the past few centuries, a lace that has become world famous for itís intricate, delicate and very beautiful design. Honiton lace has been made in the East Devon of England area since the late 16th century and during that time has been purchased and worn by the wealthy of the world.

Why is it called Honiton Lace ? Honiton Lace takes itís name from the East Devon town of Honiton where the majority of the lace was made in the past. It is now a generic name for the techniques and designs involved in making this type of lace and does not necessarily have to be made in the town of Honiton, in fact there are people making Honiton Lace throughout the world as a hobby today.

Who invented Honiton Lace ? No one "invented" Honiton Lace. Early bobbin lace from Flanders in particular, is very similar to the Honiton Lace of the same period, however, over hundreds of years the lace made here in East Devon developed characteristics that are the ones now commonly recognised as Honiton Lace. If lace was invented anywhere it was probably Italy, and from there spread to many places with an existing textile industry. Honiton, being a wool and flax area was ideally suited to taking up this new craft.

When was Honiton Lace first made ? It is thought that lace making spread throughout Europe from Italy in the early 16th century and probably came to the Honiton area in the later part of the 16th century. There are few records of itís early development and it is only in the 17th century that good documentary evidence starts to appear referring to the extensive lace industry to be found in Honiton. It is likely that lace making started in all of the major lace making regions of Europe at about the same time.

Did lace making come from Flemish refugees fleeing persecution ? No, there is absolutely no proof that there were any lace making Flemish refugees who settled in this area in the 1570ís. The story is thought to have come about during the 19th century due to poor historical research and writing and has been passed on as a totally incorrect fact ever since. There are no local records of Flemish sounding lace makers or other crafts people, and no reason why they should have settled here when fleeing the low countries.

Why did lace making come to Honiton ? Honiton had an early history of textile production prior to lace making and so had many workers who could adapt and take up lace making for a living when it became a highly desirable fashion accessory. Wool was woven in the area, and more importantly flax was grown here to make the very fine hand spun yarns used in lace making at that time. With many textile workers already, it was natural that they should turn their hand to lace making when it came about.

Who made the lace ? There was a complex manufacturing hierarchy in the lace industry. At the top were the merchants or manufacturers who took the orders and sold the finished product, they employed designers, lacemakers and finishers to make the lace. The lacemakers often worked from home while the merchants had their shops in Honiton and other local towns and villages. In the 19th century the lacemakers were paid very poorly, often by tokens that could only be spent in general stores also owned by the merchants. It was not a cottage industry but a highly organised and regulated manufacturing process.

Who used the finished lace ? The fashionable gentry of Europe who could afford the very expensive hand made lace used to adorn costume of the day. The lacemakers and locals could not afford to wear lace and most of it was sold outside the area with much of it being sent to London and abroad.

Where are the lace factories ? There are no lace factories now nor were there ever lace factories in Honiton, any lace factories that you might have heard of housed the machine-made lace industry of the Midlands, especially in the Nottingham area, although Tiverton in ,id Devon housed the Heathcote works where some of the first machine made laces were made.

Why is it not called Beer or Branscombe Lace when so much was made there ? Honiton lace was made in Beer and Branscombe as well as many other East Devon towns and villages. Honiton Lace refers to a technique for making a specific type of lace that took itís name from the town of Honiton where the majority of the lace was made or sold. Although Honiton Lace was made in many other local towns and villages, throughout history it has always been known as Honiton Lace. There is a Branscombe Point Lace which has itís own distinct features, but apart from lace made by a few top designers, it is almost impossible to tell where any individual item of Honiton lace was made.  

Do the Royal Family use Honiton Lace ? Queen Victoria revived the declining Honiton Lace industry in the 19th century by ordering much ceremonial lace including that used for her wedding dress. many of her family used Honiton lace in great quantities and since then the Royal Family have used the Royal Honiton Lace christening gown for all the Royal christenings, and have also had a number of smaller pieces of Honiton lace presented to them on special occasions.  

Where is Honiton Lace made now ? Honiton Lace is not made commercially anymore, the industry having died out by the early part of this century. The only people now making Honiton Lace are doing it for their own pleasure as a hobby. There are still classes held on a weekly basis in Honiton for anyone wishing to learn the craft and regular demonstration can be seen in the museum during the Summer months.

How many people still make Honiton Lace ? Many thousands world wide. As Honiton Lace is a generic name for the technique it does not have to be made in Honiton to be called Honiton Lace. It is thought that there are probably well over a thousand people capable of making lace in the local area. There are still a few people prepared to make Honiton Lace on commission, however it takes a very long time to produce and is very expensive as a result. Some of our best customers for lace equipment come from Japan and the Far East where handcrafts are so popular today.

How is Honiton Lace made ? Bobbin lace making such as in Honiton Lace is a miniature form of weaving. A pattern is drawn onto and then pricked into heavy waxed card which is then pinned onto a tightly packed barley straw pillow. Very fine pins are inserted into the holes of this pattern or "pricking" and threads woven back and forth between the pins to build up the lace. Using a variety of different "weaving" techniques different patterns are built up within the lace to give it a very intricate patterned structure. Finally the finished lace motif has itís pins removed and is joined to other motifs using similar techniques to create a larger finished item such as a collar, handkerchief or wedding veil.

What are the bobbins / bodkins / shuttles or sticks for ? Lace bobbins are thin turned wooden holders for the thread. They allow the thread to be wound onto one end and are easily manipulated on the pillow without getting the thread dirty or tangled. They are not called bodkins, sticks or shuttles as many people think.  

Lace making makes you go blind doesnít it ? No, this is a myth. As long as lace is made in good light so that you can see what you are doing with out straining your eyes it will not cause eye damage. There are no historical records of lacemakers going blind due to their trade, in fact lace making may be easier on the eyes than needlework because you are looking at the bobbins and lace which together form a large area, and not to the point of a needle which is a much smaller and could possibly cause more eye strain.

How long does it take to make a piece of Honiton Lace ? It takes about 10 hours to make a square inch of very fine Honiton Lace, less if the work is coarser or not very complex. Working on these calculations, some of the finest pieces of lace on show in the Allhallows Museum must have taken many tens of thousands of hours to produce.

Can I purchase a Honiton Lace tablecloth ? No, Honiton Lace is much too fine too be used as a furnishing or table lace. Traditionally Honiton Lace has always been a costume lace for collars, cuffs, edgings, flouncing and wedding veils. If you want a tablecloth or mats you will need a heavier type of lace such as tape, cluny, crochet or even machine-made lace.

Where can I go to see Honiton Lace ? Allhallows Museum in the High Street, Honiton, has an outstanding collection of some of the finest Honiton Lace ever produced. The collection spans nearly 400 years of lace making in the area. As well as the Honiton Lace, there are regular lace making demonstrations from many of the towns best lace makers. The museum has recently completely modernised its lace displays and can now show the majority of its collection at any one time.

Where can I purchase Honiton Lace ? The only remaining lace shop in Honiton is The Honiton Lace Shop via this web site or at The Grove Antique Center in the High Street. Here you can view many fine examples of antique Honiton Lace for sale. These range from small motifs mounted in a variety of jewellery and frames, to much larger pieces for wearing or display. The shop always has an extensive range of collars, handkerchiefs and wedding veils for sale. It is now only open by appointment, please email us or call 01404 42416 for details

Where can I learn to make Honiton Lace ? Regular classes are held in Honiton at the local Community College for all levels of lacemakers. It is quite possible to learn the craft at home such is the quality of todayís teaching books. The Honiton Lace Shop sells a large range of lace making equipment and books, and can put together a complete lace making kit for those wishing to take up the craft.

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If you have other questions regarding any aspects of Honiton Lace please contact us and we will try to answer your questions.

For a complete history of the Honiton lace industry, you really ought to read The History of The Honiton Lace Industry by Dr H J Yallop.

Details of this book can be found by clicking here

 

 

 

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