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24 September 2014

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You are in: Devon > History > History features > Lace-making: the next generation

Young lace-makers learning their craft

Young lace-makers learning their craft

Lace-making: the next generation

The art of lace-making is being kept alive at Honiton in East Devon, where the lace industry once employed hundreds of people. Centuries after Honiton lace became famous, young people in the town are still learning the craft.

Lace has been made in Honiton for more than 400 years. By 1676 there were 1,341 men, women and children making lace in the houses in and around the High Street and thousands more across the towns and villages of East Devon.

The cottage industry was killed off by the introduction of machines that could make lace cheaply and by 1940 nobody in Honiton was making lace for a living.

However, the craft of lace-making lives on and the skills associated with this ancient tradition are now being passed on to the next generation.

Wendy Williams and her pupils

Wendy Williams and her pupils

Every week the Honiton Lace Museum hosts its own lace-making classes under the expert eye of world expert Pat Perryman, who has been training people for 50 years.

One of her ex-pupils, Wendy Williams, now runs regular classes for children from a small classroom in the town.

They vary in age from six to 16, and all come from Honiton and the surrounding area.

Tradition is strong in Honiton and people there feel it's important to maintain this centuries old craft.

"It's really good to keep the lace-making tradition going," said Wendy. "I took over the class six years ago from Pat Perryman, who was my teacher.

"I have been making lace for over 30 years now, back then the class was huge.

"I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing them finish a really tricky piece, they can actually achieve something.

"Just making the bobbins is the hardest bit as a beginner.

Making a bobbin

Making a bobbin

"It can be quite daunting, especially for seven and eight-year-olds, but they can't make lace until they've actually made their bobbins up.

"They come because they want to learn. They know fairly quickly whether they will be able to cope with it, and if they've got the motivation and enthusiasm they'll keep going."

It takes time and a lot of patience, one small centimetre square can take months to produce.

Six-year-old Maddie has just joined the class. Her mum loved making lace and she is taking up the challenge.

"It's quite hard at the moment because I didn't really know anything about it before I started," said Maddie.

"My mum did it when she was little and she really wanted me to do it too. I quite like this sort of stuff and I'm looking forward to making something."

Siobhan is one of the older students in Wendy's class and has been learning the finer points of lace-making for five or six years.

"I'd like to continue doing it but it's quite time consuming," explained Siobhan. "When you finish something it's a great achievement.

"My friends usually assume it's something for old people and it's full of old ladies. It's usually better if you have quite few of your mates there so you can have a laugh at the same time."

An elderly lace maker in 1965

An elderly lace maker in 1965

Not surprisingly, few males join either the adult or children's classes - but according to Wendy, boys are the better lace-makers.

"Sadly it's nearly all girls. I have taught boys in the past, I taught my own son for a few years.

"It's unfortunate, but they do get the mickey taken out of them, because it's seen as more of a girly thing.

"In actual fact the boys make very good lace-makers. They are very, very good at it."

Over time, lace has been made for all sorts of people, from royalty to MPs.

It was used to decorate the clothing of the nobility and the rich. They liked the lace made into collars, shawls, handkerchiefs, bonnets and flounces.

Queen Victoria was married in a Honiton lace veil and Queen Elizabeth II has a christening robe which has been used by her children and grandchildren.

last updated: 18/02/2008 at 16:21
created: 07/08/2007

You are in: Devon > History > History features > Lace-making: the next generation

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