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The culture of lacemaking

Join Dr Nicolette Makovicky as she traces the roots of the UK's lacemaking history.  In the 17th century, centres of lace making and trade grew in towns and villages across Nottinghamshire and Bedfordshire, through Northamptonshire and to the borders of Oxfordshire. By the 18th century, it had become a major rural industry employing an estimated 100,000 women in the region. Vital to the local economy, lace was a unique commerical product which connected wealthy consumers to the rural working class. When machine-made lace began to threaten the industry in the early 19th century, this connection was strenghthened by calls for the charitable support of lace makers through patriotic consumption and the civic philanthropy. The same impulse to preserve lay behind the collection, donation, and purchases of lace and lace-making equipment by county museums and private individuals in the late 19th century.

Her project is driven by an acknowledgement that these small, localized collections of material on lace making collected were often over-determined by the ethos of ‘salvage ethnography’ which existed at the time. This means they are of an overwhelmingly typological nature (lacking integration between material, textual and oral materials), and fragmented (lack of knowledge and research across collections). The projects thus seeks to use knowledge-exchange initiatives to bridging gaps between different institutions and different sorts of collections (e.g. social history collections, art historical collections, textile collections, and archives). Participating institutions across the historical area of the Midlands lace making industry will be (amongst others) the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Museum of English Rural Life, the Cowper and Newton Museum, The Higgins Museum and Art Gallery, and Buckinghamshire County Museum.

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Dr Nicolette Makovicky

Event supporters

We are grateful to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for their support through the University of Oxford’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.

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