Lace Designing in the Twentieth Century by Marion Ekholm
But…I was moving to Manhattan with my best friend and two other women who were working there during the summer. I needed a job to help pay for the apartment we had sublet, so I went for an interview. The head of our textile department had given us advice about what we could expect in pay. When I was offered more than the going rate to start, I took it with the intention of looking for something different once I lived in the city.
I was set to graduate with a degree in Textiles from Rhode
Island School of Design when a woman came to speak to my class. She had a
position in lace designing available in New York City. It didn’t interest me. I
love color and the samples she showed us didn’t have the variety found on
|Logo for RISD|
Nine years later…
I designed for the Leavers machine which makes lace that looks like handmade bobbin lace. Leavers invented this back in 1813 and the addition of the Jacquard system increased the design potential. The huge machine uses bobbins controlled by punched cards. The lace patterns I designed went into lingerie, bras and women's underwear.
|Tracing paper is placed over the design and the lines drawn to be sure they go in one direction.|
As the lace is made, the pattern is outlined by heavier threads that are always going in the same direction. No thread can go back on itself but the trick is to make it look that way. The challenge for the designer is to make the lace appear as though it’s free of any limitations.
A successful pattern (usually a rose with multi-petals) was
made in four or more varying widths including an overall fabric. The narrower
widths included the strength along the edges for trim on a garment, and at
least one width had to include a left and right in the pattern. Making every width appear as though it
belonged to the same pattern became the ultimate challenge.
|Drawing that includes the different bobbin patterns.|
My favorite pattern that included multi-petaled flowers, had delicate lily of the valley surrounded by large swirling leaves. Since lace can unravel, each pattern contained several different widths with strength where the edge could be sewn to the garment. The lower one pictured in the group could be used as is or cut through the middle to create a left and right side used on the bust line.
|This pattern was too different and wasn't successful.|
Usually I drew one width, my favorite being five inches, and presented a group of five or six from our studio of several designers, to my boss who then chose which ones he'd consider making after showing them to a customer. The chosen pattern then went to a draftsman who made it ready for the machines. By the time it came back, I had several widths of the pattern ready to go into production.
Some may think I had a dream job – head designer with my own office on Fifth Avenue, responsible for providing designs for some of the largest lingerie manufacturers. It came with a tremendous amount of tension.
After nine years I left that company and found work in printed fabric. Finally, I worked with color, designing textiles and doing repeats and colorings, something I truly enjoyed. However, for the next twenty years, whenever I had any tension in my life, I’d dream that I was back designing lace. I’d wake from the nightmare and wonder how come I was back in that job.
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