This week, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar day, Lace: Heritage and Contemporary Textile Practice, at Nottingham Trent University based around lace and organised by Amanda Briggs-Goode. Nottingham has a long association with lace, being one of the most important centres for the lace industry in the past, and there are still beautiful buildings and archives of lace in the area.

The symposium was part of a festival of Lace in Nottingham running from September to February called Lace: Here: Now and speakers ranged from technical lace embroidery for the engineering sector to contemporary makers and artists. One of the speakers was Prof Lesley Millar, who I have written about before in respect of the amazing exhibitions she has curated, both for lace and for textiles in general over the past fifteen to twenty years. Despite suffering from a debilitating lurgy, Prof Millar gave an insightful and inspirational talk as the concluding presenter.

Of greatest interest to me was Prof Julian Ellis, OBE from Ellis Developments, a company which work with machine embroidery to create textile engineering for companies such as British Aerospace, and Ford. He also brought some medical embroideries covering topics as replacement ligaments, stents and artificial veins.

During the lunch break, delegates were able to visit the lace archive held at the NTU, as well as Journeys in Lace, Part Two, a current exhibition of Nottingham Trent University lecturers and students around lace which incorporated perspex cases of archive lace which cast beautiful shadows on the base of the gallery walls. The academic and technical staff involved were from several departments – Textile Design, Fashion Design and Decorative Arts and the approaches were varied. I was impressed with both the work and the presentation, with shadows being a strong element of a number of pieces. I particularly enjoyed Tessa Acti’s Lace Bird, comprising 3 suspended bodices from embroidery thread on nylon mesh fabric using digital embroidery; Ottis Sturmey’s Twisthands’ Dissolution, which felt a little close to home with its red lace effect cloth spilling to the floor from a hole in a 1st world war soldier’s helmet; and Chloe Blount’s A story of Nottingham Lace – a hand-drawn written piece in the form of lace. The latter was provided with a magnifying glass so that the work could be seen in detail. From the students’ work, I particularly enjoyed Claire Bradshaw (Decorative Arts, 2nd year) digitally printed, laser etched, polyester piece with faces punctured by holes which read as confusion from the printed side, but read as a lace piece in the shadow.

After the day’s proceedings, we attended the opening of Lace Works, a temporary exhibition at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, where work around the theme of lace was presented by Teresa Whitfield (hand-drawn lace in pen and ink), Timorous Beasties, Lucy Brown, Cal Lane, Joy Buttress, and Nicola Donovan.  Teresa Whitfield’s work is exquisitely drawn pen and ink recreations of archival lace, both hand made and industrial.  Timorous Beasties have been working with Scottish lace manufacturers Morton Young and Borland to produce a series of net curtains as you’ve never imagined them before!  The long length hung dominated the stairwell of the Museum with a blurred but evocative shadow on the wall.  Lucy Brown uses second hand, found and vintage clothing in her tapestry-style weavings called Offerings.  Cal Lane’s work is lace in heavy metal form, using welding equipment to create lace-like effects in spades, and industrial metalwork.  Joy Buttress is engaged with intricate detailing and crusted forms inside garments like nightwear, underwear, petticoats, with the work suspended high above the floor, lit by bare bulbs from within, making the viewer feel as if they are voyeuristically invading a secret world as they peer upwards into the secret recesses of such private garments.  Nicola Donovan’s work was the one that appealed to me the most as she has created mould growths from tiny lace elements, showing them sprouting from corners of the room, spreading slowly, invisibly, across the edge of a mantelpiece.  Easy to overlook, but intricate in their detailing, these exquisite ‘fungi’ told a story of decadent decay.

Unfortunately, not expecting photographs to be allowed, I didn’t have my camera, and there is no catalogue to accompany Lace Works, so I urge you to take a trip to Nottingham before December 14th if you want to take in both the Bonnington Gallery where Journeys in Lace, Part Two is being shown, and the Musuem show.  Lace Works continues until February 2013 if you can make it in the New Year.