Historical dress, Catterns day, guilds, myths and beliefs, the Torchon Lace Company and Nutting Day.

Historical Dress

A bit of fashion trivia–the tailscoat worn by men first came into vogue at the time of Jane Austin in the late 1700’s, early 1800’s, made in all sorts of wonderful and colourful materials, this same costume is still worn in the 2000’s but usually in black and for formal evening wear now, there have only been very minor alterations such shape of lapels, buttoned up or left undone. I don’t know of any other fashion that has lasted for 200 years

Our church is having its 150th, which means 1855 – I could not find anything around that period. The minister’s wife has a small build and likes the idea of a bustle, so a bustle she will have, I have my own God given chocolate enhanced bustle.  Please tell me where I could have found out information on them, mind you, not sure how much money I would want to spend for a single occasion. I would love to make myself a proper one for demonstrating lace at some point so knowing of a good reference book would be appreciated, but what is a really cheap stiffener for the hoop skirts

Many years ago I bought a pattern from the Power House Museum in Sydney. The dress was 1830’s, a little too early for your church celebrations. I made it
up and have used it for demonstrating lace (when I used to do that). I bought some cheap cotton fabric and it was wonderful until I went through the change and put on a lot of weight.

The pattern was multi sized and included a hooped petticoat. The suggestion
was to use the stiffest boning on the market, I bought a few meters of it and it really does pull the dress out. The dress had no zips using hooks to do up. The instructions included the traditional way to sew it or the modern quick way.

A very good book which can give you a lot of other details of accessories as well is “English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century by C. Willet Cunnington originally published by Faber and Faber but more recently by Dover Publications. This book covers the whole of 1800, apart from photographs there is very little Australian info, all fashion originated in London and Paris and fanned out to the colonies. Anytime anyone would like some idea of styles for a given period especially from 1800 to 1930 please ask. I can either give you book names to find in your library or photocopy and send to you some suggestions. Some of the books have construction details and patterns as well. When I first started work at the Pioneer Settlement, it was a very steep learning curve, the Settlement’s Period of time was 1830 to 1930 and they had very little information in their library hence my collection of books

The 1890’s styles of dress come between the second bustle period of the 1880’s and the “leg of mutton” period of the mid 1890’s, the crinoline period was in the 1850 to 1860 period, the first bustle period was in the late 1860’s to mid 1870’s.

I bought Simplicity 9723 and went from there, mind you I am too “stout – as they used to call fat” for the pattern so will have to alter it for me.  It only took me about 8 hours to do a lined skirt with a small rear pleat and I used tulle to poof it out a bit and a lined jacket for Jill.  I am altering a synthetic lace blouse for her, but making myself an ‘heirloom’ blouse from scratch.

What is a plastron?

Literally a breast plate, as on a suit of armour but in the later 1800’s and early 1900s was an article of clothing worn under the suit jacket in place of a full blouseor :waist”

Catterns Day

Catterns Day seems to have been a regional celebration only (chiefly north Northants and Bedfordshire), unlike Tanders day (30th November) or St Andrews Day which was observed in most of the East Midlands.

Catterns Day celebrates St Catherine the patron saint of spinners, hence the lacemaking connection.  Later this day became confused with Catherine of Aragon (Henry the eighth fame), because of her concern for lacemakers.  The queen is reputed to have burned all her lace and commissioned new lace when she became aware of the plight of Bedfordshire lacemakers, thus ensuring their continued employment.  The connection with the Queen, gives rise to the tradition of catterns cakes, because the lacemakers contributed to a fund to provide tea and cakes on 25 November in memory of Queen Catherine’s support.

Jack be nimble Jack be quick is a reference to Catterns Day celebrations. If the lacemakers could jump over a lighted candle stick, without extinguishing the flame they were promised good luck in the coming year.

The eve of Catterns Day was a traditional “cutting off” day, when the lace was cut from the pillow and sold.


In actual fact, tapestry/canvaswork, weaving, spinning and knitting were all men’s crafts and were some of the original craftsmen’s guilds. The aran knitting was done by men because women would not be able to remember such complicated patterns. Weavers travelled from town to town gathering in the spinning of local girls later on in history and were of ill repute, because they flirted with all the local girls. And were probably of ill repute, but also made scapegoats. All the old English names like Weaver, Dyer and Fuller are related to the preparation of wool and fabric making and were an entirely male preserve, which is why they have been passed down as surnames. Tapestry weaving is like the floral fabric on lounges, and canvaswork was a recreation of that look at a cheaper price. It became really fashionable for Regency/Victorian homes because it was cheap, relatively fast and easy and could cover a large area in a short time, particularly Berlin woolwork.

This morning on the radio I heard a similarly insulting comment. The female announcer seemed to find it fascinating that men would do tapestry work. What an insult to men and to those who do it. To me it is simply normal and another way for men (and women) to express themselves creatively.

Some time last century we were visiting one of the historic mansions that abound in England – the caretaker (a middle-aged male) showed us the tapestry he’d been doing to replace the backs and seats on the dining chairs (about 20 of them) to restore them to original condition – he’d already done quite a bit of other furniture. The way I see it, some women choose to be physicists or motor mechanics or markspersons, some men choose to be creative in various ways .

Myths and beliefs

Rowan trees grown in the garden repel witches – so I guess a bobbin made from their timber would work too – will have to look at the timber lists and see if such bobbins are available! We do not have a lot of trouble with witches – but you cannot be too careful – My husband through small pebbles about the yard to keep tigers away – it seems to be working we have not seen any since we came here!

I read (but, unfortunately, can’t remember where) that one of the spangles should contain a bead with an eye drawn on it – this was to keep an eye on the lace, to make sure it progressed well.

They also had an English Yew bobbin on their pillow to keep the witches away.

Any bobbin with spots is a Leopard.  Bobbins with bands around – stripes, are Tigers, I think. As to the Lacefairy website, and the Virtual bobbin museum – well, I sent her photos of my Hanging bobbin – “W.Worsley. Hung 1868” is written on it.  A bone bobbin with ?original spangle.  One of my Gran’s bobbins.  – I suppose it would have been her mother’s or her Grandmother’s.  (Her mother would have been 8 in 1868.) William Worsley’s was the last Public Hanging in Bedford.  Actually his accomplice did the murder, but turned Kings’ Evidence, so Worsley got the chop!!!!!!!!

Lacemakers would always have a leopard bobbin on their pillow – to prevent arthritis in their hands.  A Leopard bobbin traditionally was a wood bobbin with pewter spots in it.  I have an old one – and the pewter is rusting, so the spots stick out a bit. They always also, had a Snake Eye bottom bead always on the pillow – to turn away the evil eye, and so prevent mistakes.

Spangles & Superstitions, by Christine Springett is the book you need. My contribution to it was – my Gran would never start a new piece of lace on a  Friday.  I eventually tracked down that superstition – It goes way back into the Dark Ages – as a Friday was an Inauspicious day, and no-one would start a journey or a new project on a Friday. Gran was not a superstitious person – black cats, walking under ladders etc did not faze her, but  – No new lace on a Friday – so Helen and I continue with that thought – as we have found that when a piece is constantly going wrong – we might have started it on a Friday.

The Torchon Lace Company

There is an antique roller pillow with bobbins for sale on ebay at the moment listed as an American lace maker. The pattern on the roller has numbers on it as described by Annette. The listing says the lace was sold back to the American Lace Company, so maybe the kits were sold with a promise of making some income as well.

According to Southard, “Many thousands of these pillows were manufactured by the Torchon Lace Company of St. Louis, Missouri, about the thrn of the century, during a revival of interest in bobbin lacemaking.  The pillows (with bobbins! sold for five dollars.”

It is also interesting to note that this pillow was enthusiastically advertised by the company with pictures of lovely complex laces, which, the ads gushed, the owner of “The Princess” could easily make… and the pictures included collars, round mats… in other words, things that would be nearly impossible to make on a roller pillow!  The instructions which came with the pillow were very basic, and I expect many excited owners soon realized that their dreams of delicate lace would not be fulfilled with the skills learned from these instructions.  Perhaps that is why so many of the pillows still exist, in nearly perfect condition.

There was a good and extensive article on the Princess Loom by, I think, Elizabeth Kurella in one of the IOLI Bulletins. It even included one of those odd (pins were numbered — sheer murder to read <g>) pattterns they had… The article was in the Winter 1997-1998, Vol 18, No. 2.  It was a great article, and like Tamara remembered, it has a copy of one of the prickings.

I Have a book “Lessons in Bobbin Lacemaking” by Doris Southard. About 2 paragraphs  about Ipswich, Massachusetts  But doesn’t say much about ‘the Princess’  1903′, but has two pictures . One showing the whole pillow with it’s roller & lace holder (looks like a large cotton reel on legs) the other shows the metal label with a bit of lace underneath.

I have that book and a copy of the sales pitch from The Torchon Lace Co. in
Collins Street, Melbourne
. Doris Southard was writing about the Co in the U.S. but they were evidently active here as well.  Haven’t found the article in the IOLI Bulletin that you mentioned but I should have it too.

The theme of the Dence Park open day, at which the Epping Lace Group will
have a display, is “Past to Present”. Norma Warnecke has arranged the NSW
Branch Princess Lace Pillow and a lace-maker’s lamp to use in the display. I
am providing the guarantee to purchase and list of prices paid (and possibly
one or two of the prickings) issued by the Torchon Lace Company and some
bobbins, which I think might be from around the same time as the other items
(no proof since I bought them in a stationery box from an old ladies estate). I also have a photocopy only of the booklet that accompanied the other documents (which won’t be appropriate for display) and it is dated with a 1902 copyright.

I have a vague recollection that possibly something was published about the
Torchon Lace Company and/or Princess pillow in an early-ish “Australian Lace” (packed, of course). Is anyone able to provide any info off the top of their head about this company, the Princess lace pillow etc
Christine J

Nutting Day

September 3rd

“Nutting Day” = This is the day that children would traditionally go out into the local woods and gather Hazelnuts .(I can remember doing this as a kid in very muddy pig fields and racing to pick them up before the pigs got there!)

“The nuts were supposed to be perfectly ripe at this time. On Nutting Day Lacemakers were allowed to light candles to aid their work. They could use candles during winter from this day until Shrove Tuesday in the Spring! Old Lacemakers, who spent long hours at their pillows, were advised to refresh their tired eyes by bathing them in gin. This apparently stung a little, but enabled workers to continue for at least two more hours. Eye strain and poor light must have meant blindness for some women, who had to work very long hours even to exist.”
Britt _@/”