Coggeshall tambour lace

An example of Coggeshall tambour lace © Suzanne Rose

An example of Coggeshall tambour lace

Coggeshall is famous for its embroidered net known as tambour lace, some of which is on display at Paycocke's.

Drago

Frenchman M. Drago introduced the craft to the women and small children of Coggeshall around 1812. The Napoleonic wars made French lace difficult to get hold of so people turned to English workers for their supply. By 1851, business was booming and Drago employed 400 people.

Origins

The art originated in the Far East, where workers used a round frame resembling a tambourine. They could grip this between their knees, freeing both their hands for tambouring. However Coggeshall workers used a rectangular frame.

Method

The work involves producing a line of chain stitches using cotton, silk, beads or gold and silver tinsel to decorate net using a tambour hook. Workers were often given the fabric with an outline already on it.

Women worked in their homes to produce small decorative pieces that could be added to garments such as dresses, shawls and baby clothing.

You would often see groups of female workers huddled around a source of light, chatting while they worked and saving money on fuel.

At Paycocke’s we have a mid-18th century falsk stool on display which magnified the light of a single candle through four water-filled flasks, enabling four lace makers to work by one light.

All the fashion

This decorative textile, adding flounces and frills, was highly fashionable in the nineteenth century and was sold in prestigious shops such as Liberty & Co. in London and on the continent. They were even worn at Her Majesty’s drawing-rooms and at other state assemblies.

Decline

Sadly the industry declined when a number of wars disrupted trade and machinery which could produce similar effects for a fraction of the cost was introduced.

In the 1930s locals tried to revive the craft by promoting it to the royals. Three handkerchiefs were given to Princess Marina upon her marriage and dresses were made for Princess Margaret and Princess Alexandra.

Queen Mary also commissioned two lace dresses and a teacloth in Coggeshall Lace but this success was short lived as the hand craft was no longer financially viable.

Today, this is a dying art. Some members of the Lacemakers Guild still practice Coggeshall Lace and it is taught as part of the City and Guilds course.

For further information:

J. Dudding, Creating Coggeshall Lace (2009).