The other day Brenda, my lovely neighbour, appeared with a piece of paper in her hand, a gift for me. When I unfolded it, the piece of paper turned out to be a rather interesting and very beautiful hand-painted floral design, which I could immediately tell was some sort of pattern repeat.
But what sort of pattern repeat? I have a limited knowledge of weaving, but in many respects this pattern didn’t really resemble the weaving directions I’d seen. Upon further examination, I felt the motifs had a sort of open quality about them that suggested lace. There was an identifying number on the reverse of the paper.
This suggested the pattern was intended for use in an industrial, commercial context. But what kind of machines produced charted lace? I examined the patterning and instruction marks, all of which were carefully hand-painted. . . as was the lettering.
Then I noticed this word – Madras. I had a vague recollection of some kind of openwork fabric of that name being produced at the turn of the twentieth century. Poking around my books, I found a reference to “Scottish Madras” in Lesley Jackson’s Twentieth Century Pattern Design. Semi-sheer muslins with openwork patterns were traded from, and associated with the Indian port, and, in much the same culturally appropriative way that Paisley became a byword for textiles originating in Kashmir, so an Ayrshire iteration of Madras’s gauzy, lacey muslins began to be produced in the mills of the Irvine valley from the 1870s onwards.
Further poking around revealed more information: that Scottish Madras was introduced to Ayrshire by Alexander Morton, a Scottish textile innovator and entrepreneur who admired and emulated the technology of the Nottingham Leavers Lace machine. The semi-transparent nature of the fabric meant that it was ideal for curtains, and, by the turn of the twentieth century, design houses such as Voysey and Morris & Co were using Morton’s machinery to create lightweight curtain and furnishing fabrics for sale at outlets such as Libertys, in London. Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, several mills in Irvine valley were hard at work creating fine lace fabrics like “Scottish Madras”.
Scottish Madras was, then, quite a specialised textile, involving precise design techniques and innovative technologies. The resulting fabric was pretty ubiquitous in the 1910s, and decorated countless early twentieth century domestic interiors. But what had happened to these technologies? Had they died out, as did so many other important innovations, when the Scottish textile industry declined later in the century? Well, imagine how delighted and excited I was to discover that that a company still exists in Ayrshire, using essentially the same specialised technologies to create contemporary interpretations of this important and distinctive local fabric! That company is MYB textiles and I suggest you pop over to their site immediately to read about their history producing Scottish Madras and laces. Even more excitingly, Kashka Lennon, one of the designers at MYB textiles, was able to tell me more about the pattern Brenda had given to me.
According to Kashka: “This is a Nottingham Lace draft, you can tell from the colour used to paint it, the red symbolises the most opaque areas, the green semi-sheer, the white represent the sheer of the lace and the blue symbolises the tags used to pull the yarns together to create very open areas of the design. I can also tell that the design you have would’ve have been for a small 16” café net style fabric by the orientation of the pattern on the graph paper.”
Kashka also mentioned that while she has been taught to recreate these patterns digitally (perhaps in much the same way as we knitwear designers do using Illustrator and other charting software) her design director was trained to make drafts using a similar hand painted technique to that of my chart.
There are beautiful and intriguing things about so many charts and patterns. I find this chart especially beautiful and particularly intriguing because it was a gift that has taught me something about a distinctive Scottish textile I never really knew existed. I now intend to visit MYB textiles to find out a little more about the techniques and traditions of machine-made lace in Scotland! I am very excited about this and promise to report back here after my trip!
Thankyou, Brenda, for sending me on this journey!