Some years ago when doing my parental duty helping at a Scout Jumble Sale I acquired a black and slightly battered silver sugar shaker decorated with thistles which intrigued me because it seemed to have a Latin inscription on the base. Once I’d cleaned it up I could see it said OMAR RAMSDEN ET ALWYN CARR ME FECERUNT (Omar Ramsden and Alwyn Carr made me) but I was none the wiser as I didn’t recognize the names. Then one day I saw a silver bowl by Omar Ramsden in the local museum and took my sugar shaker along to show the silver expert there. From him I learnt that Omar Ramsden and Alwyn Carr had worked together in London at the beginning of this century.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with lace. Well I’ll be coming to that eventually but first let me go back a couple of years. In 1989 the bobbin lace category at the Royal Highland Show specified a bookmark. My husband reckoned that I should try and make one with thistles. I thought about it, looked up some flower books (discovering incidentally that the most Scottish-looking thistle didn’t grow in Scotland) and looked at lace patterns for thistles but didn’t feel inspired. Then when I was looking at the L-shaped piece in Traditional Bedfordshire Lace by Barbara Underwood (p.58) I decided that I ought to be able to use part of that for a bookmark. I made several rough sketches but the flowers wouldn’t fit into a design that I liked. So I went back to the idea of the thistles and started looking for more inspiration which I eventually found in my sugar shaker with its raised design of thistles and leaves. (The connection at last!) I made a rubbing and there was the idea for a bookmark.
Once I’d drawn out the design to my satisfaction I had to decide how to work it. I knew I wanted to use Bedfordshire techniques so first I drew in the path of the weaver on a scale which seemed appropriate for the thread I intended to use (Madeira Tanne 50) and then decided where to put plaits and half-stitch buds to fill the spaces. The criss-crossing in the bottom half of the thistle suggested half-stitch and the spikey bits triangular tallies lying on top of the half-stitch. I decided that for contrast the top half should be in cloth stitch with a gimp outside the pins to provide a smooth outline. As I wanted the bottom half to look prickly the pins could go outside the gimp to provide extra bumps. The points of the leaves could be started at the top and then joined together.
I was pleased with the sample — the leaf definitely had the spikey look I wanted and the flower only needed the tallies on the half-stitch sorting out. These tallies came out much better in my second sample and I took care to make notes while I was working so I could get it right again! With the tricky bits sorted out I went ahead and worked the bookmark. And in case you’re wondering I won joint first prize.
P.S. And then I met Barbara Philo at a Lace Guild A.G.M. who suggested I made some matching bookmarks with roses, daffodils, and shamrocks. But that’s another story!
This article was first published in Lace 66 (April 1992) pp. 20–21.