A week ago, Barbara M. Underwood passed away. She was a teacher and author of several books on Bedfordshire Lace, and I thought that with this post, rather than running an obituary, I’d rather celebrate this lace and her contribution to it through my own (unfinished) learning story.
You’ve probably all seen some Beds, and I know that earlier this year some of our Club members were practicing some easier Beds pieces, because if the Getaway had gone ahead as planned, we’d all be there this weekend, taking Jean Leader’s class.
The first Underwood book that I got was this one, published by Ruth Bean in 1988:
Like many lacemakers, I fell in love with the “dress cap” (what a friend of mine calls a “head doily”) on the cover; inside there are many more pictures of some very complex patterns. As the cover promises, there were technique notes, but there were no cosy little easy patterns to gently lead a beginner into this lace. Bedfordshire doesn’t “do” thread diagrams – you mostly just get a pricking – and possibly a photo – with no directions. I would often sit in the evenings, poring over the pictures, trying to figure out how the lace was made. Somehow I thought that you made this lace entirely without adding or taking out pairs – I don’t know where I got that idea, but I believed it, and I was never able to figure out how to work it so that would be true. I decided anybody who could make Bedfordshire was either super-experienced or some kind of a witch, and set my book aside until I developed superpowers of my own.
Fortunately other lacemakers commented about the lack of introductory pieces, and in 1993, Ruth Bean published another Underwood book:
There were other Bedfordshire books – Pam Robinson’s “A Manual of Bedfordshire Lace” came out in 1979, and Margaret Turner’s “Bedfordshire Lace Patterns” in 1986. I’m sure there are more I don’t know about. But this second Underwood book was the first one I found that explained Bedfordshire in the simple but structured manner I needed.
This was the result:
The edging is Pattern #4 from “20 Lessons”. I already had the roundel – made in a class at one of the Pacific Northwest Lace Conferences – and I inserted it into the handkerchief and added some Dorset Feather Stitching to finish it off. The embroidery stitch was recommended in one of the Bedfordshire books, as going well with Beds lace, and I think they’re right. It’s simple to do and really adds to the lushness of the finished piece.
I did go on to do some more small traditional Bedfordshire patterns:
but then I caught sight of Lester Lace.
Thomas Lester (1791 – 1867) was a prominent lace designer and merchant, whose designs were displayed at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, London, in 1851. Many of his laces and patterns are held by the Cecil Higgins museum, and many patterns have been published, so they will not be lost to posterity. I had the opportunity to take a Lester Lace class from Holly van Sciver, where I tackled – and, after two years, finished – her Lester Cuff design:
Many people argue that this design isn’t exactly Bedfordshire, mainly because it has gimp around the smaller motifs. I’ve read discussion that suggests Lester Lace is where Bedfordshire and Floral Bucks mingle; that it’s not truly either one. There are lots of deep and complex Bedfordshire patterns, and lots of simple ones like the little edging I did for my handkerchief. But once you get into the swing of it (and are happy with your tallies – Beds has lots of tallies) it is very satisfying to make.
Thank you, Barbara Underwood, for the books and the teaching.