Guest Blogger Julia Justiss

The Riskies are happy to welcome back guest blogger, Harlequin Historical author Julia Justiss! She’ll be giving away a copy of her new release, Society’s Most Disreputable Gentleman, to one lucky commenter. For more info, visit her website, where she is also giving away Godiva chocolates…

The Romance of Lace

Many thanks to the Riskies for inviting me to talk about my February release and share a bit about that loveliest of fabrics, English lace!

First, a bit about that new release, Society’s Most Disreputable Gentleman. Fired from his job as estate manager and then abducted and pressed into the Royal Navy. hero Greville Anders (brother of heroine Joanna of From Waif to Gentleman’s Wife) returns after 8 month’s service at sea a radically different man. Eager to obtain his release and pursue an honest career, he has little interest in the idle Society he used to frequent. But despite his vow to reform his rake’s ways, how could he help but flirt with his host’s beautiful daughter Amanda? For her part, Amanda Neville has dreamed since childhood of becoming a brilliant Society hostess. She’s not about to risk that by dallying with a younger son of little fortune, no matter how scandalously attractive he might be!

When Greville finds himself marooned in the Devon countryside while he recovers from wounds suffered during a battle with privateers, he’s happy to further his flirtation with Amanda by having her give him a tour of her father’s vast estate.

Along with fields planted in corn, mining on the Dartmoor, and flocks of sheep and cattle, Amanda’s father acts as a factor for his tenants who produce handicrafts. One of the most famous Devonshire handicrafts was Honiton lace, which was produced by craftspeople in their home cottages and then sent to the town of Honiton, where merchants marketed it to London and other large towns in England.

It’s thought that lacemaking originated in Italy in the 16th century and then spread throughout Europe. Some credit the lace-making tradition in Honiton to Flemish weavers who came over to pursue the cloth trade, for the town had been a center for the weaving of wool and flax since medieval times. Whether Flemish weavers brought the techniques or not, by the time that Charles II was making lace collars and cuffs fashionable, the lace makers of the Honiton area were developing their unique style of embroidery, drawn-thread, and cutwork.

Honiton lace is best known for its floral and leaf motifs, which were the result of several craftsmen’s group efforts. The flower or leaf design would be made by one designer; then the pieces, called “sprigs,” would be stitched together in larger pieces. The lace patterns were made using pairs of slender pointed bobbins. The lacemaker would prick out a design on parchment, which was pinned atop a small, firm pillow stuffed with straw or sawdust. Pins would be inserted into the design, around which the threads would be woven and plaited to create the design. These flower pieces were then stitched to a net background.

During the mid-18th–19th centuries, it was estimated that nearly half the population in the area were engaged in the lace business. However, like many handcrafts lacemaking suffered after the introduction of power looms.

Queen Victoria did her part to revive the craft. When she married Prince Albert in 1840, her dress was to be trimmed with Flemish lace, but the Queen insisted the lace on her gown be English instead. An order was placed with Tuckers in the nearby town of Branscombe, who was then the largest employer of lace makers in the area. When the couple’s first child was born, the christening gown was also trimmed with Honiton lace; the gown was used for royal christenings for many years, until the cloth became too fragile. The royal family continues to order Honiton lace for special occasion; in 1981, Lady Diana Spencer’s gown was trimmed with Honiton lace.

Allhallow’s Museum, a 13th century former chapel that is the oldest building in Honiton, contains an extensive collection of historic lace. There are also many shops in town specializing in lace and the local pottery for which Honiton is also famed.

After Amanda gives Greville a tour of her father’s estate, he’s almost as impressed by his host’s vast and varied enterprises as he is by his beautiful hostess! I hope you will find Greville and Amanda’s story equally engaging.

So, how do you feel about lace? Is is a sweet luxury that whispers romance–or when trimming lingerie, something naughtier? Or an old-fashioned fabric that should give way to modern textiles? I wish I might offer one responder a piece of Honiton lace, but will have to limit myself to a copy of Disreputable!

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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11 years ago

I personally dpm’t like lace but in books it’s fine.

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

I love lace, especially hand-made lace. Making lace by hand is a skill that is sadly neglected here in the States. Some of the older examples of the art that I have been fortunate enough to see are so delicately made they remind me of spider webs – each delicate and unique.

I have bought blouses and dresses strictly because of the lace with which they are trimmed.

Thank you for the little primer on Honiton lace, Julia. Saving it to my research notebook. And I can’t wait to read your latest!

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Welcome, Julia! I love the sound of this wounded younger son! And of the lace.

In another bit of synchronicity, my heroine in the next book ran a lace shop in Brussells. Amazing how often we authors hit on the same subjects!

11 years ago

I seem to go through phases; lace is great on nighwear, okay on undergarments, not-so-great on items I may wear to work. However, I do like to sew things using lace. I once made a doll-size regency spencer completely out of lace. Does that make me crazy?

Susan in AZ

Keira Soleore
11 years ago

Hi Julia, *waves*.

A delicious title for SOCIETY and an even more delicious cover. HH has hit it out of the park again. I’m so looking forward to reading it.

The Flemish have been instrumental in bringing so many of the weaving arts to the world, including medieval tapestry-making, fine cloths, and now you say lace, too. Wow.

My most recent lace acquisition was in the beautifully designed and made Regency gown (huge thanks to Mrs. McCabe). You’ve seen it at the Beau Monde soiree, Julia, right? To me lace is luxurious, romantic, and elegant.

My verification word is “doxyd.” Hmm. I haven’t. Honestly.

With a heroine like Amanda Neville, both Amanda McCabe and Miranda Neville are probably interested in what happens to the heroine. 🙂

11 years ago

I had heard about the royal christening gown of Honiton lace, so it was really interesting to hear more background about Honiton and lacemaking, Julia.

I think this is my favorite of your covers so far and how cool that this book the debut Mills & Boon Historical in India!

11 years ago

I’ve seen tatting before, and it’s amazingly intricate. I think it would be fun to learn how to make it!

Barbara Monajem
11 years ago

I love lace, but usually on somebody else, LOL. It’s beautiful, but a bit too fussy for me. I have a few lace tablecloths, but rarely use them because they’re difficult to clean. Lace is great for romantic heroines, though — so gorgeous, but not needing real care and maintenance.

11 years ago

This book looks like another winner! I also love lace. I grew up seeing all kinds of it in my house as my mother is a seamstress and she used to make our dance costumes. She gave me a love of all things lace and handmade.

Janet Mullany
11 years ago

Hi Julia, welcome back to the Riskies!

Interesting about the lace at Honiton. I read somewhere (historian Pamela Hill, probably) that lace was generally out of fashion in the Regency because French lace was valued more highly, along with gloves. But since people needed gloves that trade continued, but suffered a slump after 1815 when French gloves were once again available.

So it was not only industrialization that threatened the lace cottage industry but changing tastes and values too.

Love the pics of lace you have here!

Barbara E.
11 years ago

Society’s Most Disreputable Gentleman sounds like a great story and I’m looking forward to reading it.
I like lace, but in limited quantities. I think it’s lovely as trim, but a little goes a long way.

11 years ago

I love lace, silk, all those beautiful, romantic fabrics. But I wear cotten and denim most of the time! LOL

I think that hand-made lace is exquisite. I crochet. I want to find more glove patterns for that lacey feel/look. (I’m a poor homemaker in WA. Have nowehere to wear them, just WANT them!)

The book sounds fabulous! looking forward to reading it.

11 years ago

I think a lace giveaway would be neat but Godiva works, too. Will need to check out the other site.

I agree with the other poster regarding the fun cover.

Thanks for explaining Honiton lace as I never knew what precisely that referred to. I’ve seen lacemakers at work and it amazes me how rapidly they create something so intricate. I’d be sure to foul the threads/bobbins (or whatever they’re called). I find it very beautiful but much too delicate for me and my lifestyle. And, the fake stuff is way too scratchy.

Kim in Hawaii
11 years ago

Aloha, Julia! Thank you for the informative post! I called my mother, who hails from Exeter, about Honiton Lace (Honiton is north of Exeter). She noted that Honiton still has a few handicraft shops, including lace.

Off to the Pro Bowl at the Aloha Stadium!

11 years ago

Firstly, love your books and as far lace goes… I think a little goes a long way.

Ann Lethbridge
11 years ago

The story sounds great and the history of Honiton lace means I will now have to visit there this summer. I have already booked my trip to Devon and Cornwall for this summer, so I will make sure it is one of the places we visit. Thank you for such a timely post!

I had heard of Nottingham lace, but wasn’t so aware of Honiton lace. I really like that the Royal family uses it.

The story sounds like my cup of tea! Thanks.

11 years ago

Love the cover! Love the smile! Love the cover model, Paul Marron! Bought the book already (but would love to win another)!

Lace looks great but the few blouses I had with them were scratchy and itchy. Maybe it wasn’t real lace or I was too antsy as a kid. Plus, nothing is as heart-breaking as a lace tablecloth with stains (and they alway do stain).

Julia Justiss
11 years ago

Hi to the Riskies and thanks again for having me! The day was busier than I thought it would be, so I’m later checking in. So glad so many have dropped by to chat.

So, for the like-to-wear-lace, don’t wear it count, looks like we have Louisa, anonymous (underthings mostly) Barbara E (trim) and Keire for, jcp, Barbara M, Leona, Dee, Kat and Sheree against. I love it, although like Leona, my lifestyle runs more to turtlenecks than delicate lace blouses. And it can be scratchy. When dd was on dance team, I sometimes had to sew felt along some of the seams to keep lace-and-sequin trim costumes from rubbing her skin raw!

Thanks for the compliments on the cover of DISREPUTABLE. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had; DebH, I’m not surprised you like it, since it reminded me strikingly of the marvelous one you had for GENTLEMAN OF SUBSTANCE. I was so excited to find it was one of the debut historicals for Harlequin India that I’m putting up a India Reader’s page. I’ve never visited there, but would love to; I’ve been fascinated ever since reading M.M. Kaye’s FAR PAVILIONS.

Louisa, I agree, some of the hand-made lace is so impossible delicate it does look like only a spider could have fashioned it. Tatting is beautiful, too, but it would also be a challenge to make (like you, Dee, with my ten thumbs, I’d probably get the many threads all tangled up.) Anonymous, I don’t think you’re crazy at all to work with lace; it’s so beautiful, just touching it is a pleasure. Keire, I do remember that lovely gown! One of the delights of the Soiree is seeing all the costumes.

Margay, good on your Mom for making all those costumes. I did a few for dd, but none involving lace (a pink gorilla, a dog, a cow, a hen…)

Janet, you are so right; “fashion” is always the first word in whether or not a fabric remains popular, more important even than price or availability. The Napoleonic wars created quite a crisis for the Society ladies who felt the best riding habits, gowns, etc must come from Paris.

Kim, I envy you going to the Pro Bowl! Only a very few of my beloved football games left before a long, long, long, long offseason. How fun that your Mom is in Exeter. And how I envy you, Ann, that you’ll get to the area this summer. I’ve never been to Devon or Cornwall and would love to; they are definitely on the top of my next-to-visit list.

Diane, is it the next book you have coming out the one in which your heroine runs a lace shop? Title and release date, please! I want to be watching for it.

Again, thanks to all. I hope you will enjoy Greville’s story and the brief mention in the book of Honiton lace.

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Thanks so much for visiting us today, Julia, and giving us a glimpse of lacemaking! I love all beautiful textiles, so I am very excited to get this book…

Jeanne M
11 years ago

Julia –

I love that you incorporated making lace into your latest story. As a young girl my grandmother tried to teach me how to make lace and I was a complete failure! I guess we just don’t have the patience anymore for this wonderful skill. I was lucky to have passed down to me several of her lace doilies which I treasure to this day.

Fortunatley she was able to teach me how to knit and sew as a young girl. Having sons I never could get them to want to learn how to knit but I did manage to teach them both how to sew and not just sewing on buttons but also how to use a sewing machine! At least they got to learn on an electric sewing machine and not one with a tredle like I learned on!

I can’t what to get a copy of your newest release because I’m never disappointed with your wonderfull stories.

11 years ago

Oooh, my mother used to make lace – and it takes FOR EVER to make an inch. I can’t imagine having to spend all day making it.

11 years ago

I love lace, I have a lace butterfly that I pin to a jacket as a brooch. And a collar for Christmas which is real pretty, though not handmade.

I saw a bit of lace making in a documentary about the Edwardian period. It was dying out then with factories taking over the old craft. A real shame for there’s nothing like the real thing made by hand. But I can imagine that all that work doesn’t pay of financially.

Your book sounds really great btw. Would love to read it.

11 years ago

I like lace and even had some lacy type material on my wedding dress.

Julia Justiss
11 years ago

Kristen, Maureen and pageturner all weigh in on the “love it” side of the lace question, so I think we’re almost even in who would wear, who would not.

Jeanne M and Kristen, how cool that you had relatives who made lace, and Jeanne, that you have some of those pieces to treasure. I’ve never been able to actually watch someone make it, but intricate as it is (tiny tiny threads, rather than thick yarn) it must have taken an age to create even a small design.

LOL, Jeanne, tho, on teaching your sons to sew. How great that they will not be “helpless” when it comes to that very practical matter.

Kirsten, your butterfly pin sounds beautiful. Ditto the lace-trimmed wedding gown, Maureen.

Jeanne M, thanks for the kind words about my stories! I hope you and Kirsten will enjoy DISREPUTABLE.

11 years ago

Oh, I can’t wait to read this one. It sounds like great fun. 🙂

I don’t usually wear lace, but I love the look of it. The intricacy is facinating!

11 years ago

I love the old lace I have found tucked away with some of the things I got from my Grandmother as well as a few pieces I have gotten at yard sales or auction box lots. I have watched a few people work in bobbin lace and tatting. The delicate work is fascinating.
Lace adds a touch of elegance, delicacy, femininity, and sexiness.

Thanks for the post.