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!