Ruskin Lace
Elizabeth Prickett

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The basic characteristic of Ruskin Lace is the fact that it is worked directly into the fabric and not as a motif and then appliquéd into the fabric.

Ruskin Lace is worked wherever possible on to an evenweave fabric, this is a fabric that has been woven with the same weight of yarn in both the warp and weft direction.  This ensures that when the traditional four-sided stitch border to the pattern areas and the immediate inside of hem depth is worked, the block will be the same square shape in both directions.  As threads are withdrawn to work the four-sided stitch, therefore by making two stitches on each side of the block creates a spaced effect without drawing the stitch tight.


Single four-sided stitch



Double four-sided stitch



The pattern area is then mounted onto a support material, to maintain size and shape, to also provide control when the surplus fabric is cut away and while the pattern is constructed.  This support must be slightly malleable to allow a slight convex of shape for ease of working.  A frame of any shape is quite unsatisfactory as the control of tension is not practicable.  The most suitable is a Poly-Vinyl-Chloride coated or bonded woven material, often used in the Motor Vehicle, Shoe, Bookbinding, Upholstery industry or the leather look fabric as used in fashion. Unfortunately all that is available to us today is a Poly-vinyl coated knitted material which stretches;  this is what it is designed to do, though not suitable to use as a means of support for Ruskin Lace.


TIP: A student has devised a method of stabilising this fabric therefore there is (copyright) © to Margaret Woodward, who has kindly given me permission to share this with you.  To achieve this, place a sheet of plain paper on an ironing surface with the P.V.C. side of the leather cloth on top of the paper, cover with Bond-a-Web cut to the size of the material to be stabilised, with the backing paper uppermost, cover with another piece of plain paper as a safeguard to protect the iron plate, apply heat using a synthetic or woollen setting on the iron, definitely not a very hot setting.  Peel off the Bond-a-Web backing paper and cover the surface with a Calico or similar weight fabric, replace plain paper to protect the iron plate and apply same heat.  Leave to cool, this will have taken away the stretch and be suitable for pattern areas up to 10cm or approx. 4".  For larger areas apply yet another layer of the Calico weight fabric if needed for extra stability to avoid any buckling.  This stabilised fabric is placed under the proposed pattern area, using a firm half backstitch. 

From this stage on stitches should not be drawn up tight, the round of the thread should be maintained, the stitch placed at right angles to the threads and just close enough to cover the threads they are intended to.  This will close up as the work progresses when other threads are laid to provide pattern component foundations, as well as finishing and restarting other working threads later.  The accommodation of this is essential to the consideration of the fingers and nervous tension.


Padded roll

Whipped bar


Predominantly the direction of working is from left to right (counter or anti-clockwise) from the bottom of the shape, with two exceptions.  1) the four-sided stitch is worked from top right to left, covering the bottom of the block first, this is kinder to the wrist joint and allows for better control of the fabric.  2) the bullion knot centre of the pattern area, which is worked clockwise from the top position.

Buttonhole stitch without exception is worked from left to right, the stitch tensioning and thread control justifies this as does the aesthetic effect.  This does mean left-handed workers do need to adjust as it is counter to instinct, subtle though the difference it is worth the effort.
A cartoon of the proposed pattern is never used as the pattern area is supported before it is revealed, the benefits of this outweighs a cartoon.  The worker can proportion the pattern elements according to their own visual capacity and working tension, as we all vary slightly a cartoon is a hindrance.  Patterns are suggestions not hard and fast rules, therefore elements can be interchanged to accommodate.  This way original patterns are still evolving even to-day.
The method of making the picot is unique to Ruskin Lace, a bullion picot is not traditional.
Bullion knots provide the traditional edging, these are placed at right angles to outer edge of the hem.  Whilst adding a decorative framework to the article they are also adding a considerable strength to the edge of the finished article, as the thread is passed through the fold of the hem from one knot to the other.
A Tapestry needle is most suited for the four-sided stitch.  Otherwise a Sharps needle is used throughout, it has many merits and one draw back.  A Sharps needle makes a round hole for the thread to follow, upsetting the thread much less, making it easier to pull the needle through the bars and the making of picots and bullion knots much less of a problem.  The draw back:- it is not quite so easy to thread but this can be overcome by putting the needle on to the thread and not the other way round.


Photographs copyright © Elizabeth Prickett 2002, all rights reserved