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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Child Lace Workers

Child labour was used in the manufacture of machine-made lace (bobbin-net) as well as hand-made lace. Young children tended the lace-making machinery. Finishing processes such as lace ‘running’, ‘dressing’ and ‘drawing’ were done by hand, mostly by women, young persons and children in large workshops or private houses. ‘Running’ was a type of embroidery which added extra decoration to the lace.
The girls who did this work suffered from increasingly poor eyesight and spinal problems because of the long hours they spent bent over the lace.
In the ‘dressing’ process, the lace was dipped in a starchy paste, then stretched over a frame. When it had dried, it was cut to size and pressed ready for sale.

Machine-made lace came off the machine in sections joined by threads, and ‘drawing’ meant removing these joining threads with a needle. An investigator in the 1840s found one Nottingham mother forcing her two year old child to work at ‘drawing’. This little girl’s older sisters worked at lace-drawing from six in the morning until darkness fell during the summer months. The machine-made lace industry was based in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, the West Country and the Isle of Wight.

Images: Lace running by hand. Lace dressing at Nottingham. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts, Vol. I, c.1862.

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