Industrial Lace Machinery – Nottingham


Audio above: Recording of a lace machine by Gemma Khawaja with added accompaniment

I spoke to Richard Brawn, who trained as an apprentice lace mechanic and spent ten years (1964-74) working in an engineering shop specialising in lace machinery – maintaining the machines, overhauling them and replacing parts. Richard was one of the engineers who installed the Leavers lace machine (specifically the Cooper machine) in Nottingham Industrial Museum in 1968, and still volunteers there today, maintaining the machinery. 

We spoke a lot about the various types of lace machines, and also the factory workers who operated them – in particular, the “twist-hand”, the main operator of the machine, who would have to train for many years.

The Leavers lace machine was a lacemaking machine made in Nottingham in 1813. John Levers adapted it from Heathcote’s Old Loughborough machine. Originally, the machine made net but Jacquard apparatus was then adapted to it, so as from 1841 lace complete with pattern, net and outline could be created on the Leavers machine.

The Jacquard machine was controlled by a chain of “punched cards” laced together into a continuous sequence. The holes on the punched cards determined the pattern created by the machine.

The Cooper Leavers lace machine is able to make particularly fine lace compared to other machines. Richard told me the machine was donated to the museum by Cluny Lace – which remains today the last true lacemaking factory in Nottingham. The machine was built by J. Cooper in Beeston in 1880.

Richard worked as a mechanic making replacement parts for the old nineteenth century lace machines. At the time the machines were made, there were no such thing as interchangeable parts, and so if a part broke on a lace machine, a casting would have to be made and then the part created by hand.

The lace machines were originally steam powered with pulleys. One shaft powered ten machines. This then became motorised by electricity. 

Thank you so much for talking to me, Richard and for sharing your knowledge of lace machines!

Below: Another recording of a lace machine by Gemma Khawaja

Photo by Richard Brawn. Showing a a young man demonstrating the use of a tool to adjust the bars through which run the lacemaking threads. Copyright Richard Brawn.

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