Developing the Lacemaker character

Collage experiment I made inspired by some of the Virgin Mary legends

Above: 3 versions of “The Lacemaker Theme” by Gemma Khawaja.

Writer Ulysses Black and myself have been thinking up various narrative structures inspired by the research I have been doing into lacemaking history and folklore. Ulysses has been writing parts of scripts, poems and even his own lace tells based on motifs found in the traditional lacemakers’ tells and ballads, as well as the legends about lacemaking (for example, the Virgin Mary ones explored in a different post).

We are really interested in the fact that many of the legends and stories about handmade lace seem to have first appeared in the 19th century, after the onset of the Industrial Revolution and machine made lace. There were many patrons of handmade lace (for example, the Catholic Church) and also the people profiting from it (such as the lace dealers) who wanted to perpetuate the romantic image of the humble, pure lacemaker toiling at her lace cushion. These people would probably have wanted to encourage the motifs found in many of these legends, such as lacemaking being something of divine origin, and the pious lacemaker, in order to preserve the special status of handmade lace as the machine pushed it into decline.

We are keen to play around with this idea in the eventual show – how our perceptions of the world are shaped by writers of history, and how lives of individuals can be appropriated by those on the outside. We are very interested in the tension between how lacemakers were portrayed by certain individuals and institutions, and the reality of life for the lacemakers themselves. Puppeteer and puppetry director Edie Edmundson came to help do some devising for a couple of days, and at one point we “drew” the outline of a lacemaker from thread on the floor and considered how traditional lacemakers had been portrayed by others (words outside the silhouette), and how they might have felt about their own lives (inside the silhouette).

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