Unpicking the Lost Stitch: A Conceptual Approach to Research By Ulysses Black


Ulysses Black writes of a concept he came up with, exploring how narrative threads can cross over, reflecting the method of making a lace stitch:

There are so many interwoven themes in The Lace Maker project, finding a way to navigate them all, to organise them and see how they fit together was a task I thought might be solved by the lace itself.

We had established that the threads could be seen as narrative lines following the characters as bobbins, so I took this idea and decided to examine the actual ways in which the bobbin lace technique works.

Using that map for the lace stitch, by looking at where threads crossed we could now see how different characters might interact, who would be dominant in that interaction (there is always one thread over the top of the other thread).

Interesting results, but as we already had stories in which the characters interacted it felt a little redundant, so the same method was applied to the research project itself, to see what patterns might emerge. 

  1. Lace History
  2. Lace Folklore
  3. Lace Making Artifact
  4. Lace Making Method

Using the lace stitch pattern we can open up new ways of considering the different strands of the research, and the ways in which they might interact, building a conceptual map of the world of The Lace Maker. (Continues underneath video)



So, if we start at the top left with the thread of ‘History of Bobbin Lace’ and we follow that thread the first convergence we meet is the crossing with the third thread along, ‘Lace Making Artifacts’. As a consequence at this junction we have the meeting of History and Artifact, so here we could put any piece of information related to that.
  For example, the historical relevance of lace as a crafted material during the period in question. Following that line of thought, we can begin to delve deeper into the connotations of that junction and begin to ask about the historical contexts of the lace threads themselves.
  Was this cotton from cotton plantations in the New World? Is the lace we are focusing on already stained with the blood of slaves?


This convergence gave us a location on our conceptual map of the ‘Lace Schools’ in which the method of lace making was taught to children.
  It is from here that we get the ‘Lace Tells’ – the nursery style rhymes that helped the children learn to count their stitches and pins. 


This is the junction in which we begin to see the propagandising of handmade bobbin lace in the creation of ‘origin story’ and similar myths designed to create an ethical and aspirational underpinning that served to make the handmade lace a superior material to the machine made lace. 


Returning to the same pairing we had at the start of this thread, we have the arrival of machine lace – the onslaught of technology moving up through history sweeping the old away and relegating it to the past.
  The artifact here is the huge lace making machine itself. 



For this area we looked at the ‘spangles’ – the collections of symbolic charms and beads added to each and every bobbin. These spangles tell tales, cast spells. For us in the research, the spangles might also become character identifiers. [For more information on the spangles see here.]


This is the realm of the fabled ‘Lost Stitch’, in which the folk tales of lace making and its origin story are often populated with hints towards the secret knowledge of the lace making method.


(see above)


We have already had this with the spangles, but this time we decided to add the notion of the ‘ideal lace’. This is variously the lace task that must be fulfilled in many tales, or the perfected lace – the platonic form of lace – the idea held in the minds of propagandist and clergy alike, the lace championed by the merchant, and striven for by the lace maker.
  The ideal lace might also be the original ‘spider lace’ from that tale of the secret origins of lace as a natural substance from falling spider silk.


This is the realm of the Night Tangler – the entity of folklore whose nature is to meddle with the method and derail the work of the lace maker.



(see above)


(see above)


In this area we considered how both artifact and method combine to produce the artisan craftsmanship of the bobbin lace itself. This is the most excellent lace as it was made. 

   If we look at the map, we can see this sphere feeds into the notion of the Ideal Lace.


(see above)


(see above)


Rather aptly given the quest for the Lost Stitch, there is nothing to write under this thread, as all entities are found listed above… so instead we shall look at different arrangements and what they might tell us…


Having established the themes that arise from the convergence of the threads, we are able to apply further scrutiny to the map, and see if we can now make new connections of glean insights from the composition.

  1. We can look at the sequence from one junction to another following threads. For example we might consider the conceptual flow along the individual threads:

History: Slave Cotton Thread – Lace School – Propaganda – The Machine
Folklore: Spangles – Lost Stitch – Romantic Propaganda – Ideal Lace – Night Tangler
Artifact: Spangles – Slave Cotton – Artisan Lace – Ideal Lace – The Machine
Method: The Lost Stitch – Lace School – Artisan lace – Night Tangler

  1. We can ‘zoom in’ to look at the paths between junctions. For example the path between The Lost Stitch and the Lace School (being a section of the Method thread) would suggest ‘Instruction’ as both junctions deal with that.
      Similarly, the next section of the Method thread, joining the Lace School with the Lace Artisans might be called ‘Peers’ – and refer to the lace makers as both children together in the school  and as adult lace makers sharing tricks and tips – or not as might have been the case!
  2. We can also look at the columns formed by the junctions to see if they produce a new identity for those junctions:

Left column: Slave Cotton thread – Artisan Lace – Night Tangler

Middle Column: Spangles – Lace School – Ideal Lace
Right Column: Lost Stitch – Romantic Propaganda – The Machine

4) We can look at symmetries across the map.
The Artisan lace makers opposite the Propagandist – one presents a romantic view, the other undertakes the actual toil.
The Night Tangler opposite The Machine – one is order and the other chaos. 


There is something extremely satisfying about developing and exploring the content of an artistic project, using the structures thrown up by the content to help organise and re-compose different facets, and this has certainly expanded our understanding of how the different projects threads can be considered interwoven.


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