Sunday, 9 January 2011

Middle Earth and Lace

Some people seem to have an almost irrational dislike of lace as part of the priestly attire within the sanctuary. I have to admit, lace is having something of a mini revival and seeing as decent lace isn’t being made much now, some of the lace albs that are turning up look like they were last seen in Miss Haversham’s boudoir, they look bedraggled and tired.

Machine-made, mass produced anything is hardly suitable for wear in the sanctuary. Let us transport ourselves to somewhere that abhors the heavy machine and the mass produced and really meditate on whether lace is so lacking in the qualities needed for priestly attire. Let us go to Middle Earth.

I think all would be agreed that dwarves would detest lace. It is not of any practical use and it does nothing to enhance the beauty of shiny and sparkly things that dwarves treasure so much. Those rare and talented creatures, dwarf women, have had no time for lace. Making lace needs plenty of light, something in short supply in the mountain halls. Making lace needs flax or silk, fibres that dwarves can not come by easily. Apart from metal and gems, the dwarves are happiest with animal skins and leather, they can work these beautifully and no doubt to clothe the infant dwarf and adorn the female dwarf, finest kid leather from mountain goats will be fringed, plaited, studded and cut in most intricate ways; but lace it most certainly isn’t.

In the Shire, female hobbits will work wool beautifully, they will be masters of the distaff and drop spindle which they can use whilst dandling a toddler on one hip and keeping an eye on a simmering pot of stew. They have the light and wood necessary to build looms and the fabrics will be fine, hard wearing and practical. There is some tatting and crotchet done, which may find its way to edge a handkerchief or a petticoat. No doubt some up-and-coming hobbits will trade with men and acquire linens, silks and probably lace too. But all this is a bit “new-money” and decidedly non-hobbit.



In Rohan, linen is the fabric of choice to be worn under the leather needed for horse riding. The flax will grow well there and on the vast plains the light is good and great looms are constructed for fine, hard wearing linen cloth. The Rohan women like bright colours and the fabrics are often enhanced with intricate cross stitch and geometrically patterned, colourful woven bands. Nothing that will snag whilst riding. No use for lace here.

The Elves do have lace, but not like the lace men make. It looks like the skeleton leaves of Autumn and is made out of thread finer than spider’s web; part spun part sung into existence. Mysterious stuff and rarely seen.

Finally, in the citadel of Minas Tirith, this is where you will find beautiful lace. Lace needs many unmarried maidens with nimble fingers, these maidens need to be comfortable and warm. Maidens who can not be seeing to the stew or young children whilst they are at their craft. Lace is the product of the intricate social structures that develop in the citadel. It is a show of finery in an otherwise rough world. Its fragility mirrors the fragility of the citadel itself. Lace is not a vanity project, it is a protestation of love; to adorn the bride (and the groom), the bridal chamber and the infants cot.

3 comments:

Richard Collins said...

I understand that lace, or rather the amount one has on a cotta, denotes seniority on the sanctuary.
I have always worn a plain cotta, not from choice, just from availablility. But I rather fancy one with Elven handiwork!

mum6kids said...

Where are the good women of Nottingham when you need them?

Years ago in some museum or other I saw a woman in costume sitting with the cushion pins and bobbins on her lap making lace. I guess the skill is almost lost - but that must surely be the way to make manly liturgical lace.

Although at my parish the stunning embroidary makes up for a lack of lace.

Ttony said...

Brilliant! I can't think what inspired it. ;-)