WORKERS AND WORK
The work to produce machine-made lace fabric is a complicated process with more than 20 steps often spread over 4 to 8 weeks. Many factors play their part including time, creativity, intricate machinery and the expertise of many workers.
The process has evolved over hundreds of years as human ingenuity created and developed some of the most-complex mechanical machines known to reproduce the intricate patterns of hand-made lace. The lace is a product of the cooperation of both machine and worker and both are vital to the process from conception to delivery of the finished fabric.
In some large factories, most of the work stages were either in-house or controlled by the factory owner. However, in small factories the lace was made on the factory's machines but the finishing stages such as washing, dyeing , packing and distribution were handled by contractors. Sometimes the lace factories were collectives where small makers leased space for their machines and workers from a building owner. In these factories the small makers were highly competitive and guarded their designs, machines and processes from competitors within the same building. The Boulart Factory which has since become the Calais Lace Museum, was such a collective factory.
WHO WERE THEY AND WHAT DID THEY DO?
The Lacemakers of Calais, at least most of them, worked in lace factories during the first half of the 19th century where the main lacemaking machines were steam-powered Leavers looms. The steps described here relate to that time and those looms.
Colours and numbers are used to indicate what thread goes where
To ensure uniformity of the bobbins, the bobbin presser stacks the filled bobbins in a press, compresses them and then heats them in a furnace. After cooling, the bobbins are sorted and taken to the bobbin fitter.
Stokers and Engineers
Someone had to do it! The power for the lacemaking machines came form the boilers that supplied steam to the factory floor. The boiler house was built between the factory wings for efficient distribution of steam.
The Boiler House and its chimney in the yard of the Gaillard Factory in Calais.
Each bobbin is fitted into a metal carriage where it is held in place by a spring and the thread is led out through the hole at the top. The bobbin fitter then checks weight, alignment and thread tension and fits the bobbin assemblies into the loom.
to a carriage
Bobbin carriages after alignment of the spring and ready for fitting of the bobbin.
Under the supervision of the twist hand, other workers assist during the production run. These include the mechanic who maintains the mechanical parts and the bobbin fitter who removes empty bobbin assemblies and fits filled assemblies.
with Jacquard apparatus
A twist hand at his loom with an array of Jacquard card machines on its right.
A "modern" loom powered by electricity rather than steam.
COMPLETION / FINISHING
When the lace fabric comes off the top of the Leavers loom it is not the finished product.
Usually there are imperfections such as holes and missing and pulled threads, the fabric is dirty with graphite, it may need dyeing or extra embroider added. Finally it will need cutting, folding and packing while lace trim is carded and the finished fabric is sold and distributed.
The fabric is first inspected for faults in the fabric.
The lace from the loom is sometime stored before the inspector slides it across large tables to examine it.
Faults in the inspected fabric are repaired by the menders or raccommodeuses with the same thread used in the production on the machine.
Mending is by hand and machine.
Washer and Dyer
The fabric is washed to remove the graphite transferred during its production on the loom, whitened and, if required by an order, colour dyed.
Sizing in a vat to improve the appearance, touch and feel of the fabric followed by hot air drying completes this step.