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.
What were they called?
Workers making lace in the 19th century were men, women and children with varying levels of expertise to suit the many jobs required to create the designs, operate the machines and equipment and sell and distribute the finished fabric.
In Calais many of the workers were British and most of them were English. They did the same work as when they were in England. However, now they were living and working in France and like their French co-workers, they were all known by French work names. Some were known as dévideuses or fileuses or mécaniciens. What were the workers called?
What work did they do?
By the mid 19th century, the Lacemakers of Calais, at least most of them, worked in lace factories where the main lacemaking machines were steam-powered Leavers looms. The steps described here relate to that time and those looms.
The Designer and Sketcher
The first phase of the lacemaking process begins with the creation of a design on paper by designers and its transfer to a large paper sheet by sketchers. The sketcher checks the design's suitability for conversion to lace.
This work is both creative and technical.
The Pattern Perforator
The sketch is converted by the pattern perforator to a form suitable for the Jacquard workers by piercing the sheet and adding numbers to indicate the location and colour of each thread.
The real technical work begins
Colours and numbers are used to indicate what thread goes where
Card Piercer and Lacer
The pattern is transferred to Jacquard cards by the piercers who punch holes in the card according to the perforators instructions. The cards are then assembled and laced together to form a continuous curtain ready for the machine.
Piercers are working on the left while the lacers are to the right.
Punched cards operate the Jacquard system which is the brain controlling the machine.
A Jacquard Card workshop with piercers working on their machines at the rear and the lacers on their tables in front.
Leavers machines require 4500 to 5000 bobbins. A bobbin winder or wheeleuse winds about 100 metres of thread onto each bobbin. The winder sets about 20 bobbins on a drive shaft, guides a thread from the adjacent drum into each bobbin and hand winds the drive shaft.
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.
The thread is rolled from the large reels onto the warp drum. The wappeur fits the drum to the base of the loom, feeds each of the thousands of threads through the machine and attaches them to a roller at the top. Threads are fitted according to its function in the design.
Other threads are fitted and threaded into the machine by the beam operator.
The twist hand or tulliste is the primary worker on a Leavers loom. He supervises the other workers, checks the mechanical systems, alignment and tension of the thousands of threads and the Jacquard cards, makes the final adjustments, starts the machine and oversees its operation.
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. It is lace in the "brown". 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 sometimes 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.
If the design calls for additional embroidery, the fabric is run on a an embroidery machine or broder.
Cutters separate the bands and panels woven together and scallopers trim the edges of binding threads.
More detailed embroidery to enhance a pattern or apply cornelli cording or sequines is worked by a brodeuse using a small foot-operated embroidery machine.
SALES AND DISTRIBUTION
Samples are cut and fitted to card to create sample books.
The collection of books showcase the manufacturer's products.
The finished lace is cut, measured, folded and wrapped for wholesale according to the client's requirements.
The customer selects the desired lace at the manufacturer's lace sales room.
Lace fabric is packed into boxes for dispatch to the customer.