Featured Lace Lesson #14 - Withof Duchesse

Discussion in 'Textiles, Needle Arts, Clothing' started by Northern Lights Lodge, May 17, 2020.

  1. Northern Lights Lodge

    Northern Lights Lodge Well-Known Member

    It is a rainy Sunday here (still "in place" due to Coronavirus); so I thought I'd take some time today to talk about another one of my very favorite laces.

    This one is somewhat obscure; as it is what I would consider a new 21st century lace. Since it is "new", there aren't many out there making it, and there are even fewer examples out there to be found.

    In yesterday's lesson, I covered Bruges Blumwork/ Flowerwork and it's close sister, Bruges Duchesse. I also discussed how new 21st innovations have been employed to make Bruges Blumwork 3-Dimensional. Withof Duchesse lace is another new innovation.

    These Withof Duchesse laces and designs were developed by Sister Judith of the Withof Convent in the Netherlands. Born in 1913 to a wealthy family, she had had a lovely childhood. When she was 13, she went to the Lace School in Sluis where she became an excellent student and learned to make Duchesse lace. Later she decided to become a nun; her parents weren't entirely happy about this decision; but her mind was made up. In her convent years she was a calligraphist and teacher. Upon her "retirement" (age 65); she began to develop Duchesse designs that were truly new, delicate, refined, and required additions of new techniques. The results were stunning. Flowing, dripping and rather Art Nouveau in nature, these designs were truly new and innovative and became known as "Withof Duchesse". In the 1980's; some of Sister Judith's students were came to the U.S. and other countries to teach....and so it grew!

    I was told that when watching Sister Judith draw a design; she would set her pen to paper and not lift it until she had completed the design. Skill indeed! I know she was designing well into her 90's. She passed away a month after her 100th (in 2013) birthday and had continued to teach until a few weeks before her death.

    Traditionally worked in VERY fine threads 120 or 140 (tatting cotton is 70) - so that would be 1/2 the size of tatting cotton! Known for curling vines, flowing leaves and scrolls, fanciful graceful flowers, "balls", the generous use of half stitch, and precision work that leaves the eye with crisp clean images.
    Withof circle A.jpg

    Beautifully worked corner in Whithof Duchesse
    Withof cornerA.jpg
    Withof lace is worked from the back, as many laces are. And for those of you new to this - it literally means NO peeking at the other side until you are finished!

    It also means that unlike the 3-D Bruges Blumwork piece... where a well worked simple design can become 3-D upon applying additional layers of elements; Withof is 3-D in the sense that you must "think" in 3-D. By studying the above piece; you can see things that are "in front" of each other or "behind' each other... so careful thought must be given in advance to what must be done first or last.

    This lace is a "free" lace; meaning that aside from the pinholes for the grid; the pattern is just design lines. This means that the lacemaker must decide where every pin must be placed. The results can vary from lacemaker to lacemaker and the same design can look quite different depending on what each lacemaker envisioned and her own skill set.


    Because of it's fine size and some areas being very densely filled; Withof takes many more pairs of bobbins than you might think! Because of the fine nature and the number of pairs used... it is a VERY VERY time consuming lace to make. A small piece measuring perhaps 4" x 3" might take months and months of work.

    Withof corner_LIA.jpg
    Virtually picking apart this lace; one thing that comes to mind that I hadn't seen before in a bobbin lace; was that Withof employs several kinds of bundling techniques; not just one.

    #1. The darker line that is seen edging along outer or inside curves is called a rib. Pairs are worked in a very fine cloth stitch usually from the central element. It would have been worked downward (because the photo is upside down from how it was worked) from the central scrolled leaf element that fills most of the corner. When the rib reached the end of the leaf, the pairs would have been fanned out; perhaps more pairs added and work would have proceeded back down the rib. The result is a very fine ribbon that is unattached to the lace on one side, it gives a nice shading element to the design.

    #2. A second bundling technique; literally a bundle of threads which are "sewn" to the finished design element (a sewing is done using a "needle pin" - which is a bent needle that is manuvered into a miniscule pin hole - temporarily vacated by a pin - and threads are anchored to the edge - the pin is replaced and the worker repeats the manuver in the next pinhole). This is a very effective way to really give "crispness" and depth to the design.

    Funny little side story about a "needle pin". I had a friend (we will call her Marion) who went to the Withof Convent to learn straight from Sister Judith. Marion THOUGHT she'd be in a class with other students. She was quite surprised to find her desk firmly planted next to Sister Judith's in her OFFICE - without other students! She assumed there would be an intrepreter...there wasn't. Undaunted, class began and with the addition of hand language, technical drawings and demonstrations by Sister Judith...class carried on. When Marion had to make her first "sewing" (which she had always done in other laces, using a very fine crochet hook); Sister Judith "tut tuted" and whisked down the hall... Marion's crochet hook in hand! Marion sat wondering what happened, till Sister Judith returned with her crochet hook - MINUS the HOOK - and with a bend in the remaining tip! She did learn to be very proficient with a "needle pin"; as a crochet hook - even a number #16 - if you could even find one - is too chunky to put in a Withof pin hole!

    #3. The use of half stitch is very effective in Withof, as this form of lace has many curved elements; as the half stitch is flexible and it allows the design to show movement in it's lighter or darker composition.

    #4. The use of precision ground is added at the very end after all the design elements have been completed.

    #5. The use of these small dots are necessary; and yet also create a design element as the worker pair stops to reverse direction at the holes - allowing her to work more back and forth's in the wider part of the curl and less closer to the tighter side of the work.

    #6. The same procedure is worked here; but the lacemaker has chosen to not create the hole (they show as a tiny dimple) in these locations to make a more solid scroll.

    #7. The use of varied fillings is effective in Withof - seen in these little snowflake accents and the use of the thicker bars that act almost as a sunburst radiating from behind a leaf and the lower right scroll.

    #8. I just wanted to point out how incredibly difficult this particular area is to work. Where this leaf splits into 2 at the <. It is so difficult to fill nicely and not leave an unsightly hole!

    #9. Truly hard to see - but I believe this small leaf would have been worked from the tip to the base; and where it overlaps the larger leaf the threads were sewn into the larger leaf, tiny knots made and the threads cut.

    A beautiful, "drippy" very Art Nouveau looking Withof Duchesse design.
    withof floral.jpg

    Colored Withof is also emerging... I think I prefer it in classic white, cream or ecru...but it has design possiblilities! This particular worker has done a beautiful job with her background grid and fillings. I like her open vein up the tulips(?). But the cloth stitch (solid areas) look a little "heavy" to me; resulting in a rigid, less flowing look to the tape, and leaves. I'm not sure if it is due to using color; or density of pairs used.
    colored withofA.jpg

    I think that sums up my dissertation on Withof Duchesse. I hope you will be awed over it's charms as much as I am!

    Stay well!
  2. Figtree3

    Figtree3 What would you do if you weren't afraid?

    These are so beautiful! Thank you again for sharing your knowledge!
  3. Houseful

    Houseful Well-Known Member

    Thank you Leslie. I do enjoy these posts even though I’m left feeling as if I could never do anything like this.
    Northern Lights Lodge likes this.
  4. Northern Lights Lodge

    Northern Lights Lodge Well-Known Member

    My pleasure to share; but honestly, learning "basics" of bobbin lacemaking ISN'T that difficult... I have had demonstration pillows set up often at lectures and shows; and have people sit down and work at my direction... they come away saying that it really wasn't that hard.

    If you think of it in terms of "weaving"... basic weaving - lots of warp threads that just keep a vertical parallel line... and a single weaver that works its' way back and forth. The same principle holds true for bobbin lace.

    The challenge comes in learning how to put the basic stitches together. I had so many misconceptions as to how it was made when I first became a student... LOL... I basically had to "unlearn" what I knew. I had a VERY patient instructor! One day it was like some one turned on a light bulb and all of a sudden it made perfect sense!

    If you do have a chance to at least "stand behind" a demonstrator - have her narrate what she's/he's doing while the work is done... it should help a bit!

    Figtree3 likes this.
  5. Any Jewelry

    Any Jewelry Well-Known Member

    Spam reported.
  6. Any Jewelry

    Any Jewelry Well-Known Member

    Beautiful and very elegant, Leslie, and thanks for another lesson.:happy:
    That would be Bloemwerk.:) Blum is German.:inpain:
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