A deeper look at Ruskin Lace
Ruskin Lace has always been worked with linen thread on an evenweave, linen fabric.
The work differs from some other laces in that it is always worked within the linen, with some threads withdrawn and others cut away to reveal spaces for the needlelace techniques to take over, to produce intricate, geometric patterns based on a grid of foundation bars.
If you see Ruskin Lace patterns adorning the edge of a piece of linen, as shown in this photograph, then it is strictly a lace edging in the style of Ruskin Lace, rather than true Ruskin Lace.
It is still worked in the same way but on a very large piece of leathercloth. The outer foundation bars need to be couched down onto the leathercloth just like a cordonnet in traditional needlelace.
The patterns in Ruskin Lace are always based on a square or a combination of squares and can be any size. The larger the pattern square, the harder it can be to tension the work, so beginners should start with the smaller patterns until they are confident in keeping an even tension.
These five patterns have always been our Starter Patterns and can be found in both Elizabeth Prickett’s book Ruskin Lace and Linen Work as well as my new book, Ruskin Lace – A Complete Guide. They cover just about all the main technical elements of Ruskin Lace whilst being a manageable size.
It can also be seen that every pattern square is bordered by four-sided stitch, worked into some drawn out threads. Each pattern also has the characteristic padded roll which borders the inside edge of the four-sided stitch and forms the edge of the lace pattern.
Squares that lie in a row next to each other are called insertions. There can be any number of unit squares in the row and it can be fun to experiment with varying the patterns within the insertion (ie alternating two patterns) or keeping a repeat of the same pattern. In doing this, the joins between the squares can often create new elements in the overall pattern.
This insertion shows a repeated pattern where the semi-circles that were on the edge of the square, become much more prominent when placed next to each other, creating the full circles. Similarly the corner unit creates a very different effect when it is doubled up.
This insertion is 4 unit squares long (with each square having window grid foundation bars) and on first glance, the pattern appears to alternate, but in fact a square has been centred across the middle 4 small squares and repeated towards the sides. The ends have been altered to make the whole effect more pleasing to look at.
This narrow insertion needs to have an even number of repeated squares as the first square is ‘mirrored’ before being repeated in the second set of squares and so on.
Squares can also be combined as blocks to create corner patterns, which can be straight or stepped. These are the hardest types of arrangements to plot and work, and comprehensive instructions can be found in Section 14 of the book Ruskin Lace – A Complete Guide.