John Ruskin was one of the most influential men of the Victorian era as a philosopher, artist, writer, social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote and spoke about the connection between nature, art and society and was interested in conservation, sustainability and crafts.
When Ruskin came to live at Brantwood, his home in Coniston, in 1872 he involved himself in the local community and encouraged people to learn pastimes that were new to them.
The Langdale Linen Industry came into being with the re-introduction of spinning and weaving of linen in the Langdale Valley (to the north of Coniston in the Lake District) aided by John Ruskin, his friend Albert Fleming and his housekeeper Marion Twelves. Many local women were taught to spin linen thread by Marion Twelves and they were paid for the thread they produced.
Eventually in 1884 a full time weaver set up at St. Martin’s Cottage, Elterwater and the Cottage industry was born.
Marion Twelves moved to Keswick in 1889 and set up a new linen workshop at St Kentigern’s in connection with the Keswick Arts Society.
Whilst setting up these linen production industries, Marion Twelves had always thought that articles made up with some form of embroidery on them would be more lucrative than the linen on its own, and employ more local workers. She experimented with Sicilian and Greek embroidery, which were the forerunners of the Ruskin Lace technique that Marion Twelves developed. The lace was worked directly into the linen fabric, rather than applied to it.
In 1894 John Ruskin gave Marion Twelves permission to use his name in connection with her work, although it was still known as Greek Lace for many years to come.
It had been John Ruskin’s friendship and encouraging words over the years that had inspired Marion Twelves to work so hard for the betterment of the local women in Westmoreland and Cumberland – she dedicated her life to creating the Ruskin Linen Industry, continuing to work into the 1920s.
The technique of Greek Lace continued to be worked in this way by Mrs Coward in Coniston, Elizabeth Pepper at Elterwater, Annie Garnett at Windermere and Miss Butterworth at Grasmere in the early 1900s and there was a huge demand for all their work including commissions for Heal’s and Liberty of London.
In 1932 Mrs Coward took the first Adult Education Class at Broughton-in-Furness and was succeeded by Mrs Winifred Raby who taught there for the next 36 years.
Elizabeth Prickett joined Mrs Raby’s class in 1967 and unexpectedly took over the class in 1970, which is when the name changed to become Ruskin Lace. She continued to teach this wonderful technique for 36 years until her retirement in 2006. She was another women who devoted her teaching life to keeping the techniques of this beautiful lace alive for further generations of embroiderers and lace makers.
Karen Quickfall was asked to take over the teaching of Ruskin Lace in 2006, on Elizabeth’s retirement, and continues to teach workshops in many parts of the country, keeping this beautiful technique alive for future generations.