Martha Pullen purchased these two Normandy lace patchwork pillows from a quaint antiques store during a visit to Highlands, North Carolina. Each was constructed entirely by hand, as was typical of Normandy lacework of the early 1900s. It is commonly believed that Normandy lacework, which really is patchwork as we know it, was invented because women wanted to rework their scraps of beautiful trims and embroideries into something beautiful using a creative combination of hand sewing and lace-shaping skills. Prices for Normandy lace patchwork bedspreads can run in the thousands of dollars. The seamstresses likely shaped these pillows on brown paper bags, which were often used as the old-fashioned “lace shaping board.” If necessary, brown paper bags were stitched together to make a piece large enough on which to shape and stitch Normandy lace.
The square pillow (above) is not likely original to this particular piece; its pillowcase is oval in shape. It features an oval of embroidered batiste, the design of which combines floral shapes, leaves and dots worked in padded satin stitch and tiny eyelets. A double lace-shaped border surrounds this oval centerpiece, while the four corners of the pillow consist of football-shaped sections of mitered lace, each filled beautifully with embroidered netting. The triangular open areas remaining between the lace shaping are filled with a different embroidered netting. A 1/2-inch-wide lace border is attached to a 2-inch-wide ruffle of round thread lace edging, finishing the work. The pillow’s back is two pieces of overlapping cotton netting closed with three pearl buttons and handmade buttonholes.
The oval pillow (above) features circular lace shaping at the center and appears to encase the original pillow form. Inside the shaped circle is a hand-embroidered spray of cascading wisteria and fil tiré. Two circles of lace are shaped around this center design. Four crescents of embroidered Swiss batiste can be seen at the pillow’s “corners” around the center oval, showcasing daisy and heart designs and framed by half circles of shaped lace. The open areas remaining between the lace shapes are filled with netting; the top and bottom are pre-embroidered netting, while the triangular-shaped side pieces are hand embroidered with a rose design. A border of lace insertion and edging encircles the pillow, followed by slightly gathered 1-1⁄4-inch-wide edging around the outside. Finally, more netting fabric and a length of insertion finishes the base of the pillow. The back of this piece is composed of two overlapping pieces of silk that were cut on the selvage, while the edges were simply turned back before buttons and hand-sewn buttonholes were added.
These pillows were first shared with readers in The Vintage Collection of Martha Pullen, Volume 2. Learn how to create your own Normandy lace projects with Martha’s technique DVD, Normandy Lace with Martha Pullen, one of our featured National Sewing Month Sale products. On this DVD, Martha teaches viewers how to work with cotton netting, which forms the base of Normandy lace. You’ll also discover the tricks of machine embroidery on netting, along with what stabilizers and thread to use. Because lace shaping is utilized in Normandy lace pieces, Martha will take you through the techniques of lace shaping diamonds, hearts, curves and flip-flopping.