Embroider the Truth

Blog by artist/printmaker Dawn Cole

By the time tea was over we were quite friends

I have, over the last few months, been making a new work entitled ‘Embroider the truth’ for the Art Language Location Festival taking place in Cambridge in October. My last blog post ‘She never mentions tea again’ gave a brief outline of my piece. Now the work is more developed I felt it a good time to write a bit more about the piece.



Paper Cambridge Lace Doily


In researching for my initial proposal to the festival I discovered that there is a paper doily produced in the ‘Cambridge Lace’ design. The lace pieces I design from text all reference real pieces of lace, from doilies, tray cloths, collars, trimmings, I have used the patterns as the starting point for the ‘construction’ of the text as stitches and layers. Two of the lace designs for Cambridge take their starting point from the paper doilies but a mystery surrounds why the design is known as Cambridge Lace. My research to date has drawn a complete blank. I have asked Lace experts, lace historians, the company that owns and makes the paper doilies and museums, but with no luck. No- one knows why they are called Cambridge lace doilies. I like this mystery, the unresolved nature of it references many of the unsolvable aspects of Clarice’s archive.

The third design in the series is far more site specific as is made in response to a notebook of lace patterns from the museum’s archive.  The book written by F E Holdsworth I think may date to the beginning of the 20th century, a similar time period to when Clarice was writing down her knitted lace patterns. Deciphering these patterns took me right back to 2007 when I transcribed Clarice’s diary and notebook and actually the origins of why I make lace. Words as codes, that can only be read if you know how to crack the code. When you add handwriting to this the formation of the symbols or letters become even more difficult at times to decipher. One of the ways I began to be able to read Clarice’s handwriting was to use her knitting patterns as reference. The words of the patterns I understood; knit, pearl, make, cast,  were all familiar and I was able to use how she formed her words, how each letter connected together to decipher some of the more unfamiliar words in the diary.

I have been knitting some of F E Holdsworth’s patterns, to understand how the final design is constructed. Working from another persons hand written instructions feel very similar to making the detailed drawings of hand embroidery. It connects with the person, straddling the then and the now and I can’t help but feel a personal connection


Each doily will exist as a series of usable, embroidered doilies and also as a series of usable paper doilies, hand printed using solar plate etchings. The finished lace become once again a piece of code that can be deciphered if the viewer knows how to ‘read’ them. The embroidered pieces are much less decipherable, the stitches following and covering up the original design adding yet another layer and if unpicked would reveal a more ‘readable’ version. The deceptive quality of these pieces, as text disguised as lace, is deliberate and a recurring theme of much of my work in particular in response to war and conflict.


By the time tea was over we were quite friends. Paper Doily, Solar plate etch

Each doily references a different entry in Clarice’s diary, each mentioning tea……

These are the complete entries with the relevant words used for each design in italics.

Sept 29th 1915

After the dressings were finished the tray was cleared in the sterilising and  dressing room instruments thoroughly cleaned and put away. We cleared up generally and by this time it was 12 noon and lunch time. After lunch, 1 hour, came back and prepared dressing for the next day and do various jobs, tidying beds or anything that wants doing. Medicine given, temp taken and then tea at 4pm. We can have it in ward or at Hotel, whichever we please and then I was off duty. But the duties of the evening are dressing which takes up the whole of ones time as a rule. Dinner at  8pm. Bed


Medicine given, temp taken then tea at 4pm


Oct 18th 1915

Nothing very extraordinary has happened. Just doing same every day, but have been off duty daily for 3 hours when we have taken walks, sometimes in the country and sometimes along the cliffs. The cliffs and rock are my favourites – very rugged and pretty. Had a half day off today so decided to go to Boulogne (about 3 miles from here) by train and see if I could find Mrs Faulkenbury. Peck managed to get her half day as well so we hurried over our lunch  and started on our journey. Arrived at B  – thought we would have a look round the shops first. After that we thought we’d start hunting. So after standing at the corner of a street for about ¼ hr more or less we decided to go into a shop close by where we saw English spoken in the window. Entered, woman couldn’t speak a word, so showed her the card with the address I wanted and then she pointed and nodded etc. We went on our way and we managed to get quite near the station in this way but we were not quite sure of one turning. As we had passed the shops I decided to ask an old woman the way. So went boldly up to her and stood right in the path and said ‘Rue de jue du Paune’. Not even excuse me or please, but anyhow ‘Oui Madam’ she said and ran off yards of French and pointed to the left. Of course I’d forgotten that once having made her understand she would speak French. Oh! How we laughed afterwards. But we found the house and then the difficulty was explaining to Madam F. But after some time she knew who I was and we went into the kitchen to tea and by the time tea was over we were quite friends. She took us for a walk round afterwards and then we came home.


By the time tea was over we were quite friends

Nov 2nd 1915

Olivia has a boil on chin. Great excitement trying to fit the core into a bottle – an old gypsy’s remedy. Spent all the afternoon in her room. Had tea. On duty in the evening – had a convoy so was kept busy.


Had tea. On duty in the evening

The doilies will be used on the tables in the tea shop at the Museum of Cambridge, a large printed version will be installed in one of the windows and display case will hold photos and information from Clarice’s archive, some other lace samples and the book from the museum’s collection.

I will also be giving a talk on Sat 22nd Oct (time tbc). Talking about Clarice, her archive and my work in response ……. yes, the usual. Sadly there may not be Clarice’s cakes as the tea shop buys their cakes in from another source but I may well bring along her recipes- it wouldn’t be one of my talks if I didn’t.



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Resting Place is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Supported by Kent County Council
In collaboration with Platform-7
All images and content © Dawn Cole 2013
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