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The Lace Samples from Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1789-1790

Tucked among Alexander Hamilton’s papers at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, is a rare collection of twenty-one samples of black silk lace handmade by lace makers in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1789 and 1790. Karen Thompson has reconstructed these important lace samples and makes them accessible to lace makers and historians in this book. A short introductory chapter on the Ipswich lace industry gives a glimpse into post-Revolutionary War life in the small town of Ipswich, where 600 lace makers made 42,000 yards of beautiful lace for sale in one year alone. The town relied on the substantial income generated by these fragile embellishments for fashionable clothing as they were exchanged for household necessities and luxury goods. The only documented commercial handmade lace industry in the United States in the late 1700s was in Ipswich, and its history provides important information with its uniquely well documented survival of women's entrepreneurial enterprise in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is extremely rare to have actual samples of 18th century lace with exact provenance of where and when they were made. However, through this book lace makers now have access to 22 patterns for making historic Ipswich lace. Photographs of the original samples side by side with Karen Thompson’s reconstructed samples highlight the beauty and variety of the Ipswich lace. A chapter on technical details will help lace makers and non-lace makers alike understand the mechanics and vocabulary of lace. Instructions are given on how to make bobbin lace and how to interpret a color-coded working diagram. The main body of the book provides illustrations of each of the original and reconstructed samples side by side, followed by an enlarged color-coded working diagram and a full-size pattern. Karen Thompson studied each of the historic lace samples in detail at the Library of Congress before making drafts of each pattern on paper, computer, and finally with silk thread. This book is written for lace makers, researchers interested in studying historical laces, late 18th century textiles, or Massachusetts history, and those wishing to make historical American bobbin lace. Karen Thompson grew up in Denmark and, as an adult, learned to make bobbin lace from her mother in the early 1970s. Since then she has taught many others of all ages how to make lace. Specific to Ipswich lace, Karen has studied and reconstructed all 22 black silk lace samples that were sent to Alexander Hamilton in 1790 from Ipswich, MA, as part of the first census of manufactures. One of her reconstructed Ipswich lace samples from 1789-1790 has been on public display in the “Within These Walls…” exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, since 2001. Committed to education, Karen has attended lace conferences and workshops locally, nationally, and internationally, sometimes as a student, and just as often as a teacher or lecturer. Since the late 1990s, Karen has been working as a volunteer with the lace collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Her goal is to further interest in historic lace, lace identification, and lace making, and to document as many of the laces in the Smithsonian collection as possible to make them available for online study.