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The Bainbridge Lace Collection

The University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Clothing Collection is honored to announce the donation of a significant collection of lace and embroidery by Robert P. Bainbridge of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. His mother, Mabel Foster Bainbridge, was a recognized authority on needlework. In the early twentieth century she collected laces and embroideries, together with books on the subject, from all over the world. Items in the collection date from the 17th through the 20th centuries. URI is fortunate to have received this collection and thanks Robert P. Bainbridge for his continuing support.

Mabel Foster Bainbridge was passionate about needlework. Considered to be an expert in many specialty areas of handwork, she contributed articles and designed patterns for publications such as the Ladies' Home Journal and The Modern Priscilla. She wrote about crewel work, darned net curtains, knitting, rug hooking, braided rugs, and, of course, lace, and gave lectures in and around the Boston area. As a Master Craftsman in the Arts and Crafts Society of Boston, Mrs. Bainbridge was a consultant to the city's Museum of Fine Arts and between 1936 and 1942 she catalogued the lace collection at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. She worked as a lace designer with the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association, and taught lace making to Native Americans as a means of increasing their income.

Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1877, Mabel Foster developed her interest in the needle arts at an early age. An interview published in The Boston Herald of April 30, 1933, describes a little girl "fascinated by such of the lace-makers as still remained at Ipswich when she was a child, and she began to learn how to make lace from them." This early interest in lace was the impetus for a trip to Europe prior to her marriage in 1908 to John Pratt Bainbridge. Accompanied by a sister, Mabel traveled first to England. In Beer, in Devonshire, she studied the making of Honiton lace. Additional travels took her to convents in Europe to study lace and historic embroideries, and she visited Bruges, Ghent and Paris.

Mabel Foster Bainbridge is credited with revitalizing the lace-making industry in Ipswich, Massachusetts. In 1905, Mabel Foster helped to organize an exhibit of laces in the Historic Whipple House in Ipswich and gave lessons on making bobbin lace. Ipswich has been the center for lace making in colonial America. Mrs. Bainbridge writes, "Just one colony in America seems to have been settled by bobbin lace-makers, and that is Ipswich, Massachusetts. They apparently came from the Midland counties of England for their lace is typical of that made in Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, etc. and is know in England as 'Bucks.' Our grandmothers called it English thread and trimmed their baby clothes, fischus and muslin dresses with it."

The author of the article from The Boston Herald, Elizabeth Borton, describes Mabel Foster Bainbridge as "a small, dark, gentle but decisive woman, fragile but compact as lace should be. Her hands, very tiny, the small pointed fingers independent each of the other as are the fingers of craftsmen always, are most at home above a green lace pillow, manipulating the wound bobbins into the exercises which result in lace." The memoriam for Mrs. Bainbridge published in the National Old Lacers newsletter of June, 1964 expresses these sentiments: "She will long be remembered not only as a great authority on lace but also for her generosity, her modesty, and her desire to share her vast knowledge with all who had the privilege of knowing her."

Objects from the Mabel Foster Bainbridge Collection

baby cap made by Mabel Foster Bainbridge
Baby cap, made by Mabel Foster Bainbridge

eighteenth century embroidered purse
18th century embroidered purse. European.

eighteenth century embroidered purse
Lace-making bobbins from England. The glass beads, called spangles, prevent the bobbins from rolling off the pillow upon which the lace is made. Notice the two on the left are carved with names: "Jack" and "Esther."

eighteenth century embroidered purse
Close up of the cuffs from 17th or 18th century embroidered sleeves. European.

eighteenth century embroidered purse
Bobbin lace from Czechoslovakia, late 19th or 20th century. Eastern European lace is characterized by the use of colored yarns.