Category Archives: Lace

Mrs Daffodil on Flowers

A miniature flower painting by Jan Frans van Dael, mounted as a brooch.

Since the Family is away on holiday over the week-end, Mrs Daffodil is taking this opportunity to take a brief holiday of her own, possibly paying a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show and returning, refreshed, Wednesday next.

She has posted on floral themes many times, so, to while away the hours for those of Mrs Daffodil’s readers who will be counting the moments until a new post appears, here are some posts pertinent to the topic of flowers.

Strange Flower Superstitions of Many Lands

Queen Adelaide’s Flower-Acrostic Dress

The Wild-Flower Wedding

A Miniature Matterhorn and Gnome Miners

Funeral Flowers for Young Helen

Napoleon and the Gardener

A very recent post: The Black Rose

And Mrs Daffodil’s favourite gardening story, “The Occasional Garden,” by Mr H. H. Munro [Saki]

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers a delightful and restful week-end with well-filled picnic hampers and unclouded blue skies.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Lost Story of the William and Mary: A Guest Post by Gill Hoffs


Mrs Daffodil is pleased to welcome author Gill Hoffs, whose new book The Lost Story of the William and Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson, has just been released.

Mrs. Daffodil is a creature of the land and shudders at the horrors of shipwreck. Yet, what we see in these excerpts are snap-shots of life on an emigrant ship, the alien impression the survivors made in England, and descriptions of Frisian emigrant clothing. Even in the wake of this maritime tragedy, we catch glimpses of fashion and adornment.

The following is excerpted from “The Lost Story of the William and Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson” (Pen & Sword, 2016, all rights reserved, available from

When reading about Victorian maritime disasters in old newspapers while conducting research for my book The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’ (Pen & Sword, 2014, 2015, one shipwreck stood out as particularly odd among the thousands reported. The William and Mary was an ordinary vessel with a common name, which set sail from Liverpool in early 1853 without any sort of fanfare or special treatment. Nothing distinguished the parties of Irish, Scottish, English, Dutch and German emigrants on board, nor the captain and crew, from any of the thousands of others leaving port that month. But within a few months the William and Mary would provoke outrage in newspapers around the world.

The accounts I read at first bemoaned the loss of over 200 passengers and a handful of crew, hoped for the salvation of a group who might have made it onto a raft as the ship went down before the captain’s eyes in the shark-infested waters of the Bahamas and hinted at their dissatisfaction with the captain and crew’s ‘hurry to yield to the instinct [of self-preservation]’ (Freeman’s Journal, 31 May 1853). Then, according to articles published just a few weeks later, the truth came out – or, at least, a version of it.

* * *

The author first introduces us to the hygienic challenges faced by emigrants.

This was the age of the crinoline and women and girls wore voluminous skirts and – if they had them – giant bloomer underpants that went past their knees. Poorer women stiffened their multiple petticoats with rings of horsehair or rolled newspaper and stored precious items, such as money and important papers, in their corsets and stays while still aspiring to the impractical wasp-waisted ideal. Outfits were constricting, heavy, not easily changed in such cramped quarters and even less easily cleaned despite this being extremely desirable given the numerous vomit and food stains that would quickly accumulate on the many layers of fabric. Depending on the state of the lodging houses where the emigrants had previously slept and the state of the straw that made up their ‘donkey’s breakfast’ bedding, there would likely be fleas and similar pests annoying them on board.

* * *

Yet life on board ship had some pleasant moments:

Once the emigrants had found their sea-legs, the voyage became more tolerable and occasionally even enjoyable. According to Haagsma [a survivor who wrote about the ordeal], ‘we entertained ourselves with music or in other ways’. Those with an instrument would gladly show off their prowess with a melody, some passengers – or occasionally, sailors – would sing and dance and there would be a celebratory mood for a while at least as people let loose with a jig. There were restrictions regarding who could go where on the ship, none more so than for the Frisian women, who were forbidden from going on deck with bare feet. But Captain Stinson appears to have taken a shine to at least one of the young women, as Haagsma later related: ‘One evening, at the request of the captain, a Friesian girl was dressed in national or rather provincial clothing and presented to him, which he, the mates and others enjoyed very much. They were especially impressed by the gold ear-pie[ce] with the lace bonnet. The captain called her “a soldier with a southwester.” The gold ear-piece he said was the helmet and the southwester, that you can easily guess.’

* **

When the survivors of the William and Mary were landed, many had only the clothes on their backs. These were far from fashionable to the English eye:

The Frisians made an impression on the English, particularly when they had to take a break at the yellow-brick station of Ely to allow the cattle to change trains for London. ‘We had to remain there until two thirty and meanwhile toured the city, to the great amusement of the residents. The wooden shoes and silver ear ornaments [traditional Frisian dress] caused people to stare at us,’ recalled Haagsma, who was impressed with what he saw of England, saying ‘at Peterborough … they have a station 160 feet in length. The beautiful scene across hills and valleys, along woods and creeks soon disappeared. They were covered by the dark evening fog, which alas prevented the inquisitive traveller from seeing any more. But I know this, that we passed through tunnels three times, which are the result of the iron will of English enterprise.’

* * *

[In Liverpool as] in Ely, the traditional dress of the Frisians drew attention. Roorda wrote, ‘On our arrival the inhabitants of Liverpool expressed very great bemusement at the clogs that we wore and particularly the oorijzers [a type of head covering] which the women in our company wore, yet nobody was unfriendly to us and the owners of our lodging in particular were always very generous and forthcoming.’ Dutch people wore thick woollen socks with wooden clogs and would have clattered across cobbled streets, whereas many of the inhabitants of Liverpool (and the poorer emigrants) would have gone without any kind of footwear due to the extreme poverty there.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, came to Liverpool a few months later to work as US Consul and was shocked to see people out with bare legs and feet even when there was snow on the ground, turning their skin raw and red.

Trijntje [Catherine Tuininga Albers de Haan], who survived the William and Mary wreck, but lost her bag of keepsakes, including her dead children's clothing, during the rescue. It was she who had been told by her Mother to make sure she kept her oorijzers so she could show her social standing. Copyright Christopher Lindstrom

Trijntje [Catherine Tuininga Albers de Haan], who survived the William and Mary shipwreck, but lost her bag of keepsakes, including her dead children’s clothing, during the rescue. It was she who had been told by her Mother to make sure she kept her oorijzers so she could show her social standing. Copyright Christopher Lindstrom

Even more startling was the hair of the Frisian women, which the English found shockingly short:

Haagsma said, ‘The Frisian women with their bonnets aroused the pity of the English and they said, “O, God, those women have no hair”.’ They did, but at that time they cut their hair fairly short, especially compared to British women and wore it under a thin white cloth cap held in place by an ornate metal headdress. These were symbols of wealth and locality and one Frisian woman, 39-year-old Trijntje de Haan, was under strict orders from her mother not to lose hers. Her granddaughter later recalled, ‘there was her head dress which consisted of a lace cap with a gold chain over the brow to hold the lace in place and ending at each temple with loops of lace held in place by engraved gold knobs which completed the decoration. Almost the last advice grandmother had received from her mother was this, “No matter how poor you may become, Treen, never give up your head-dress, for without that you will lose caste and your social standing”.’

The oorijzer, sometimes translated as “ear iron,” was originally a frame of iron. (Mrs Daffodil actually knows a young lady blacksmith who has forged one. It looked rather like a bed-spring.) The frames eventually were made in silver and gold, becoming, as mentioned above, a status symbol. The English did not quite understand the nuances of this fashion:

Class and social standing were of great importance to the Victorians, but while some felt reassured by their knowledge of their place in society – generally those in the upper classes – many felt trapped or hobbled by the strictures and snobberies of the system. This was another reason some found the idea of emigration so attractive: the social mobility and chance of a fresh start elsewhere offered opportunities to many that would be denied them if they stayed at home. Thus Liverpool and other ports became inundated with those seeking a better, or at least different, life.

Not everyone was happy about this. Nathaniel Hawthorne was displeased with the busy atmosphere of the city, saying ‘The people are as numerous as maggots in cheese; you behold them, disgusting and all moving about, as when you raise a plank or log that has long lain on the ground and find many vivacious bugs and insects beneath it.’

Mr Hawthorne was, undoubtedly, a gifted writer, but his distaste for foreigners is rather uncouthly expressed and in a manner not unknown even to-day.

* * *

If you wish to find out more about the passengers and crew on the doomed voyage of the William and Mary, please see or contact Gill at or @GillHoffs on twitter.”]

Mrs Daffodil was intrigued by this passage shared by the author:

A storm tossed the William and Mary about, emptying emigrants from their bunks onto the deck and the ship was holed on first one rock then another, allowing water to gush into the hold. What happened next was brutal and bizarre and if it wasn’t for the kindness of a local wrecker, the true story of Stinson and his crew’s loathsome actions that could easily be interpreted as an attempt at mass murder would have been lost at sea along with over 200 passengers – which is probably just what Stinson hoped would happen.

Wholesale murder at sea foiled by a kindly local wrecker is something Mrs Daffodil would pay to see…

Many thanks, Gill!

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Bridal Veil: 1886

Brussels wedding veil 1890


A pretty, dark-eyed girl began to work it, whose lover was over the sea. She was a French girl, and came of a good family of lacemakers.

“I’ll work my own bridal veil in my leisure time,” she said. “So when Walter comes to marry me I shall be a gay bride.”

But she never finished the veil. Walter came too soon. She married her English lover—as poor as herself—and went with him to London, and the half-finished bridal veil went along, carefully folded away at the bottom of a trunk, and, for the time being quite forgotten.

It may have been forgotten in earnest, during twelve years, for aught I know; certainly it lay that long unnoticed. A lovely ten year old girl was the fairy that broke its long sleep at last. She had dark eyes, like the little peasant of twelve years ago, but Walter’s golden hair.

“Oh! the charming lace!” she cried, clapping her hands and dancing delightedly, as Elise shook it out of the folds. “Dear mamma, what is it‘? and who made it? and why is it but half done? Can I have it for a dress for my doll, mamma?”

The pretty, dark-haired matron laughed and shook her head, and half sighed, and she pressed the delicate fabric to her lips. Then she told her child the history of its making.

“Mamma, teach me to work it,” she said one day. “My fingers are much finer and tinier than yours.”

After that she would bring her little work-basket to her mother’s side and work at a veil for her doll. The facility with which she learned the graceful art was astonishing. At the age of fifteen so expert was she that Elise did not fear to let her take part in the creation of the bridal veil itself, but they worked at it now and then as fancy seized them.

* * * *

Louis Riviere was from France, like Adele’s mother—that had been a bond between them from the first —for Adele loved her mother’s country for her mother’s sake, though she herself was proud of being called English ; and she also loved the young Frenchman.

The happy weeks and months grew into years. Adele was seventeen; it was agreed and promised that when spring-time came she would be Riviere’s bride.

“We must finish the bridal veil,” cried Elise, eagerly. “I tell you, Monsieur Louis, no lady of your proud house ever wore a lace more exquisite and rich. Ah! shall I not be proud when I look at my beautiful child in her marriage robes, and think of the poor little peasant girl of long ago, who toiled at the lace to earn coarse bread so far away over the sea?”

Louis turned quickly at these words, a look of displeased surprise in his dark eyes.

“What peasant girl, madam?” he questioned, uneasily.

“Myself,” she answered, happily, not marking the look or the tone. “What was I but a poor little lacemaker when my generous young lover married me, the father of Adele?”

He answered nothing, and Elise went merrily chatting on, but Adele noticed his suddenly downcast air and gloomed eyes, though she was far from suspecting the cause of either.

His haughty family pride had received a blow. He conceived an absolute but violent dislike to the bridal veil.

“I detest the sight of it!” he cried one evening in a moment of self-forgetfulness, and when he and Adele were alone. “If, indeed, you love me, never work at it in my presence, Adele; and if I dared ask one special favor of you it should be__”

He paused suddenly. She was listening in great surprise.

“Well,” she said, “it should be ___”

“Wear any other veil in the world but that one to be married in!”

She folded her work and let her fair hands fall on it in her lap; one could see those little hands were trembling.

“You ask a singular favor,” she said, with forced quietness. “Are you not aware that my dear mother worked this veil?”

The hot, impulsive temper answered instantly, without a thought: “It is for that reason I hate it!”

“You did not know when first you sought me for a bride that mamma was a lace-worker in France; if you had, perhaps you would not have loved me. Since you have learned this fact you have regretted our engagement. You need not speak; I have seen a change in you—I feel that it is so! But there is no harm done,” she went on, with simple dignity, “since I have learned the truth before it is too late; and so,” she held out to him a little trembling hand, which he took mechanically—“and so I will grant you the favor you covet, my friend. Your bride shall not wear my darling mother’s bridal veil”—here he kissed the hand, and she drew it quickly away—“but that is because I shall not be your bride.”

No need to dwell upon what followed. His prayers, his protestations—humble at first, then angry his tears that had no power in them to sap the strength of her resolution.

Her parents questioned her in vain. She had quarreled with Louis; that was all they could learn. And before a chance for reconciliation came Elise was smitten with mortal illness and died in three days, and Adele, overwhelmed by the awful calamity, was prostrate with brain fever.

At this juncture a summons came to Louis from France, demanding his immediate presence there. Strange changes had taken place. Two of the three lives that had stood between him and the titles and estates of the Marquis de la Riviere had been suddenly swept away, and the third, a frail, delicate child, lay dying. The present marquis, himself a feeble old man, was also at the point of death, so they sent in haste for Louis, as the heir of the dying nobleman.

The news bewildered him. His heart swelled with exultation and delight, but it sank again. Adele! Had he lost Adele?

“I care not for rank or wealth, unless she shares them!” cried his heart. “I will go and implore her pardon.”

A few weeks later he wrote, informing her fully of his strangely altered fortunes and imploring her to pardon and accept once more as her true-love the love of the Marquis de la Riviere.

And the letter never reached her. The house to which it came was empty and deserted, the late happy home was broken up, and the little English girl, for whom a husband and title and fortune were waiting in sunny France, was earning a sorrowful living as lace-maker! Such are some of the strange realities of real life more wonderful than any fiction.

* * * * *

Many a gay belle and brilliant beauty had spread her net to secure the splendid prize of a titled husband. Foremost among the many, Rosalind Hale; she was the fairest and wealthiest of them all; and her golden hair was not unlike Adele’s. She arranged charades, tableaux, plays—in which he should sustain a part with her. It never occurred to her that he was at once too good-natured and too indifferent to refuse.

The tableaux were suggestive enough. One, upon which Miss Hale had quite set her heart, was that of a bridal—need it be said that Louis was the bridegroom, herself the bride‘?

“He will speak, now, surely,” she thought, as she blushed and trembled before him, While the curtain came slowly down. But no, he only bowed as he led her from the platform; and then one of the buttons of his coat caught in her bridal veil. As the marquis stopped to disengage the lace suddenly he uttered a strange cry. It was Adele’s bridal veil.

“I borrowed it of a lace-maker,” Miss Hale said, in reply to his anxious questioning. “I had ordered one like it; but her health is bad and she failed to have it finished in time. So I made her lend me this.”

“Oh, no? very thin and worn and sad,” she said in reply to another question of Louis’; “with fine eyes, but too dull and pale to be called pretty. But an exquisite lace maker. I shall be glad to give you her address if you have any work for her.” Yes, he had work for her—work that they would share together; the blessed work of binding up an almost broken heart, of restoring love and happiness to both their lives.

Pale and thin and somewhat careworn still was the bride of the marquis on her wedding day; but to his eyes—the eyes of faithful love—it was still the sweetest face in the whole world that smiled and wept beneath Elise’s bridal veil. And he kissed the old lace and blessed it, because through it he had found her again.

The Otago [NZ] Witness 2 January 1886: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Suggestive tableaux, indeed!  There is a bit of Blanche Ingram in Miss Hale, although fortunately there is no Bertha Mason Rochester to tear Elise’s veil. One hopes that the Marquis, who, we may observe, is no Mr Rochester, ate a good deal of humble pie before Adele took him back.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


“I’m a Smuggler”: 1896

A Custom House Story.

New York World.

One of the best story tellers in the custom house is Colonel Dudley F. Phelps, chief of the law department. Like Collector Kilbreth, Colonel Phelps’ stories have the merit of actual experience. Colonel Phelps never tells a story twice. He told one altogether new last Saturday afternoon when business was done and the young civil service clerks had folded up their desks and gone home.

“One of the funniest and most perplexing situations I have ever had to confront in my office here,” said the colonel, “turned up several months ago. One very dull autumn afternoon a clerical gentleman of especially solemn mien came in. He introduced himself as Mr. So and So, whom I knew to be the pastor of one of the most fashionable churches on Fifth avenue.

“’You are the law officer, I believe, sir,” said the distinguished gentleman.

“’Yes, sir.’

“’Shut the door,” said the reverend gentleman hastily.

“The door was shut.

“’Lock it.”

“It was locked.

“’Sh—h,’ said the Fifth avenue pastor. ‘I’m a smuggler.’

“’Why, my dear sir, it can’t be possible,’ said I.

“’True, indeed, sir,” said the reverend gentleman, wiping away a tear. ‘And I will frankly tell you the story.’

“’Last June my congregation voted that I should have a vacation and they decided that I should take a trip abroad, sir. I was very much delighted and I concluded that I would take my two daughters, two lovely girls, sir on my voyage with me.

“’Now, my dears,’ said I. ‘Now, my dears, mind you, no smuggling when we return.’

“’Oh, papa,’ said they, ‘everybody smuggles. That’s half the fun of a trip abroad.’ And they were such good girls, sir—such very good girls. But they promised. And we went abroad and we had a delightful time.

“’Then came the time to return. We were in London.

“’Now, my dears,’ said I, ‘I must again warn you not to smuggle.’

“’But everybody smuggles, papa,’ said they.

“’Now, my dears!’ I said, ‘promise me,’ and they said, “we promise, papa, we won’t smuggle.’

“We had a beautiful voyage over, sir, a charming voyage; and when we arrived off Sandy Hook I called my two daughters to me and I said:

“’Now, my dears, promise me you will not smuggle.’

“’But every woman on the ship is smuggling,’ they said, ‘and it is such fun.’

“The customs officers examined our baggage, and I was proud, sir that they found nothing contraband in my daughters’ trunks. Now, sir, it has always been my practice to kiss my two darlings good night when bedtime comes. So I stole up to their room—and imagine my surprise, my consternation, my shame, sir. There sat my two lovely girls ripping out the lining of my overcoat, and pulling therefrom, sir, yards and yards of fine lace—duchesse lace, they called it.

“’Oh, my dears,’ said I, ‘you promised me you would not smuggle. Oh, think of the shame of it.’

“’We didn’t smuggle, papa!’ said they, ‘you smuggled,’ and here is the lace, sir. I smuggled it. Let the dreadful consequences be visited upon me, sir! But shield them, for they are two such good girls. Here it is, sir. And he poured into my lap a great bundle of lace.

“I tried to calm the old gentleman,” continued Colonel Phelps, “for he had worked himself up into a great state of excitement, and I told him that under the circumstances I thought the government would take no action in the matter. The duty, I told him, would be only about $20, and Uncle Sam would probably waive that in the case of two such lovely girls—such very good girls. So I returned him the lace. But he insisted on paying the duty. Then I told him that if he insisted he might send $20 to the conscience fund. The next day a messenger brought the good man’s check for $20 for the conscience fund.”

The Galveston [TX] Daily News 11 January 1896: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “conscience fund,” as one might surmise, was for just such delicate situations as these. Engagingly, the funds so received were known as “duties from unknown hands.”

One can only imagine the merry dance those “two such good girls” led the unfortunate parson: exceeding their dress-allowances, flirting with would-be suitors in church, and contracting vastly unsuitable marriages seem the inevitable fate for girls capable of turning their doting papa into a felon.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



The Lady and the Laces: 1904

A handy shoplifting suitcase.

A handy shoplifting suitcase.


Store Sleuths Tell of Shoplifting Wrinkle New to One of Them.

From the New York Sun.

This story is told among the department store sleuths of an alleged episode of this rush season. A man pushed into a crowded store, wiping his brow, and panted in the ear of one of the floor detectives:

“See that woman, George; the clever-looking one in the black dress?” indicating a woman who had just entered the store.

George saw her.

“Well,” said the perspiring stranger, “watch her; she’s the limit; she’s just come from our store. We know her; she’s been playing the game there for some time; she’ll load up like a pack horse if you give her a chance. I’ve piped her off all the afternoon, and have shadowed her up here. Watch her, I tell you.”

The woman in black approached a counter on which was a display of lace handkerchiefs, and, looking around cautiously, slipped about half a dozen of them under her cloak.

“What’d I tell you, George? Pipe her,” said the sleuth from the other store, as he nudged George in the ribs.

From the lace handkerchief counter the woman in black visited the silk hosiery counter, and then went to several others. At each she helped herself, generously and dexterously. George, with the other sleuth, followed at a convenient distance. The woman, when she started to leave the store, not only had a load under her loose-fitting cloak, but her pockets were bulging.

“Leave it to me, George. I know her game. I’ll get her for both of us,” said the visiting sleuth. “You stand here at the door.”

George stood at the door for five minutes. Then he went out into the cold world and is still looking for:

1: The woman.

2: The other sleuth.

3: A job.

The Washington [DC] Post 25 December 1904: p. A1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: An ingenious little swindle, but, as noted, it probably can only be worked once per store before word of the “new wrinkle” spreads. Floor detectives in the big stores trade notes assiduously. Mrs Daffodil has written before about ingenious shoplifters who are “Prepared to Carry off the Store,” how they are spotted, their methods, and the different types of lady kleptomaniacs.

This Parisian shoplifter seems to have chosen a unique confederate:

Dog Trained to Steal

A woman was arrested in Paris for shoplifting not long ago, and it was noticed that she carried a bright looking King Charles spaniel on her arm. The police happened to examine the pup rather carefully, and were surprised to find that it was trained to help the woman at her trade. The dog was schooled to snatch a piece of lace in its mouth and then hide its head under the woman’s arm. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 22 October 1905: p. 3

One hopes that the woman thought to steal bones or treats for her faithful companion since he took all the risk.

Caterpillar Lace and Spider Silk Gowns: 1863-1906

A spider-web blouse, c. 1940. blouse

A spider-web blouse, c. 1940. blouse

Mrs Daffodil welcomes that curious person over at Haunted Ohio for a guest post on some fashion oddities from the insect world:

While searching newspaper archives for the names of the jurors who acquitted the Copperhead murderer of an Abolitionist editor in Dayton and then supposedly went mad (yes, all twelve of them. And the judge…), my eye was caught by the headline “Caterpillar Lace.”

As a former vintage clothing dealer I thought I knew what the term meant. After all “chenille” is the French word for caterpillar. Chenille embroidery, with its fluffy texture, is a particular favorite of mine as are the chenille fringes on 1880s and 1890s cloaks, which I used to describe to customers as “tarantula legs.” A type of lace patterned with wide undulating bands was also called “caterpillar lace.”

But this article told of a startlingly different type of lace production:


Another case of self-destruction, among the number reported every day by the police of Paris, is that of a poor inventor, a native of Munich, who had set his heart on perfecting the curious caterpillar lace produced in some parts of Germany. This lace, which is said to be remarkably beautiful, is thus obtained: A paste, prepared from the leaves most in favor with these insects, being spread over a slab of stone, or any other smooth surface, the operator with a fine camel’s hair pencil, dipped in olive oil traces the portions of the design which are to be left uncovered by the little weavers; in other words, the interstices of the future fabric. The stone is then placed on the ground in a slanting position, a number of caterpillars being placed at its base. These insects, whose thread is remarkably fine and strong, at once begin to devour the paste, creeping upwards in search of it, and carefully avoiding the oil. As they crawl up, they spin incessantly; and their webs, enlaced together over the surface of the stone, form a magnificent tissue, excessively delicate, yet exceedingly strong. A veil thus fabricated, twenty-six inches and a half by seventeen, weighs but a grain and a half. Nine square feet of this novel tissue weighs only four grains and one third, while the same extent of surface of silk gauze weights one hundred and thirty seven grains, and of the finest thread lace two hundred and sixty-two and a half grains. The poor inventor had embarked all his pecuniary means in a factory destined to produce this lace in large quantities; his attempt was unsuccessful, and he shut himself up in his laboratory a few days ago, and put an end to his life by means of charcoal. Troy [OH] Times 10 September 1863

This was news to me. I quickly searched my costume collection databases for examples held in museums. Surely The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, or the V&A in London would have a veil or a shawl. But there seemed to be no surviving examples. And no mention of the lace at all.

Chandler Robbins Clifford, in The Lace Dictionary had only a brief definition: “Lace made by employing the natural web of the caterpillar, a freak lace only occasionally made by experimentalists; sometimes the spider is employed in like manner.” My other reference books on lace were silent on this interesting subject.

I returned to the newspapers and all was revealed. From roughly 1857 to 1909, the same article had been reprinted, with only slight variations and always as a current news item, telling of the man from Munich who had invented a unique insect industry. The 1863 article is the only one that mentions suicide. It is such a detailed account and such a strange subject to be a created as a journalistic hoax. Apparently certain species of caterpillar are death to silkworm colonies. It seems extremely far-fetched, but is this some bizarre metaphor for German ingenuity triumphing over traditional Japanese manufacture? Or did the leaves, eaten into lacy patterns by some caterpillars, inspire a flight of fantasy?

While the notion of caterpillar lace was startling enough. I was further surprised to find several articles on spider silk being used to make clothing. And not just garden-variety spiders, but giant Madagascar spiders, with golden webs.


[Chamber’s Journal]

The worm is proverbially the last of created things to turn against the tyranny of those who seek to coerce it, and the silk-worm is evidently no exception to the rule, for it has for ages been patiently laboring to gratify human vanity. No so the spider, however, whose beautiful silk has not yet been similarly applied, simply because that wily beast refuses to work to order. But a determined onslaught upon his pride and prejudices has been made in Madagascar, where a regular factory has been started to make silk dresses from spider web. The old difficulty has still to be faced, however, and time alone will show whether man or the spider is to be the victor. The spiders, who spin luxuriously in their native groves, sulk or fight or devour their young or otherwise amuse themselves when brought to the factory; but they will not work except just occasionally when the mood happens to strike them. Then they sometimes spin for days at a time, and die of overwork. Their habits and customs are being carefully studied, and if only they will do what is required of them they will be made as comfortable as circumstances will permit. Altogether it is the prettiest little parlor; perhaps the spider may yet be induced to walk in and favor the proprietor with those silk dresses for which the world is still waiting. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 7 April 1906: p. 11

In all of the articles on silk-spinning spiders, the creatures are anthropomorphized and put into the context of early 20th-century gender stereotypes.

Spun By a Giant Spider in Far-Away Madagascar

Among the great web-spinning spiders is the halaba, of Madagascar, which spins shining golden-yellow threads strong enough to bear the weight of one of those cork helmets such as travelers wear in warm countries. They have women suffrage in the halaba family, where the female considerably outweighs the males, and is correspondingly “bossy.” She grows to the quite remarkable length of five and a half inches, while he, poor fellow, never gets beyond the quite insignificant dimensions of an inch and a half. In consequence, when she, in all the glory of her shining gold cuirass, with a silvery down on it, spreads her five red, black-tipped legs in the midst of her shining gold web, he has to keep at a respectful distance, and seek the seclusion of his club, for he has no rights in that web which his more mighty spouse is bound to respect. She is a very industrious spinner, and I have no doubt that the airs of superiority she takes over her husband are largely due to the fact that she realizes she is the breadwinner for the family. She has been known to spin in a little less than a week 3,291 yards. For over 150 years men have tried to utilize the spider’s silk for weaving fabrics, but, with discouraging success. Le Bon, about the beginning of the last century, succeeded in making gloves of it, and Louis XV, had a pair of hose made of the thread. The webs of the halaba and one or two American spiders have led Dr. Wilder, of Cornell University, to hope that he might still make spider webs commercially valuable. The thread is quite as long as that of the silk-worm; one species in Jamaica spinning a thread sometimes three miles long, but the chief difficulty lies in obtaining a long thread unbroken. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 8 December 1894: p. 1

Difficult, but not impossible, as this astonishing link will show.


One of the curiosities of the Paris Exhibition of 1900 will be a silk dress made entirely of silk manufactured from the spider’s web. This silk was made in Madagascar under the direction of the Jesuit, Father Cambue, and will not be exhibited merely as a curiosity, but in order to show the practical use to which the big Malagasy spider, known as the black spider, may be put. Father Cambue has been devoting himself for the last two years to solving the problem of utilizing the silk-spinning capacities of the spider. He has found in the Malagasy black spider a subject of practical usefulness and he has already a colony of spiders spinning the cocoon. The silk is much finer and lighter than ordinary silkworm’s silk. Father Cambue says that the black spider is not at all pleased when put to spin the cocoon, but that when well fed and supplied with plenty of drink, it can spin a really enormous quantity of thread. The spider is very fond of native brandy, and spins best when thoroughly drunk. When the cocoon is complete, the spider dies, but this is not of much importance, for the power of reproduction of the race is enormous. Oak Park [IL] Times 23 February 1899: p. 3.

Two stories of insect industry, both seemingly improbable. While stories about spider silk dresses circulated from about 1894-1900, the fiction (if fiction it is) about caterpillar lace was repeated at intervals, no doubt on slow news days, over the course of half a century.  One might say the story had legs.

I know little about the habits of insects; can anyone wise in the ways of lepidopterous caterpillars tell us if there is any truth at all to the stories of caterpillar lace?

Spin me a yarn at chriswoodyard8 AT

You will find Chris Woodyard’s blog on all manner of historic and fortean topics at She is also found disseminating world-wide paranormal news on Facebook at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard and sharing grave stories and photo-gravures at her page: The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.




The Summer Muff: 1907, 1909


Cecil Beaton gave Audrey Hepburn an immense chiffon muff as part of her Ascot costume.

Cecil Beaton gave Audrey Hepburn an immense chiffon muff as part of her Ascot costume.


London, Aug. 16. Summer society is startled over a new fad. It is the wearing of muffs in August.

All the smart set feels bound to imitate, and costumers are inking large orders, for the fad was started by Queen Alexandra. She set the fashion by wearing the first of the summer muffs at the opening of the university college school.

“The fad will become the most popular of the season,” said a Bond street merchant. “It is not only a pretty idea, but also very serviceable. The muff is very light and contains a small pocket, just large enough to hold a handkerchief and a purse. In this age of pocketless gowns that point has its advantages.”

From the description of the costumer the muff is a very dainty creation. It is made of flowers, feathers and chiffon, and must match the ruffle and toque with which it is worn.

Muff, ruffle and toque come in sets. One of the prettiest of these is the flower petal set. Over a light body of tulle or chiffon dainty petals of imitation flowers are scattered and attached with a single thread. “The tulle and the petals are always in contrasting shades,” said the costumer. “Apple blossom petals are placed on lavender-colored tulle, while apricot tulle is sewn with the petals of the white rose.” Every little breeze causes the petals to dance in an attractive manner.

Grand Rapids [MI] Press 16 August 1907: p. 12



“Vigee le Brun” a Fashionable Novelty In Paris.

One of the fashionable novelties of women’s attire this season will be summer muffs, or, rather, a scarf and muff, which is dignified by the name of “Vigee le Brun,” the famous woman artist of the revolution. The style consists of a wide chiffon scarf worn on, not off, the shoulders and a large chiffon muff which buries the arms to the elbows. The “Vigee le Brun” scarf and muff will be made of an entirely different shade of chiffon from the dress and will generally match the hat.

The scarf must be very wide, but so soft that it will crumple up into the smallest space, and must be bordered with an accordion plaited frill. The muff must be as large as a feather pillowcase, edged also with frills and adorned with a large bow of soft satin ribbon.

Daily Herald [Biloxi, MS] 3 July 1909: p. 4

The Summer Muff

With the lace hat and scarf Frenchwomen now wear a marvel of muff elegance to add to their grace and to do duty as a vanity bag. These wide, flat affairs are made of mousseline, chiffon or marquisette—anything diaphanous—and colored like the gown or scarf. Although they are pleated and shirred into the semblance of a muff, they do not convey the idea of warmth, but only of novelty and airy grace.

Augusta [GA] Chronicle 6 June 1909:  p. 28

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil imagines these confections in chiffon and mousseline as large, flat boudoir pillows with pockets. Vigee le Brun refers, of course, to Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, the exceedingly popular portrait painter—she of the notorious Marie Antoinette chemise a la reine portrait. Possibly the association of “Le Brun” and “muff” arose from her charming portrait of Madame Molé-Reymond (1786)

madame mole reymond