English Lace and a Wedding Handkerchief
Made by Sarah Bunting Hocking (1864-1950)
for her daughter Alma Elizabeth Rittenhouse’s wedding.
Also worn in weddings by her granddaughter Elizabeth Rittenhouse Lamb
and her great granddaughters as brides Judith Lamb and Susan Lamb
Framed and owned by Judith Lamb Rittenhouse
“As fragile as Dresden and as neat as a pin is Mrs. Sarah Hocking in her little brown cottage, 841 Northwest Thirty-third street (sic).
“With a stick, some graduated sizes of needles, a couple of shuttle-like needles with eyes in both ends, and fine white thread, she buzzes like a humming bird and the magic of mesh lace comes out of her concentration. To your correspondent looking on, mesh making still is one of the standing mysteries, but the metronomic upbeat up of the left third finger around which the thread loops is some sort of major stroke in putting the 27,000 stitches around a single handkerchief, Mrs. Hocking says.
“Mesh making is seldom found in this country, lace researchers tell us, but Mrs. Hocking learned this fine stitch art, when a very small girl, from an English woman. It proved such a fascinating diversion that she never forgot it, even during her homesteading days over by Chandler (Oklahoma) when life was far from placid on the western front.
“Besides mesh lace, her greatest needle love, Mrs. Hockings (sic) is expert at practically all the needle arts and jollies up her day making surprises for her friends; her daughters, Mrs. F. Austin Rittenhouse and Mrs. Edna C. Love of Washington, D.C., her granddaughter, Mrs. Weldon Lamb of Kansas City; and her grandson, Austin Rittenhouse—just in case he decides to break rank with the bachelor brotherhood one of these days.”
Mrs. Sarah (Bunting) Hocking conjuring up mesh lace, her favorite 27,000-stitch mesh bordered handkerchief in mesh magic making action. From an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, newspaper between 1939 and 1940 (when her granddaughter Elizabeth Rittenhouse (Mrs. Weldon) Lamb lived in Kansas City, Missouri). The original article also shows a close up of her shuttle and needle.
Lace-making was not an English national occupation; it was only made in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, and Northhamptonshire and dates back to 1568. At that time the Protestants of the Low Countries were being massacred by the Spaniards under Philip II for their religious beliefs. They fled to England where they were welcomed and brought with them their particular skills in lace-making. The communities at Bourne End, Newport Pagnell, Olney and Buckingham offered them accommodation. Since the lace could be produced very simply, the immigrants were able to continue with this work and the skill was passed on to the indigenous population, quickly spreading to just the three counties.
Wages for the working men were at such a subsistence level that they could not take care of a wife and children also. Joseph Mayett, born in a hovel at North End, Quainton, in 1783, the son of an illiterate labourer and a lace-making mother, writes that “my father was a labourer and worked for six shillings a week in the winter and nine in the summer. By this I was deprived of a liberal education for instead of being sent to school I was set to lace making to provide something towards a livelihood through the narrowness of our circumstances.” Another account informs us that a labourer with a wife and five children between one and nine years of age earned eight shillings a week. His wife earned six pence a week and the elder children together about the same. It took 20 shillings to make an English pound. Each shilling was divided into 12 pence or pennies.
Mothers began teaching their children how to make lace from the age of five or six. There was a very large market for lace by the upper classes, men and women wanting to adorn their clothing thus. The lace-buyers would take their stock to the London lace markets or sell them to other lace buyers. Also at big yearly fairs held for Buckinghamshire, the nobility would pay good prices for the lace.
This lace was produced with the use of a pillow, thus called pillow-lace. Each worker had her own pillow stuffed tightly with straw. She would sit in a good light from her doorway with her pillow partly on her lap and partly on a special three-legged stool. Having filled her bobbins with fine linen thread on a bobbin-winder, she would make her lace in a continuous strip by inserting a large number of brass pins into the pattern around which she would weave her bobbins.* Many of these bobbins were engraved. One bears the inscription “Jemima King, Quainton, 1829.” Jemima was born about 1744 in Quainton, Buckinghamshire, England, and married Charles King, Jr., about 1763, probably at the Quainton Church. Jemima is the 4th great grandmother of Elizabeth Rittenhouse Lamb.
Elizabeth Rittenhouse Lamb states the following in her book, The Record of My Ancestry: the Rittenhouse-Lamb Family:
“Charles was of Lee Grange, Buckinghamshire, England. His will was made 1 Sep 1781 and proved 23 Oct 1781. He died on either 5 or 16 Oct 1781. On 13 Oct 1976 in Quainton, Elizabeth R. Lamb read the Burial Index or Death Index for the Quainton Church and the following was given: King, Charles Oct 16, 1781, Charles King of Shipton Lee in this Parish died Oct 5, 1781.” Elizabeth also has following note by
Mr. John H. Bunting to her in 1966: “The King Family and the Bunting Family were friends for many years. We believe that Charles King, Jr. owned a farm near the farm of William and Jane Bunting. The name of the King Farm was 'Lee Grange' in Shipton Lee. We know William Bunting owned considerable land in Shipton Lee. In his will, William Bunting appointed Charles King as executor, and mentions him as 'my dear Friend, Charles King.' Edward King, father of Charlotte was appointed executor of the will of John Bunting, son of William Bunting. So both families must have been close friends and neighbors in Buckinghamshire (Bucks) for many years."
There was much trade through 1794. When ladies found it difficult to hire young women for domestic service, they ceased buying the lace. With mechanization, this cottage industry gradually ceased.
From her granddaughter, Elizabeth Rittenhouse Lamb, we learn how Sarah Bunting Hocking’s sewing skills helped her send her two daughters to high school:
Muskogee, Oklahoma 74401.
Dear Dean Chavers: I have been making donations to Bacone for a number of years and I would like for you to know why. . .
I knew that my Mother and her sister had attended Bacone because I have heard them speak of it. However, I did not know the years. In the spring of 1973 I went to Bacone to find out. Your head Librarian was so nice to me and let me go to the room where all the old school records and historical records were kept and then let me Xerox my findings. My Mother was then Alma Hocking and her sister was Edna Hocking. I found them in the "Twenty-Third Annual Catalog of the Officers and Students of INDIAN UNIVERSITY 1903-1904, Bacone, Indian Territory." 1904 The Muskogee Times, Muskogee, Indian Territory. They were listed on page 34 under "Academic Department, Third Year." My Mother was born in 1886 thus making her 17-18 years old. This "THIRD YEAR" must have meant they were in the 11th grade in High School. They lived in Coweta. They later attended Spaulding Junior College, which is no longer in existence.
Their parents were Mr. and Mrs. Scott Alfred Hocking. They settled first in Lincoln Co., Okla. several months after the run in 1889. I believe my Grandmother Hocking did the mending for the school so that her daughters could attend. My Aunt never liked to talk about this. . . Elizabeth Rittenhouse Lamb (Mrs. Jones W.)."
Source: Lamb, Elizabeth Rittenhouse, Letter about Alma Elizabeth and Edna Cynthia Hocking at Bacone College (Greenwood, Mississippi: Elizabeth R. Lamb, 1978), ERL Drawer A File 8, 19 Dec 1978, Elizabeth Rittenhouse Lamb's files, 2434 E. Contessa St., Mesa, AZ 85213-7706.
In the possession of Sarah Bunting Hocking’s descendants are many quilts and some of the very fine lace.
*From Wikipedia we find the definition of Bobbin Lace: as the name suggests, made with bobbins and a pillow. The bobbins, turned from wood, bone or plastic, hold threads which are woven together and held in place with pins stuck in the pattern on the pillow. The pillow contains straw, preferably oat straw or other materials such as sawdust, insulation Styrofoam or ethafoam. Also known as Bone-lace.
Above picture is from E-Bay and for sale for $9.95.
Most of this information on lace-making comes from A History of Quainton by Laurie Cooper, second edition 1998. Information pertinent to Sarah Bunting Hocking and the Buntings and Kings came from Elizabeth Rittenhouse Lamb. Compiled by Judith Lamb Rittenhouse