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In the beginning was the Lace Guild and the Lace Guild had an education sub-committee and in 1986 the chair of the education sub-committee was Margaret Clark and Margaret started talking to City and Guilds about the possibility of a lace qualification.


All Lace Guild members were asked for their views on establishing a lace qualification, there were 453 responses, the majority in favour of a City and Guilds qualification. A meeting was arranged with Val Bruce and Margaret Walker from City and Guilds on 30th July 1986 with the expectation that there would be a two year run up to the first exam. By the end of the meeting this timescale had been halved to just over one year with the first exam and assessments to take place in September 1987, that month also to be the start of six pilot courses in colleges around the country.


Lace Guild members who had expressed an active interest in a qualification would be invited to become 'guinea pigs' to take the exam and assessment in 1987. There would be no formal teaching, all guinea pigs were experienced in one or more of the laces and the other skills to be assessed, and were expected to fill in the gaps by themselves or at one of the meetings arranged around the country.  Twelve months of hard work followed!


The education subcommittee met in August to draft the syllabus and guidelines. These were approved by C&G in September and invitations sent to potential candidates. While willing guinea pigs were working on their own studies, Margaret and the C&G advisors were selecting examiners/assessors, writing the exam questions, booking venues for candidate meetings through the year and Knuston Hall for the assessment weekend and undertaking the numerous other tasks necessary to make the scheme a success.


Assessment and exams took place over the weekend of 18-20 September 1987 with just under 60 candidates from all over the UK. Little time was available for conversation between candidates and - most frustratingly - no time at all to view the assessment displays laid out for the examiners.


Not long after the gathering at Knuston, Margaret and Barbara Underwood were travelling together and chatting about the missed opportunities for exchange of ideas. By the end of their journey they had agreed to set up a meeting where experienced lacemakers could get together for an exchange of ideas. The meeting was arranged at Westhope College, a small craft college in Shropshire established and run by Anne Dyer and her colleague Elizabeth Rumble. Invitations were sent to a lacemakers who had been involved with guinea pig scheme, either as candidates or examiners/assessors. The invitation letter sent by Margaret explained: You have been invited because you have something to say about the future of lace and lacemakers.


The first meeting was held in November 1989 with these as first members:


Cathy Barley, Susan Bradshaw, Lauretta Clark, Margaret Clark, Ann Collier, Gil Dye, Anne Dyer, Sue Goodman, Tessa Holmes, Jane Rushworth, Dorothy Swinson, Bernice Thompson, Sue Thompson, Barbara Underwood, Cynthia Voysey, Ann Wheeler, Angela White, Carol Williamson, Sue Willoughby.


These were the main questions discussed: What is lace? Where is lace going? How to raise public awareness? How to achieve professionalism?


In 1993 we adopted the slogan: Cherish the past; enjoy the present; create the future and in 1996 agreed that the prime function of the group should be for mutual support, both socially, to counteract the loneliness of the long-distance lace teacher, and to offer a sounding board and stimulus for our individual work.


After the 2001 meeting there were major concerns about the future of the group, however discussions at the 2002 meeting reached the  following conclusions:

We value our membership. We are all different, but we meet as equals to renew our confidence in what we are doing. The contact is important. We change and develop and all learn from each other, study of historic is as important as innovative work and we should be using the richness of the roots of lace to develop ideas for now. Exhibitions that show development work are what we do well; exhibits developed from a single source have attracted particular interest.


In 2009  we added that: the Westhope Group aims to promote contemporary lace by making and exhibiting textile art which incorporates traditional lacemaking skills and brings the craft into the twenty-first century.

An early exhibition, Caught by a Thread, 1999

An early exhibition, Caught by a Thread, 1999

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