The hand lace making industry of East Devon was traditionally said to have started with the influx of Flemish refugees in the sixteenth century, although certain forms of embroidery and cut work in particular which is often seen as the forerunner to the lace craft, were produced before this time. Although analogies with earlier designs produced in East Devon do correspond to lace work produced in Belgium, it is difficult to be fully accurate. The nature of the lace industry was one of often borrowing and adapting patterns from different areas and incorporating them into native or domestic styles, which makes it difficult to pinpoint indigenous styles and geographically localised areas of production.
Illustration: Honiton lace sprig design.
Illustration: Honiton lace poppy and bryony design.
One thing that is certain is that East Devon produced fine lace work that was created in numerous villages in the East Devon area for a number of generations. The reason that it is often given the general title of Honiton, rather than the specific village of production, is the fact that Honiton being the main town in the area was where the finished lace was brought together for shipment via stagecoach and then later by train to London in particular.
There is a definite style to Honiton lace, which commonly used floral work that was often motif based and could consist of relatively large gestures. The flower motif would be worked separately and then integrated into a piece of lace work via the background netting. Motifs were often strung together through the netting background and could therefore be used, depending on the scale, for anything from the edging of a tablecloth to that of a small handkerchief. This intriguing design work may appear more robust perhaps than some of the finer examples from different areas of Europe; however, the work does tie in with the ongoing English use of a relatively unstylised form of nature, which was so much a part of the general pattern style of the culture.