Honiton (East Devon) lace sprig

A delicate pansy or viola plant worked in East Devon bobbin lace. The open flower has been made with raised petals and veins. The petals are worked in half stitch or a combination of whole and half stitch. This is one of a series of naturalistic sprigs (lace motifs) said to have been designed and made by Louisa Tucker, a daughter of the Branscombe lace manufacturer John Tucker. These finely made pieces are naturalistic representations of wild and garden plants. They were made on a lace pillow using bobbins wound with fine cotton threads.

John Tucker’s successful family business had an office in London run by his son. The firm had the distinction of supplying lace to HRH Princess Alexandra for her marriage to Albert Edward in 1863. Her wedding lace now forms part of the Royal Collections held by HM the Queen.
Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
Textiles and equipment
Common Name
Honiton (East Devon) lace sprig
Simple Name
lace sprig
Full Name
Honiton (East Devon) lace sprig
Production Person Surname
Production Person Initials
Period Classification
Victorian (1837-1901)
Production Year Low
Production Year High
Production Town
Production County
Production Country
United Kingdom: England
Production Area Region
Northern Europe
Production Continent
Family Group


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    • Can you spot the lace sprig in the shape of a pansy? Made from delicate East Devon lace, this flower has been made with raised petals and veins, with a combination of whole and half stitches, to decorate a pillow. During the early twentieth century, many slang terms for gay men had botanical roots, such as ‘daisy’, ‘buttercup’, and particularly ‘pansy’. However, by the 1920s, the term ‘pansy’ was used as a derogative slur across America, against gay men who presented themselves as feminine or flamboyant.

      In particular, the term ‘pansy’ was used prominently across New York during this period, a time labelled as the ‘pansy craze’ by historians such as George Chauncey. During the 1930s, many underground bars and nightclubs opened up across America to covertly combat the prohibition period. The entertainment provided at such establishments ranged from lesbian and gay artists to drag performers. As a result, these venues became a pivotal part of the ‘pansy craze’. In New York City, entire events were devoted to ‘female impersonators’, though they were soon shut down by the police. However, they acted as a precursor to drag queens and the drag scene that remains a cornerstone of queer culture even today. In fact, the Stonewall Riots of 1969 were led by self-identified drag queens, such as Marsha P. Johnson.

      Contrastingly, during the ‘pansy craze’ period in Hollywood, there was much queer representation within the film industry, with LGBTQ+ performers having relative freedom behind the camera and onscreen. However, after the repeal of the prohibition this became less tolerated, and the sympathetic portrayal of queer characters was prohibited by the motion-picture production code from being included in Hollywood films.

      Today, the term ‘pansy’ has been reclaimed and adapted for positive use by the LGBTQ+ community. Initiatives such as The Pansy Project aim to combat verbal and physical acts of homophobia by planting pansies at the sites of such crimes. Artist Paul Harfleet began this project by planting pansies in Manchester to mark his own experience of homophobia. This then grew into a larger network of pansies being planted on the behalf of others across the UK, and as part of different film festivals and events. This simple action turns an act of hatred into an act of nurturing love, reclaiming the term ‘pansy’ with a gesture of gentle resistance.

      What do different flowers represent to you?

      To read more blog posts from our Out and About: Queering the museum project, please visit the project website http://outandabout.exeter.ac.uk/2020/10/29/queer-objects-lace-sprig-of-a-pansy/

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