The Moderator’s Lace

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland traditionally wears court dress with lace jabot and cuffs. In the past, each Moderator has been presented with a personal set of lace made in Chingleput, India, by mission-taught workers there. This source of lace came to an end in 1981 and the Moderator was reduced to wearing machine-made lace.

By chance, Edinburgh Lace Club offered to make a set for the Moderator at this very time. The Club was quite young, and it was decided it would be nice to work the lace as a communal effort by as many members as felt able to work the chosen pattern.

A Bucks pattern (Pamela Nottingham – Old Bucks pattern no 4) which suited all eight volunteers, was decided on. Each cuff was to be made up of four three-foot lengths (41 repeats) and the jabot four five-foot lengths (70 repeats). Only one on the four lengths required were pricked, with ground only on either side of the pattern. The lengths required for each piece had a foot; only one, a picot edged head. The lengths were pricked with ground only on either side of the pattern and were joined with a racroc stitch as in Chantilly lace, hopefully to be as inconspicuous as possible. Belgian linen thread 140/2 was used throughout. The two shorter pieces were finished and joined in two continuous circles for the cuffs, and the others as one length for the jabot. They were then given to the moderator’s tailor who mounted them on detachable cotton bands to fit the suit. The work took about 12 months to complete.

The finished set was presented in August 1983 to the Right Reverend Dr Fraser McLuskey, Moderator for that year, for his use and the use of his successors in office. Dr McLuskey accepted the set with pleasure and told the team that he would wear it for the first time on his visit to the Queen at Balmoral the following month.

The lacemakers were:   Margaret Belford, Mona Bell, Lorna Hopkins, Kitty Mason, Jean McEwen, Morag Norton, Rhoda Scott and Meriel Tilling.


Meriel Tilling, May 1987



The Moderator’s Lace, Old and New

The Moderator of the Church of Scotland presides over the General Assembly of the Church – held annually for a week in Edinburgh. They then have a representative role for the rest of their one year tenure. Traditionally, the Moderator wears a distinctive costume from the 18th Century, which includes a lace jabot, designed to not obscure the clerical collar and cuffs. In the past, each Moderator was presented with a personal set of lace made in Chingleput, India, by mission-taught workers. Now, Moderators are offered lace from a quite varied collection handed in by previous Moderators and held at the Church’s headquarters. Interestingly, in recent years, some Moderators have chosen not to wear the costume and lace, feeling it is anachronistic.

In the 1980s, Members of the Edinburgh Lace Club made a set of lace, which was presented to the Moderator at the time, Dr Fraser McCluskey. We understood that the lace would be passed on from Moderator to Moderator, along with the Amethyst Ring which is traditionally passed from each to the next. However, this lace seems to have been ‘lost’ and efforts are being made to find it. Past Moderators keep a set of lace to wear at such occasions as the Assembly, so it may be in someone’s house!

The new Moderator, The Right Reverend Susan Brown, who took up her position at the 2018 General Assembly, is a lady of small stature and a sporty nature. She did not feel the jabot and cuffs suited either her stature or nature, but wanted to maintain a link to the lace component of the costume. After some discussion, it was agreed that a brooch would suit her better and I agreed to design something for her.

Reading about Susan on the Church of Scotland website, some useful facts stood out:

• she is the minister at Dornoch Cathedral (and married Madonna and Guy Ritchie)

• during her year as Moderator, she wants to go out to meet people, walk beside them and talk to them

• she loves the outdoors

• as Minister at Dornoch, she is asked to marry 30 – 40 couples a year

After considering several possible designs, we decided on a circle. The final design has:

• an outer ring of honeycomb with tallies in, surrounded by a yellow and a green gimp,  representing the members of the community and the grass, trees and sand   

• a ring of plain honeycomb, which, in French, is called ‘fond du marriage’!

• an inner ring of cloth stitch buds surrounded by a blue and a white gimp – this represents the Moderator and the sky and clouds

• a central heart in cloth stitch with a darker blue gimp, representing the Church at the heart of the whole thing

After trying the lace against a wide range of colours, I felt the dark blue best showed the range of colours. The pattern resulted in quite a large brooch, for which I found no suitable mounts, so I constructed one. The new Moderator wore the brooch on her induction day.

Kitty Mason (Extract from ‘Scottish Lace’, December 2018)

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