Bobbin Lace

Whenever friends see my bobbin lace they are so impressed. I keep telling them I’m a beginner and they are seeing the impressive ‘tools’ and not the lace itself. It’s not very often someone believes me. Which means I am very excited that one friend was inspired to try her hand at lace. I sent her photos of a bookmark I’m working on with all its mistakes and asked her if, now that she has done some lace, she believe me when I say I’m a beginner. She does.

I’m a beginner, but I started back in the early 1980s. There was a woman who owned a shop with all things fiber. Weaving, spinning, lacemaking, knitting, etc. I signed up for a course on bobbin lace because she had said at that time it was dying out. I didn’t like the idea of old ways being forgotten. Now, of course, it’s had quite a resurgence.

The course ended up being a gathering of lacemakers who brought their projects each week. It really wasn’t a beginner course. I was given basics and left to my own limited talent to figure it out. Back then there were books but I struggle learning from diagrams. So I worked on it some and fell in love with all the paraphernalia. And then I put it all away.

I’d pull it out occasionally, but it was frustrating. Until the advent of the internet and YouTube. Wow. Now when I’m trying to figure out a ground or pattern, I look it up on YouTube and find wonderful videos.

My sister’s cat helping us destroy some old necklaces.

Right now I’ve spent months making bookmarks. Bobbin lace is extremely slow. Plus, I’m slow. So it takes me at least sixteen hours for a simple pattern. I’m making them for an upcoming arts festival where we’ll have books for sale. Once I’m done with that festival I’m going to try my hand at a big project – a Celtic wall hanging. I already know I’m going to be spending a lot of time on YouTube and tearfully asking my husband to show me what to do. These bookmarks typically use around twenty pairs of bobbins. The wall hanging will take 161 pairs and a much larger Belgian pillow. My sister has been roped into helping me bead all those bobbins.

An early bookmark with its pricking, or pattern.

By the way, he has helped me a lot on lacemaking. He doesn’t know anything about it but has one of those brains that can figure stuff out anyway.

What I’m doing is called Torchon lace. It’s a good beginner lace and very straightforward. There are other types that I aspire to, like Bedfordshire, Cluny, and Maltese that might look more like what you picture when you think of lace.

Torchon bookmark with variegated thread and a ‘honeycomb’ ground.

I use East Midland, or English bobbins. What kinds you use is determined by how you like to move bobbins, (palm up or palm down), what type of pillow you’re using, and what kind of lace you’re making. Midland bobbins have beads that act as weights to keep tension on the threads and to keep the bobbins from spinning and putting unwanted twists on the threads. In old days some people chose colors or shapes of beads for reasons like warding off evil spirits. I have some that are teardrop shaped that are African wedding beads. But most of my beads come from thrift-store necklaces. It’s the beads that always catch people’s eyes and make them think I’m an expert. They look impressive.

In the photo below you will see two odd bobbins tied with thread to one of the English bobbins. That fat little thing is a Belgian bobbin. I don’t like using them on the type of pillow I use because they spin too much. But they are a common style. I’m using it in the photo because I ran out of thread on my bobbin and had to add one and this way I can clearly see which is the add-on. In the background you will see some wooden sticks. Those are very old bobbins my sister gave me. My friend used clothespins which is an excellent way to start. It allows you to see how you like to handle the bobbins and also saves you investing money until you find out if you like lacemaking. There is a wonderful sound to bobbins being worked. Look up bobbin lace making on YouTube and listen.

Bobbin lace has a long history that is, honestly, awful. Girls as young as four would start with making the prickings, or patterns. Most times they were leashed to their chairs to keep them still. In medieval times, light was limited and many lacemakers were practically blind by their late teens. Lace was worn only by the rich because of how time consuming it was. If a king had a daughter, lacemakers would be commissioned at her birth to start on the lace for her wedding. Granted, those daughters were usually married quite young.

Bolster pillow, pricking, and a forest of pins.

This blog post could be novel-length about lace so I’ll try to restrain myself. I hope it makes you look at lace differently. And that maybe you’ll go to the internet and look up images of types of bobbin lace, or look at images of antique bobbin lace. Read up on the long history of lacemaking. Go to YouTube and look up Elena Kanagy-Loux and how she started with lacemaking. You will see a lace collar she was commissioned to make for the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

And maybe you might decide to put some thread on clothespins.

Just remember, you might get sucked in and start haunting thrift stores for old necklaces and realizing I’m a beginner.

The same bookmark as the green one above, just longer and a different stitch in the center diamond.

Preconceptions and Unknown Endings

I went grocery shopping this weekend and was stressed by the time I got to the store. A later than normal start, too much traffic, too many people, costs of everything so high, worrying about the list of things to get done…I’m sure you understand. When I finally got inside, gripping my list, here was this young woman blocking the whole aisle with her cart across it. She had a toddler on one hip and a little one, maybe around three, in the cart, and was waving her free hand as she berated a young man in a store uniform.

My tension immediately ratcheted up. I stood waiting, feeling martyred, and then sighing heavily, went to the left and around displays until I could come out on the other side of her.

But when I made eye contact with her, frowning to show my disapproval I’m sure, she burst into tears and came up to me holding out her child. The young woman was frantic. Rather than berating the store employee as she waved her free hand around, she was panicked. She asked me if I’d seen a wallet with keys. The toddler had fallen and hit her head. She didn’t know what to do and couldn’t leave the store without keys.

All my stress, all the things that a moment before had been so important, disappeared. I asked the mom if her daughter had a lump, and she said ‘yes!’ crying even harder. I told her that it was a good thing as it meant swelling was going out rather then in. Thinking the toddler had been walking, I asked how far the child had fallen and was horrified to hear she had toppled over the edge of the cart from the seat. I told the mom that was a significant distance and to go to customer service while the employee and I looked for her wallet. I told her if we couldn’t find it quickly to ask for an aid car. The other child sat in the cart, clearly trying not to cry, but she would look at her mom, and then up at me, a stranger, and the tears would start. Then she would grip the handle of the cart and stare at her hands, taking deep breaths until tears stopped. But then she would look back at me and the little face would crumple again.

As the young employee and I looked in the aisles the woman had been shopping in, an older man asked what was happening. When we told him he said his daughter had done the same thing when little and joined in the search. A store manager came to help. We thought to go back to the aisle where the child had fallen and I asked if anyone had a flashlight. With the flashlight, we found the wallet under the shelving.

The last I saw of the little family was the mother, still in tears, on her way out of the store and headed to the nearby urgent care clinic, thanking me as she went out of my life as quickly as she’d come into it.

I was left with two things that have remained on my mind.

First, I’m a bit ashamed of my immediately negative reaction. I jumped to a conclusion, made an assumption that the woman was one more self-entitled person so important they could block an aisle and no one else mattered. I was caught up in my own stress and projected that and all I saw was what my negativity and unhappiness wanted to see.

I have no idea why the woman burst into tears when she saw me. Maybe I looked like some older woman she knew. I certainly didn’t have an empathetic expression on my face, I’m sure. But the instant she started crying, my preconception was gone, like river mist when the sun comes out. I felt hollowed and ashamed later, but at that moment all I wanted was to help.

I need to remember that things aren’t always as we perceive them to be. I need to remember there are still kind people out there. Not just the employees, but the man who at one point was laying flat out on the floor in an aisle looking under shelving.

Second, I was left with no ending to the story. Was the toddler okay? And what about the other child, who looked to be around three? I saw myself at that age in her eyes. Gripping the handle, fighting for control, striving to be strong, and then not, because hell, she’s only three years old. Not fully understanding and powerless. Who will she grow up to be? And what about the mom? How will this change how she moves through her days from now on? Or will it change anything, once the fear is gone and everything is okay? Will it just become a bad memory?

One of the hardest things when I was on the fire department as an EMT, was never hearing the ending of stories. We would be so deeply, so intimately, involved in a person’s life for such a brief moment. Whether it was sharing the ending of a life, or helping after an injury or transporting after a medical issue, we were closer, in those moments, than any family member.

Chief and husband training recruits

And then they were gone. We never found out if they put their lives back together, or if they survived, or how they survived. We were part of them, and then not.

It’s so hard not having closure. Not hearing the ending. I used to make up endings in my imagination and hope they were real.

But in the end, I never knew.

Wild Trees

I am re-reading a book called The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. It’s non-fiction about a group of people who study the high canopies of the tallest trees in the world. It’s about how they came together and learned to become ‘sky walkers’, to move through those trees and discover the amazing biodiversity found in those high canopies. I remember the first time reading it and being blown away by the realization that all these habitats exist high in the trees – everything from tiny wetlands to pockets of soil that support life like miniature parks no one has ever seen.

There is one story about these sky walkers hanging tree hammocks over three hundred feet in the air and sleeping up in the redwood canopy at night. One night they are caught in a storm with the wind bending the tree tops, sending their hammocks rocking. They talk about the sounds a tree makes at night in the wind. Not just the external sounds of branches whispering against each other, but the internal sounds of the heartwood.

Have you ever thought about a tree making sounds? It makes sense that it would. It’s a living organism after all. The wood bends and twists and moves and of course that would all make noise. But the author also talks about deep sounds almost below the level of human hearing.

I want that to be the heartwood, beating.

There are other books and articles about trees and how they form a habitat above and below ground. They talk about fungi that creates huge interconnecting pathways of roots that send nutrients to all trees in a grove or forest.

When you walk through a forest, there is so much life under your feet that you’re completely unaware of.

I know there are also books out there that anthropomorphize trees. That attribute human behavior or characteristics to trees. I’m skeptical of those. I don’t want them to be like humans. Plus I feel it’s a bit egotistical to think all life must mimic humanity.

I want trees to be a mystery unto themselves. Think about their lifespans. The redwoods in this book are two and three thousand years old. Not hundreds. Thousands. Think about what it must be like to live such a slow, slow life. All the rushing we do every day isn’t even a blip on a tree’s sense of time. If, of course, it even senses time and I’m not anthropomorphizing.

My sister, before she passed away, told me she could communicate with trees. She told me that the trees where I used to live were aware of me, sensed me, and trusted me. Whether that was true or not, I accepted that as one of the best gifts she gave me.

When I go by there now, I hope those trees remember me. Because I remember them, especially the ones I planted so very many years ago.