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The art of lacemaking dates back several hundred years. But today it benefits from some of the latest technological wonders, including the Internet.

Lacemaking actually covers several different styles. One of the most common -- and most popular -- is bobbin lacemaking. Other types include shuttle lace or tatting, as well as knitting and crocheting.

Another form of lacemaking, the art of needlelace, is somewhat obscure. But it is currently practiced as a hobby. It is used, to a limited extent, by textile artists. Some lace can also be woven on a loom.

Lacemaking is an ancient craft. Some historians say the origins of lacemaking can be traced back to coarse, netted bags found in Egyptian burial grounds of the fourth and fifth centuries AD. What is known is that lace was being made in the 1500s in Europe. At first, it was used for furnishings. But it developed into exquisite fine and intricate designs, finding its height in the 1700s.

The Snowgoose Lacemaking Supplies Web site offers the following descriptions of the more popular forms of lacemaking:

Bobbin lacemaking is actually a form of hand weaving that takes its name from the tools with which it's made: small spindles wound with thread called bobbins. Bobbin lace is also known as pillow lace, since the surface on which it is worked is called a pillow.

Tatted lace is one of the most popular forms of lace being done today. There are two ways to make tatted lace. One is by working with a single thread wound onto a special tool called a tatting shuttle. By looping the thread over the hand and working a series of transferred lark's-head-type knots, some very pretty designs can result.

Another method is using a long blunt needle with an eye to produce similar results. The needle method is considered to be the easiest for a beginner to learn.

Knitted lace is usually worked with cotton or silk thread and fine knitting needles. Since there is no give in these threads, keeping correct tension is more difficult than when working with wool. Motifs and cloths are usually round and start in the center, with four or five double-pointed needles. When the work becomes too large for the straight needles, it is then transferred to a circular needle.

Needlelace is a very general term for most of the laces comprised of buttonhole-type stitches -- also known in Europe as needlepoint lace.

Kathy Kauffmann has been involved with bobbin lacemaking for the past two decades. She estimates that there are currently about 1,000 lacemakers in the U.S.

Bev Walker is the editor of the Canadian Lacemaker Gazette. She estimates there are also currently about 1,000 people in Canada who are active in the hobby.

Both Kauffmann and Walker add that the numbers on both sides of the border are not increasing at this time. Neither expects to see much of a jump in the hobby's popularity in the next five to 10 years.

Kauffmann does say that while the number of lacemakers may not be increasing, the quality of the work they are producing is on the rise. "I see lacemaking increasing in quality and would hope that it will increase over the next five to 10 years," said Kauffmann.

Walker estimates that the average age of lacemakers she is familiar with is about 55. Fewer than 10 percent are men.

Kauffmann adds that while most lacemakers in the U.S. are adults, the popularity is trickling down to the younger generations. "There are now two and three generations of lacemakers in the U.S. from the same families," says Kauffmann. "There are also several groups that have been formed precisely for children. I would hope that they would continue."

The physical requirements for lacemaking are minimal. As Walker explains, lacemaking requires about as much energy output as reading. The craft does require a knack for problem solving, as well as hand-eye coordination. You have to be good at memorizing and be able to work with threads.

Getting Started

There are starter kits available -- at a cost of between $50 and $100 -- that provide everything the beginning lacemaker will need. Most of the tools of the trade are available by mail order or through the Internet.

The patterns used by lacemakers literally span the ages. Some lacemakers prefer to use older, traditional patterns. Others are always looking for something new, often designing their own patterns on computers before starting their actual work.

There are several ways to learn the art of lacemaking. There are a number of books for the beginner available. But Kauffmann recommends one-on-one instruction for the first-time lacemaker.

"I recommend starting with a lace teacher. There are books available, but I don't believe that one can learn as easily from a book as from a teacher," says Kauffmann. "It takes about 12 hours minimum with a good teacher to get started properly. It depends on the student and how much the student is willing to do between classes."

Like other craft clubs, Kauffmann says lacemaking guilds offer members the opportunity to share the knowledge they have with other members. Guilds also help to spread information about lacemaking and help arrange instructional classes.

There are some employment opportunities in supplying material to lacemakers. But most people stick to lacemaking as a hobby.

Despite that, Walker notes that some knowledge of lacemaking would be useful in other professions. These include museum workers and textile artists. Anthropologists interested in Western history, art historians, antique dealers and costume designers may also find it useful.

The number of books and other publications dealing with the art of lacemaking is quite wide-ranging. Because the art is virtually unchanged since its beginning, the books should be available through new and used bookstores, as well as craft stores.


International Old Lacers Inc.
P.O. Box 554
Flanders , NJ   07836


LACE Magazine


Lacemaking Links
A list of resources

Snowgoose Lacemaking Supplies
You can order online

Lacemaking and its history
Find out how it started

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