Monday, April 7, 2014

Lace Adventure

Some time ago I started to learn bobbin lacemaking, mostly to make lace for crazy quilts.  And, of course, because I'm always looking for new fiber-related arts/crafts to get my fingers learning something new.   I purchased a beginner's kit, made a couple of bookmarks--a standard beginner's project, it seems--and then put it away.  It was fun, the clicking of the wooden bobbins was surprisingly meditative, and I love good bobbin lace.  (Perhaps one of the reasons I put it away is that I have trouble being a beginner, beyond learning the basics.  I want to learn something, and be an expert as soon as I learn the basics.  I like learning something new, but I'm not so happy with those 10,000 hours of practice that expertise requires.  It's a lifelong recipe for frustration!)

My interest was renewed on a recent trip, a river cruise through the Netherlands and Belgium.   The experience was the paramount purpose of the trip, but for "souvenirs" all I wanted to find and buy on the trip were a small piece of real Delft blue ware and a small piece of antique Belgian lace.  (Well, there was the chocolate, of course; never fear that I took care of that!  Chocolate isn't a souvenir, it's life.)

Our first stop in Belgium was in Antwerp, and I fell in love with the city immediately.  On the square I found a shop with modern handmade lace, and I picked up a few pieces.  You have to be careful that you're buying handmade, rather than machine-made, lace.  Modern handmade pieces are affordable, while still being beautiful.

Our next stop in Belgium was Brugges, a beautiful medieval city with, as one of our guides said, every other shop a chocolate shop with a lace shop in between.  (This is the only non-lace related photo, I promise; no interminable travel slide show here!)

The "egg" of Brugges--the medieval city center--sees many tourists and counts lace as one of its attractions.  They even have a map made from lace along a canal.

I saw similar pieces of modern lace in most of the shops, so they are likely buying from the same workshop--but they're still  lovely and I bought a few more pieces.  (The workshop is in Belgium, and Belgium does have a minimum wage so, while they may not be making what they're worth, the lace makers are not in a 5-cent- a- week sweatshop situation.)

But I was looking for a piece of antique lace.  A very small piece.  Because antique lace is pricey.  (If only those poor women could have gotten today's prices, or even anything CLOSE to that amount, as they worked themselves into blindness for very little pay.)

Eventually I found a lace shop with small pieces of antique lace, and I fell in love.  A very small piece was as much as I could afford and there were several framed pieces that made the decision difficult but my eye had been immediately drawn to a small, exquisite piece of needlepoint lace. (It looks as if it was cut from a larger/longer piece--I can only hope that the larger pieces was not sacrificed solely for the purpose of selling smaller pieces.)   It came home with me, and I'm still deciding where it's going to live in my house.  Perhaps it will move around.

On our way back to the bus to the ship we walked along a cobblestone street with houses where lace makers would come from the rural areas to sell their lace--you can see carvings of lace makers' heads above the doors.

Now I am itching to do some bobbin lace making again, so I went in search of my pillow and bobbins.  It was a 2-day effort.  I don't have a large house but my craft closets can be a bit daunting.  Yesterday I gathered my courage and dug into the downstairs closet, with success!  I'm back to the beginning with learning and it will be a LONG time before I do any finer lace (assuming I'm willing to practice) but the bobbins and the process are fun and relaxing.

I bought four antique Belgian bobbins in Brugges because I love the shape and it seemed appropriate for a purchase in Belgium.  As a practical matter, though, they roll a lot and I have ordered some East Midlands-style bobbins, which are more pencil-like in shape.  I will "spangle" them with rings of beads at one end, both to add a bit of weight and to keep them from rolling.   They're also very pretty and more enjoyable to use.    You can also buy them painted and pre-spangled, made from wood, bone, ebony or glass.  There are memorial bobbins--bobbin commemorating Prince George's birth or Prince Philip's 90th birthday, anyone?   They are beautiful but expensive; good for gift lists, or gradual collecting, I suppose.   A search on Pinterest yields many examples of lace makers (much, much better than I will likely every be in my lifetime) using many bobbins for a project, and some have a collection of these special little bobbins.

I'll write more about my lace making adventures, though it may be a little while before I have anything worth writing about.  I'm still aiming for that crazy quilting lace!  (I am including an Irish crochet rose motif in a class sample crazy quilt; that's something, right??)

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