Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

travel, interiors, photography, home, crafts, personal style

17 Jan 2014

Lace Making, its bobbin' along nicely in Bucks.

For my column in Vale Life magazine I decided to do something I've been meaning to do for many years. When we were house hunting to move out of London we stumbled upon this area of Buckinghamshire by accident and on our many outings we would pop into craft fairs, church events, fetes and all other sorts of countryside activities. One of the first people I met was a lady called Rosemary Masters, she won't remember it I know, but she was showing her handmade lace at a church fair and told me then about how she teaches it at the local Art Centre.  This was one of the catalysts in us moving here, the thought that it would be possible to learn new art and skills outside of the big smoke, with ladies passing on their knowledge and keeping traditional arts alive and kicking.

So finally, after six years, and thank goodness too, I saw that Rosemary is still teaching at the local arts centre and so I popped along to pay homage to this champion of lace making in my monthly column.

If you look at these photos I think it may look too daunting as these ladies have been doing it for a while, however, you are never to young or old to learn, what a great craft to have under your belt and one where you can create a family heirloom.

So basically heres a very simplified version of how its done.

You have a pillow, a rigid flat based padded cushion onto which you work and pin.

To this pillow you pin your design/pattern.  The bobbins have thread wound around the tops which you tease out as you go along.
The lace is formed by crossing these bobbins over each other, creating a twist in the thread and at certain intervals you pin into the work to hold it in place.

The piece that I had a go at (above) was worked like so:
Working with four bobbins at a time only, the bobbins are numbered from left to right 1, 2, 3, 4.  When you cross them over each other they remain numbered in that order.
For my pattern I crossed them thus: 

2 over 3, 4 over 3, 2 over 1, 2 over 3.  When this was done, I took the two bobbins to the left and placed them out of the way. Then you take two bobbins from the right hand side to make up to the four you need to start again. And so you work your way across.

When you reach the end on the right you twist twice and pin, then work back in the same manner. 

Lace making is a traditional craft in Buckinghamshire dating back to when religious refugees from the Low Countries and France fled to North Bucks bringing this skill with them. Winslow and Olney have particularly strong associations from 1588 but it was at its height from the mid 1700s to the mid 1800s.  Lace schools were set up to teach children this lucrative trade, however these were not great places and the children were not the ones to benefit financially.  

I thought some of the bobbins were so lovely I could see myself wearing them as jewellery.  The ladies in the class told me that these are still made and usually to commemorate events and dated.
I imagine they becoming quite an obsession to collect and am stopping the urge to look on ebay for exotic ones made from bone, inlaid with patterns and colours and  with antique glass beads on the end. 

Theres a big summer long lace exhibition coming to Waddesdon Manor from the 26th March, featuring antique and new work.  I really hope to get along and blog about it as its looks to have some new styles of work featured.  If you click here this will give you info. If you haven't been before the house is AMAZING its like a fairytale castle set in acres of beautiful gardens. 

Rosemary Masters teaches at the Queens Park Arts Centre so if you can get along to Aylesbury on evenings or weekdays, then you too could have a go. 

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