Old Lacemakers intent on keeping their art, if not name, alive

Example of old lace for commercial use. Image by Carolus. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Example of old lace for commercial use. Image by Carolus. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – If lacemaking ever duplicates knitting’s hip resurgence, it won’t be through street art installations like yarn bombing.

Making lace by hand is so labor-intensive—you’re doing well if you can crank out a square inch per hour for some types—that no one in their right mind would think of leaving a lace antimacassar on a park bench.

But the lacemaking faithful have gathered this week in St. Paul to do their best to try to keep their ancient and intricate art alive. About 300 lacemakers and top lacemaking instructors from the United States and Europe are here for the annual convention of the International Old Lacemakers.

“We’re going to be voting this year to change the name,” said Pam Tucker, president of the Minnesota Lace Society, which is hosting the event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown St. Paul. “The word ‘old’ is in it and people say, ‘Oh, do you have to be old to be a member of this group?’”

The convention goers also are taking classes, competing in a lacemaking contest, shopping for thread and lacemaking gear, listening to speeches and, they hope, raising the profile of the beauty and craft of handmade lace among the public, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported (http://bit.ly/MpJHTS).

It may be a bit of a struggle.

Once upon a time, wearing clothing adorned with handmade lace was such a symbol of wealth and luxury in Europe that laws were passed in some countries limiting the amount of lace commoners could wear to keep status divisions clear.

“People went to debtors prison for their lace,” lace instructor Susie Johnson said. “If your stagecoach was robbed, they took your jewels and lace.”

Lace fans blame a couple of revolutions for lace’s long fall from grace. The French Revolution, when ostentatious displays of aristocratic status could mean a trip to the guillotine, made lace wearing less popular in that fashion-influencing country. And the Industrial Revolution meant a decline in the cottage industry of handmade lace as workers found jobs in factories and inexpensive machine-made lace became available.

But the handmade stuff never totally died out. It was preserved in convents in Europe, according to Lynn Fumuso, a lacemaker from St. Paul.

“They had the time, they had the patience, and they had vows of poverty,” she said.

Starting in 1872, lacemaking also was taught to American Indians in Minnesota by Episcopalian church ladies hoping to create a marketable craft for the Native population.

But today, few women carry handkerchiefs, shawls or fans, much less ones made with lace. And when is the last time you saw a lace doily or a dresser scarf on a piece of furniture? Even makers of machine-made lace have called their business a dying trade.

And when the Minnesota Lace Society, which has about 40 members, demonstrates lacemaking at the Minnesota State Fair, a lot of people have no idea what they are doing.

“There’s not really a lacemaking tradition in the U.S. At least, not a huge one,” said Trudy Scholten, a hobby lace maker from Colorado.

Now handmade lace is viewed not so much as clothing but as art.

There are several basic techniques of lacemaking, including tatting, bobbin lace, needle lace, knitted lace and crochet lace, with dozens of styles of lace with names like Courseulles Polychrome Blonde or Irish Carrickmacross, associated with the countries or the region where it was originally developed. And new styles and techniques continue to be developed by contemporary artists.

Scholten was taking a class at the convention on a bobbin lace style developed in the past 20 years by a Dutch nun. The 42-year-old chemical engineer estimated it would take her four or five hours to complete a lace design of a bird about the size of a half-dollar coin.

“I find it fascinating that I can take something so simple as thread and make something so beautiful out of it,” Scholten said.

“It’s very tactile. It’s very relaxing to make these movements. It’s very meditative. It’s very beautiful,” St. Paul resident Lynn Fumuso said of lacemaking’s lure.

Although the demand isn’t what it once was, handmade lace is still frightfully expensive. Fridley resident Arlene Linton said that 12 years ago, she spent about $300 for a single handkerchief in Pisa, Italy.

And behind a set of locked doors at a hotel meeting room, the lace convention has set up a display of thousands of dollars of antique lace ranging from 17th-century collars, cuffs and garment borders to a doily commemorating the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

“This would be a beautiful piece that a bride would carry,” said Rhonda Grober, a lacemaker from Minneapolis, pointing out a handkerchief that took about 100 hours to make. “Would you blow your nose on it? I’d say no.”

Tucker said the convention attendees are mainly women in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

“I think the numbers are slowly declining,” she said. “People are so busy with everything.”

But lacemakers think their favorite textile technique is starting to be more popular in high-end fashion lines. And they think the abundance of lace in the dress used by Kate Middleton during her wedding to Prince William last year also has sparked interest in the art.

“The problem is to get the information out there, and to get people to try it,” said Rosemary Horr, a 70-year-old lacemaker from Arizona.

“I just fell in love with it,” said Dagmar Beckel-Machyckova, a 32-year-old Wisconsin resident who teaches a rustic lacemaking style she first learned as a kid in the Czech Republic. “We don’t want to think of it as a dying art. That is so sad.”


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-08-07-12 1545GMT


Example of old lace for commercial use. Image by Carolus. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Example of old lace for commercial use. Image by Carolus. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.