The story of lace: Tradition of making it by hand still thrives in Utah

Published: Saturday, Aug. 20 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

The appeal of lace-making is manyfold, say lacers. Larsen first learned how to do it while she was in England on a Fulbright Scholarship. "I just like to do things with my hands. Plus, it's unique. Not a lot of other people do it. But I've gained a lot of friends through lace."

Brenda Wright "blames" her sister-in-law, DeLora Cameron, "for getting me into this. But sometimes in life you just need a new challenge. There's really no logical reason to do this, except to look at it after, but it's fun."

Fourteen-year-old Eliza Morey was one of the youngest students there. "I started because my mom does it," she said. "I learned it as part of my personal progress project for Young Women." She has done bookmarks and "snakes." Her biggest project, to date, is a picture frame. "It's not that hard when you know what to do," she said. "When you do know what you're doing, it's very relaxing."

Alice Dalton is working on a project that involves designing the figure 60 in lace. The International Old Lacers Inc., the national organization most of the lacers in the country belong to, will be holding its national convention in Salt Lake City in two years, and that will also be the organization's 60th anniversary. "So we're starting now. We figure we will have to make as many as 400 bookmarks, favors, whatever by convention time."

Dai Newman is one of the members of the group. "I saw a community ed class and signed up and fell in love with it," he said. "I like figuring it out from looking at the pattern. I love the finished product, having something tangible to show for it."

Cockuyt also loves figuring out patterns and design. "It's very mathematical, very structured, but it's like a puzzle you have to solve. You are just using loose thread to make a design." But there are so many variations, so many possibilities, she said.

Brigitta Gornik learned to make lace in Oklahoma before moving to Tooele in 2000. She was happy to find such a "crazy group" of lacers here, she said. Her favorite lace is one called Gravenmoer, a Dutch lace that she has designed patterns and written four books about. She's made everything from doilies and decorative pieces to dolls' dresses to Christmas ornaments. "I can easily spend six to eight hours a day making lace. That's how much I enjoy it."

Kathy Kirchner from Michigan was on hand to teach a class on knitted lace shawls. Knitted lace is just like regular knitting, she said, "except you use the yarn-over stitch to create holes and patterns. And it uses finer needles and threads."

The "Holy Grail" of knitted lace, she said, is to make a shawl of one-ply yarn that is so soft and delicate you can pull it through your wedding ring. "You've arrived if you can do that."

The popularity of lace-making in the area is drawing in other craftsmen. Bruce Bassett began making bobbins a few years ago. A lot of bobbins used to come from England, but with the economic downturn, they were becoming more expensive and harder to find. His lathe-turned bobbins are a lot of fun, he said. "Because they are so small, you can use exotic woods that you couldn't use for bigger things." His bobbins sell for $7 to $8 each and come in such woods as lilac, tulip, zebra, osage orange, yellowheart, pink ivory, canary and others.

Velancey Fisher has started to paint bobbins, turning them into works of art of a different sort. A lot of her designs feature hedgehogs, the unofficial mascot of all bobbin lacers. The story is told, she said, of a woman who was making lace into the wee hours of the night and ran out of pins, so a little hedgehog told her to use his quills so she could finish her design in time.

Whimsy, tradition, intricate design, friendship, love of beautiful things — it's all there in the story of lace.

Email: carma@desnews.com

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