Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bobbin Lace and Bobbin Making

I guess everyone has some sort of 'bucket list' these days.  Mine is not written down, but there are a few things I have always wished I could do.  One of my items is to learn about my great-grandmother, Euphemia Jane Carter Freeman, and her occupation as a lace maker.  She was born in the little village of Blisworth, England, where her father was a legger on the canal. In her personal history written by her daughter it said:

Mother's school life was short.  In those days school masters or teachers were allowed to reprimand the children severely.  The children sat on backless benches in a row.  One day the teacher was called from the room, and the children played and ran about.  On his return he heard the noise and took his anger out on the first one on the bench.  Mother was innocent but she received the thrashing.  She begged and pleaded with her mother not to send her back to school, so she did not return.  Instead she went to  a 'lace school' to learn to make lace.  The lace made at the school was purchased, usually by the people who had money -- the nobility chiefly.  This was a private school and the owner was the teacher. At this lace school the children would stay while the teacher would have her afternoon nap.  Again, Mother attended to her work and finished the required yardage and went home while the others who played and pouted had to remain longer to finish their work."

"One pattern, remembered by Mother after many years was brought home by Irene (a granddaughter) on her return home from her mission in England.  Mother exclaimed, 'I used to do that pattern as a young girl!'  It was called The Running River."

She started lace school at the age of eight and by the age of twelve she was working as a servant, so her years of schooling were very short.  I don't know if she continued her lace making after age twelve or not, but I suspect she did as it was very common in the village of Olney, where she lived with her husband, for the women to supplement the family income with lace making.

Maybe ten years ago I happened upon a bobbin lace making kit which I purchased, only to be completely baffled by the instructions.  It ended up in my basement storeroom.

Recently I had an opportunity to learn a little about how bobbin lace works from a real person instead of a sheet of confusing instructions, so I brought out the old kit from the basement to see what I could do.  I am very much a beginner so it is slow going with lots of mistakes for now, but I can begin to see the possibilities.

One thing I found out is that the bobbins which came with my kit are huge!  This is where the woodworker came in and said the proper size bobbins looked easy enough to make.  He got excited about making them out of various kinds of exotic woods. 

That is a piece of Bocote wood.  It looks much too big and square to be a delicate lace bobbin.

It is getting much thinning and closer to the proper size now.

I think it will be no time at all until I have a lovely variety of proper bobbins to use.  Next I need to make a lace pillow.

The two bobbins on the left came from Olney, the town where my great-grandmother lived until she emigrated to America.  They are decorated with beads as was the custom there to give extra weight to the bobbins.  The five on the right were all made by the woodworker.  I think he loves an excuse to fire up his lathe.  He is already looking through his wood stash for more fancy woods to make bobbins from.  Pretty soon my bobbin collection will have as many wood varieties as my rolling pin collection.

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