Cathy Stanton Bobbin Lace

Cathy Stanton making “bobbin lace”

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Do you want to learn a lost art? Or maybe you just want to see how it is done. Do you want to see something absolutely beautiful? If you do, you need to see this!

Cathy Stanton of Rexburg, sister to Christine Lake of Montpelier, will be demonstrating how to make old-fashioned “bobbin lace” at the Oregon Trail Center on July 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Come and see something that is done by very few people in the world today.

There are a lot of lacy hand-made things out there, such as knitted and crocheted items. There are also two types of fine lace, such as needle lace, which is embroidered, or pre-made, and done on a knitted background.

But bobbin lace is actually lace that is made by hand. That is what Cathy does, and she has been doing it for a little over 20 years.

Cathy first saw bobbin lace being made at a women’s conference she attended one afternoon with a friend at Rick’s College. The friend gave up and went home; however, Cathy stayed to watch, and she really liked it. Later, her mom got her a starter kit of bobbin lace-making for Christmas with a book called Bobbin Lace Without a Teacher. She has been making it ever since.

Her sister, Christine, contacted her recently about “doing some ‘old timey’ stuff on July 3 for the exhibit at the Oregon Trail Center.” So, she will be there creating bobbin lace for anyone who wants to come watch or even try it out for themselves.

No one really knows when, where, or how lace-making got started, but by the late middle ages there were towns sprinkled throughout Europe famous for their laces. Generally, a lace town concentrated on a few patterns or even a single pattern and guarded it as a state secret. Young girls would begin training at around age five to be lace makers and stayed in the profession working long days on those few patterns for as long as their eyesight lasted.

Each town had its own patterns, and they had strict laws that unless you were nobility you could not wear the lace or be buried in it.

The time required to make the bobbin lace was staggering, and for the price of a nice piece of bobbin lace you could purchase a house. A handkerchief with the simplest, most basic lace edging possible, working constantly, would take about two days to complete. For an antique tablecloth edging, it would take about the same amount of time to create an inch or so of the lace. Even given minimum wage for the lacer, this tablecloth would be worth many thousands of dollars. Imagine early bobbin lace-making and the time that may have been required to make it.

Multiple events coincided to defeat the lace industry. In 1841, someone discovered how to make basic lace designs by machine. The fashion of the 1840s featured lace in profusion. Then, the value and novelty of cheap lace dropped and more utilitarian styles began to grow in popularity. Eventually, lace-making became a strictly leisure activity rather than a profession. Without the years of dedicated training, the complicated patterns were lost.

Also, a major factor in pushing out handmade lace was the failure of flax crops. Lace-makers had to turn to cotton which does not have the tensile strength of linen. Larger, bulkier, less flexible threads had to be used that didn’t produce the detail of many older designs.

Now, on occasion, you may find a piece or a bit of antique bobbin lace in an antique store or at an auction. No one currently makes or sells bobbin lace (with the exception of people like Cathy).

There are different styles of bobbins to make lace, some preferred by region, some by style of lace. Those are Belgian, Dutch, Honiton, Danish, Bolster, and English Midlands.

There are also different styles of lace made such as “Needle lace.” “Gimp” is a heavier thread used singly rather than in pairs and is used extensively to outline areas of interest in “Bucks Point” lace. “Tallies” are small woven squares within the larger woven piece which morph into the petals and leaves found extensively in “Bedfordshire” lace. Then there is “English Style” which is what Cathy does. These are all considered “Torchon” styles. Any other styles are basically not done any more due to the complexity of them. There is, however, a place in Belgium where there is still a lace-making town.

There are also different bobbins used to make the lace for different regions. Also used are different pillows to place the lace on while making it. First is a “cookie” or “mushroom” pillow to make flat lace on. Second is a “bolster” pillow for making yardage lace. And, third is a “french” pillow, which is a little bolster inside a cookie pillow.

It all sounds so complicated, and it is! It’s a complicated, slow process, but it turns out the most beautiful lace you have ever seen. But it is definitely a lost art because lace is not made like this any more and is most definitely not this fine.

Cathy loves to make bobbin lace. It is a passion of hers. She is excited to make and demonstrate this lost art to anyone who comes to the Oregon Trail Center on July 3 and says she will stay as long as there are people interested in watching and learning.

Come to the OTC on July 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and see this amazing bobbin lace-making. You will be amazed at how it is made.

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