Lovely lace is created by hand Hobby: The intricate art of bobbin lace-making, once nearly extinct in this country, is enjoying a revival.

September 14, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Women armed with huge, padded cushions, thread and pins, gather twice a week in the cozy basement of Nancy Wass' home in Ferndale. It is a time for them to sip tea and share stories as they busy their fingers making intricate lace.

Wass, 50, has been teaching bobbin lace-making for about seven years, and is one of two people in the Baltimore area who hold such classes -- the other is in Odenton. It is a European technique that involves using dozens of bobbins -- round devices about four inches in length around which threads are wound -- to weave lace by hand.

"I like the look of lace," Wass said. "It's just a beautiful thing when you finish it."

Wass learned the craft when she and her husband, a National Security Agency employee, lived in Yorkshire, England, in the 1980s. She became curious about the skill when a lace-making teacher began making weekly trips to hold classes for women on the U.S. military base there.

"I looked at a lady who had a finished lace collar and I was thinking, 'Oh, man, I'd like to have that,' " Wass said. "I was like, 'OK, I can do this.' "

Wass began taking lessons in 1985, and when she returned to Ferndale in 1990 and couldn't find anyone who shared her hobby, she began teaching it in her basement. Now, two classes of four women stop by each week to make doilies, fans, handkerchief edges and Christmas ornaments. Wass charges $5 lesson.

It's a tedious hobby that requires concentration, good eyes and plenty of patience and money. A project could require more than 100 bobbins -- each costing between $5 and $30. All bobbin lace materials must be ordered from England.

It takes at least six hours of bending over a cushion and rhythmically weaving the lace with the tiny bobbins to make a small bookmark, Wass said. Doilies and other more adventurous endeavors take months.

"An hour a day is about all your eyes can take," Wass explained.

Even so, many people around the world seem to be picking up the craft, said Judy Nesbit, president of the Denver-based International Old Lacers, a bobbin lace club that has about 1,600 members from more than 20 countries.

Nesbit, of West Orange, N.J., said her organization's membership gradually has been increasing and is beginning to draw a few men.

"There's something about our society now, with the pressures and the stresses, that makes people want to go back to a simpler time," she said. "[Bobbin lace] is appealing because it takes us back to our roots. It's very satisfying to work with your hands and actually produce something."

Many people make lace to keep the craft alive and pass it on to their children, said Hazel Lowery, a founder of the Chesapeake Region Lace Guild, which has 190 members in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

The craft was popular in the U.S. in the 1700s, when a small colony of European lace-makers set up shop in Massachusetts, said Lowery, 78, of Falls Church, Va. These craftsmen produced about 45,000 yards of lace a year at one time, she said.

But near the end of the 19th century, the industry gradually died off in the U.S. and so did the craft -- until its revival as a hobby in the 1980s, Lowery said.

"A lot of us came from European backgrounds where lace was an industry," Lowery said. "Now, it's no longer an industry, but it has contributed to our sense of fashion and beauty in the past, and it would be a shame to lose."

Information: 410-553-9365.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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