Making Sure an Ancient Craft is Never in Tatters

The Piedmont Lace Guild of Virginia

“We have heard that lace making is a dying art…Well, we are here to bring it back from the brink of extinction.”
— Paul Barry

Years ago, I read an article about the return of the popularity of the “Needle Arts” after September 11, 2001. I cannot find it or credit it, but the main points stuck with me. The terrorist attacks shook women to the core. It awakened needs in them that had been buried in womankind for decades, maybe even close to centuries. The need to connect with other women, of past, present, and future as well as the need to produce something tangible and handmade, even to the point of feeling that you are leaving something of yourself on this earth, something to be treasured by future generations. 

In southern Fauquier County, there is a group of twelve passionate women who feel this way, and are seeking to preserve their craft: the fine art of historical lacemaking. The Piedmont Lace Guild of Virginia members use vintage and modern techniques to create both old-world-style laces as well as contemporary modern designs. The mission of the guild is to promote and preserve the knowledge and appreciation of the fine art of lacemaking in all its forms and expressions, ancient and modern.

The guild’s members have a vast amount of experience. Many are proficient enough to be accredited by England’s Lace Guild and the International Organization of Lace, Inc. In this very active group, some are teachers at national tatting workshops, and some create their own original patterns. Members attend national lace making workshops each year, and two members have become area business owners and have the lace as part of their business.

The group is a close one, and is treasured by its members. People who stick with a passion for a very long time like this and establish a high level of proficiency are rare. But there’s no snobbery in this group. “Nobody’s bossy here, we are all team players. We empower each other and look to each other for advice and suggestions,” said Birgitte Tessier, vice president of the guild. With members with decades of experience in lacemaking, the group is very positive and informative, a great environment to learn the art.  

I met Anita Barry, treasurer of the Piedmont Lace Guild, briefly for coffee when I picked up the examples of lace she had brought to be photographed, and while we sat and talked, she tatted, which is making lace by knotting thread with a shuttle. I watched her tat, knotting and shuttling back and forth, the thread working through her fingers steadily and evenly. She showed me the basic knots she was using, and the importance of keeping the correct tension on certain areas of the thread. As I watched her, I was drawn, almost hypnotically, into the smooth and repetitive process, which seemed almost meditative. 

“We all have a creative spirit within us. Most of us make lace for the pleasure of giving, to commemorate an event. Perhaps a cross bookmark as a memorial or to celebrate the birth of a baby.” said Anita. “There’s something about being able to make something as a gift for another person. A sense of warmness, a sense of accomplishment for creating something from nothing. Lace is very dainty, but it’s strong, it lasts, it becomes a keepsake, an heirloom. Today, as well as in the past, handmade lace is a luxury. Considering the hundreds of hours put into a piece and the skill necessary for such intricate work, it is impossible to put a price on handmade lace items. It is truly a labor of love.   

History of Lace

Both Italy and Flanders (northern Belgium) claim to have invented lace in the 15th century, and it quickly spread to other parts of Europe. Because of the immense amount of time and expertise involved in making fine needle and bobbin lace, it was extremely valuable and only worn by royalty and the very wealthy. Some examples of the craft were almost priceless and subject to smuggling and economic sanctions during warfare. Fine pieces were handed down through generations of families, often being described in detail in wills to establish authenticity. The craft maintained its exclusivity until the first machine-made lace was made in England in the mid-nineteenth century when the Leavers machine produced complete lace with net, patter, and outline. This development left the hand-made lace to the domain of those dedicated to keeping the craft alive for artistic and historical reasons.

Bobbin lace is also known as pillow lace since it is worked on a pillow for support during the process. An extremely intricate craft, bobbin lace is created by many threads wound on bobbins connected in pairs, worked over a pattern with tiny holes, or “prickings,” as a guide. Lace purists maintain that only fine bobbin- and needle-laces are the only true laces. Tatting is the simplest form of lace, which is created with a shuttle and thread or a needle and thread. The thread is wound around a shuttle and guided into patterns of rings and chains by knotting the thread. 

PLGV meets the first Saturday of the month (except July and August) at the Remington United Methodist Church,   150 West Bowen Street in Remington, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. A weekday lacing session called the “Lace Cottage” is also held on the third Thursday of the month at a member’s house. New members are welcomed warmly at any time.
Lessons are held periodically by PLGV
Members’ laces will be on display at the Museum of Culpeper History through December 2019.
Facebook: Piedmont Lace Guild of Virginia

Pam Kamphuis
About Pam Kamphuis 90 Articles
Pam Kamphuis is an editor and writer for Piedmont Virginian Magazine and Piedmont Lifestyle Magazines.

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