Lacers of the Lake teach and promote lacemaking

Lacers of the Lake teach and promote lacemaking

HOWLAND — Kathy Kovell’s hands danced over the 14 wooden pegs, first crossing one over another, then crossing and twisting another two. Different colors of thread were wound around the top of each peg — called bobbins. The other ends of the threads were weaved around dozens of straight pins stuck into a pattern on a pillow.

Cross, twist, cross, twist — Kovell’s fingers flew through the steps that were creating the lace outline of a golden leaf.

The technique is called both bobbin lace and pillow lace. It is one of a variety of methods members of her group — Lacers of the Lake — use and teach in their efforts to keep alive the traditional art form of lacemaking.

Lace is an “ornamental openwork fabric created by looping, twisting, braiding or knotting threads by hand or machine,” according to the Smithsonian Institution.

According to the Lace Guild, based in Stourbridge, England, “Lace is broadly defined as ‘any fabric which is composed of a design created by solid areas amongst a series of holes or spaces using any technique but usually involving one thread and a needle.'”

Lace creations can range from flourishes on clothing to wall hangings to scarves and cup cozies to three-dimensional thread “paintings.”

Kovell, of Cortland, said she first saw lacemaking demonstrated about 15 years ago at a craft show.

“I was fascinated by the movement of the hands,” she said. “The movement, the pretty colors, the pretty thread. My mother, as a young girl, got me started on embroidery. I grew up loving anything that involved needle and thread.”

She found a lacemaking shop in Cortland and learned the craft. By the time the shop closed its doors, she had gotten to know other people in the area who loved lacemaking.

In May 2013, a core group of them organized Lacers of the Lake, a charter chapter of the International Organization of Lace Inc., a nonprofit group dedicated to the study and preservation of all types of laces. Stated group goals are to teach and promote lacemaking and lace identification.

“LOL selected that name because we meet in locations close to Mosquito Lake and because it gave us the LOL acronym,” Lacer member Jean Reardon of Mercer, Pa., said. “Our motto is ‘Where lace and laughter meet.'”

Members gather the third Saturday of each month from April through November.

“It’s a good idea just to sit down and have a devoted time. That’s how you get projects done,” Kovell said.

Meeting places alternate between the Cortland and Howland branches of the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library. Locations and times are posted on the Lacers of the Lake Facebook page.

The group also puts on lace exhibits, group demonstrations and lacemaking workshops, all for free.

“Members are not experts but gladly share their knowledge and love of lace with all who are interested,” Reardon said. “Techniques LOL members enjoy sharing are bobbin lace, crochet, knitting, tatting and teneriffe.

“Lace has moved out of the ‘doily zone’ even as it relies on hundreds of years of history,” she said.

While Kovell worked her bobbins, artist Jacki Mountan of Youngstown, who also is the Trumbull Art Gallery Summerfest coordinator, sat with a roll of yarn thread and a crochet needle fashioning Irish lace flowers.

“It has a three-dimensional motif,” Mountan said. “That’s what makes it Irish lace.

“Lacemaking was a cottage industry,” Mountan said. “It provided income at a time when income was lost. During the potato famine in Ireland, one woman organized other women in the farming community to make lace. It became a cash industry.

“Techniques were guarded,” Mountan said. “You couldn’t take your skill elsewhere. Each region had its own style.”

Several centuries ago, lace was considered high fashion reserved only for aristocrats and royals.

“There used to be an edict that only aristocrats and monarchs could wear lace,” Mountan said.

“You could be subject to death,” Reardon said. “We’re talking 15, 16, 1700s England and Italy.”

It was labor-intensive, so too expensive for common people.

In the 1800s, the industrial revolution introduced machines that could make lace quickly and cheaply. With cheaper lace and changing fashions, the art of handmade lace for clothing or decoration faded for a long time.

“I learned it in the ’60s and ’70s. Crafting was big,” Mountan said. “I didn’t know anything about it but I read about it. I’ve been knitting and crocheting since I was quite young — 9, 10.”

Reardon said she started working with lace in 2012.

“I saw someone make it in 2008 at a craft show. It was the only exposure I had to it. When I saw it up close in 2012, I took to it. It puzzled me,” she said.

Bobbin lace takes a lot of equipment, Reardon said. Some of the other techniques take very little.

Knitted lace uses the same basic techniques “as making big, bulky sweaters, but with finer yarn and more spaces.” Oya lace or Turkish lace is an Eastern Mediterranean style that uses needle, thread and scissors.

Teneriffe is needle and thread with a series of knots. Needle tatting is also known as rings and chains. It’s looping or knotting a thread over a core thread. Romanian lace takes a needle, thread and a crochet hook, Reardon said.

There are many other styles and ways to hand-make lace, she said.

If machines can make lace so quickly and easily, why bother with the old-fashioned methods?

“Why does anybody do any hobby?” Reardon said. “For fun.”

“To maintain a valued tradition and keep the skill alive,” Mountan said. “Beauty is something inherent in human nature, the search for beauty.”

“It’s mental stimulation,” Reardon said. “Some people run for physical activity. If you want mental stimulation, it’s great for that.”

“The attention to focus, the eye-hand coordination,” Mountan said. “It puts a new wrinkle in your brain.”

Kovell said research shows that people who deal with numbers on the job need to wind down with something.

“I worked in a hospital lab for 36 years. There’s lots of stress and numbers,” Kovell said. “(Lacemaking) was something different. It used a different part of my brain.”

She also noted that husbands and wives need activities they do together and activities they do separately. “He fishes, I do this, and we ballroom dance together,” Kovell said.

Lacers of the Lake members say they are eager to the grow their numbers and share their passion with men and women of all ages. Kovell has given several bobbin lace lessons to local Girl Scout troops.

They’re willing to teach all the techniques they know at any Lacers meeting.

“We do it for free,” Kovell said. “Just show up.”

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