Making handmade lace art

(How much time does it take?)

Handmade lace art form is not very common in Canada. Whenever I exhibit or demonstrate lacemaking for public, many visitors comment that they have never seen anything like it before. And then comes a standard question:  “How much time did it take to make this piece?”
I never know what to say, because I do not keep track of hours when I create. To answer, I usually estimate the number of hours, days, weeks or months that I spent on the project, with a postscript “…and thirty years of experience…”

Lacemaking is an old craft, that preceded invention of an electric power transmission by some 400 years, so there is a lot of manual labour involved in each step of the process. I thought it might be a good idea to explain here what is involved in making lace art, so I can refer any future inquirers to this post.
For this purpose, I chose to document a simpler project, a wall art piece “Offering: Moon Reflection”, as not to overwhelm the readers. Each step of the process is described below, followed by and approximate time count.

Step 1/ Finding a frame
Starting with a frame is simpler for me than creating the lace and then trying to find the right frame for it. I search for empty frames that invoke lace picture, or imagine the lace and then look for the right frame. When I saw this frame, I liked it, but did not buy. As I kept thinking about it, an image of a reflecting moon became clearer and clearer. Eventually, I went back for the frame. It would sit in my studio for a half a year until I had time to make the “Offering”.
(3 hours)

Step 2/ Making a sketch
Drawing the image on paper is quick. Shown here is the small sketch with notes and some calculations of the future lace pattern.
(30 minutes)

Step 3/ Choosing a pattern
Having a basic idea about shape and texture of the lace, I look for a pattern which fulfills the visual as well as structural demands of the piece. In this case, I needed rather simple two-dimensional lace in one colour. I envisioned only one pattern, but with a special requirement that it can be graded without losing continuity. To create an image of a water surface, I chose not to use a traditional lace pattern, but rather look for new, unique design with somewhat wavy effect. Perusing Veronika Irvine’s TesseLace, algorithmically designed lace tessellations, available as an Inkscape Bobbin Lace Application (courtesy of Veronika Irvine, tesselace.com), I selected a pattern number 4x4_217 and drafted a set of ten scaled grids. Using a computer program to create these grids is an enormous help to a lace designer, as it requires only a fragment of time that would be otherwise needed if the patterns were all drafted by hand.
(3 hrs)

4/ Making lace samples
To make sure that the pattern will work, it is the best to make a sample. I used bobbins that were already wound (leftovers from a previous project) and made several swatches. The TesseLace grid is just an outline, showing the paths of the threads in lace. There is an unlimited number of stitch combinations that can be applied to that grid. I tried several options, from which the final design was chosen. This part of work is quite experimental, because even a slight adjustment of stitches can dramatically change the look of lace. Here the designer must rely on experience and also practice restraint, in order to avoid lengthy excursions into the amazing lace wonderland. There many ways to interpret one grid, and I had to decide for just one of them.
(6 hrs)

5/ Making pattern corrections
Comparing the samples revealed that the pattern in small size was right, but the enlarged size was too open, so I went back to the drafting program and used different parameters for scaling the grid. It took some fiddling to finalize grids for all ten segments of lace. My printer was not working smoothly that day, so this step took longer than it should.
(3 hours)

6/ Preparing working templates (prickings)
In this standard procedure, the printed pattern is attached to a card stock, and covered with a clear plastic sheet. This working template, called a pricking, is then perforated with a pin vise at all cross points of the design. At each hole, a pin will be inserted to support wires during the lacemaking process. Therefore the final look of the finished lace largely depends on the template precision. Knowing that this pricking will be used only once (because this piece will be a one-of-a-kind original, made only once) I used a backing of a lighter card stock, which is easier and therefore faster to perforate.
(3 hours)

7/ Winding the bobbins
Using just one size and type of wire in this project (stainless steel 0.2mm), the process of winding was straightforward. Because the lace was designed in ten strips, which will be connected together to cover the final width, only 18 pairs (36 pieces) of medium bobbins for wire lace were needed. I used my old mechanical bobbin winder to fill all bobbins with 2-ply of steel wire.
(2 hours)

8/ Making lace
The slowest, most laborious, and  most time consuming, and also the most enjoyable part or the work is making the lace. Stitches are created one at the time, by twisting and crossing the threads in an exact sequence.  At certain points, pins are placed in the pre-pricked holes. The pins hold the stitches and facilitate tensioning of the wires. Steel wire is willful and a requires a firm tension to create an even weave. This makes working with steel slower than with other wires.

Work started at the first, narrowest pattern, and each consecutive segment was attached to the previous part by a special sewing technique.With this technique no additional assembly is required at the end.
(30 hrs – 3 hrs per segment x 10)

9/ Finishing lace
According to the design, all wire ends will be hidden under the frame, and therefore no special finishing was required. All ends were simply clipped off with wire cutters. Lace was checked for mistakes. Small errors were corrected, using a nudge tool and pliers. There was one big mistake caused by a wrong alignment of the prickings.. As soon as I spotted it it was sticking out from the pattern as a big irregularity. After much deliberation, I decided to leave the error in, as opposed to redoing the whole segment. The decision was rather atypical and defied my perfectionist tendencies, but as this lace represents ocean waves, which are fluid, free, and irregular, it seemed right to just leave it and let it be. Interestingly, as soon as I made this decision, the mistake was no longer so obvious.
(30 minutes)

10/ Preparing background
I chose a black silk fabric for the background, because it was as smooth and soft as a night sky. It always takes an extra bit of skill and time to stretch silk properly, but I feel it is worth the effort. Two milky marble cabochons, representing the moon and his reflection, were attached to the background.
(2 hours)

11/ Mounting lace
This lace pattern had (as many bobbin lace patterns do) more twists than crosses, which, combined with willfulness of the stainless steel wire, caused the lace to curl. Therefore the finished lace had to be flattened before mounting. Then it was attached to  a support frame.  This extra inside frame will lift the lace slightly above the background surface, and give it a deeper perspective. It will also create a sufficient clearance for the lower cabochon.
(30 minutes)

12/ Beading

Lace stretched on the support frame was ready for beading. I used seven kinds of beads to create an image of shimmering moonlight reflection in the water. For ease of working, I had the lace frame attached to a stretching board, but because of that I lost track of the background. When I checked, it did not look right. There were too many beads. I removed many rows and started all over. The second beading attempt was more successful and only a few small final touches were needed before it was finished.
(8 hours)

12/ Mat was measured and cut (30 minutes)

13/ Framing
The whole piece was put together in a frame, hanging wire attached, back finished and signed.
(30 minutes)

14/ Photo documentation
The finished piece was photographed for documentation.
(30 minutes)

15/ Archiving
All drafts, prickings and working notes were compiled and archived for a future reference.
(1 hr)

Finished piece:

Title: Offering – Moon Reflection

Material:
steel wire, milky marble cabochons, glass seed beads, silk background
Techniques: handmade bobbin lace, beading
Size: 75 x 27 cm

Approximate total time: 64 hours (… and 30+ years of experience )


 


Copyright©2017 Lenka Suchanek. All rights reserved.

10 Comments on “Making handmade lace art

  1. Thank you Lenka for this. It helps everyone appreciate the time which is spent is each step of creating one-of-a-kind lace.

    Like

    • And perhaps also to recognize what a gift of knowledge, skill and refinement we have inherited from our ancestors – through generations of designers, artists, lacemakers – an invaluable cultural wealth, worth preserving.

      Like

  2. The development of the entire creative process is perfect, thank you for sharing it with us and Veronika Irvine too. I love your work

    Like

  3. Maravilloso!
    El tema elegido, la preparación, la interpretación, y la forma de exponerlo!
    Me encantó la evaluación del tiempo para la realización, en el que incluyes tus años de experiencia!!!!
    FELICITACIONES!!!

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  4. Fantástico. Muchas gracias por compartir tu experiencia, que será de mucha inspiración y ayuda para mi…y para muchas otras personas.
    Un saludo.
    Concha

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    • I would be very happy if many people find inspiration to make lace art and keep the fine craft of lace alive for future generations 🙂

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    • You are welcome, Carolina! I am sure your experience with designing and making lace art is similar 🙂

      Like

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