Lenka’s Bobbins for Wire Lace – Thirty Years of Evolution (1991-2021)

1991 – First Attempts

From the very beginning of my lacemaking journey, I had a vision that the delicate lace weave would look amazing in metal. I don’t know where that thought came from. My love for lace grew from love for textile techniques, and I never saw bobbin lace made in wire. When I settled in Canada, a land without any lacemaking tradition and open to new ideas, I started to pursue the wire medium in earnest. It felt like discovering a completely new field. Little I knew that it will become a lifelong adventure.

The search for wires in fine gauges was successful, because at that time copper was still used in electronics. Limited colours did not bother me at all, as I was at first exploring the wire lace texture and its sculptural possibility. Finding the right tools was much more difficult. There were no special bobbins for wire lace on the market. Some suppliers were selling bobbins for work with metallic threads, which I tried, but ithey were not a good match for wire. After the first trials it became obvious that while the traditional bobbins could be used, they were far from ideal for wire work. 

Wooden Bobbin for Metallic Thread
Metal Bobbin for Metallic Thread

Compared to thread, wire is strong and willful, and doesn’t obey as readily as fibre. Despite its strength, wire can break easily when it is pulled or bent, so even a simple function of a hitch for securing and releasing the thread causes a problem. I quickly realized that for any serious wire work, I will have to accept the material limitations and cater to its needs. Designing a special bobbin was the first step.

1992 – First Prototypes

I imagined a smaller, lighter bobbin with a clever solution for securing the wire. I made the first prototypes from a polymer clay and baked in my kitchen oven. The bobbins were fragile and did not last long, but at least allowed me to test sizes and shapes and get the feel of them in my hands.

In the next step, I looked at adapting traditional bobbins that were close in size. I experimented with Danish mini-bobbins and Mini Cub Midland Bobbins. I added a small screw eye to the top to test if it solves the problem of securing the wire on the bobbin. The eye was pried open just enough to allow a single wire to pass through. The wire held securely in the loop, and did not unwind, but there was a drawback – to release more wire during work, it had to be unhooked, unwound and fixed in the screw eye again, which was time consuming. Despite this inconvenience, the bobbins were usable and quite handy for small projects requiring only small amount of threads.

Through this experimental stage, I was actually working on my first wire lace projects, and I had a lot of fun. Regardless the technical difficulties, I enjoyed working with wire and I liked the strength and pliability of the finished lace. Seeing a big potential of the new medium in bobbin lace, I was encouraged to continue improving the bobbin design.

Workbench in my old Silver Pin Studio

It became apparent that the bobbin functionality would be much enhanced if the screw eye was positioned on side of the bobbin, instead on top. Because the bobbin neck was too narrow for the screw, I used a thick wire and wrapped it around the neck to form a loop. The result was good and the side hook worked much better for releasing the wire. Unfortunately, the method of attaching the loops was awkward and labour-intensive. Maybe I should explain here, that none of my designing efforts would come to fruition without steadfast support of my husband, who not only provided feedback to my ideas, but would often helped with their execution. I appreciated that I could always rely on his resourcefulness, so when he started to get tired of wrapping the loops on many bobbins, I knew that I must find a better way. 

Many prototypes of wire lace bobbins, designed and tested from 1992 to 1995

1995 – First Small Bobbin Design

A special wire lace bobbin designed from scratch was inevitable. I envisioned a bobbin with a thick neck for the screw eye and a dome-like head above. In addition, a hole drilled at the lower part of the neck would serve for anchoring the wire and preventing it from unwinding. Wire thus attached could be worked until the last few centimetres, which in case of precious metals meant considerable cost-cutting.

With the bobbin design all thought out and finalized, the production should be easy, I thought. But searching for the bobbin maker in a city with no lacemaking tradition was much harder that I  anticipated. After many tests and trials, I was lucky to find a local wood turner, Jay Bowdish of Richmond, BC, who was capable and willing to make the bobbins. 

My original small bobbins for wire lace – handmade by Jay Bowdish in Richmond, BC, Canada

I liked working with those cute hand turned bobbins. Over years, they have become to feel like extensions of my fingers. I used them for creating many works in copper, bronze, steel, fine silver and gold.

Original wire lace bobbins with steel wire

Original wire lace bobbins with copperl wire

Original wire lace bobbins with bronze wire

The original wire lace bobbins served well for many years, not only in my own work, but also in hands of many wire lace students in Vancouver, BC, and numerous workshop participants in Canada, USA, Australia, UK and Spain. After the Silver Pin Studio closed, and production of the original wire lace bobbin ceased, the design was reproduced and sold by other bobbin makers.

Some bobbins with screw eyes can be still found today: Bobbins made by John Beswick in Australia are available in Raincity Lace Supplies shop , bobbins made by Simon Toustou in Canada from Provo Lace Shop and bobbins turned by Laura De Bruyn in Tasmania, Australia, directly from her website Laura’s Lace Supplies

Bobbins made by John Beswick in Australia

Bobbins made by Simon Toustou, Canada

Bobbins made by Laura De Bruyn, Tasmania, Australia

2007 – Spanish Bobbin

My wire lace projects were growing in size and complexity and a need emerged for a bigger bobbin that would hold more wire. I discovered traditional Spanish bobbins and I added a pack of them to my tool box. They were not very refined, but that was not a huge obstacle, because wire is not as fussy as thread. I used those boxwood bobbins mostly for gimps and for thicker wires.

Original small bobbins with Spanish bobbins used for making Chantilly lace jewellery

2015 – Spanish Bobbin Modification

As I grew used to working with the bobbins from Spain, I tried to adapt them like the previous bobbins, but the bobbin head was too narrow for shielding the attachment. Consequently, the exposed side hooks were catching wires of nearby bobbins. Untangling the bundles was a tedious job that was wearing the wires, and my patience, thin.

I contemplated other options – if the screw eye wouldn’t work, what else could be used? Turning the bobbins in my hand and ideas in my head, I zoomed in on a typical feature of the traditional Spanish bobbin – its shallow head groove. I imagined that a snugly fitting elastic might hold the wire without damaging its surface. But will the grip be strong enough to allow steady work flow?  After many tests, I found elastics in the right size with optimal strength.  And there is was, a modified Spanish bobbin that worked like a charm! The rubber ring held the wire in place gently but firmly and released it, when necessary, with one simple maneuver, just like a hitch on fibre. This was a huge improvement and I knew that I have invented a tool that will open wire lace field to many more lacemakers.

Spanish bobbin modified for wire lace – two variations

Modified Spanish bobbin used for point ground lace in enamelled copper

Modified Spanish bobbin, copper wire with beaded gimp

This important milestone couldn’t had come at a better time.  I was returning to lace teaching and needed bobbins for my students. The adapted medium bobbin was so easy to use, that I did not hesitate recommending it even to complete beginners. Soon after, I was able to incorporate wire lace instruction in the New School of Lace curriculum.

August 2015 – Lenka’s Fine Bobbin from Jan de Maertelaere

The students were quickly learning the basics, and I kept designing new patterns. Among the many projects, wearable wire lace art was the most popular, and paved the way to fine lace jewellery. The medium bobbins that worked beautifully until now, would be too big for very delicate lace. And the original small bobbin with the side hook seemed outdated in comparison. It was, after all, twenty years old and belonged in every respect to the past century. 

Based on the positive experience with the elastics, I concieved the design of a new fine bobbin. But remembering my previous troubles with bobbin production I was not sure if I want to go through it all again. 

Luckily, I had a very positive experience at that time with buying traditional fibre bobbins for my school from Jan De Maertelaere, a bobbin lace manufacturer in Belgium. I found his company online, and the logo intrigued me. My first order of torchon bobbins confirmed that the slogan was not just advertising. The bobbins were truly the best I have ever worked with, made with great care and utmost attention to detail. And that was exactly the quality I envisioned for my new project. 

When I approached Jan to ask if he could produce a custom designed bobbin, he was very busy, but agreed to look at it when time allows. That was a great news and I commenced designing the bobbin, using all experience I gathered over the years of making lace jewellery. When the time had come, it was a pleasure to collaborate with Jan and witness his skills and knowledge, as well as his dedication to the bobbin turning craft. I will never forget a comment he made, when – after many back and forth e-mails, video calls, and prototype samples – the bobbin was close to fulfilling all technical aspects on my list. That was all I was able to see then, but Jan said, with a disarming smile: “Do not forget, that each lace bobbin must not be only functional, but also beautiful.” And he worked his magic on a lathe and produced a beautiful bobbin within the constraint of the unusual dimensions. 

Lenka’s Fine Bobbin made by Jan De Maertelaere BV in Belgium

Lenka’s Fine Bobbin became the precision tool required for high-end lacework: slender and light, fitting perfectly into palms of hands; superbly balanced for quick crossing and twisting; silky smooth but hard enough to withstand occasional abuse by wire medium; gracefully tapered for easy sewings. All in all, the Fine Bobbins have fulfilled my lace-perfectionist dreams. Since day one, I have loved to use them and I still cherish every moment of working with them. They allow me to produce the most delicate lace, especially in precious metals.

Lenka’s Fine bobbins used for copper wire lace

Sterling silver lace made with Lenka’s Fine bobbins

Lenka’s Fine bobbins used with gold plated copper wires

2020-21 – Lenka’s Medium Bobbin from Jan de Maertelaere

In the the strange year of cancelled lace classes, workshops and all other lace events, I was grateful for each and every sale in my WireLaceSupplies online shop. Not only because the income was somewhat sustaining my lace studio during the dormant time, but also because I believe that lacemaking can be of tremendous help for people in isolation. The slow, rhythmic work calms the mind and the creative process fills it with purpose, contentment and delight. Total absorption facilitates deep relaxation and brings about overall well-being. And that was exactly what we needed for surviving and thriving in the unpredictable times.

Between my own lacemaking therapy sessions, I was cleaning and organizing my studio. I found many projects that were set aside during the last five years of harmonizing many events of the New School of Lace, maintaining the Wire Lace Supplies shop, producing lace|heart|art challenge competitions, and creating original artworks. In my “FUTURE” folder, there was a sketch of a bobbin with a scribbled title: next Medium Bobbin. I remember drawing it one day as I was lamenting the diminishing quality of Spanish bobbins. The vision of the new bobbin was waiting to emerge from its cocoon, and the time has come to bring it to life.

I contacted Jan de Maertelarere and since he had some free time on his hands as well, we teamed up again to design and produce the new Medium Bobbin for wire lace. It was great to collaborate again, and we both enjoyed the creative process. 

The new Medium Bobbin was born this year, and it brought a ray of sunshine into the dark winter days and pandemic worries. As its Fine predecessor, the Medium bobbin is a highly functional tool, designed and made to serve well for many wire lace projects. And of course, it is beautiful! After all, they are sisters, one big, one small, and they do look very much alike.

Lenka’s new Medium Bobbins are coming soon!
They will be sold exclusively in my WireLaceSupplies shop and in Jan de Maertaleare’s brand new web shop. 

Stay tuned for the launch announcement!

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