Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Saving Lace


I visited my friend Marie-Ange today. She is the shepherd of the little Soay sheep of a few posts ago. In addition to being a shepherd, she is also an archeologist, a weaver and from Belgium. So it wasn't a surprise when she asked if I was interested in seeing her grandmother's collection of lace. I just kind of expected that such a magical person would come with treasure chests.

I wasn't prepared though for the astonishing collection it was. Marie-Ange's grandmother was an incredibly skilled lacemaker, and had awareness of the value her samples held. She saved not just samples, and finished garments, but also the patterns she worked from.

Luckily Marie-Ange's training as an archeologist, as well as the advice of a textile conservator friend, gave her the ability to properly sort, clean and preserve the many delicate pieces of cloth. It took her over a year to mount them in archival albums - next will come labeling and cross referencing with printed patterns - a real labour of love.

I hope to get some pictures eventually, but in the meantime I can briefly list what I saw. There was bobbin lace of course, and there was also knitted, crocheted, filet, needlewoven, eyelet and Valenciennes laces. Incredibly, there were quarter-inch wide handworked insertion laces, as well as collars and cuffs. There were bold counterpane squares and the sweetest little crocheted bobble fringe. There was black lace, apparently often made by children, as the keenest eyesight was required to work it.

My mind boggled. The laces were of such fine quality that I couldn't imagine being able to create them myself, and I LIKE fiddly repetitive work. I couldn't even imagine anyone today having the patience, skill and time to create such fine work. I was reminded by the fact that our hands are capable of such incredible things, and how these days the most intricate thing many people do is type.

The question that came to my mind was "What does one do with such a treasure as this collection?" It was museum worthy, certainly, but the only place in Canada that might appreciate such a gift would be the Textile Museum in Toronto or possibly the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. It was created as a study collection, so it would be lovely to actually be used as such, but sadly we may have devolved over the last 100 years to the point where such handwork can only be marveled at - certainly not used as an example to copy.

What do you do with your textile treasures? How would you like to pass them on to successive generations? As creators it is something to consider...

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:47 PM

    It's funny, isn't it? We live in a Walmart world (not you of course, but many of us do) where we buy loads of stuff for low-low prices, all of it manufactured overseas. So our labour has been outsourced leaving us, supposedly, with lots of free time to do things like take up lace making, but usually we don't. That sort of seriously labour intensive hand work is just beyond our contemporary comprehension. Have we evolved? Have we devolved, as you say? I hope not.
    I wonder if your friend's grandmother took pleasure in lace making. Or was it a job for her?
    It is one of those crafts that seem rooted in another century, another economy, forever lost. All those things we make by hand, apart from the messages we type out on a keyboard, seem to have become historical artifacts. Maybe it takes an archeologist's perception to find value in these old practices. Not a bad idea. We could all become a little more like archeologists. The archeology of handwritten letters, the archeology of cooking from scratch, the archeology of gardening...
    Thanks for another of your thought provoking posts Heather.

    Jean-Pierre

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous10:48 PM

    It's funny, isn't it? We live in a Walmart world (not you of course, but many of us do) where we buy loads of stuff for low-low prices, all of it manufactured overseas. So our labour has been outsourced leaving us, supposedly, with lots of free time to do things like take up lace making, but usually we don't. That sort of seriously labour intensive hand work is just beyond our contemporary comprehension. Have we evolved? Have we devolved, as you say? I hope not.
    I wonder if your friend's grandmother took pleasure in lace making. Or was it a job for her?
    It is one of those crafts that seem rooted in another century, another economy, forever lost. All those things we make by hand, apart from the messages we type out on a keyboard, seem to have become historical artifacts. Maybe it takes an archeologist's perception to find value in these old practices. Not a bad idea. We could all become a little more like archeologists. The archeology of handwritten letters, the archeology of cooking from scratch, the archeology of gardening...
    Thanks for another of your thought provoking posts Heather.

    Jean-Pierre

    ReplyDelete
  3. http://www.magnoliapearl.com/

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  4. what a truely magnificent treasure and how wonderful that Marie-Ange knows how to care for it. When she finishes labeling etc. surely a publisher specializing in textiles might be interested in a book?--and, yes I do remember her from the Vic. guild.

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  5. Marie-Ange says her grandmother was of a higher class, so she probably made lace for her own pleasure, although when she had children her textile work took a back seat. It will be interesting to find out more - I haven't even seen the clothing that Marie-Ange inherited.

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  6. so lucky for your readers that we are able to share in this treasure! marie-ange sounds just as interesting as you do, heather. it is bittersweet to read about lost arts, but at least the internet allows us to share them. (hint, please share more when you can!)

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  7. There are so many things we human can do besides typing, but we just neglect our nature capabilities. I wish u can share some of the lace photos in your blog. I can knit and crochet but I never tried lace knitting/crochet before.

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