Jenny unwittingly continues a family tradition
When Jenny, 69, felt compelled to buy something she saw in an antique shop window, little did she know she was following in the footsteps of generations of her family. I chatted to her at the Living Crafts show at Hatfield House.
“About 45 years ago I saw bobbin in the window of an antique shop and felt I just had to go in and buy it even though didn't know what it was. I showed my mother and she not only told me that it was used to make lace with, but also that my great great grandmother made bobbin lace for a living. People say lace making is in your blood. Clearly there might be something in that!
Mum explained that I'd need more than one bobbin if I wanted to try lace making. She found a local group and I went along and somebody gave me some more bobbins and leant me a pillow (which you need to make the lace on). I loved it from the start. And when my children were little, it was something that I could sit and do in a quiet moment when they were asleep that was just for me. It meant I could completely switch off to what was going on in the rest of the home.
I love the equipment and the history, and stories, behind it
Having to switch off and focus is part of what I love about lace making. But I also love the equipment and the history behind it. Some of these bobbins are really old. The stories that they could tell. And having done some family history research, I now realise there was a long line of lace makers in my family in Bedfordshire. Although generations ago they were poor people who would have hated working with the bobbins because they had to do it for a living, whereas I’m doing it purely for pleasure.
I’ve built up my bobbin collection over the years. People give them to you as presents, or you buy them when you see them. You tend to choose them by holding them and seeing if they feel right. If they’re rough, then they're not so good. All bobbins are not created equal!
The beads on the bobbins are to weigh them down., they’re not just a declaration. People used to put buttons from their baby's booties, or off a grandfather’s best shirt. So the decorations tell a story too. I've got bobbins that have things written on them to remind me of places I've been and events that have happened.
The lace designs also have significance. Some of them have very historic names. This one I’m working on is a modern pattern, it’s from a German designer. I like Bedfordshire lace patterns. And there's an awful lot of really old ones of those around.
I teach lace making so a lot of what I make goes into my teaching folder to show to my students.
When I started in the 70s, lace making was definitely on the increase. Then it went into a very steep decline because it tended to be only older people doing it and, of course, they do get older… But I get the feeling that crafts in general are on the up and we’ve noticed it very much here at this show. We've had hundreds of people wanting to have a go on our pillow and learn what lace making is about. Many of them are younger people, which is lovely and really heartening.
It’s something I hope to be able to continue doing for as long as possible.”
A love of the stories of history is something Jenny shares with another marvellous Heyday who I met at the Living Crafts fair. John’s passion is all about bringing those stories to life. Read about him here.