At a recent Inner Southeast Portland Holiday Bazaar, several women seated in front of cushion-topped tables seemed entranced - as their hands busily moved small spindles, called bobbins, wound with thread. After an hour, each woman had created about one square inch of lace.
'It's relaxing,' the lacers all agreed.
Also spellbound were the visitors, watching as the lacers demonstrated their craft that Saturday on December 1 at Sellwood Community Center's annual Snowflakes Holiday Bazaar. Some of the older female onlookers were especially wistful, explaining that they had stopped crocheting or knitting, and now missed it.
Eager to answer questions, the lacers are members of Portland Lace Society, which meets from 10 am till noon on the first Thursdays of each month at Sellwood Community Center. 'We encourage anyone who is interested to learn how to make lace,' CJ David said, as she overlapped threads around straight pins tracing a Bedfordshire design destined to become a page mark.
Pauline Zeitz, a society member from Southwest Washington, explained that some of the lace patterns the women use, sketched by straight pins protruding from the pillows, are centuries old - dating from when lace was produced primarily for the nobility, including lace stockings for the Queen of England.
Making lace by hand hasn't changed much since the 15th Century, when machines hadn't yet displaced most European lace makers. Generally, the quality of the silk, linen and cotton has declined since then, Zeitz explained; and the bobbins, though beautifully fashioned, are often now wood and not bone.
But the biggest difference these days, she added, is that lace making is a growing trend amongst hobbyists, including the dozen and more lacers who meet monthly in Sellwood to create and talk about lace.
Another one who drives from Washington State for the monthly Sellwood meeting is Lynda Libby. And to show how popular lace-making has become, Libby described the Yahoo Group she founded. Her Yahoo Group's subject is bobbin lace, and over 600 people have joined. 'And every week, two or three people are waiting to join.'
The women who demonstrated lace-making December 1st at the Holiday Bazaar said they don't normally sell their lace, though some do use it to dress up clothing - on the rim of a skirt or in the vee of a T-shirt, for instance.
'It's too time-consuming to sell,' Sheri Campbell, an Ardenwald resident, commented. Campbell, who isn't a lace maker, but was part of the demonstration group because she tats, using a small metal shuttle. Her colorful creations are lacelike, but simpler. At yard sales, tatted linen hand towels and napkins from the first half of the 20th Century can still be found -- though, like lace-making, tatting also has a long history.
'Women on the Oregon Trail would put a shuttle in their pocket starting out, and by the end of the trail they'd have something pretty to wear,' Campbell revealed.
Meanwhile, there is one current market for lace that's heating up, the women say. It's lace lingerie. 'But some of the older ladies who make lace aren't sure they approve,' Ms. David cautioned.