The secret life of lace making

"It's a little bit like being a member of an underground organization," says Jenny Olthoff of the Chilliwack Lace Club.

Do Zwart

Do Zwart

Jenny Olthoff holds three dark wooden bobbins in her left hand, each wrapped with yards of white thread. With her other hand, she weaves a fourth bobbin back and fourth through the three taut strands.

In about a minute, she’s woven a small leaf into the pattern she’s working on.

This is lace making.

It’s the intricate art of taking fine threads and twisting, weaving and crossing them over each other to create a variety of things.

“It’s a slow process but you end up with something very delicate. It’s an old art form and there’s a delicacy to it that I really enjoy,” says Olthoff, member of the Chilliwack Lace Club.

A lot of people think that lace is for the trim of a nightgown, or doilies, but that’s very outdated.

The club makes everything from bookmarks to collars, bracelets to jewelry, sashes to clothing, tablecloths to handkerchiefs, and more.

“You can make very modern designs and frame them,” she says.

They typically work with special, very fine lace thread, and fine linen or cotton yard. Synthetic threads and yarns are not used as they would make the lace limp.

Some have even used wire to make pieces like lace jewelry and figurines that can stand on their own.

It takes a lot of patience to make lace. You can’t learn in just a few hours, it takes about 10 to 12 three-hour long lessons.

“It’s very good for working the brain,” says Kathy Thomas. “It’s translating the picture (you’re working with) to what you’re making.”

“You have to pay attention to what you’re doing,” she adds. “It’s like learning anything, it takes time and practice. Individually, the basic stitches are simple, but it’s combining them that makes it intricate.”

Lace has been around for hundreds of years, but it is a fading form of art. There are about 30 guilds in all of Canada, and they are very lucky to have one in Chilliwack says Olthoff.

“It’s a little bit like being a member of an underground organization,” she explains. “There are very few people who know about lace, and (when you have a question) you don’t know who to ask. Most problems are solved within the group.”

The Chilliwack Lace Club has been around since 1955. It only has six members, but they are a dedicated bunch that meets twice a month. Their oldest member is Hylda Law, 94, who’s also the most experienced.

The group has donated lace pieces to Heritage Village, Parkholm Lodge, and Chilliwack Hospice Society.

Anyone wanting to join, or try out lace making can visit the group during their regular sessions. The Chilliwack Lace Club meets on the second and fourth Thursday of every month at Evergreen Hall in the Minto Room from 12 to 2:30 p.m. Equipment is also available to borrow for newcomers. Their next meeting is Feb. 26.

“It’s so nice that it’s still around,” says Olthoff. “We’d like to keep it going otherwise it dies out. If we don’t keep it going no one will know how to make lace anymore and that’s the end of lace making.”

For more information contact Jenny Olthoff at 604-823-4705 or wolthoff@shaw.ca, or Kathy Thomas at 604-392-6140 or k.thomas@shaw.ca.

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