A 30-year love of lace making
Woman from Beech Mountain practices centuries-old craft.
DRUMS — Barbara “Barb” McGuire was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband, Jim, in Bruges, Belgium, when she fell in love.
“We went to a chocolate factory and there was a lace making school across the street. We went in just to peek around. The teacher was so welcoming and told us to stay as long as we wanted. My husband and I were there for ages,” Barb recalled. “And I fell in love.”
That was 30 years ago, and there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that the Beech Mountain woman hasn’t made lace. It’s an intricate art, one that uses microscopically fine threads to produce ornate designs and patterns.
When Barb returned from Belgium to her then-home in Connecticut, she immediately joined a lace making guild to learn the centuries-old craft. Over the next few years — and still even now — she continued to attend lace making seminars and workshops.
“I never stop learning,” she said.
Growing up, she said, she wasn’t interested in crocheting or knitting.
“My grandmother and mother knitted and tatted and couldn’t figure out why I had no patience,” she laughed.
Now, she refers to parts of her Beech Mountain home as a “museum.” Framed pieces of lace — a tribute to her patience — hang on walls. They’re in all shapes and patterns, including flowers, butterflies and seahorses. They’re in all styles, too — traditional pieces made by following patterns developed by lace makers from Belgium, Wales, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
“This is a sampling of different kinds of lace,” she said, pointing to one particular piece. “Different countries have different styles. This was very, very painstaking.”
Years of work can go into some projects.
She outfitted a doll in a billowing dress of lace made of cream-colored silk thread and edged in thin strands of gold.
“This is hard on the eyes. I used a magnifying glass when I was working on that,” she said of another piece.
Lace making is a popular pastime in Europe, Barb explained. She recalled a trip to Wales, and seeing women gathering outside their homes to work on their projects.
So most times, when American lace guilds organize seminars, they’re taught by an expert from England or Belgium.
Some seminars bring dozens together.
“For three days or four days, we would do nothing but make lace,” Barb said.
Barb has demonstrated the craft during Eckley Miners’ Museum’s Patch Town Days and at the Brainerd Church Festival in Sybertsville. She also recently explained lace making to visitors to Benigna’s Creek Wine Shoppe at Laurel Mall.
Lace makers work on what is referred to as a pillow. It’s a soft surface where they secure their patterns and lay out bobbins of thread.
Barb pushes what seems like hundreds of straight pins into the section of the pattern she’s working on. Then she “stitches” the fine threads around the pins. Eventually, a design unfolds. It might be a tiny flower, or a decorative edging.
As she works, she counts the stitches. She winds one bobbin around another, then reverses directions, only to go back again.
“It’s like miniature weaving,” she said.
Her hands work fluidly, picking up a few of the 40-plus bobbins at a time and moving them to where they need to be.
“Twist. Cross. Twist,” she says as she works. Twist means a movement to the left, while cross signifies the right.
One particular pattern made inch-wide lace. She can produce about two inches of it within an hour.
“I’m familiar with the pattern,” she said, “I don’t really have to think very hard. I just keep going.”
She noted that she has arthritis in her hands but feels no pain.
“It’s very relaxing for me,” she said.
Barbara “Barb” McGuire demonstrates the centuries-old art of lace making during a recent visit to Benigna’s Creek Wine Shoppe at Laurel Mall.
The threads, bobbins and pins that McGuire uses to make lace. While lace making is a popular activity in Europe, McGuire is one of the few in the area who does it.