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Quickie Question: Crossing Gender Lines?

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
By Twistie

(Illustration via Tatman’s Chatline)

It took me three Google searches to find an illustration of a man doing a craft more commonly considered a ‘girly’ thing who wasn’t either a) a professional in ‘colorful’ ethnic dress, or b) a woodcut illustration from well before photography was invented.

And yet, I know men who do these things. I have a brother who sews, does needle felting, spins, and embroiders. He also paints miniature figures (mostly of American Civil War soldiers), builds models, makes chainmail, and, well, let’s just say he’s the craftiest member of the Twistie family. Leaves me in the dust. If it can be done by hand, dollars to donuts he at least has a general idea of how it’s done and chances are good he can point to at least one example he’s made himself.

I’ve attended lacemaking conventions where a small but significant number of the attendees were men and boys delighted to get a chance to work with real teachers and other lacers, just as I was. Rosy Grier was almost as well known for his needlepoint as he was for his football playing.

And it’s not just men, either. There are women out there expressing themselves in media more commonly associated with men. Women sculpt, create metal art, build furniture… all kinds of things that aren’t done with fiddly needles and thread.

All the same, I will never forget one adolescent lad who showed up at a lacemaking demo I did years ago. He watched with clear – but embarrassed – fascination for a long time. When I encouraged him to try out the beginner’s pillow, he looked as though he might run away. In the end, though, he sat down and allowed me to talk him through a couple rows. He picked up the concept quickly, and got a big smile on his face.

And yet, when I asked him if he wanted some materials on where to find equipment, thread, and further instruction, he shook his head and looked horrified. His mother came over to my demo partner and quietly asked her for the information. While we were talking to her, the boy started stitching again. If one of us looked in his direction, he would go rigid… but if we looked away again, he went right back to work. After he left, I looked at the pillow and saw he’d done at least a dozen rows with nary a mistake.

I never saw him again, but I’ve always hoped he found the courage to keep lacing. He clearly had the desire and the ability. All he needed was someone to find a way to convince him it was all right for him to do it despite being male.

So I’m wondering today, do you do a craft more commonly associated with the opposite gender? Know someone who does? Have you ever wanted to try a craft but feared how people might react?

Tell me all about it.

(ETA: This was supposed to go up yesterday, and I don’t know why it didn’t publish when I hit the publish button. Sorry.)

Lacing With Interesting Women

Thursday, July 7th, 2011
By Twistie

Have I mentioned how much I love pretty tools to work with? There’s a gentleman in England called Chris Parsons who makes some tremendously pretty bobbins to toss. This is his set of Famous Women of History. The set includes: Cleopatra, Boudicca, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria, George Eliot, Emmaline Pankhurst, Amelia Earhart, Marilyn Monroe, Margaret Thatcher, and Mother Theresa.

Of course, you may like some of these women better than others. Don’t worry, you don’t have to get the entire set. Pick and choose at your pleasure! And if there’s an amazing woman you feel he’s missed (say, Harriet Tubman or Aphra Behn, for instance), he’ll be happy to paint her for you, special.

Or maybe great women of history isn’t your thing. Perhaps you’d prefer Egyptian gods, celtic patterns, butterflies, famous buildings, or non-figurative pewter inlays.

Oh, and of course in light of a recent happy event in the British Royal family, well, what could be better than a nice commemorative of the event? It’s a long-standing tradition among English lacemakers, after all.

I have several of Mr. Parsons’ bobbins on my pillow, so I can recommend them as excellent tools. Then again, you might just want them around because they’re pretty. They’re certainly that!


Born to Lace

Friday, June 3rd, 2011
By Twistie

via the Higgs Family Website

Pictured above is Miss Annie Baker’s Lace School, Risely, in 1914. The school was established in 1906, but it was among the last of a dying breed by that point. The large scale handmade lace industry was already well on its way out, between changing fashions and the common availability of machine made laces.

But lace schools had been a part of the British landscape  for a more than a century at this point. These schools dotted the landscape and were a major source of education for children of the poorer classes. And yes, boys went to lace schools, too.


Bobbin Along

Thursday, May 19th, 2011
By Twistie

Mmmm… pretty.

I love lace bobbins. I suppose that’s not surprising since they’re a necessary tool for my craft, but then not everyone who does a craft cares so very much about what their tools look like. I get that. They’d rather put the care and money into the thread and the pattern books, and that’s more than cool. But I find that quality tools not only add to the aesthetic pleasures, but make the work easier, too.

And that’s the case with Knotwork Lace Bobbins. Yes, I own about a dozen of these babies, and really want more. They’re very smoothly turned, a good weight for the sorts of threads I tend to use (I like some pretty bold patterns that take coarser threads), and sturdy as all get out. I’m hard on my bobbins and I’ve never once managed to break one of these.

The bone ones pictured above range from $11.00 – $14.00 apiece, and are customized with your choice of paint and wire (where appropriate). They can even be dyed for a small extra fee.

But not everyone wants bone. That’s okay, there’s wood, too. And if you use Continental rather than Midlands bobbins, well, Frances has you covered. And then there are travel-sized bobbins, other lacemaking tools, and a smattering of other sorts of needlework tools.

Sure, you can get cheaper tools. You can make bobbins yourself out of various household items you probably have lying around your home. Heck, I even have a book from the 1970’s that tells you how to make your own bobbins out of used toothbrushes! Great deal, if you have enough disused toothbrushes randomly taking up space in your home, but I think it could take a while to gather up enough of them to do much of a pattern.

But if you love nice tools and aren’t going to learn to turn bobbins for yourself, support a bobbin maker, like Frances. You’ll be glad you did.

Getting Started Tossing Bobbins

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010
By Twistie


This is a fully dressed lace pillow. Looks scary, huh? All those bobbins that all look different. All those pins. All that… stuff.

When you get right down to it, though, bobbin lace is not a difficult craft to pick up. While there are challenges to last a lifetime and dozens of different styles to master, at any given moment, bobbin lace boils down to just a couple different moves using no more than four threads at a time. As for the bobbins, they’re just thread holders with handles so that you can manipulate the threads without touching them. It doesn’t matter in the work whether they all match perfectly or look quite different. Just don’t mix Midlands and Continental bobbins.

Frankly, if you can tell your right from your left and have basic manual dexterity, you can learn to make bobbin lace. There’s plenty of fine-tuning, of course, but given that children as young as six used to be professional bobbin lacemakers all over Europe, you start to realize that the essentials aren’t exactly rocket science.

But where do you learn how to do it? And where do you get the basic tools?


Well I’ll be Hanged!

Thursday, October 28th, 2010
By Twistie


We often think of crafts and the people who make them as gentle and refined. But then, we  craft and we aren’t always that gentle or refined. The fact is that people who craft, whether for amusement or a living, run a wide gamut. It’s also a fact that people have always been interested in the macabre.

And this leads to the story of hanging bobbins.

Bobbins are the tools bobbin lacemakers use to hold their threads. In most places, they are simple. For instance, the bobbins in this detail of Caspar Nectscher’s 1664 painting, The Lacemaker, shows a style of bobbin that’s similar to modern Belgian and German bobbins.


Note that they are simple wooden spindles with a somewhat bulbous end and little if any decoration to them. Their job is to be utilitarian and that’s it.

But for some reason, in the Midlands area of England, bobbins got a lot more whimsical. They were often decoratively turned, and since they lack the bulb on the end, they feature a ring of beads called a ‘spangle’ at the bottom for extra weight and better tension. Painting, decorative metal bitts, and even writing were not uncommon, as you can see from this photograph of Midlands lace bobbins from the Cowper & Newton Museum.


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