COLLECTING A HISTORY OF WOMEN
Some people pity stray dogs and cats so much they rescue them, take them into their homes and adopt them. I knew an artist once who had gotten addicted to doing it. He and his wife had adopted over 20 cats. I have the same problem, except it isn’t with animals, it’s with hand made laces. They are ‘out of fashion’, usually inherited and those who inherit them often discard them. They are sold on street corners in Athens for next to nothing, and what is being sold is the history of women. Even though there are still many around, there won’t be forever. These laces are finite, Greek women do not create these any more, and if they do, few match the skill of their ancestors. I simply can’t stroll past and turn a blind eye to these treasures that will end up in a rubbish bin if I do not save them! I think one can assume that every one of the 1000+ pieces I have collected were made by women. This was once our main pastime, I’m not sure about other countries but certainly in Greece: ‘οι γυναίκες πλέκαν’.
Sometimes I open my antique living room cabinet where I store ‘my favourites’. I pour through them one by one. They are alive with energy. So many souls poured hours of their lives into them. I sometimes wonder how many centuries of making time I might now have in my possession? I wonder what these laces have borne witness to: tears, laughter, arguments, reconciliation, women waiting for loved ones to return home during wartime, women pouring their love into a piece as a wedding gift and so on and so on. Some techniques are so pedantic in skill and detail that women would go blind from doing it. One should remember that many of these laces were created at a time when technology was much more primitive. They may have worked on them by candlelight, they had no other company, no television even, this was their company. There is this one set I have, I think there are 8 pieces. They are all the same design: created dictated by the same the design, yet they are all different! Some are larger as they were created by a ‘looser’ hand, some are smaller as they were created by a ‘tighter’ hand. And then I wonder, were these made by different women in the same family: by sisters, by a mother and a daughter and so on. The stories these laces tell me are endless, each one has another personality. There are some that I like and I make friends with, and other I don’t as much, and I wouldn’t even be able to tell you an objective reason why. If one looks closely at some of them, very closely, one will often find that a strand of the creator’s hair got caught in the making process (with the thread and is embedded in the lace), so I literally have the history of some of these women, as in many cases I have their DNA!
I have collected laces and embroideries and have discovered that the laces I have are of the following techniques: filet lace, bobbin lace, tatted lace, drawn thread lace, cutwork lace, needle-point lace, tape lace and crochet lace. The embroideries I have include those of the cross-stitch and straight stitch technique. Below I have illustrated an example of each technique from my collection.
drawn thread lace type
drawn thread lace type
A combination of techniques: tape lace, embroidery and cutwork detail in the centre.
Cross-stitch embroidery with a crochet lace border in an Art Deco diamond design.
Straight stitch embroidery with a crochet lace border.