Learn to Love Lace

By Sister Madeleine Cleverly

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The New England Lace Guild had its annual retreat gathering for the first time since COVID and also for the first time at Mercy by the Sea in Madison, CT. Both the reunion of lacemakers and the spirituality of the retreat center filled us with peace and joy. Lacemaking is an ancient and contemplative craft, traditionally plied in quiet and community. Bobbin lace has been plied by contemplative sisters since the 15th century beginning simultaneously in France and Italy. The beauty and variety of the handmade laces were originally done for ecclesiastical altar linens and the surplice drops of the priests. The aristocracy was also a large consumer for whom it was the height of fashion. Handmade lace was often taught by sisters to the local women to provide them with a means of income. Lace was very expensive although the lacemakers saw only a small portion of that cost.

The cloistered contemplative sisters did their lacemaking in silence, meditation and quiet, the rhythm of the bobbins providing a calm and meditative silence for intimacy with their God. Handmade lace took a long time and created priceless beauty for their church. I myself have been doing lace for 13 years, a short time, but have found this intimacy/spirituality accessible through lacemaking. My own name saint is St. Madeleine, both a lace maker and a teacher of local women, who continues to inspire me. I once dreamed of finding a sister to teach me lace. It was not to be, they are no more. Perhaps that is a good thing, as the quiet lacemaking offers, and the potential time for spirituality, is now an offering for anyone who wants to take the time and effort to learn and ply the bobbins. Certainly, the Sisters of Mercy' retreat center and lace makers are a perfect match, with time for quiet, contemplation and lacemaking. Time for you to learn to love lace?