In the late 16th century the art of bobbin lace swept Europe. Sometimes made of the most expensive linen spun to a fineness no longer possible to achieve, bobbin lace was also made of wire in precious metals. The exuberant ruffs and wings shown in portraits of England's first Queen Elizabeth are testimony to this original form of a glorious textile tradition. Due to the amount of human labor lavished on these collars and ornaments, a monarch's lace during this period might often have a value exceeding that of his jewels. The replacement of skilled artisans by ingenious but soulless machines has made a form of lace available to the masses, yet sadly these mechanical copies bear only a shadowy resemblance to the beautiful handmade laces that preceded them. Now lace and jewelry artist Susan Lambiris has drawn on the techniques and traditions of bobbin lacemaking to design a line of jewelry in wire. Her work, whether faithfully recreating historical laces or interpreting contemporary shapes in her own special style, marks a new chapter in the history of lace.
Each piece of jewelry is entirely worked by hand, twisting together wire-wound bobbins to form the design. Pins provide a temporary support as the pattern emerges, holding lace and pricking to the cushion which gives bobbin lace its alternate name, pillow lace. Both pillows and bobbins come in many shapes and sizes, as is only to be expected since they were used all across Europe from Land's End in England to the Russian steppes, and from Denmark to Malta. Many European settlers brought their distinct lacemaking traditions to the New World, where their descendants are weaving together a new, less formal approach to this ancient craft. The United States is home to one of the oldest national organizations devoted to the preservation and propagation of lace, and American museums contain collections of lace that can rival the finest in Europe. These resources have been immensely helpful to Ms Lambiris as she develops her own contribution to the tradition of bobbin lacemaking.
Although most people associate antique lace with floral motifs, Ms Lambiris delights in unearthing examples of figural laces, where semi-abstracted birds, animals, and even people caper among baroque swirls against rich backgrounds of intricate stitchwork. Since modern thread and wire cannot approach the incredible fineness of the linen originally used to work these exquisite laces, she painstakingly reconstructs the exact movements of each strand in the pattern at a scale large enough for us to appreciate their intricate interlacement. Here are a few of her favorite motifs, captured in pendants of silver and enameled copper wire.
'Heraldic Horse' is taken from a lace made at about 1700 in Flanders and thought to commemorate the coronation of a king--which king, alas, can no longer be determined. Several different stitches are used to produce this impression of a dappled horse with rich harness and a flowing mane. As often happens in lace of this period, the figure blends into the background, adding to the ambiguous complexity of the design. The simpler background of the next lace fragment, 'Bouncing Dog,' hints at its older source, another flemish lace estimated to have been made in the mid-1600s. This little dog, ripped away from his original companion, has been given a plaything of modern design to occupy his energy.
'Heraldic Peacock' is part of Ms Lambiris' most recent reconstruction project, and her largest piece of wire lace to date, requiring over 200 bobbins and well over 100 hours of work. The motif is taken from an early 18th century piece of Flemish lace, whose current location is unknown; its pattern was reconstructed using a photograph from a hundred-year-old book. The innovation of introducing an extra colored outline after working the lace motif improves the contrast between figure and ground as well as making the pendant more noticeable against a pale background. Adding to the piece's impressive proportions, a dangle set with a peacock-themed lampwork bead by Scott Shipley gives needed weight and balance to the final product.
For those who prefer floral (or at least flower-inspired) motifs, here are two pendants based on regional 19th and early 20th century lace forms, in very distinctive styles. The first is rearranged from a traditional pattern for a handkerchief corner, by way of Holly Van Sciver's skillful reconstruction. Ms Lambiris rotated and reflected its motifs to coax a softly rounded form from the original triangle, emphasizing the central feature's resemblance to the broad lip of an orchid. Her version of the design can showcase either the elaborate fillings common in the elegant Victorian lace from which it derives (as in the piece on this page) or the contrasting detail and beauty of a special lampwork bead (a collection of variations of this design are shown on this separate page). The second pendant enlarges a detail from a broad collar included in a landmark collection of Art Nouveau lace patterns first published in 1902. Despite the apparent simplicity of the design, interpreting it presents technical challenges to the lacemaker/jeweler. Ms Lambiris departs from a purely textile-driven approach by replacing a fussy central filling with a lampwork bead torched by Dale Prior. The marriage of two ancient crafts produces a result in which glass and silver, bead and lace combine with eyecatching effect.
Ms Lambiris' original creations demonstrate the breadth of her technical skills and artistic vision. Freely recombining elements of many lace traditions with her own innovations, she elevates her subjects from flatness into three dimensions, blurring the line between textile and sculpture.
Violet Pendant, undoubtedly Ms Lambiris' most representational work, shows how a commonplace subject can be rendered in a fresh, appealing manner by innovative techniques. Inspired by the highly realistic floral sprigs made in southwestern England at the end of the 19th century, the two-part composition includes a veined and multi-textured leaf and an overlay of flowers nodding from gracefully curved stems. The fact that the leaf can be used with or withhout the floral overlay makes this an exceptionally flexible pendant.
Another representational design which combines a limited range of colors with a variety of textural effects is Flying Heron. This relatively large piece (almost 3" in diameter) is an excellent example of Ms Lambiris' evolving personal style of lace.
Larkspur, in contrast, transforms a flower spike and a compound leaflet into a contemporary, abstract statement. By incorporating beads of graduated sizes and techniques borrowed from a wide range of bobbin laces this pendant achieves a feeling of layered depth while remaining an easy-to-wear, practical piece of jewelry.
More recently, Ms Lambiris has begun a series of abstract shapes filled with patterns derived from classic lace grounds, but adapted to include two or three colors. These pieces include pendants, brooches, and earrings, and are made entirely with natural silver, copper, and brass or gold rather than including the brightly colored wire which highlights many of her other pieces. Since the artist designed them as temptations for a close friend the series is whimsically titled "Tamara's Apples." The examples shown here (greatly enlarged) include a prototype circular brooch, a larger oval which could be finished as either a pendant or a brooch, and an isolated motif suitable for use as a small pendant or a large earring.
Another of Ms Lambiris' abstract series explores the unusual combination of plasticity and stiffness exhibited by wire lace. Flat crescent shapes edged in seed beads are transformed by a rigid central wire into three-inch long linear ornaments with spiralling lobes or wings. In the photograph shown above, the leftmost piece was inspired by the interior of a conch shell, while the central one echoes the arrangement of leaves and flowers around a central stem. In contrast, the third piece reinterprets the tapered form of a peapod, twisting its outer surface into a spiral blade which divides rather than unites the "peas."
Susan Lambiris currently makes her work available only on a commission basis. Pendants are priced based on the amount of labor required for the piece, with a small adjustment if unusually expensive materials or beads are requested. If interested please e-mail the artist at email@example.com.
Thank you very much for your interest!