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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Paula Case lacing at a Flemish and Milanese Tape Lace workshop, April 1997
Paula Case lacing at a Flemish and Milanese Tape Lace workshop, Bismarck, ND, April 1997. Photo: Ruth Case

Prairie Rose Lace Makers

When Mary Fors saw a woman demonstrating bobbin lace making at a state fair in 1985, she was so enthralled that she took lessons, and eventually began giving her own mini-workshops. Upon moving to Bismarck in 1990, she started a group of bobbin lace makers, who called themselves the Prairie Rose Lace Makers. The group has continued to grow, and learn more designs and techniques of lace making with help from grants from the Dakota West Arts Council and the North Dakota Council on the Arts.

This type of lace making is called "bobbin" because threads are wound around long, thin wooden pieces called bobbins, which are placed on a pillow holding the lace pattern. Some intricate patterns require as many as 300 bobbins attached to the pillow at a time.

In the 16th century, the art of making bobbin lace originated in Genoa and Flanders, where it was practiced as a cottage industry for several centuries; some villages' entire livelihoods were based on lace making. Lace was considered a luxury item, worn by both men and women. In England and other countries, "sumptuary laws" forbid people of the lower classes the privilege of wearing lace. Because of its value, clothing with lace, like jewels, was considered currency. Lace was also smuggled from countries whose laws forbid its importation. The art nearly died when machines were introduced in the 1800s for lace making.

The Prairie Rose Lace Makers meet once a month to exchange patterns and books, make lace, and socialize. They also provide demonstrations at local and regional functions, such as ethnic and arts festivals, state fairs, and historic re-enactments. Their work is exhibited in art shows, galleries, and libraries.

Fors, who originally began the group to have company while she made lace, now believes that the group's greater purpose is to share the joy of lace making, and to preserve this art form for future generations. By knowing and observing the art of lace making, people can gain a better understanding of their ancestors' lives and the culture that appreciated and valued lace.

Documentation includes a 17-page history of lace making, newspaper clippings, 18 color photographs, and a video featuring interviews and lesson.

Originally submitted by: Byron Dorgan, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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