Four days with Lauran Sundin

by Yvette Slabbert
“Crashing Waves” Neckpiece

This is the time of the year when I usually reflect on my bobbin lace bucket list.  There has only ever been six things on this list, but as life gets in the way, I usually have to carry them over to the next year.   But this year I can tick off one of the items on my bucket list with a huge sense of achievement – a four day wire bobbin lace workshop with Lauran Sundin.

Lauran Sundin is a renowned artisan who makes woven and bobbin lace jewellery. While she and her husband divide their time between their two boats – a converted tug in Maine and a canal boat in England – she also travels the world to share her knowledge with lacemakers.

The first time I saw Lauran’s work, was at the Love Lace Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. I was mesmerised by her innovative and contemporary take on traditional bobbin lacemaking techniques.  It is fresh and exciting, and has garnered awards and exhibitions world-wide.

A weaving and bobbin lace background has made Lauran’s approach to jewellery design very different from that of most jewellers.  Her quest for understanding the naturalistic patterns of weaving took her around the world: to Guatemala, where she studied three dimensional overshot  back strap weaving;  to Japan to study Kumihumo braiding techniques; and to the University of Hawaii where she studied the intricacies of Asian textiles.

“Captured Cresent” Pendent

When I heard in February 2018 that Lauran would be teaching in Cambridge, New Zealand, during December 2018, I was over the moon. I applied for leave ten months in advance (luckily my boss understands how passionate I am about lacemaking) and started counting the sleeps.
We all know what it is like to enrol in a bobbin lace class. You pay the class fees, receive a list of requirements, scurry around to order the materials, pay again, and then the skills doubt creeps in.

None of this happened with Lauran’s workshop.  I didn’t have to invest in any of the materials (eg, bobbins, wire, or pins).  Lauran supplies everything.  In addition, she also pre-winds all the bobbins for students – so that they can hit the grounding running on day one. And the class is really accessible as only basic bobbin lace skills are required – plaits, cloth stitch, and Torchon ground.  You don’t even need prior wire working experience to do Lauran’s workshop.

“Captured Pearl” Neckpiece

Day one of the workshop finally arrived and it was every bit as exciting as what I had hoped for. As we walked into the venue, Lauran had a selection of her exquisite jewellery pieces on display.  A tactile version of my Lauran Sundin Pinterest board!

Even as an experienced bobbin lacemaker, it is hard to believe that all the work on display, and all the works in the photos on this page, were made with bobbins on a lace pillow – using bobbin lace techniques.

I have admired Lauran’s work on her website and on Pinterest for many years. But to finally see her artworks in person is definitely one of the highlights of my lacemaking journey.  Lauran encouraged us to pick up her work, touch it, hold it, try it on, and to look at it from all angles. (Don’t tell the lace police.) And for a while there, it felt as though time stood still for me, the heavens burst open and angels sang the chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  An incredible privilege.

“Breaking Wave” Sculpture

In addition to her finished pieces Lauran also displayed samples of work that demonstrate various techniques.  And it remained on the table for the duration of the four day workshop.

Lauran’s wire lace workshop is exceptionally well designed. We worked through  a systematic series of exercises – each building on the one before.   She had a pillow set up on which she demonstrated the technique for each exercise. And that was an experience in itself. To see her work. The relaxed fluidity with which she handles the wire speaks of decades of honing her incredible skill to make the wire do exactly what she wants it to do.

When it was our time to start working, there was plenty of guidance and encouragement from Lauran. And once everyone started finding their feet with the particular technique, Lauran repeated her demonstration one more time so that we would be able to double check that we were on the right track and to pick up on the finer points that we may have missed the first time around.

“Night and Day” Neckpiece

The real genius of Lauran’s workshop is that she takes the time to give feedback on every sample and stitch and made us see for ourselves how to analyse our work critically and with that, of course, came several “a-ha” moments and true, deep understanding and learning.

She has a brilliant way of doing it – by cutting off the sample from the pillow and photocopying it at 400%. Yes, she even has a photocopying machine in class.  Lauran then sat down with each of us, pored over the supersized copy of our sample, and gave feedback on stitch discrepancies and tension problems and how we might improve on our technique.

“Harlequin" Neckpiece

The four-day workshop covered a lot of ground: smooth starts and finishes, the proper handling of wire lace bobbins, even tensioning, the technique of working the wire around the pins in a systematic manner to achieve precise stitches, proper ways of “ironing” wire to maintain its strength, making all those wire ends disappear, adding in beads, and how to make objects structurally viable.

"Two Become One" Wedding Exhibition at the Kobe Fashion Museum, Kobe, Japan. 2010. 

On the last day Lauran also demonstrated some advanced techniques for working and linking two layers of lace simultaneously, working cylindrical shapes, and various finishing techniques.

In between the various exercises, Lauran shared so much interesting and useful information with us: properties of different types of wire, sizes/guages of wire for different effects and grid sizes, suppliers of wire, and how to make bobbins for wire lace. Lauran also talked to us about various other artists / jewellers / lacemakers that do interesting and innovative work with wire.

So far, I have told you about all the “tangible” things that Lauran taught us. But to stop here, would be to do a disservice to the genius of Lauran’s workshop.
Lauran is an incredibly generous and patient teacher. She shared so many tips and tricks with us – hard earned knowledge and insights that come from years of experimentation, trial and error in the quest for perfecting her technique. It would have taken us years to work out these things for ourselves, as these insights typically only come from doing the hard yards – day in, day out, week after week, month after month, year after year.

I have never come across anyone so willing to share all of the knowledge, skills and intellectual property that they use to make a living. And yet, she understands so well that students should not be made dependent on their tutor – instead, they should be equipped to learn how to soar on their own.

I came away from the workshop feeling so enthused. I remember driving home at the end of day four in silent wonderment. Those four days in December may very well have changed the course of my lacemaking journey.

If you would like to read more about Lauran Sundin, a visit to her beautiful website is highly recommended, and of course there are lots of photos of her work on Pinterest.  Letslace also has a dedicated Lauran Sundin Pinterest board which can be found here.

A huge thank you to Lauran Sundin who provided me with all the photos in this blog post and gave me kind permission to publish it so that I can share it with all my blog followers and visitors to my website.

May you have a beautiful and creative New Year with lots of time to do bobbin lace.

"Garden Party" Necklace
"Born on the Fourth of July" Neckpiece
Queen Victoria’s Neckpiece