Lenka Suchanek: bobbin lace

Lenka Suchanek is an artist and lace designer who first learned to make lace at school in her native Czechoslovakia, a country renowned for its contemporary lace design. Her work has been informed and refined by the study of historical lace techniques as well as patterns in publications and museums around Europe. A winner of many lace prizes in Europe, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Spain and Italy, she was a finalist in the 2001 Powerhouse Museum Lace for Fashion Award. Wire lace is a particular strength of Suchanek’s.

Suchanek’s work Are We Made of Lace? developed after she was struck by the similarity between cell structures and lace, ‘a primordial lace that cannot be seen with unaided eye’. She selected about 30 scanned electron microscope images of life forms that had a close resemblance to handmade lace patterns. From these she chose 12 that represented the areas of ocean, vegetation and human body. The final selection of six images was based on their overall visual and thematic compatibility. They are algae, bog moss leaf, obelia medusa, skeletal muscle, sperm flagella and goblet cells. Suchanek transformed the original images, tracing and enlarging them before converting them into the lace-maker’s blueprint, known as the pricking.

For any lacework, the most important step is to use the right size of thread (or wire in metal lacework) and correct density of threads in the pattern. Suchanek usually make four or five samples on a small area of the pricking to find the right combination. Once the pattern is established, many bobbins are prepared, wound in pairs. The winder is the only mechanical tool that is used in the process of bobbin lace. The pairs are taken into the work as necessary. There is no need to count the pairs, they are just added or taken out according to the pattern. The large number of pairs, especially in the widest area of the design, might seem quite intimidating to the viewer but it is not the real challenge of the work. A lace-maker usually concentrates on two pairs at a time, performing two basic steps of cross or twist, so the real skill lies in a sustained concentration on one step at the time. After thousands of these simple steps — if done correctly — the lace appears.