Ten Questions for Noelene Lafferty

Noelene Lafferty doing a lacemaking demonstration.  She is wearing a Russian tape lace collar on a patchwork waistcoat.

Noelene Lafferty is a lace maker and poet from a small property on the Murrumbidgee River called “The Angle”, NSW, in Australia, where she lives with her husband, son and daughter-in-law, three dogs and a cat. She has been making lace for about 60 years. In addition to making lace she loves to read and listen to music. In her early life Noelene worked as a secretary in several places in Australia, and also in Papua New Guinea and Fiji. She now spends her days avoiding the rat race in beautiful Australian bush surroundings. She is a member of the Australian Lace Guild, and manages the Lace Gumnuts email chat group and their website on the Internet.

Oval mat made by Noelene from a Karen Blum pattern.  Noelene would love to make it in colour too.

Question 1:  When did you start to make bobbin lace and how did it all unfold?

It all started when I was 14, with my older, cleverer, prettier cousin who could tat.  I could knit and crochet, thanks to my mother, why not tatting?  I acquired a book, shuttle and thread, made a ring but could go no further and had to go cap in hand to my cousin, who was only too delighted to help.  In time, my cousin progressed to bobbin lace, winning prizes for her work, and I always knew I would follow her example one day.

It was not until 35 years later when my husband, son and I stopped our wanderings and settled back in Sydney and I joined a Tatting Guild that I got the opportunity.   The owner of a craft shop spotted my tatted bootie-pincushions, stuffed with velvet, and demanded six for her bobbin lace friends. Hating to make things to order, I struck a good bargain – Rosemary Shepherd’s book Introduction to Bobbin Lacemaking, 2 dozen spangled bobbins, and a good quality block pillow in exchange for the bootie-pincushions.

But I still had little time to learn, and it was not for another 12 years or so when our commitments in Sydney were no more, and we moved to a small country town seeking peace and quiet, that I picked up the book and bobbins, and started to work the exercises by myself.  Within a few weeks, I was addicted, and my search to collect bobbins and books, and add to my thread stash began.

I concentrated on Torchon to begin with, until I was confidently making quite wide edges and circular mats.  I then picked up books on Bucks Point and loved that.   I also tried Bedfordshire – not so good for me, I prefer the geometry of Torchon and Bucks.   Then some Russian tape lace, which I liked, a dabble at Milanese, but I still return to the ordered appearance of Torchon and Bucks.  Perhaps I will try Flanders, Binche, etc., one of these days.

Wedding garter in progress on Noelene’s lace pillow.  The pattern is by Bridget Cook from the book Weddings, Christenings and Anniversaries in Lace


Wedding garter made by Noelene.  The pattern is by Bridget Cook from the book Weddings, Christenings  Anniversaries in Lace

Question 2:  What is your favourite type of bobbin lace to make and what would you regard as your finest lacemaking achievement?

Torchon would be my favourite. My finest achievement?   Could be the Pythagoras Tree with Roots in the ‘s Gravenmoerse style of Torchon.  No, I correct myself, my finest lacemaking achievement is the number of others I have introduced to lacemaking, and helped them to learn.


Russian Tape Lace Peacock, with rainbow added, to go with Noelene’s poem “Peacocks and Rainbows”.  The theme of the 2015 Canberra Show was “Rainbows” and Noelene won 1st prize in the themed section.

Question 3:  How did you learn to make bobbin lace and how do you keep on learning?

How did I learn – from books, and that’s how I still keep on learning. I’ve done a few workshops, and found them informative and fun to do, but I prefer to follow directions in a book and work at my own speed.

Noelene’s first attempt at Floral Bucks.  The pattern is by Australian designer Elwyn Kenn

Question 4:  Best practical tips for a novice bobbin lacemaker?

Best tip for a novice – without doubt, watch your thread and pins, not your bobbins. Just reach for your bobbins, make sure their threads are coming away from your work correctly (number of twists, right bobbins) by looking at your work, not the bobbins.

Cat and btfly
Cat pattern designed by Michel Jourde

Question 5:  What are your personal favourite bobbin lace tools?

Midland bobbins, block pillows made of ethafoam, fine stainless steel pins.   And my wonderful German battery operated bobbin winder.

Noelene’s poems about lace

Question 6:  In addition to making bobbin lace, you also write poems about lace.

My poetry is only about lace, I can’t write about anything else.   They just spring up, unbidden, prompted from something someone has said in person, or on the internet chat groups I belong to.  They are great fun, and I love to see them printed in lace group newsletters.   I have put them together in a self-published booklet, first printed by a fellow lacemaker’s husband, a few copies of which were sold overseas.   But I had added so many since then that I republished myself in a little spiral bound booklet.

Russian Lady (in Russian Tape Lace) made by Noelene to illustrate the first edition of her poetry.  The pattern is adapted from a Bridget Cook pattern

Question 7:  Do you belong to a local, regional, or national lacemaking group?

I have belonged to the Australian Lace Guild for many years, and to a nearby group called the Canberra Lacemakers, but ill health prevents me from attending meetings.


Question 8:  What is the Internet Lace Gumnuts group all about?

The Lace Gumnuts is an email chat group for Australian resident lacemakers only. It is a closed group, and only the manager can add new members. It evolved from a discussion between a couple of lacemakers at an annual AGM of the Australian Lace Guild in 1994. They were discussing the international email chat group, Arachne, which is open to everyone, and it was suggested that with Australian lacemakers being scattered far and wide over Australia, many in isolated areas, that our own group might be a good idea. I took over management of it a few years after it was started. We have a membership of about 120, swap about 20 to 30 emails a day, and members range from beginners to teachers, and covers mainly bobbin lace and tatting, with some lace knitting. We discuss personal matters as well as lace subjects, and all members are very supportive of one another. The “guidelines” are no pictures, no jokes, no politics or specific religion, and no circulating stupid stories doing the rounds on the internet.   I also run a website for the group on which we can share pictures of our work, reviews for lace books, hints and tips, anything that is of interest to us. One of the fun aspects is that if any one of us goes travelling around Australia, you are sure to get a very warm friendly welcome wherever a fellow Gumnut lives.

The view from Noelene’s lace desk at The Angle.  The photo was taken mid-winter in 2015 – note the snow on the distant hills

Question 9:  Your favourite lace books and Internet lace websites?

Favourite useful book for reference – after Introduction to Bobbin Lacemaking by Rosemary Shepherd, I like Torchon Lacemaking:  A Manual of Techniques by Elizabeth Wade.  Top book for patterns, the 3 volumes Discover, Explore, Master, by Ulrike Voelcker.   My happiest buy of a lacemaking book was when a Dutch friend here in Australia finally found a copy of the book Kant uit Vlaanderen en ‘s Gravenmoer, published by the Dutch Lace Guild (LOKK) in 2002. I saw a copy brought back by an international travelling lacemaker, but the Guild was already sold out by then, and it took me (and my friend) many years of searching to finally find a second hand copy in a Dutch second hand bookshop on line.

Noelene’s lace pillow with work in progress.  It is an Ulrike Voelcker design from Discover Explore Master, and was made using 100 ecru linen.  Once Noelene finished it, she promptly gave it away, but she hopes to make another one day
IMG_9497 - Version 2
Noelene’s favourite lacemaking book for reference

Question 10:  What is on your lace pillow at the moment and what are your lace dreams for the future?

Three pillows in use at the moment – one by my lounge chair on a stand with an edge by Ulrike Voelker in Irish 100 ecru linen to go round a rectangular mat to top my bedside chest of drawers.   An empty pillow in the office room, I’ve just taken a simple bookmark off it, it begs for something new.  And a simple hanky edge on a travel pillow which I constructed myself by putting some removable ethafoam blocks into a laptop computer case.

Lace dreams for the future?   More Chris Parsons bobbins (I get two a month to build up my collection). Get my DH well enough to turn me some more.  On Gumlace, we have what we call a “Tuit List”, being a list of items we’d like to make when we get a round to it (a round tuit – I wrote a poem about this!).  So much there I’d like to try.   The late Karen Blum’s lovely oval mat – now that the pattern has finally been published by her husband, with the help of the SA Division of the Australian Lace Guild.   Some polychrome Bucks Point.  A Russian Tape lace circular mat with 12 points to it to turn into a clock face. The list is never-ending.


Noelene dressed up in costume for a lacemaking demonstration – complete with lace jabot and crocheted shawl


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