|Nakoma Tarbell models St. Regis lace.|
In my doll world, every bride wants lingerie made of St. Regis lace in her trousseau. Students at the St. Regis School in Akwasasne (Saint Regis Mohawk Reservation) have been making this delicate lace, prized for its beauty, durability, and the spiritual blessings it confers on connubial relations for over 150 years. French Jesuits named the mission and church they established among the Kanien'kehá:ka in the mid-18th century after Saint Jean-François Régis because of his admiration for the indigenous people of Canada. St. Regis lived in France from 1597 to 1640. He traveled long distances over harsh terrain in order to preach the Gospel, but he never had the chance to preach to the people of the Six Nations. He did, however, establish a charitable organization known as the Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament as well as several hostels for reformed prostitutes. He also set young women up as lace makers so that they could earn an income while remaining in their villages rather than succumbing to the vices and temptations of the city. As a result he is known as the patron saint of lace making.
Lace is an open work fabric made from threads that are looped, twisted, or braided to other threads. While the craft of lace making dates back to ancient times, true lace, woven independently from a backing fabric, did not appear until the late 15th or early 16th centuries. Lace making is a painstaking process that requires mathematical precision. It can take an hour to produce one square-inch of lace. As a result, fine, hand-made lace was very expensive. Wealthy women would have their maids temporarily stitch lace collars and cuffs to their garments for wear. Afterwards the maids would carefully remove the pieces and store them in locked coffers along with milady’s jewels. Pieces of hand-made lace were handed down through generations as heirlooms.
While Catholic missionaries did spread the craft of lace making to other indigenous peoples of North America, I do not know if the Sisters of Saint Anne who established the original St. Regis Village School taught lace making to their students. Since Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin did not found the order until 1850, lace making would not have been a profitable trade. Machine lace never matched the quality and inventiveness of the hand-made product, but lace-making machines were perfected in the early nineteenth century, which put lace in reach of many more consumers. It also put tremendous pressure on women who had practiced lace making as a cottage industry. Wages for piecework fell so low that some families employed children as young as three to boost production and St. Regis surely wept in heaven to see that other lace makers reverted to part-time prostitution to make ends meet.
Fortunately, in our time there is a growing appreciation for handcrafted goods. The fictional St. Regis School in my doll world has organized a social business that sells traditional handcrafted lace items on eBay and Etsy. The women’s collective that operates the lace making business awards college scholarships to promising young people of the Mohawk Nation. Nakoma Tarbell, recipient of one of these St. Regis awards, is currently studying Forestry Engineering at Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada. She keeps her 2000 updated Barbie body toned by playing varsity lacrosse and she has graciously agreed to serve as the fit model for the first Limbé Dolls tutorial on making flexi-lace lingerie:
As langiappe, this video shows how bobbin lace is made: