Story: Paulette Pearson | Styling: Mandy Keener |
Mary Anne Gunter dives passionately into everything she does. The former psychiatric nurse, now pursuing a doctorate in psychology, is intent on exposing children and adults to a wide range of cultural endeavors, from conducting etiquette classes to sharing art and literature through volunteering for Little Rock’s Arkansas Literary Festival and the Ozark Film Festival.
Mary Anne’s passion for antique lace runs just as deep. She acquired her first piece of lace, a doily, at the tender age of 10. At 19, she saved up enough babysitting money to purchase her first antique dresser, where she still displays her collection more than 30 years later. And for her daughter Vanessa’s wedding, she hand-sewed a handkerchief—sewing is another passion—using remnants of lace from her first doily, her own wedding gown and that of her great grandmother. “It was Vanessa’s ‘something old,’” she says. “I made a satin ivory bow, with a loop holding her baby ring, and sewed on pearls from an antique necklace.”
Early exposure to the arts fueled Mary Anne’s dreams of visiting England, where she eventually acquired the majority of her collection. “My mother sang opera, loved books, classical music, antiques and literature,” Mary Anne says. Her favorite piece came from a little antique shop about a mile from the Tower of London, costing a mere three dollars. English outdoor markets, known in England as jumble or boot sales, have also proven fruitful over the years, with antique treasures crumpled up in coffee cans and boxes just waiting to be discovered. Heirloom pieces, like a slip and a pair of gloves passed down from her grandmother, also grace Mary Anne’s collection.
Mary Anne believes that lace making, made popular in Europe during the 16th century, is a dying art form. While visiting France, she once watched an elderly woman make lace, her hands working so fast “they were a blur,” she recalls. “When she’s gone, all of that talent will be lost.” Rather than machine made synthetic styles, she seeks handmade natural cotton, silk or linen fabric, which are transformed into lace either when holes are punched out or threads are looped, twisted or braided together. Her other favorite techniques include entredeux, French for “between two,” which is the joining of lace to fabric, lace to lace, or fabric to fabric. Another, filet crochet, uses finer threads and more decorative styles of stitching.
Collecting lace, says Mary Anne, recalls a time when women hand-sewed their trousseau—clothes, accessories, and household linens and wares they would need as brides. They hand-stitched monograms to tablecloths and napkins, made their gowns, chemises and camisoles, and wore them every day. She believes women today should embrace all things delicate and feminine as well. As a wife, mother, professional and volunteer, she’s a shining example of that. “You can sit in a board room wearing a lace collar,” she adds. “Absolutely.”
Beginner’s Guide for Collecting Lace
1. Don’t disregard damaged lace. “There will always be a portion left that you can salvage,” Mary Anne says.
2. For the wardrobe, consider incorporating lace into a baby’s Christening gown or Easter dress, or using it to line a basket, tie to a handbag, or better yet to make an evening bag. “I’m also experimenting with using it to make jewelry,” Mary Anne says.
3. For the home, consider framing lace on a black background to highlight the details, or hanging a large piece behind your bed as a pseudo headboard.
4. Lace can be delicate. For cleaning, lay it flat in a bathtub to soak in warm or cool water with a small amount of gentle shampoo or dishwashing liquid. Rather than machine drying, lay it in the sun to dry, then spray with a bit of starch and iron through a dry wash cloth to prevent heat damage.
5. Use watered down bleach on a Q-tip to remove stains, if you feel the lace can withstand it. Note that some lace may be too delicate.