Historic American Ipswich Lace

Presented by

Karen Thompson

Karen Thompson will take you back in time to the late 1700s, when Ipswich, Massachusetts, had a thriving handmade bobbin lace industry. White linen lace borders and insertions were made for decorating baby clothes and other garments, while the black silk laces enhanced bonnets, shawls, and other fashionable clothing. When Alexander Hamilton was asked by the newly formed Congress to make a Census of Manufactures in the new nation, he received 22 black silk and 14 white linen lace samples from Ipswich, MA as testimony of the town’s main industry. The black silk lace samples from 1789-90 are preserved in the Library of Congress and provide an amazing record of black silk lace from that period. 

Our speaker, Karen H. Thompson, started making bobbin lace in 1974 after an initial lesson from her mother and has continued to study and teach lacemaking ever since. She has been a volunteer working with the large lace collection in the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington, DC for over 20 years and is responsible for much of the available online data for that 6,000-piece collection. 

Karen has studied and reconstructed all the available Ipswich lace samples from 1790 and published them in her book, The Lace Samples from Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1789-1790. The book includes a brief history, color-coded working diagrams, prickings, and images of the original samples as well as the reconstructed samples. Karen has been lecturing on and teaching classes in Ipswich lace for almost 20 years.

 Due to the pandemic, Karen began teaching virtual classes in 2020. She teaches bobbin lace classes through the Lace Museum and the Smithsonian Associates, from Introduction to Bobbin Lace through various skill-building classes, Torchon design, and Historic American Ipswich Lace.