LACEMAKER

Věra Holomečková

We hear from the woman behind the handmade Czech bobbin lace for Manolo Blahnik’s exclusive collaboration with Preciosa: twenty pairs of limited edition, Bohemian-inspired Hangisi pumps.

How did you choose the lace?

We sent a selection of samples from our archive to London, and Mr. Blahnik picked one that dated back to around 1900. I had no idea how this style of lace was made, so I had to teach myself. Once I was confident I could make it, it took me 150 hours to finish a single pair. It was too much work, even for a brand like Manolo Blahnik.

How so?

Well, it would be too expensive for one thing. So, instead I created a brand new manual for an entirely unknown technique of lacemaking all by myself. It took me only 70 hours; I was quite proud of myself!

That sounds like quite a lot…

Yes, it really was. It was very demanding; I was working up to 12 hours a day. And later I found out that I was almost blind while working. I had a cataract. I was working on the shoes and one of the tiny veins in my eye collapsed, so I went to the doctor and she said that one eye was almost blind. Unbelievable! This summer I had minor surgery and now my sight is impeccable again. Even if it wasn't connected to the project, I will always share this as a funny story.

But now 20 pairs are going to be made. Will you be able to manage?

I am only the supervisor and a safety net in case someone calls in sick or something. I have chosen only the very best Czech lacemakers for the job. I know them all personally; most of them are my students or lifetime friends. Their techniques are so delicate!

Is lace strong enough to hold the entire shoe together?

The flax that we picked is very strong. It's enough to starch and iron it and it holds perfectly and is also comfortable. One shoe is made of 200 meters of Czech-made yarn.

Can you imagine wearing a pair of Hangisis yourself?

Of course! I think they are fantastic. But to be honest, at my age I prefer sneakers so I can run around and keep busy. But if I were younger this would be the perfect shoe for me. By the way, if there is anything I spend a lot of money on, it's shoes.

Were you satisfied with your work when you first saw the shoes?

Well, as I’m quite a difficult person, once I saw the final result I wasn’t happy and started thinking of some adjustments I wanted to make. The ornamental borderline of the shoe in particular needed some changes, and so now it has this kind of degradation effect and I love it. It fades gradually, it looks wonderful. I had to re-write the entire manual! And of course, each and every size has to have its own documentation and personalized manual.

How long have you worked with lace? Is it your lifetime hobby?

Not really. When I finished high school, I wanted to play sports at university. I was quite skilled at gymnastics. However, while completing the entrance exams I got injured, so I had to look for a backup plan. Since I had attended drawing lessons from the time I was a little girl in Žižkov, Prague, a teacher told me about a brand new school that specialized in fi ne arts and crafts. That’s where I learned how to make lace.

Did you graduate from the same school where you teach now?

Of course. Two months after I graduated, after the summer holidays, the director of the school offered me a job. I was already working at the statistics office of the Czech Republic at the time, but of course I accepted the offer. I worked in our archive and I’ve taught since 1974. As of next year, I’ll have been there for half a century!

Do you work with lace in your free time?

If I had any free time I definitely would. But I teach at the school and I do private lessons too; there is almost no free time unfortunately. But I love lace; I even love to be surrounded by it at home. I think I’m obsessed! Some table cloths I have at home were made by me. Last Christmas I made some little lace angels for my best friends and family!

So you never get fed up with lace?

Not at all! I even search for lace when travelling. I've got an extensive collection of bobbins and old motifs of lace. Like I said, if I had enough time I would do even more with lace. But I am happy that I am so busy. As long as people want to learn it, I'm sure that this wonderful craft will not disappear.

What do you like best about teaching?

I love being surrounded by young people. It's like magic. I think it keeps me young at heart too. I also love creating something new and overcoming new challenges.

Can you remember the most difficult thing you have ever decorated with lace?

It's hard to say. I honestly don't think I am very talented, definitely not artistically. But I’ve got a very technical head on me, and people like this are always good at lacemaking.

So you often use the same techniques?

No, no. Actually sometimes I don't even know how I do or did something. I just like making beautiful things.

But there must be something that is considered to be more difficult than the rest?

Well I can remember making some beautiful necklaces from lace. It was unusual and very difficult. Or when I was restoring some historical laces at the museum of Valašské Meziříčí. I was discovering the old world of lacemaking from long ago; it was so amazing. They didn't have such complicated manuals. Only some dots on a template. I had to imagine how it was done, each aspect and detail. That was fun! Oh, and the tiny leaves!

Leaves?

Err, yes. I fi nd lacing a leaf very easy but there are people who won‘t make a single nice leaf in their entire life. And now just imagine that there are 136 leaves on a single Hangisi pump!

So you are a miraculous lacemaker, are you?

Not at all, dear! The fact that people keep coming to me saying that they are not able to follow even the best manuals and create is very weird to me. I don't really get it. I think it might be a gift I have. And I am genuinely happy that I have it.