I love history. On January 27th 1979, this article featuring an oval tatted altar cloth made by lacemaker Christy Bradshaw, appeared in the Deseret News:
This beautiful crochet lace altar cloth was made by a lacemaker for the Idaho Twin Falls Temple:
“I’ve wanted to make a temple altar cloth for a long time and was so excited for this opportunity. There are a total of 273 motifs–each one took 20-30 minutes to make (to give you an idea of the time that went into this project).
It turned out beautifully and I’m excited to know that it’s going to a temple near where I grew up.” –Kiren
Kiren crochets all kinds of things, and also enjoys tatting. Such a beautiful lace.
I came across a sister who tats lace altar cloths. Many people ask me if what I do is tatting because my thread is fine, and crochet thread is often yarn weight. My lace is almost all crochet, but there are sisters who still tat altar cloths for the Lord.
This is a photo of her tatted altar lace. I’m so excited to find someone who tats temple lace. This altar cloth lace was made by Ann and is beautiful. This is a mind boggling amount of work. She writes:
It all started when I was 13 years old. I had appendicitis and while I was in the hospital I shared a room with an older lady. She was tatting almost constantly and I liked the look of it. I was so intrigued that I decided I wanted to learn to tat someday.
Three years later (while I was 16) it was 1980 and we were celebrating the sesquicentennial of the organization of the church. The young women’s leaders in my ward decided that they wanted us girls to learn something new as part of that celebration year. I told them I wanted to learn tatting.
So, they found an older sister in the ward named Ruby who knew how to tat. Three of us went to Ruby’s house to learn. I tied knots for about 30 minutes and then it clicked, and I was tatting. I started out with simple projects such as bookmarkers, and enjoyed the time I spent visiting Ruby and developing a friendship with her. I still have a pansy doily she crocheted. It has always been on display somewhere in my house since the day she gave it to me.
After about nine years, my sister asked if I could tat a baby bonnet. She picked the pattern, and I gave it a try. Up to that point I had never done anything that big. I ended up making a bonnet and matching set of booties, and the rest is history. So far I have made numerous Christmas tree ornaments and bookmarks, about 10 bonnets and a number of doilies. I am currently working on an altar cloth for the Boise Idaho Temple.
Many years ago, it used to be the case in the Denver Temple, that they would only accept tatted altar lace. Lacemakers who tat have become so rare that they now accept crochet altar cloths also. The standard is the best. Whatever we can give, that is the best we can give, that is what is asked of us. I love the history.
My favorite Ann quote:
The thing about tatting is that it is almost a lost art. Few people know how to do it anymore, but it is so delicate and beautiful. I’ve also learned that you can’t get enough money to make it worth the work. So, I never sell my tatting. I only give it away.
Ann has posted pictures of the construction of this lace also, so you can see how a tatted lace is put together. This one was made in size 30 thread, and now sits in the Boise, Idaho Temple. What a gift.
“This altar lace has 527 larger motifs and 64 smaller ones around the edge. The large motifs took up to one hour each to make. The smaller ones took about 15 minutes each. All of them (591) had to have the ends whip stitched to hide them. All in all, I would guess I spent over 600 hours on it. The motifs line up in diagonal lines across the altar which creates an optical illusion with the angles of the altar. The motifs themselves move in and out in a way that I find very pleasing.
I often look at the lace in the temple and try to follow the lines and figure out how it is made. These motifs started on the outside edge and moved in to the center, then back out and back in until it was done. It helped that I only needed to tie off the ends once per motif, too!” –Ann
I had some time this afternoon so I modified the motif pattern from my previous design. I opened it up a little more so it is less dense. I like the balance between closed and open areas better, you can see what is going on in the lace.
A good visual design gives your eye a path to travel, and the lace begins to tell a story.
In old lace traditions, the lacemakers would use their skills as an art form, taking elements of their lives and experiences and working them into their laces. This next altar cloth lace has a story to tell. It’s a good one, and I want to get it right.
I’m experimenting with lace design. This original creation is my newest try. I’m looking for a good design for my next altar cloth project.
Altar cloth patterns need to be close woven designs so buttons don’t snag on them, but they still want them open enough to be lacy and beautiful. It is a constant tug of war between beauty and durability.
So far, I like it. I don’t know if it’s the one though.
This six pointed lace motif was worked in size 20 thread. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon.
When I began working with the Los Angeles Temple, the Temple Matron and I had quite a few questions about what kinds of laces and designs were acceptable for altar cloths, since we were both unfamiliar with the new guidelines. We ended up talking with Salt Lake several times.
When the Temple Department found out I was making new laces, they told me there was an urgent need for an altar lace in the Denver Temple, and wondered if I could help. I already had a lace I was working on for the Los Angeles Temple so I couldn’t help with Denver, but I knew someone who could.
I gave them the contact information for my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, Mary and Heather Rockwood. They are also lacemakers, and they both happen to live in Colorado, just south of Denver.
It turned out that even though Heather has never made altar lace before, she was already working on an altar lace for them… the temple in Denver just didn’t know it yet. Slow and steady, she already had quite a few inches of her lace completed. How is that for being inspired? They were so pleased.
I asked Heather what pattern she was using, and she sent me this photograph of her lace in progress. It’s simple and beautiful. Her pattern is called “Star Motif” from an old needlework magazine called “Workbasket”.
Her new altar cloth is going to be the sister lace to my Ebenezer Lace. I taught Mary the pattern when she visited me a month or two ago, and she decided to make hers to match.
So, when they are finished, Denver will have two new laces, instead of one!
In August of 2000, my family and I lived in a little apartment in Boston, Massachusetts. My husband was working for BBN (later Genuity), and we were two years into our east coast adventure. My daughter, Anna was three at the time.
We were thrilled to be living in New England, it was so green, lush, and in every way, different than Utah, or even California where I was raised. While we were there, we had the privilege of watching the building of the 100th temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it was built.
“The Boston Massachusetts Temple was the first temple built in New England, and it holds the distinction of being the 100th operating temple of the Church—fulfilling President Gordon B. Hinckley’s desire to have 100 temples in operation before the end of the year 2000.” —LDS Temples
As part of the preparation for the dedication, I helped organize making little booties for the legs of each of the chairs for the dedication to keep the metal legs from damaging the new carpets of the temple. Because I was making little white chair booties, my name came up as a sister with crochet skills.
I was contacted by someone affiliated with the temple construction and dedication project, and asked if I would be willing to make a temple altar cloth for one of the sealing room altars. I was floored. I had no idea such a thing could even be done by mere mortals like me. I was flattered. They’d had a few sisters already volunteer, but they needed one more altar lace, and the catch was, they needed it fast.
I’d never made anything as ambitious as an altar cloth before. I’d made a few doilies, and some lace edging, that was about it. I’d made lots of scarves, hats, and potholders though, and I had a bit of a plucky attitude. There wasn’t anything I didn’t think I could do, so I started.
“Do you think you can be done in one month? We’d really like it to be in place for the dedication if possible.”
“One month? Ok! I’ll try.” I had no idea what I was getting into. At the time, I had one daughter, she was three, almost four, and we were just starting our adoption adventures, taking training and classes through LDS Family Services in Boston. I had a lot of free time on my hands, and Anna was a good lace buddy. She and I started our altar cloth, and together we watched each square as it grew.
This pattern is from 101 Motifs for Crochet by Rita Weiss. The pattern is motif #101, the last in the book.
I didn’t end up finishing in a month, but luckily, the dedication date was put off a bit with the steeple controversy. I was able to finish in time for the dedication, but just barely. I ended up working on the Boston lace six hours a day, sometimes more. I was new to lace-making still, so I made a lot of mistakes, and learned how to change, alter, and fix laces.
At one point, I was gazing admiringly at my growing lace, nearly thirty squares large, and realized that one square, was horribly, terribly wrong. I don’t know what I’d been thinking but I skipped an entire row somewhere in the middle of the square. I had to learn to remove a square, carefully, without damaging the rest of the lace. Another time I realized that four of the squares were upside down– each in a different section of the lace. Horror! I know, but to an experienced lacemaker, it really is. We can tell these things. I wanted my lace to be my best. So I took those out too, flipped them over, and put them back. Thankfully, I’d chosen a pretty straightforward pattern.
It was such an honor to be able to make something for the Lord. I can honestly say that accepting this assignment inspired my love of temple laces, and truly changed my life in some important ways. I’ve never forgotten that experience, and the joy it brought me to bring something of my own, made with my own hands, loved with my own heart, to the house of the Lord.
My husband and I helped with the open house of the temple, walking the governor, senators, children, families, and dignitaries on beautiful silent tours through the house of the Lord. Anyone who wanted to, could come and see the House of the Lord. But, they couldn’t see the laces, and neither could I. The laces were not displayed during the open house. Laces are not placed on the altars until after a temple is dedicated.
We moved to California the week of the temple dedication, so I have never had the pleasure of seeing my lace on the altar in the Boston Temple, but I know it is there, and that is joy enough to me.
An interesting note: at the time the Boston Temple was dedicated, it had no steeple. There was a controversy with the neighbors, and a lawsuit blocked the completion of the steeple. So, in some respects, my memory of the 100th temple of the Lord is consistent. The steeple was built a while later, and we watched that from California too. We didn’t know it then, but that steeple controversy ended up being one of the best things that happened to the church in the Boston area during the construction of the temple. It brought together people of all faiths, in support of a good cause. We made many friends across the spectrum of beliefs. It was the Lord’s miracle, with a twist of humor.
As for us, though we never got the joy of seeing our lace on the altar, we had many other blessings come to us right at that crucial time. My husband was able to get a great job, right before the company he worked for went under. We felt strongly that we should go to California, and right as the lace was finished, we got an offer, and began moving. The dot com bubble burst weeks after we arrived in California and all jobs in his field dried up for several years, yet we were spared that instability. Best of all, though we didn’t know it at the time, our three little sons were looking for a family, waiting for us in California.
I am convinced our gift was seen, and recognized, and honored. Our prayers were answered. Some parts of our Boston Temple experience are just had in faith. Experience has taught me that there is no sacrifice you can make in the Lord’s service that is greater than the blessings you receive.
The Ebenezer project. It’s probably the most complicated, and the most beautiful lace I’ve ever made. It also has a lot of meaning to me. The four blossoms in the center of each motif are for my children, and the path that brought them to me.
The blossoms are Linnaea Borealis (twinflower) blossoms, named by Carl Linnaeus. They are tiny white and pink ground flowers that grow in alpine areas. Carl Linnaeus often had his portrait painted with a sprig of Linnaea Borealis somewhere in the painting. It is a symbol of humility because of the quiet unassuming way it grows along the ground. As I designed this lace for the Los Angeles Temple, I thought a lot about my life, and the blessings I’ve had. This lace symbolizes those blessings, and the path that got me through some of the hardest things of my life.
It is my second altar cloth for the Los Angeles temple, but the first that I designed myself, based loosely on a vintage pattern called “Valentine”. It took me four months to complete, working sometimes 8 hours a day. It’s truly a labor of love, and a gift from me to the Lord.