Nina Libin's BEANILe ( New York/USA, August-September 2004) - www.beanile.com
Nina Libin – is an artist, a master craftsman, the author of the original technique, which she has called BEANILe. Nina is an extremely busy person, and I was very glad that she has agreed to tell me about herself.
Nina, where were you born?
I was born in Leningrad .
Tell me about your childhood .
I was born in 1938, so my childhood coincided with the war and post-war years.
What about your further life?
Everything turned out the way I wanted it to be. I've been married for 47 years to the man I love; and I am fortunate to do everything I like during my whole life. Even though my interests change, the enthusiasm is always there.
What is your profession?
I'm an English teacher according to my diploma, my major has been English literature, but in real life I've been working as a proof-reader, an editor and a technical interpreter for 20 years.
What are you doing now?
I'm designing beaded lace “Beanile”; teach the basics of tatting, tatting with beads, and Beanile Lace techniques. Three or four times a year I get invitations from different lace guilds in US, sometimes in Europe , to teach a special course (this is where my pedagogical education is very useful!). For every occasion I design a special project or two. I've been publishing a newsletter “Lace of Beads” for two years already, it is dedicated exceptionally to the lace with beads or to the lace of beads (you can call it differently). Mostly, these are my own projects and my own design. I have included two works by Ekaterina Stepnaya into two issues. Plan to keep featuring interesting projects, designed by other artists and made in different lace techniques with beads.
You were one of the first, who started to revive the forgotten art of tatting, weren't you?
Yes, I was a member of the first group of 10-12 enthusiasts; it was in the middle of 80's (1984-86). Anna Grigoryevna Vecherskaya was also in this group. In 1986-88, at the request of my Moscow friends I was teaching a basic course in tatting for a small group of people. Afterwards Anna Vecherskaya was going to Moscow to teach. I don't know how tatting has been spreading after my leaving for US, according to the number of Russian books and web sites on tatting; the shuttle lace has become popular. According to my sources at the beginning of the XX century tatting was popular only in two cities of Russian Empire: Saint-Petersburg and Tiflis (Tbilisi). Schoolgirls had it as a high school course.
A few words about the technique of shuttle tatting.
The main tool – is a shuttle, material – thread, strong enough to make and tighten knots or stitches. Double stitches or double knots are worked with a shuttle; there are loops – picots left between double stitches; the place of the picot is determined by a pattern. According to a pattern a certain number of double stitches (knots) and picots are arranged into rings and/or chains (the main elements of tatting). Tatting or knotting it has first appeared in Europe in the XVIII century. It used to be done with a long shuttle and voluminous, often silk cord.
In the second half of the XIX century shuttle knotting has developed into tatting as we know it now, a delicate knotted lace worked with a small (not longer than 7 cm) shuttle and fine cotton thread.
Tatted lace has been used to decorate collars and handkerchiefs, to make doilies and various trimmings of 1-3 rows. It is a general belief that the original name of this technique has been lost, but most likely shuttle lace has evolved from two ancient handcrafts: Hand knotting (macrame) and knotting with a special shuttle (netting). That's why in different countries this needlework is called differently, often by the name of the tool. In Russia and in other countries of Europe , where tatting has come from France , it is called frivolite. In Italy – it's called occhi (eyelet). In Germany – Shiffchenarbeit (work with a shuttle). In the countries of the Middle East and Turkey this lace has kept its ancient name – makuk of mekik (shuttle). The English name – is tatting (something made out of pieces).
What initiated your interest?
It was Russian bobbin lace. Most of tatting revival enthusiasts have attended the first in Leningrad course in Russian bobbin lace.
All the students in that group were skillful needlewomen, and one of them mentioned “frivolite” – a mysterious name of a forgotten handicraft , which she had heard earlier from her grandmother. And so we (10 excited women) decided to restore it! At that time we had a very bad photocopy of a couple of pages on tatting from the book of 1902, (as it turned out later, it was a translation of the Complete Encyclopedia of NEEDLEWORK by Therese de Dillmont). In 1991 in Moscow this book was republished in Russian, it's called “The Course of Needlework”, - a complete reprint of the 1902 edition.
We haven't had tatting shuttles (I've made my first shuttle out of the plastic ruler). But soon there appeared a lot of plastic, *wooden and metal shuttles of different shapes and sizes, so our students were provided with both – shuttles and textbooks, actually a bunch of handouts for a class prepared by each teacher. In a short time real books have also started to appear.
*Later, together with the wonderful master craftsman I.M.Arkadiyev, I have worked out a special shuttle (it is called the “beanile shuttle”) of the comfortable size for my little hands and very capacious (one shuttle can hold 7-8 meters of the thin thread and about 500 seed). The restoration of the tatting technique – was not an easy, but fascinating process, it included searching for material, working with the museum's curators, mastering the technique, making samples, compiling courses for different levels and preparing publications. The members of that group have become the first tatting teachers in Leningrad and Moscow .
Nina, were you the first one to include seed beads into tatting lace?
I sincerely thought so. I've had that joyful feeling of “discovery” and astonishment when the first works appeared. Is it possible that no one ever has come across it before? I began searching for the prototype, read books and magazines, talked to the specialists-bead workers, to the museum curators, to the colleagues in the USA. Now I know that the first samples and even first publications about adding seed beads to tatting go way back to the very beginning of the XX century according to one source, and to the 90's of the XIX century – according to another.
After all these years I can say that my “discovery” is based on knotting and beading, - two needlework techniques known since the times of Ancient Egypt. Thread - bead combination has been used in every needlecraft: from embroidery to bobbin lace and weaving. This traditional and very logical method has been around for centuries: first you thread the beads, then you knit, stitch, sew, tat…
I've been using this technique since 1984-85 and I continue to develop it. “BEANILe” (BEAds by NIna Libin) based on the common principle of using seed beads in shuttle lace, is my own version of working with seed beads, where tatting is used as a basic technique for organizing seed beads into lace. First, this term appeared in my article “BEADS and the SHUTTLE KNOTTING” in the magazine “Decorative arts of the USSR ”, #8, Moscow 1988. *My works were first exhibited in 1990 at the exhibition “Beads in the Cultures of the World's Nations” in the Museum of Ethnography in Leningrad .
*During 15 years (1986-2000) in Leningrad , Moscow , Jerusalem , Tel Aviv and New-York were organized small parties (Tea with Beads), where I showed my latest works, talked about beads and tatting, and demonstrated the technique. Some of these parties turned into a Ball of Beads: with music and dancing, and every woman wearing BEANILE jewelry.
Why did you give your heart away to this technique?
This is my way to express myself – some people write poems, others – paint or sculpt, I create and make lace of beads.
Tell us more about your technique.
In a couple of words: I thread the beads and knot this beaded thread into beaded lace, which can be a jewelry, a detail of the costume, an interior decoration… The required number of beads is threaded beforehand. If the project is multicolored, seed beads are threaded in a certain sequence. The prepared thread is loaded on two shuttles and worked in the technique of the shuttle tatting, securing each bead by a double stitch or a double knot. Knots the required toughness to the bead rings and chains. The number of beads between the stitches is determined by the size of elements of the stitched picture and it allows to vary their contours and the shapes of the ready make for the eternal number of times. The author's name of the technique is beanile. In detail you can read about it in my book “The shuttle stitching with beads, the lace technique BEANILe”, 1998, USA .
Which materials do you work with?
I use small glass beads (mostly Czech from Yabloneks), natural pearls, semi-precious and precious stones, metallic, cotton and linen threads.
You have been a teacher of tatting in Leningrad (USSR). Do you continue to work in this area in the USA ?
Yes, since 1986 to 1990 I've been teaching tatting in Leningrad and Moscow . My first class in New-York was formed in 1993.
Is tatting of the lace popular now in the USA ?
It's hard to answer this question: a lot of people have never heard about this lace. But there's also a lot of people, who heard about it and even saw their grandmothers or grand-grand-mothers stitching (these people usually answer the ads about the courses first). Many people have heard about the shuttle lace, but they are convinced that it's a forgotten and lost art. One I can tell for sure: there are about 3-4 thousand people all around the world (2000 of them in the US and Canada not only women), who spends a lot of time on reviving this technique, - they teach, they write and they demonstrate…
Nina, you have been taking part in the International Conference of Lace making no long ago. What are your impressions?
You can imagine what kind of celebration it is, when several hundreds of enthusiasts, in this case – lace-lovers and experts of all kinds, gather under one roof for a week, the same atmosphere reigns at the beads and knitting meetings. There is an International society of the old lace-lovers with the clubs in different states and in many countries. In English it's the International Old Lacers, Inc. (IOLI), you can find out a lot of interesting information on their site
This year the conference took place in the state of Pennsylvania (about 5 hours by train from New-York), the students and suppliers of goods, which have anything to do with the lace, where mostly from the USA or Canada, the instructors and lecturers – from Australia, England, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy, Ireland, USA, Thailand and Scotland. It was wonderful to finally meet face to face with old acquaintances, who I know for many years on the Internet.
How much time do you spend creating an original work?
From 3 days to 5 years, and it's impossible to say something for sure – this work does not fit into any statistics.
How many works are there in your collection?
About 300, but in fact there are two collections: the FIRST one includes works, which are neither been copied, nor written down as patterns. The works are in private collections all over the world, also in my own… The SECOND one is a collection of “Teaching projects”, - these are the works, which are made to order, for the publications (articles in magazines, for the books, the newsletter), for each class and major tatting occasion. While making the projects different versions are been tested, than accepted or rejected. The versions, which were “lucky”, are registered, stitched, made more precise, registered again and stitched again.
How are the new ideas born?
I never stop working and new ideas appear all the time. It is probably usual for an artist, and is considered to be a gift; but I would rather call it a challenge and a responsibility to fulfill one's the mission in life.
What is the future life of your creations?
Some will stay in private collections and adorn the appearance of their owners, the rest feel good in storage boxes and at the rare exhibitions. The collection, which I have at home, will be given to the museum with the index, when I finish it.
What is your biggest achievement according to your opinion?
The fact that BEANILE (the technique and the lace in beadwork and in lace making) became a term rather than an abbreviation. English lace makers even use the verb “to beanile” instead of “to make Beanile lace” or “to work in Beanile technique”.
What are your creative plans for the future?
To work: write articles and books, keep publishing my newsletter (new projects are designed for each publication). Maybe to publish the main collection as an album…
Do you have a dream?
I live in my dream and, of course, I want it to continue…
Nina Libin book -
Other Nina Libin publications:
Interview by Irina Astratenko / August - September 2004.