A Family History Written in Lace

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Stephen G. Bowman

     For many generations on my mother's side of the family, our family history has been written in the lace it has produced.  This has almost always been something handed down from mothers to daughters, but this time around, it was the generation without daughters that had a man take up the mantle.  Being the youngest son and grandson meant I got to be spoiled rotten, but it also meant fate decided that it now up to me to carry the needle arts to the next generation.  Sometimes its good to be the baby, isnt it?

     At the age of nineteen, when I was a freshman in college, my grandmother, Virginia first taught me how to crochet.  I immediately found something that I loved to do.  Years later, after I moved back home to Bedford, I took classes and learned how to knit and bobbin lace and I taught myself how to tat and filet netting.  In recent years, my grandmother taught me how to quilt and do drawn thead work.  There is nothing I won't learn how to do if I know someone who can teach me.

Beulah K. (Ray) Bowman

     My mother, Beulah K. Bowman, who has made many beautiful peices in her life, is not a lacemaker by admission.  Beulah first learned to crochet from her mother Virginia, but that wasn't for her and soon learned to knit and a life long love affair began.  Besides being a knitter, she is a quilter.  I think she once said, "If its got a hole in it, then I dropped a stitch."  This makes her the generation that got skipped in the lacemaking traditions of the family.  However, she is also the first be a proficient knitter in three generations.

Virginia E. (Lutes) Ray

     My grandmother, Virginia E. Ray, never met a type of handwork she didn't want to learn how to make, and I think I truly get that from her.  If she ever saw someone doing something she didn't know how to do, she learned it pretty fast or killed herself trying. 

     Though admittedly, her first love in the lacemaking arena will always be crochet.  It was the first thing she learned and has been a staple in her life since the age of eight.  As an adult Virginia became a master at crochet, especially at interpreting and changing poorly written patterns.  This talent caused her to be saught out by many crocheters to help them complete their projects.  During her life time, she has taught many people how to crochet with her last student being her grandson and school founder, Stephen Bowman. 

     On the 15th of February 2013, Virginia passed away leaving all without her wisdom and lace making skills.  She will be missed by everyone.

Bertha (Fleetwood) Lutes

     My great-grandmother, Bertha Lutes, was born with a handicap, her mother didn't do handwork of any kind, save knitting socks and knitting bored Bertha to tears.  However, she did marry a man whose mother, sisters and sisters-in-law all did fancy handwork and thus the challenge was laid down before her...learn what they knew and then do it better.  Bertha learned all she could about crocheting, quilting, embroidery, tatting, etc. from anyone who would teach her, but her mother-in-law never approved of her handwork. 

     This all changed in 1912, when she and her husband, Grant, moved to Illinois to work on a farm over there for over a year.  In Illinois, Bertha learned Drawn Thread Work from a nice German lady who lived near them.  When Bertha came home from their long trip, she knew something no one else knew and she made sure they knew it and thus the score was evened out.

Meg (Musser) Lutes

     My great-great grandmother, Mary Margaret "Meg" Lutes, who was the mother-in-law of Bertha Lutes, was a woman who had a vast knowledge of many types of needlework and lace making techniques in her head.  Besides being a lace maker, Meg was a spinner, a weaver, a quilter, she hand dyed all her yarn that she spun and was often sought out by others to learn how to make lace.  Meg was a typical farmer's wife of her time period.  Meg and her husband Tom, had ten children, five sons and five daughters and she taught everyone of her daughters the art of lace making.  Meg's original great wheel type spinning wheel has recently been given to Stephen Bowman as a family heirloom by Ednamae Lucas.

Amanda (Arthur) Fleetwood

     My great-great grandmother, Amanda Fleetwood, the mother of Bertha Lutes and Aunt Minnie Robertson, was not one noted for her handwork.  Actually, the only thing she did do that was even in the same arena was sock knitting.  Having been the mother of so many children she had to knit socks for them.  What is today a popular hobby, back then was a necessity, but she was a dedicated knitter.

Ruth (Sutphin) Musser

     My great-great-great grandmother, Ruth Musser, the mother of Meg Lutes, is as far back as I know about the lace makers of the family.  I am more than certain the tradition goes back farther then this, but I can find no record of it.  Ruth Musser's spinning wheel and several of her hand carved crochet hooks still exist today.  Also one of the many doilies she made is still in existence.

Mary A. "Polly" (Brown) Lutes

     My great-great-great grandmother, Mary Ann "Polly" Lutes, who was known all over Salt Creek Township in Jackson County as "Granny" Lutes, was a woman of many talents.  Whether they needed her services as a mid-wife in a child birth, or perhaps it was a lesson on various types of hand work, many people flocked to her door.  Maybe it was the time they came from, but women from this time seem to have a thorough understanding of how to do a great many things.

Mary (O'Neal) Brown

     My great-great-great-great grandmother, Mary Ann Brown, was the mother of Polly Lutes and an original Indiana Pioneer woman.  She first came to Indiana with her parents, Jake and Elizabeth O'Neal in a covered wagon.  However, the traditions of lacework and handwork came with them and many a night she sat by the fire working on her embroidery, lace making or whatever else she needed to do.  Mary married young and had many daughters, most of whom she taught her hand work abilities.

Aunts & Cousins Who Also Make Lace

Elizabeth A. Blakesley

     My cousin Elizabeth A. Blakesley is a contemporary of mine generation wise, as we were born in the same year.  Beth began cross-stitching at the age of ten, which was about the same time period she also learned to sew for her Fisher-Price "Mandy" doll, which was a gift from her grandmother, Helen (Beaudette) Lutes.  Beth has also dabbled in crocheting, quilting, jewelry making and other needle crafts over the years.  However, it has been since 2003, that Beth learned she was a knitter at heart, although she still loves to cross stitch and embroidery.  Beth has become an avid lace knitter, which quickly became her favorite thing to knit.

Aunt Ivy (Lutes) Callahan

     Aunt Ivy Pearl Callahan, the youngest daughter of Meg Lutes, was an accomplished painter in her life and was well known for her handwork as well.  Though she did admit that would much rather work with paint than with thread, her handwork was extremely well done, however, Aunt Ivy couldn't read crochet patterns to save her life.  Many women from her time period learned the art of crochet without learning how to read written instructions.  Instead they learned by looking at an existing piece of crochet, counting the stitches and then reproducing it.

Aunt Minnie (Fleetwood) Robertson

     Aunt Minnie Robertson was a sister to Bertha Lutes, and like her had no one in the family to teach her how to crochet.  Aunt Minnie had one other set back, she was left-handed and that made learning how to crochet even harder for her.  In the end she prospered and learned how to crochet left-handed and thus began her love of crochet lace making.

Aunt Kattie (Lutes) Hise

     Aunt Kattie Alma Hise is the daughter of Meg Lutes and the sister of Aunt Ivy Callahan.  Like many of the women in the family, Kattie was a seamstress and a crocheter in good order.  Also like many of the other women in the family, Aunt Kattie could not read crochet patterns and depended on visual swatches for her pattern work.

Linda Jo (Lutes) Blakesley

     One of my mother's cousins Linda Jo Blakesley, the mother of Beth Blakesley, also a victim of that hand-work gene.  Not only is Linda an accomplished seamstress, quilter and a weaver, but she is a knitter and has dabbled with lace knitting in the past. 

Peggy (Lutes) Mankin

     Another of my mother's cousins, Peggy Mankin, who is the younger sister of Linda Blakesley, is an accomplished embroiderer and crocheter.  Peg's hand embroidery has been regarded as some of the best in the family.  However, like many of the women in the family before her, she has only had sons and no one to pass her knowledge down to unless those boys gets busy with granddaughters.  In early 2010, Peg passed on after a battle with cancer and was never able to pass on her knowledge to any of her children or grandchildren.


     This doily crated by Ruth Musser sometime during the American civil war.  Ruth grew the flax herself, harvested it and dried it.  Then after it was ready, she spun the flax into thread on a great wheel type spinning wheel.  After the flax was now linen thread, she took it and using a technique called "Huck Weaving" created the solid center of the doily and with the remaining linen, she crochet a filet lace edging around the entire peice.  This doily sat on her good table under an oil lamp for year until her death in 1909.  This doily then was passed down to her grandson, Grant Lutes and then to his daughter, Virginia Ray and then lastly to her grandson, Stephen Bowman.

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