Tohtpits pole tohust pits / Birch Bark Lace is not Lace Made of Birch Bark


  • Jane Jõgi



Birch bark lace is Estonian needle lace. Structurally it resembles needle lace as it is known elsewhere in Europe. It uses the same stitches and there are similarities in the material used in the embroidery. However, the technology employed is unique in certain remarkable respects – it has adapted to local needs and possibilities. Whereas traditionally contour thread was tightened onto a strong textile, or in earlier times also onto parchment, in Estonia a strip of birch bark was used as a base material instead. Birch bark has many advantages as a base material: it was always available on farms and cost nothing; also, it was easy to process into a suitable size. While European lace makers were forced to cover a light-coloured base material with a dark textile or paper, the lower surface of the birch bark used for making lace was naturally darker and as such provided a suitable background for the white thread. Birch bark also gave this type of lace its name – birch bark lace.
Birch bark lace is characterised by a simple geometric pattern. The joining of various motifs is not used in the birch bark lace technique. To the best of our knowledge, birch bark lace was embroidered in one piece between contour threads. Of the various lace stitches, birch bark lace uses the buttonhole stitch and twisted buttonhole stitch. The pattern is formed from the holes left between tight buttonhole stitches. Birch bark lace net differs from other birch bark laces for its net-like material of paired buttonhole stitches that could be decorated with running stitch embroidery. Ornaments are characterised by geometrical motifs that can be stitched with either white or red thread.
The birch bark lace technique is not particularly well known in Estonia. No distinctive surveys have been published, but birch bark lace has been comparatively discussed alongside other lace techniques used in Estonia or introduced with a brief overview in descriptions of how to make national costumes. Hence, neither the region where it was once used nor its uses are known. The problem is that Estonian language literature has never given accounts of systematic instructions on how to use the technique. Therefore, there are few experts who are familiar with the techniques of making birch bark lace and who can distinguish objects in this technique from other museum textiles. Birch bark lace may, depending on the stitches used, be visually similar to crochet lace or filet lace. For this reason, it is possible that our museums hold more objects decorated with birch bark lace than we are currently aware. This article provides an overview of the objects decorated with birch bark lace identified in the collections of the Estonian National Museum and describes three birch bark lace techniques.


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