Handmade: Lace maker received a U.S. stamp of approval

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Only few people know the thrill of seeing their artwork on a U.S. postage stamp. Trenna Ruffner, a bobbin lace maker who lives in Grosse Pointe Park, happens to be among that relatively small number of artists.

The stamp was released in 1986, back when first-class postage was 22 cents. She says a fellow lace maker in Ann Arbor decided there should be a stamp showcasing handmade lace. Once a contest was approved by the U.S. Post Office, inviting lace makers across the country to submit their work, Ruffner entered and won the opportunity to have her lace design of dogwood blossoms appear on a stamp.

Ruffner, 79, is among revivalists breathing new life into the once-dying art since learning to make the intricate open fabric in 1970 while living in England. “We were living in Cambridge, England, for a year where my husband was on sabbatical from Wayne State University, and I decided I needed to learn something while I was there,” she says. “There were several evening classes at the local school. I’d only known about this (lace making) through one little needlework book that my mother had, and I just didn’t think anybody did it anymore. I took the class. After I took it, I found out this was what I was meant to do. I wanted to design and learn all about it.”

Ruffner has since traveled back to Europe many times for conferences and more classes. She’s been designing on the computer for 20 years, and teaches lace making, along with contributing articles and patterns to national (“International Organization of Lace”) and international (“Lace Express”) publications. She’s available to teach weekly classes at $15 an hour, preferring a group of at least six individuals.

Ruffner creates both traditional and modern lace pieces with different fibers. “For my traditional work, I use either cotton or linen. I prefer linen, but it’s virtually impossible to get the very fine linen, and most of my work in the traditional form is really fine,” she explains. “For the more modern, or nontraditional pieces, I use all kinds of threads and yarn.”

She feels today’s lace makers should make more garments, jewelry and wallhangings, and fewer trims and doilies. “There are some that only want to make trims and doilies, but if we’re going to keep it alive, we have to make it more relevant and go beyond the old way of thinking about life. There is a segment of lace making in the world that’s pushing it into fiber art, using these techniques to create visually interesting works.”

And, where do today’s lace makers find supplies? Ruffner says, “Generally, we have to do it by mail order, but when we go to conventions, there will be vendors there with large stocks of supplies. When I came back from England, there was nobody selling thread, and I would have to order from England.”

Ruffner is a founding member of the Great Lakes Lace Group Inc., which started in 1971. The group will host its annual “Love of Lace” event from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. April 23 at the Livonia Civic Center Library, 32777 Five Mile in Livonia. Admission is free. To learn about the group, visit

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, or

Contact Trenna Ruffner at