Lyn Bailey

Lyn Bailey shows the lace altar cloth that she made for St. John's Episcopal Church.

Lyn Bailey believes the first time she saw someone making lace was when she was a child visiting Belgium.

And she’s been fascinated with it ever since.

“Lace is my passion,” says Bailey, of Lancaster Township, an attorney who is retired from the Lancaster County Public Defenders Office.

On Easter, when parishioners entered St. John’s Episcopal Church, 321 W. Chestnut St., the communion table in the sanctuary and the altar in the chapel were adorned with lace altar cloths created by Bailey. They are the fruits of 2 1/2 years of her labor

“I worked on (the project) almost every day for 1 to 4 hours — for a total of 366 1/2 hours, by my calculation,” says Bailey, who has been a member of St. John’s since 1998.

And the altar cloths are appreciated.

Lace and liturgy

“A lot of people really love the lace,” says the Rev. John Morris, St. John’s rector. “They appreciate its delicacy. It complements the altar. It blends with the other liturgical forms — the music and flowers and light and song. It’s a challenge for liturgical churches to bring all these artistic elements together as an expression that’s meaningful and glorious. The lace is one more element in the composition.”

Bailey’s husband, the Rev. Bob Bailey, a retired United Methodist pastor who last served Bird-in-Hand UMC, is equally impressed.

“I think it’s astonishing,” he says. “I’m just sorry she didn’t do it for one of my churches. They are a great addition to any altar, especially when you consider that they are handmade.”

Lyn Bailey has been making lace on and off since 1979.

“Making altar cloths had always been in the back of my mind,” she says. “But it was always ‘not yet.’ ”

The lace maker, who describes herself as a “cradle Episcopalian,” recalls a sermon she heard as a child  about Barnabas, who was a juggler for the circus before becoming a monk.

“He went to the monastery but was not happy because there was nothing special he could do for God,” Bailey says. “He couldn’t read or write or sing for God.”

Barnabas discussed this with his mentor but to no avail.

“Then his mentor saw that Barnabas was happy and contented, but he didn’t say why,” Bailey says. “One night, he saw him leave the dormitory. He followed him to the chapel, where he found him juggling for God.”

In 2012, Bailey wasn’t singing in the choir, she didn’t teach Sunday school and she wasn’t serving as a church officer.

“But I could make lace,” she says.

Knitting came first

Bailey learned to knit when she was 5. She made her own wedding gown. In 1979, while living in Atlanta, where her husband was in school while she worked for an insurance company (“That’s when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer”) she borrowed a library book on lace making

“We were really poor,” she says. “I couldn’t afford the $10 for the book.”

She’s been making lace ever since, although she didn’t have much time while raising babies — the couple has three grown children — and going to law school.

“I learned three times,” she says. ”I had to start over each time. The last time was 1998. My youngest had just graduated from McCaskey in 2000, so I had more time.”

The lace on the altar cloths features squares with crosses, a simple square alternating with a complicated one. The lace is made with threads wound on bobbins, similar to miniature bowling pins, which are crossed and twisted.

“That’s all I did,” she says. “It’s not very complicated, but it’s more than you would think.”

Bailey’s maiden name is Derksen. When she got her first laptop, she Googled the name and found that many Derksens are from Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

“That’s Flanders, where the very first bobbin lace was made. I figure it’s in my blood.”

What to Read Next