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This is a short CV of my turning "career".

My wife, Greta, and I now live in Wilderness since April 2011, a seaside village 14km from the town of George in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. It was a tough decision to pull up our 37 year old roots in Durbanville (near Cape Town) but to date we have had no regrets.

I started making bobbins some 35 years ago - shortly after Greta took up lace making. I started off with a cheap Taiwanese lathe and a set of similar chisels. Not knowing anyone who did wood turning and not aware that there were ample publications and videos available on wood turning, I accepted that I would have no choice but to teach myself through trial and error. It was only at the stage that my bobbins got to the point that they started looking like bobbins that I finally met up with an experienced turner who was prepared to show me the correct techniques regarding chisel sharpening and chisel presentation to the wood. It too at least 6 months before I finally managed to reach the stage that I, and Greta, considered my attempts to be worthy of the name "Lace Bobbins".

I used Embuia in the beginning and I suppose I over did it as I became allergic to the wood's dust with a massive itching skin rash. Fortunately this allergy turned out to be confined to Embuia only as, "touch wood", none of the woods I now use have shown any ill effects. The allergy to Embuia however is permanent. Two years ago Greta was given a beautiful antique spiral turned tall lamp stand which had been "re-discovered" in a shed where it had probably been dumped some 40 to 50 years previously. It was covered in grime and dust. I was able to identify the wood as Embuia, but assuming that after more than 30 years my body would have forgotten its run-in with Embuia, started sanding the grime away. No such luck! After 10 minutes my hands, neck and face started itching and I had no option but to throw in the towel and get someone else to finish the job.

I mainly use African rare hardwoods, although I do have some attractive exotic wood such as Kingwood, Madagascan Rosewood, Chinese Rosewood, Tulipwood, etc. My main African woods are Blackwood, Wild olive, Tamboti, Ironwood, Candlewood,Sneezewood, Red Ivory and Bubinga. My prized woods, from India, are Ebony and Red Sanders (aka Red Sandalwood and the biblical Algum/Almug), both of which, in 1988, were salvaged from the wreck of the COLEBROOKE, a British East Indiaman which ran aground near Cape Town on 24 August 1778.

What started off as a hobby almost turned into a full time occupation after retiring in 1996. Initially the small production that came off my lathe was taken up locally (the Cape Lace Guild) but gradually I started receiving requests and orders from lace makers abroad and it reached the point where at least 80% of my monthly production was exported - mainly to the USA and UK and via a few "agents", the primary ones being Mimi Dillman in the USA (Snohomish near Seattle) and Diana Glasspool (Northampton) in the UK. However, in June 2005 I was approached by the owners of a very large bead shop in Cape Town and asked to make bead spinners and French knitter for sale in their shop. I assumed that an order would be for at most 20 to 30 of each and was prepared to do this so as not to interfere with bobbin making, and consequently put in a quotation that I considered somewhat high and probably not being accepted. To my amazement however, the quotation was not only accepted but I ended up with an order of 500 of each with delivery quantities of 60 per month.

To cut a long story short, after considering the pros and cons, I decided to accept the order under the assumption that I would be able to go back to bobbins after 8 months. So, after completing the outstanding bobbin orders, I spent the next 8 months concentrating on making bead spinners & French knitters. However, at the end of the 8 months a new order for a further 1000 of each ended up in my lap! This finally came to an end early in 2008 after 1640 spinners and 1580 knitters.

By then I had lost contact with most of the lace makers and although I did manage to make a few bobbins, I made the decision not to return to the hectic times of spending 4 to 5 hours a day on turning bobbins. I supposed I was too used to turning 3 spinners and 3 knitters on average a day (2.5 to 3 hours a day at most). However, I never lost my love of delicate bobbin turning and I have kept my hand it to the point that since the beginning of 2011, I have turned one large (400) order of Swiss Pear bobbins and 20 pairs of various Midlands. Turning the spinners also enabled me to hone my skills at turning hollow forms (1640 spinner bowls required hollowing!) and I have, mainly for pleasure, done quite a few bowls, vases and platters.

However, I am quite prepared to take bobbin orders, and in this respect, I suggest you email me. I am also on Skype. If you are in South Africa, also send me your landline (not mobile/cellular) number where I can contact you after hours and I will also give you a call.

The background image on this page is from my wife's collection of Delft porcelain plates. The inscription on the back reads: "With steady eye and nimble fingers she wields her bobbins to create the magic of old Dutch lace"

Happy Lace making
Mike Bester
22 NOVEMBER 2011