About Us
A brief history of Winslow Bobbins.
(last updated January 2019)

At the age of twenty-nine I, Steve Smith, managed to fulfil the dream of many men and retired to 'play in the shed' - or at least that's what my wife Heather often says. Turning lace bobbins was a big change from working in the legal department for one of the major banks in central London.

So how did this transformation occur? Well, it's a story which starts in 1973, when I was at University studying law, and I met Heather Sizeland, who was studying psychology. A year earlier her father, Dennis Sizeland, had been party to a chance remark made by a friend, which led to the formation of Winslow Bobbins. The friend, a local craft teacher, was bemoaning the fact that it was difficult for her to get lace bobbins of good quality and value for her lace class. She could only find expensive antique bobbins or cheap plastic ones. There seemed to be no middle ground.

So Dennis, at that time a teacher of mathematics, technical drawing and woodwork, volunteered to make her a few bobbins and from there on the idea snowballed. This led to the formation of Winslow Lacemaking Bobbins, run from his home in Winslow, North Buckinghamshire. He was amazed to discover that there was a great demand for bobbins and before long he was receiving orders from all over the country. It didn't take long for Dennis' wife Kathleen, to take an interest and she discovered a talent for decorating bobbins.

They attended their first Lace Day in 1976 and had sold out within 30 minutes! It was at this time that Heather and I got more involved in the business. In 1977 I married Heather, the business continued to expand and we started helping out at Lace Days. In 1981, Dennis decided to leave teaching in order to concentrate on bobbin making full-time. Less than six months later Kathleen followed him into the business.
Dennis, Kathleen, Heather and Steve

Dennis and Kathleen Sizeland and Heather and Steve Smith
A family photograph taken when we were all working together at the NEC in November 2000.

Further expansion resulted in Heather and I moving to Winslow in 1983, when I resigned from my job as Trust Administrator and began my career as a Bobbin Maker. However, I had only made a handful of bobbins - none of which would you want on your pillow! I felt sure that, even though I'd been considered too unskilled at woodwork to use the lathe at school, given sufficient practice and determination, I could succeed. I also didn't want to miss the opportunity to get out of the 'rat-race' and become 'my own boss', or end up asking myself "What if....?.", for the rest of my life.

For the first 6 months all my work was 'quality controlled' by Dennis, having been taught the necessary skills by him in his workshop. By the end of 'my apprenticeship', few people could tell which bobbins he'd made and which were mine. I built my own workshop in our garden, complete with double-glazing, air-conditioning, purpose-built work units and lathe. Yes, this well-appointed building is the aforementioned shed! My lathe was specifically designed by Dennis, and is purely for turning bobbins and other small items. I have yet to turn anything larger than a bobbin. The intricacies of bowl turning are still a mystery to me.

Soon after we moved to Winslow, Heather started to make lace and today she runs a local lace club. I learned to make lace with the group, but having completed my 'Millennium Project' (a map of the world in lace designed by Eeva-Liisa Kortelahti) in 2001, I 'retired' from lace and am now an 'honorary' member (ie carrier of books and other paraphernalia). Being able to make lace myself, helped me to understand what a lacemaker requires in a bobbin. Believe it or not, I never had enough bobbins either!

In 1991 Dennis and Kathleen decided to go into semi-retirement. This gave Heather the opportunity to leave teaching and join the business full-time. Until then, she had been burning the midnight oil decorating and spangling bobbins. At the same time, the business moved to our home and the name was shortened to Winslow Bobbins.
Kathleen & Dennis

Kathleen and Dennis Sizeland
A photograph taken on the Golden Wedding Anniversary of
Kathleen and Dennis. Spain - July 2002.

From the early days we specialised in making commemorative bobbins and basic bobbins required by beginners. We have also turned a wide variety of woods, both exotic and indigenous, and have narrowed the choice down to a dozen or so favourite and popular woods. The availability of these does vary, as some timbers are in short supply. In these days of environmental concern, we try to ensure that the woods we purchase originate from sustainable sources and we actively promote recycling.

We decorate our bobbins in several different ways. Most commonly we use a pyrograph to 'burn' designs and then paint them using enamel paints. At Lace Days and Fairs, personal messages can even be pyrographed while you wait. I can well remember the first time I was to pyrograph messages in public - in fact I 'hid' in a cupboard and wrote them all in private. Nowadays I think nothing of demonstrating my 'skill' in public and I am happy for lacemakers to 'have a go' themselves at Lace Days, provided we're not busy.

All our bobbins are available spangled 'The Winslow Way' - a simple method developed by Dennis using stainless steel wire. Over the years many lacemakers have successfully adopted this method. (Click on this link to find out how to download a copy of 'Spangle the Winslow Way' which explains our method of spangling, with the aid of diagrams.)

We now attend around 25 lace functions a year, travelling all over the British Isles and beyond. In 1996 we attended the IOLI Convention in Ann Arbor, Michigan and during the summer of 1998 we went to San Diego for the 1998 Convention and to Seattle to visit the Lacemakers of the Puget Sound. With the expansion of overseas orders, directly related to our presence on the Internet, we send bobbins to lacemakers in other parts of Europe, all over the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and even Antarctica. Early in 1999 we combined a little business, with pleasure, and visited Australia where we met several different lacemaking groups.

Since the start of the new millennium we have attended a further three IOLI Conventions. In 2008 we were invited to the OIDFA Congress in Groningen, Holland and in 2010 we attended their Congress in Kobe, Japan which was a fascinating experience. We have since been to the Congresses in Caen, France and Adelaide, Australia. One observation that we can confidently make is that lacemakers are the same the world over.

So, in the future, we look forward to receiving invitations to travel even further afield with our bobbins - you never know we may be paying a visit to somewhere near you!
Heather and Steve in Adelaide

Steve and Heather Smith
At the OIDFA Congress, Adelaide, July 2014

I'm certainly happy in my work. I'm never going to earn the amount of money I would have if I'd stayed with the bank, but the quality of life is unbeatable. In what other job would I meet such friendly, happy people who seem to have such an insatiable demand for the tools of their craft. I hope that it will last until I really DO retire to 'play in the shed'.

Since the major part of this history was written, there have been a few significant changes. In March 2001 Kathleen and Dennis decided that they had had enough of British winters, and moved to Spain. Heather and I took the opportunity to move Winslow Bobbins back to it's origins in Highfield Road. We, therefore, bought the family home, and in the process not only gained more living and storage space, but another purpose-built workshop.

At the end of July 2003, Heather and I decided that we had outgrown the bungalow at Highfield Road and had no time for the large garden. We therefore decided to move to a larger house with a smaller garden in Buckingham.

Even though we no longer live and work in Winslow, we decided to avoid confusion and retain the business name. We have after all only moved 6 miles up the road. After an amazingly smooth sale and purchase we moved into our new home at the end of September 2003.

Now twelve years later we are still delighted with our move. We have made the house suit us and our business, which includes a small workshop/storage area which we built within the integral garage - but there's still room for the car.

In 2012 Kathleen and Dennis sold their villa in Spain and returned to the UK. They live just down the road which is very convenient for us all. You may have seen Kathleen helping Steve at Canterbury Lace Day or Dennis helping Heather at the Lace Society Rally in April 2009, when the two events clashed, but it's unlikely that they'll be attending any more lace events as they now consider themselves well and truly 'retired'.
Winslow Bobbins at Cranmore Park

Winslow Bobbins - Team Photograph
Steve and Heather with their helpers Jeremy and Kathryn at The National Christmas Lacemakers' Fair, Cranmore Park, December 2009

On 6 January 2019 we made the following announcement:

For us, 2019 starts with an
Important Announcement
After much soul searching we have made the decision to cease bobbin production on 6 January 2020 - one year today. We thank you for your custom, and for the support and friendship of all our customers and fellow suppliers over the 47 years that Winslow Bobbins have been trading.

Why have we made this decision? What are the reasons behind our decision? Why 6 January
2020?

1. Over the years the number of lacemakers has contracted and since reaching a peak in the mid 1990’s our turnover has been following a slow downward trend.  We think it is better to retire now whilst we are still making a profit.
2. We want the time to do things, whilst we are still able - as many of you will know Ash Firth, a fellow lace supplier and good friend, decided to retire to do likewise but sadly died before he could fully enjoy his 'retirement'.
3. On a similar vein: many of you may have noticed that
at Cranmore Park this year, our very good friends who have helped us over the past 10+ years were not there.  Very sadly, just over 6 months ago, Kathryn, who is less than 10 weeks younger than Steve, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer (having never smoked or worked in a smoky environment) and the prognosis was 6 months - 3 years.  
4. The impending introduction of "Making Tax Digital" by HMRC which will require small businesses to do their tax returns in a specific way.  Whilst tax accounting was Steve's speciality, it will involve us in a lot of extra work and expense, as we would need to invest in specialist approved software and not use the program that Steve wrote himself which suits the business and its needs perfectly.
5.  Changes in customs declarations for overseas packages - these are only proposals at present, but are scheduled to be introduced in the early 2020’s.  They will involve a great deal more paperwork, and since quite a lot of our sales are overseas it will take up more time, giving us less time to make bobbins!
6. Increasing Red Tape and associated costs in a number of areas affecting us as a small business eg. introduction of GDPR and PCI DSS compliance imposed by credit/debit card providers.
7.  The Brexit debacle - so much uncertainty, but leaving the EU with or without a deal in place will have quite a big effect on the business.
8. On 6 January 2020 we will finally both be entitled to our State Pension!
9.  That’s enough for now …. but we think you get the idea.

In the meantime we will continue as usual, attending lace events and producing our usual bobbins to commemorate significant anniversaries and other events. Although, since we will not be replenishing our stock of beads, charms and timbers, some items may become unavailable during the year.

There are a few things we won't miss like the early 4am starts and unloading/loading in the rain but many more things that we will miss, particularly our customers, event organisers and fellow traders many of whom have become good friends over the many years. Thank you all and we hope we will see you at a lace event somewhere in the country during our final year.