MIDVALE — East Midvale Elementary children are weaving threads of time.

While peers romp outside or hammer out arithmetic drills, 26 youngsters create delicate strands of bobbin lace, a 16th-century trade whose generational branches thin at the Industrial Revolution. The school is believed to be the only one in the nation tutoring kids in the lost art.

"When children can do something nobody else can do, or a skill nobody else knows, it makes them feel very special and helps their self-esteem," said third-grade teacher Nancy Larsen, who offers the eight-week, daytime enrichment class to those who sign up. The course lasts through June after school and has grown from 14 to 26 kids in the past four years. More are interested, but there's not enough room for everybody.

"For me, it's a lot of self-satisfaction to see how enthused the children are," Larsen said.

The kids love it and say lacing teaches them patience. It's also rewarding: Robin Shutler and Melissa Pedersen, for instance, won blue ribbons at the Salt Lake County Fair for their hearts and doilies, respectively.

"I think it's fun because we get to design lots of things and choose different colors to put on it," said Shutler, a fourth-grader.

Larsen, a lifelong knitter, picked up bobbin lace as a Fulbright exchange teacher in England. She also took lessons at the Belgian Lace School before securing a Utah Arts Council grant and hunting down a local teacher.

Larsen since discovered a community of lace-makers. The "Beehive Lacers," so named for reasons obvious to Utahns, meet monthly at the West Jordan Library to swap secrets and styles. They also attend national conventions — Indianapolis is the next host — that draw international crowds.

Bobbin lace is made of fine threads and may be found on dresses or in mounted art. In 16th-century Europe, the peasant-made adornment was commonly worn by royalty. In fact, 5-year-old European girls would learn bobbin lace while boys tried their hand at blacksmithing and shoemaking, said Alice Dalton, who demonstrates bobbin lace at This is the Place Heritage Park and volunteers in Larsen's class.

Early Mormon pioneers made some bobbin lace, an art that European immigrants brought to the United States. But they created more tatted (using knots) or knitted lace because of the equipment and fine threads needed for bobbin lace, Dalton said.

Bobbins look like tiny wooden bowling pins topped with spools of thread. East Midvale third- through sixth-graders use about eight at a time, leap-frogging spools in a complicated braid. The threads wrap around pins pricked into a pattern.

The children mostly learn lace basics and make pictures, such as hearts or dolphins, that may take up to 12 bobbins to create. Large pictures or lace enough to encircle a dress, however, might be too time-intensive and expensive for grade schoolers — bobbins cost about $1 apiece.

But some children are happy to tackle the task. Sixth-grader Miranda Carroll, for instance, spent 21/2 years making a lace cat.

"It looks complicated and everyone thinks you're smarter than you really are," she said. "But as soon as you figure out how to do it, the other things are a snap."

Larsen and two volunteers teach the class Wednesday mornings, and a substitute takes over for the 90 minutes Larsen is working for the school's gifted and talented program, which includes other enrichments.

Larsen used her own money to purchase the bobbins and "pillows" needed as a sort of pinning board to work from. She charges a $25 equipment deposit, refundable if everything is returned, and a $10 fee for the year.

"I have a lot of parents very appreciative of the fact their kids are doing this," she said.

The last class is next week, but lessons will continue after school. No doubt students will come to those classes, too. They're already working on projects at home, and many are picking out the next picture pattern.

"They're doing something they are truly cherishing," Larsen said.