Bobbin Lace

Whenever friends see my bobbin lace they are so impressed. I keep telling them I’m a beginner and they are seeing the impressive ‘tools’ and not the lace itself. It’s not very often someone believes me. Which means I am very excited that one friend was inspired to try her hand at lace. I sent her photos of a bookmark I’m working on with all its mistakes and asked her if, now that she has done some lace, she believe me when I say I’m a beginner. She does.

I’m a beginner, but I started back in the early 1980s. There was a woman who owned a shop with all things fiber. Weaving, spinning, lacemaking, knitting, etc. I signed up for a course on bobbin lace because she had said at that time it was dying out. I didn’t like the idea of old ways being forgotten. Now, of course, it’s had quite a resurgence.

The course ended up being a gathering of lacemakers who brought their projects each week. It really wasn’t a beginner course. I was given basics and left to my own limited talent to figure it out. Back then there were books but I struggle learning from diagrams. So I worked on it some and fell in love with all the paraphernalia. And then I put it all away.

I’d pull it out occasionally, but it was frustrating. Until the advent of the internet and YouTube. Wow. Now when I’m trying to figure out a ground or pattern, I look it up on YouTube and find wonderful videos.

My sister’s cat helping us destroy some old necklaces.

Right now I’ve spent months making bookmarks. Bobbin lace is extremely slow. Plus, I’m slow. So it takes me at least sixteen hours for a simple pattern. I’m making them for an upcoming arts festival where we’ll have books for sale. Once I’m done with that festival I’m going to try my hand at a big project – a Celtic wall hanging. I already know I’m going to be spending a lot of time on YouTube and tearfully asking my husband to show me what to do. These bookmarks typically use around twenty pairs of bobbins. The wall hanging will take 161 pairs and a much larger Belgian pillow. My sister has been roped into helping me bead all those bobbins.

An early bookmark with its pricking, or pattern.

By the way, he has helped me a lot on lacemaking. He doesn’t know anything about it but has one of those brains that can figure stuff out anyway.

What I’m doing is called Torchon lace. It’s a good beginner lace and very straightforward. There are other types that I aspire to, like Bedfordshire, Cluny, and Maltese that might look more like what you picture when you think of lace.

Torchon bookmark with variegated thread and a ‘honeycomb’ ground.

I use East Midland, or English bobbins. What kinds you use is determined by how you like to move bobbins, (palm up or palm down), what type of pillow you’re using, and what kind of lace you’re making. Midland bobbins have beads that act as weights to keep tension on the threads and to keep the bobbins from spinning and putting unwanted twists on the threads. In old days some people chose colors or shapes of beads for reasons like warding off evil spirits. I have some that are teardrop shaped that are African wedding beads. But most of my beads come from thrift-store necklaces. It’s the beads that always catch people’s eyes and make them think I’m an expert. They look impressive.

In the photo below you will see two odd bobbins tied with thread to one of the English bobbins. That fat little thing is a Belgian bobbin. I don’t like using them on the type of pillow I use because they spin too much. But they are a common style. I’m using it in the photo because I ran out of thread on my bobbin and had to add one and this way I can clearly see which is the add-on. In the background you will see some wooden sticks. Those are very old bobbins my sister gave me. My friend used clothespins which is an excellent way to start. It allows you to see how you like to handle the bobbins and also saves you investing money until you find out if you like lacemaking. There is a wonderful sound to bobbins being worked. Look up bobbin lace making on YouTube and listen.

Bobbin lace has a long history that is, honestly, awful. Girls as young as four would start with making the prickings, or patterns. Most times they were leashed to their chairs to keep them still. In medieval times, light was limited and many lacemakers were practically blind by their late teens. Lace was worn only by the rich because of how time consuming it was. If a king had a daughter, lacemakers would be commissioned at her birth to start on the lace for her wedding. Granted, those daughters were usually married quite young.

Bolster pillow, pricking, and a forest of pins.

This blog post could be novel-length about lace so I’ll try to restrain myself. I hope it makes you look at lace differently. And that maybe you’ll go to the internet and look up images of types of bobbin lace, or look at images of antique bobbin lace. Read up on the long history of lacemaking. Go to YouTube and look up Elena Kanagy-Loux and how she started with lacemaking. You will see a lace collar she was commissioned to make for the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

And maybe you might decide to put some thread on clothespins.

Just remember, you might get sucked in and start haunting thrift stores for old necklaces and realizing I’m a beginner.

The same bookmark as the green one above, just longer and a different stitch in the center diamond.

2 thoughts on “Bobbin Lace

  1. Oh my goodness…this is so cool.
    I love learning about things that I am entirely unfamiliar with
    And I have TONS of old necklaces and beads for making more, let me know next time you need some and I will pass some on to you


    • I will have the pillow at the art festival if you want to try your hand. And I can use beads if you have some – I still have a stack of bobbins to bead before I can start the big project. I think I’m taking my time beading in order to delay a project I’m intimidated by!


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