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Bobbin lace - Working lace

Click here for how to start the lace.

The process of actually making lace is called working the lace.

By now, you should have a pattern pinned to your pillow and all the bobbins wound with thread and hung from starting pins. If you do not understand that, then you had better click on some of those links to find out what it all means!

Working bobbin lace

The bobbins should hang slightly downwards from their pins. You will find this easier if you have a domed pillow, or a roller set above the rest of the pillow, or you prop up the back of the pillow slightly, or you have the pillow on your knees and sit on a low seat, or put something under your feet, so the pillow naturally slopes towards you. There are lots of different ways to achieve this slight slope to the pillow, but it is necessary.

The bobbins should lie side by side. Their order should be the same as the pins they hang from. This is important! The bobbin order is one important element in shaping the design of the lace. Get the bobbins in a muddle and the lace will end up a muddle. (Been there, done that...)

There are two parts of making lace. You lift one bobbin over its neighbour and put it down again, and you put in pins.

Lifting up a bobbin over its neighbour swaps the position of the two bobbins. It is obviously important which bobbin gets lifted, and which neighbour! Small collections of these liftings are called stitches. Lacemakers have to learn these stitches. The beginner patterns take you through the stitches, so you can learn them, how to do them, and what they look like. Click here for a description of each stitch, which includes an animation, that you can repeat, or step through.

A stitch is made of two pairs (4 bobbins). When making a stitch, move the bobbins on the pillow slightly to left or right, so the four that you are working have some space on either side (make sure that you do not disturb their order!) That will give you the room to lift one bobbin over another and put it down in the required place. Beginner patterns do not have many bobbins, so this is not too much of a problem, but very wide patterns have lots of bobbins and this means that finding room to make a stitch can be challenging! It is possible to lift one bobbin over another, and shove the underneath bobbin across with a finger, to allow room for the lifted bobbin. But don't worry about that yet as you will not need to do it as a beginner.

You will be glad to know that there is only one way to put in a pin! Do not push the pin in up to its head, because it has to hold the threads around it. Only push it in about a quarter of the way - enough to keep it in place.

The important part is where you put in the pin! The combination of stitches and pin positions make simple designs within the lace. You have to learn these as well. Click here for descriptions, which again includes an animation, that you can repeat, or step through. These designs include the edges of the lace, headsides (curvy) and footsides (straight). Parts of the lace are solid, and parts are more open (ground). The beginner patterns step you through these different designs. If you manage all the beginner patterns, then you will learn the basic designs for three styles of lace, Torchon, Bucks Point and English Midland.

When you put in a pin, it will be between two bobbins (belonging to different pairs). Find where that is from the description of the design, and slide the pin between the threads until the point of the pin is over where it should go. Remember, you have already pricked all the pinholes, so you can almost feel exactly where this is. Slide the pin into the hole and push it in far enough (but not too far). The pin will need to be fairly upright. You are going to put in a lot of pins, and if they do not go in straight, there will not be room. It can help to tilt the pins at the edge slightly away from the lace. The threads tend to tug them inwards, and that tilt helps to counteract that. But do not make the tilt too great, even so.

At every pin, it is a good idea to tighten the threads. Tug the bobbins gently to remove any slackness or even loops, above the pin. This is essential to produce a neat looking piece of lace. You may enjoy looking at my photos to see where I have neglected to do this! Click here for other ways to tighten threads.

Click here for how to finish the lace.