Cloth fan Half stitch fan Cloth stitch and twist fan Bucks Point cloth fan

A fan is a solid headside, which can be worked in either cloth stitch, half stitch or cloth stitch and twist. The effect of the three are different, but they are worked the same except for the stitches. A Torchon fan (above left) is a different shape to a Bucks Point fan (above right), as they use different grids, but they are worked the same. See pattern 5 (Torchon) and pattern 11 (Bucks Point). Pattern 5 also compares cloth fans and half stitch fans, and pattern 426 shows a cloth stitch and twist fan.

Pattern representation of a fan

A headside is a non-straight edge of lace. There is ground or other lace to the right. The fans along the edge touch each other.

This pattern shows a fan with sides of 4 pins. It is possible to have smaller or bigger fans. I hope you can see how to adapt the following explanation for those.

This diagram avoids the complexities of the individual stitches by showing each pair of threads as a single line. Where one line crosses another, you should work it in either cloth stitch or half stitch (depending on the type of fan).

The number below shows the number of pairs actually part of the fan at each row. This number changes for different rows, and getting too many or too few pairs in a row is a common mistake.

Working: Work the lace above the fan (such as ground and the previous fan). Do not work the edge pins of the fan yet. In a fan, you work rows of stitches. The first stitch has already been worked, as it is also the last stitch of the previous fan. Chose one pair to be the worker pair - the diagram chooses the left pair, but it is possible to choose the right pair. Now work each row, picking up a pair from the right every other row, until you get to the mid-point. You can see from the diagram that the passives are angled off to the left. This is not getting them out of the way - it is shaping the fan. Normally, passives hang straight down, and are tightened like that. But if you do this for a fan, there will be no passives inside the edge curve of the fan. So while working up to half way, pull the passives to the left to start this shaping.

At the mid-point, you continue, but now discarding pairs to the right, and moving these out of the way, as usual. The passives still in the fan are not tightened too much. If you tug too hard, then you will straighten them, which is wrong. You need a gentle bow to the threads, as shown in the diagram. Of course, if you do not tighten them at all, then you get loops and mess in the lace. So tighten just enough to get the threads to do as you want, but not too much!

You end up with two pairs which are worked together and then the final pin. Do not work a stitch after the pin, as this is part of the next fan.

If you get to the bottom row, and have less or more than two pairs, then you have made a mistake. You will have to undo the lace to see where you have dropped off or picked up more than one pair, or where you forgot. Keep an eye on where pairs of threads need to join or leave the fan.

The Dutch for a fan headside is Waaier in linnenslag.

This page describes a simple fan. There are complex fans, made by twisting the passives or twisted the workers in certain places while working the fan. You can also have a twisted fan or a heart fan.

Half stich fans

Half stitch fans can also have a problem near the edge. The fan on the left is very floppy and badly defined at the edge. On the right, the worker pair were twisted before putting in the edge pin, perhaps more than once, which defines the edge nicely, and makes the whole look of the fan sharper.

Cloth stich fan

You can twist the worker pair at the edge pin in cloth fans as well, although this gives a different effect. You will need to twist more than once, and it emphasises the hole made by the pin, giving a small frilly effect to the edge of the lace, a bit like a picot.

Cloth fans can be coloured the same way as cloth diamonds, by having the workers as a different colour. In fact, you can come up with a pleasing effect by having two colours, one as the workers and one as the edge pair. The workers tend to swap over with the edge pair from one fan to another, so you end up alternate coloured fans.

Cloth stitch coloured fan

It is possible to colour a half stitch fan, where one thread is the worker which travels horizontally across the fan, and the other thread stays at the edge. It is a little tricky (you will need to twist the worker pair on the left at the pin) but it is fun to try. In the example above, the edge thread is yellow and the worker thread is orange. You could have both these threads the same colour, of course.

Half stitch coloured fan

All fans are asymmetrical if there are the same number of pinholes along the left edge as the right edge. Some patterns give one fewer hole on the left edge (the edge of the lace), and that means that the fan is symmetrical. However, that required the lacemaker to remember which direction the workers should move for the first row. If you get it wrong, you run out of pins on the left side! If there are the same number of rows, both the directions work. So my patterns tend to have the same number of rows. You can alter them if you wish.

As you can see, there are several different way of working fans, especially at the edge, and many lacemakers use only one technique, and consider that the 'proper' way to do it. I prefer playing with different ideas and seeing the different effects. You may decide that one technique produces an effect that you like, and then, by all means, stick to that.

These different effects may not marked on the pattern, although a photo of the lace may show if a particular technique has been used. So you can take a simple pattern with fans and change it from cloth stitch to half stitch, or even have alternate half stitch and cloth stitch fans, which looks pretty! Or you can vary the fans by twisting the passives in one fan and not in the next, and so on. There is no need to follow a pattern slavishly if you don't want to.

When making a piece of bobbin lace, you tend to have the same number of bobbins working at any point. A line drawn across the lace will cross all of the threads. But lace is not constant width, so how do we make the same number of bobbins cover more or less space? Torchon lace does it by spreading the bobbins out over a wider area for the bulges, so a fan is more spread out than a triangle. That means if you have a photo of some lace, and you want to calculate the number of bobbins, in Torchon lace, it is easier to look at the narrowest part of the lace, and count there, because that is where the threads correspond closest to the grid. But in Bedford lace, the different widths are accommodated by squashing the pairs closer together at the narrowest part of a trail. So it is easier to count pairs at the widest part, because that is where the pairs are most visible. Click here to find out more about counting pairs of threads in a pattern.

This count only works if you have two pairs between fans. Sometimes patterns have more than two pairs. Pattern 423 has three pairs, a worker pair and two passive pairs, and pattern 425 has FIVE pairs, a worker pair and four passive pairs. These extra pairs help bulk out the fan. As mentioned above, fans can look a little sparse in the middle, as the centre of the fan curves outwards, but there are no pairs to fill the curve. So you have to deliberately keep the outermost passive pair as far outwards as possible to do the filling. An extra passive pair (or more!) helps to do this.