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Using colour in Torchon lace

Click here to see how to start designing lace. That also gives links for how to continue. This page concentrates on how to get colour into your patterns.

Traditionally, bobbin lace is white or black. The white would not be the "whiter than white" that we tend to have nowadays, so you may like to try cream or off-white if you want an authentic colour.

If you go further back in time, gold and silver thread were used as well. Not much survived, as the precious materials were worth more than the lace, so I presume they were melted down. Now we can buy cheap metallic thread, made of plastic, in a wide variety of colours and sparkle and other effects. I discuss metallic thread in strange materials.

However, we don't have to be authentic. There is a wide variety of coloured threads available, so why not take advantage of it! The simplest use of colour is just to use the same colour throughout. This can be striking, especially if you mount it against a contrasting colour:

pattern of lace
Pattern 228

It is also possible to use vari-coloured thread. This changes colour subtly throughout its length. This can give a fun, if rather unpredicatable, effect.

It can be more challenging to introduce more than one colour in a Torchon lace pattern. Torchon is geometric, and there is a place for every pair of threads, with limited options for manipulating coloured pairs to go in the direction you want.

The easiest technique is to colour the passives of a footside. The passives stay inside the footside and don't wander. They also are at the edge of the lace, which gives you a chance to frame it.

pattern of lace
Pattern 33

The main technique for 'colouring' part of a Torchon pattern is through the workers in solid cloth stitch. If the workers are a different colour to the passives, then they will colour the whole of the cloth stitch:

pattern of lace
Pattern 140

This is a powerful technique, but it won't always work. True, the worker pair colour the cloth stitch, but what happens outside the cloth stitch? With the snake, above, the coloured threads are used to make the tongue of the snake. And at the other end, the worker pair continue on to the end of the lace, being the final end of the snake's tail.

One solution to the workers' problem is to have a continuous line of different cloth stitch shapes throughout the whole lace:

pattern of lace
Pattern 39 - a line of hearts

An alternative approach is bolder: to take the coloured pair across the Torchon ground. The coloured workers are therefore manipulated to the correct place so they can colour the diamonds, but they also can make attractive patterns in the ground. Lace from Panama (mundillo) does this to great effect. They are skilled in using different colours, and it's worth studying how they do it (Click here).

pattern of lace
Pattern 219

It is worth working out the difference between Torchon ground and double Torchon ground. The simple ground allows pairs to travel diagonally across the lace. Double ground bounces them backwards and forwards between two vertical rows of pins. Here is a pattern I did using a combination of simple and double ground to get the threads where I wanted them. Not perhaps the most pleasing of patterns, but it shows what you can do:

pattern of lace
Pattern 35

One important area is the headside. This, by its nature, tends to be a line of shapes, touching each other, throughout the length of the lace:

pattern of lace
Pattern 45

This pattern (above) not only has green pairs for both fan headsides, it also manages a couple more places inside the pattern for green pairs. I had to think carefully about how these pairs travel through the lace. In particular, the edge pair of a fan can be the same colour as the workers, as both of these pairs never leave the fans. This gives a solid coloured edge to the fan. Another advantage is that you can use the edge pair of one fan to be the worker pair of the next, which shares the amount of thread used (worker pairs are always greedy for thread).

So let's think about this edge pair - if you make the worker pair one colour, and the edge pair another, and the rest of the pairs a third, then swap the edge pair and the worker pair at the end of each fan, then you get alternately coloured fans:

pattern of lace
Pattern 145 - the fans are shaped into hearts

The pattern above has done the same trick on both sides to create butterflies. The next example changes the workers half way through a fan, keeping them at the edge until needed again:

pattern of lace
Pattern 143

You can also play games with other types of headside. Scallops have a worker pair used throughout. Here I have coloured the scallops the same as the triangles. The passives show up far more than they do in cloth fans, but that can give an interesting effect. Note that the edge pair are the same colour as the workers (this isn't compulsory!)

pattern of lace
Pattern 43

Half stitch is awkward. The pairs don't even stay together! However, it is possible to do something with half stitch fans at the headside. I noticed, while working half stitch, that while there is not a worker pair, there is a worker thread. One single thread is used in every stitch in a row. Now, with the right number of twists at the end of a row, you can make the same thread be the worker for the next row, and hence start to colour the fan. It needs a bit of thought, and possibly some undoing of stitches to get it right! And what about the other thread of the pair? If it's a headside, keep that other thread at the edge:

pattern of lace
Pattern 86 - alternate cloth and half stitch fans

It's harder to play games with half stitch and colour in the middle of the lace, but it is possible, as long as the shapes touch, or you can get the single worker thread from one shape to the next. But you will need to make the other thread of the pair the same as the passives threads, as half stitch will make it wander off into surrounding ground. Unlike a headside edge, there is nowhere to keep it fixed. This example has half stitch blue diamonds using a single blue thread (and plays with colour for the headside as well):

pattern of lace
Pattern 254

I have mentioned above that you can try using colour inside Torchon ground, to get the coloured pair in the right place to be workers, but also incidentally, to make an attractive pattern in the ground. It is possible to use coloured pairs inside other grounds. For example, here is a small strip of rose ground with an intriguing pattern because of the colours used:

pattern of lace
Pattern 123

The following uses a similar idea for the gold in the centre. The outside is, however, rose ground edge, where the pairs in it are kept inside this edge by careful use of double Torchon ground stitches:

pattern of lace
Pattern 243

I have done various experiments with colour in very thin strips of lace with 6 pairs and 8 pairs. You can study those to work out your own ideas, or possibly to come up with more experiments! All this will teach you a lot about how threads move through a pattern.

pattern of lace
Pattern 137

Of course, you can just make every pair of threads a different colour (for a narrow pattern) and see what happens!

pattern of lace
Pattern 2

There is one last technique that I have used which might be considered to be 'cheating'. This is to start and finish a coloured pair inside the lace, by knotting it round a different coloured pair:

pattern of lace
Pattern 242

The green edge is rose ground edge, coloured similarly to the previous example. But the butterfly is blue because I started a blue pair in the middle of the lace, then tied it off at the end of the first wing, then started it again for the second wing, then tied it off again. It works. Is it cheating? I'll leave that to you to decide!

This is all Torchon lace. Bucks Point is harder to colour. It would certainly be possible to have different coloured passives in footside, or indeed picots and passives headside. Cloth fans are also used in Bucks Point. But generally, Bucks Point net has threads wandering all over the place, so hard to control colour, and the solid shapes often don't have consistent workers, so likewise. The one area that is possible to colour are the gimps. They are prominent anyway, and colour makes them more so:

pattern of lace
Pattern 258