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Ways of starting bobbin lace

Click here for choosing a pattern and pricking it.
Click here for winding bobbins.

Simple start

The two simple starts for lace are horizontal (straight across) or diagonal. Click here for these simple ways of starting lace, which includes a description of using false pins as starting pins, to make the start easier.

Click here for how to start a mat or edging.

All my patterns tell you how many bobbins at each starting pin, but click here to find out how this is worked out.

Starting at a point

Start of lace picture

It is possible to have a more complicated start. In the photo above, the lace starts at a point in the middle, and then slopes diagonally on either side. A diagonal start normally has one pair per starting pin, and two pairs at the top edge (excluding passives in the footside). For a pointed start, there is one pair per starting pin, and two pairs at the point in the middle (again, excluding footside passives).

Start of lace picture

This is a more complicated start, with two points. As you can see, there is one pair on the diagonals, and two pairs at each of the points. But there is no pair where the inner diagonals meet.

It is always sensible to have false pins for diagonal starts.

Footsideside at top (pseudo-footside)

Start of lace pattern Start of lace pattern

This reproduces the effect of a footside along the starting edge of the lace. It uses false pins, even through it's a horizontal start. Hang two pairs (blue and green) from the false pin, making sure that they are twisted round each other. A pair (red) comes in from the right, from the previous starting stitch. Work this with the right pair hanging from the false pin (green), in a Torchon ground stitch (half stitch, pin, half stitch). The left pair hanging from the false pin (blue) doesn't do any stitch at this point, but goes on to the next starting stitch on the left. The two pairs from the Torchon ground stitch are worked through the passive pair (grey), which is also coming from the right. Remove the false pin and pull the threads so they rest on the Torchon ground pin.

There are other ways of doing a horizontal start. You can work a single pair from right to left, working through all the pairs hung from pins (rather than swapping the pairs over, as above). This works, but looks less like a footside. Or you can work a single pair is cloth stitch across all other pairs, back and forth, several times, to make a band of cloth stich at the atrt of the lace. It doesn't look like a footside, but it is strong, and perhaps easier to understand!

Headside at top

Start of lace pattern

Sometimes a lace pattern seems to have its top edge the same as a headside. You work headsidesdownwards, so how can you work this top edge, which will be going sideways?

In fact, you do work this top edge sideways! There is a trick to it. First, work out where the true headsides start. Sometimes this will be marked on the pattern, otherwise you will have to spot it for yourself.

Start of lace pattern

The purple and green lines above mark out the areas. There is no problem working the right or left headside once you have started. It is the top one that is the problem.

Start of lace pattern

So turn the pillow so this top headside is on the left. Put the pins along the top diagonal line. In this case, it is the purple line.

Start of lace pattern

Hang 2 pairs from every pin. Normally, you hang one pair from a pin on a diagonal start, but only half of these are going to be used right away. The rest should put behind the pins, and tidied to one side, to be used later. The top pin has 4 pairs hung from it - 2 hanging downwards, and 2 tidied to one side.

Start of lace pattern

Now work this headside (originally at the top, but now you've turned the pillow, on the left). The diagram shows the worked headside as bright pink.

Start of lace pattern

Turn the pillow back, so the original side headside is back at the top. Carefully position all the threads so they hang downwards. You now have all the threads necessary to work both the left and right headsides!

Why are there two lines? What you do is work from one line (purple) to the other (green). It is, of course, possible to turn the pillow the other way, and then you put the starting pins in the green line, and work to the purple line.

This is a simple example, but you can extend it. You need to figure out where the purple and green line equivalents are (or they might be marked on the pattern). Then you need to turn the pillow, put the pins in the top line, work down to the other line, and turn the pillow back again.

Start of lace pattern

The start above is far more complicated, but it works the same way. There are two purple lines, and two blue lines. So you turn the pillow one way, and start half the bobbins along one purple line, to work that headside to one blue line. Then turn the pillow the other way and start the other half of the bobbins along the other purple line, to work the other headside to the other blue line. Turn the pillow back to normal to continue working conventionally. Be careful with repositioning all the bobbins!

Marking direction of thread

When working lace, at every pin, two pairs come into the stitch, and two pairs leave it. If this is not true, then you cannot work the stitch! However, at the start of lace, this is not true. In a horizontal start, two pairs leave the stitch and none join it (because it is at the start!) This means that you need to hang two pairs from that pin, as discussed here. For a diagonal start, two pairs leave again, but this time, one pair does go into the stitch. The pair that joins, also leaves, so there is only one pair to be hung from this pin (and you will need a false pin - see here).

Start of lace pattern

For such simple starts, it is not necessary to mark directions of threads, but for more complicated starts, it can be very useful, both to tell you where to hang the bobbins, and also how to work the lace afterwards. Here is a simple scallop headside, seen normally at the side, with all directions of threads marked. Next to it is the same pattern as a start, with threads marked. As you can see, the threads go in all directions! The scallop itself goes from right to left (and you will find it easier to work if you turn the pillow so the direction of working is generally downwards). Some pins have 2 pairs joining and 2 leaving, so are normal. Some have 1 joining and 3 leaving, so you will need to hang a pair of bobbins here. When you do this, make sure that the new pairs are twisted in with the existing threads, so they do not pop apart once the pins have been taken out.

Start of lace pattern

Some patterns even have 4 pairs all leaving the pin! Here you need to hang 4 pairs, and make sure they are all twisted round each other. Hanging pairs inside lace sound complicated, but you will find it easier than you think. Just make sure the pairs are in the right order after the pin.

It is a good exercise to mark directions of threads if you are getting confused about how a part of the lace is worked, and I recommend it. Don't do it on the pattern which will probably be too small. Draw up a bigger version, possibly not entirely accurate, but with all pin holes and threads marked. It will teach you a lot!

If you do not wish to do this, then there is a simple way to do these complicated starts. Start working the lace, and if you do not have enough pairs leaving a pin, then wind another pair of bobbins and add it at this pin. (Similarly, if you have too many pairs, you can knot off a pair and remove it.) That is how I did the start of most of my patterns. I worked out the theory afterwards!

False headsides

Sometimes the top edge of a piece of lace looks like a headside, but is not worked like that. It is possible to work a fan or trail at the top by putting the starting pins along the curved edge of the fan (or trail). Hang the bobbins from that, and their threads become the passives. The worker pair will start from the right (or left) point, and work across the fan, discarding pairs to left and right along the bottom edges, rather like the bottom half of a diamond. The trail will not be so regular, but you should be able to figure out something that works. It will not look like a proper fan or trail close up, but it will provide a solid cloth stitch effect which will look OK at a distance. You cannot do a scallop like this!