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Starting and finishing bobbin lace edges and mats

A common piece of lace is the edging to a handkerchief or mat, which looks like this (before being sewn to the fabric):

Bobbin lace edging

This page tells you how to start and finish. These both happen in the same place. The photo below shows a typical start/finish.

Bobbin lace edging start/finish

The pattern for the edge looks like this:

Bobbin lace edging pattern

The sloping dark grey lines are not part of the pattern. They are there to show you where the corners are.

Pin your pattern on the pillow. The whole pattern must be accessible, and you are going to work it from all sides, so it is not possible to use a roller pillow. A cookie pillow is best, as long as it is big enough. See the page on pillows.

Starting at a corner

It is possible to start in various places, but the easiest place is actually at a corner. Hang your bobbins as follows:

Bobbin lace edging pattern

The bit of the pattern along the top is going to be the last part of the lace worked, so ignore that for now. You are going to work the strip on the left, starting at the dark grey line. The starting pins will be the ones just above the dark grey line in the corner. These will be false pins. Hang the bobbins from them, do the first row of lace, remove the false pins, and pull through the threads so they rest on the diagonal row of pins under the dark grey line.

That type of start means that the actual start is just after the dark grey sloping line which marks the corner. It is also possible to hang the bobbins from the same starting pins, and treat them as true starting pins, not false ones - so you do not take these pins out once the threads have been worked into the lace, but leave them as they are. It depends what is actually happening in the corner itself. Are the pairs being taken across the corner in a simple way? Then I think it is best to start after the dark grey line. Are they actually doing a stitch in the corner, such as the cross-overs of a rose ground? Then you might need to start one the row above the dark grey corner line.

Starting in the middle of the side

Sometimes the corner is just too complicated to start there. It is quite possible to start in the middle of a side. You can have a diagonal start, or a horizontal start, as you wish, and these will obey the normal rules for starts (generally, one pair per pin on a diagonal start, and two pairs per pin on a horizontal start). It is easier if the start goes through a simple ground. If you have a diagonal start, it is best to have false starting pins. You might be able to use a previous row of pins for this, or add some more, as in the pattern below.

Bobbin lace edging pattern

Starting a mat

A mat is started exactly the same way as an edge, except the starting line goes from the point of the corner right to the centre of the mat.

Working the lace

Now you can start working the first side of the edging, as you would work any other strip of lace. There is one important point. This pattern will use a lot of pins, and normally you remove pins from the start to use lower down. However, you must not remove the first, diagonal, row of pins. They are needed to hold the start of the lace firmly in place until you finish the lace. If you remove these pins, then you risk the end of the lace not joining up with the start! In fact, it is best to leave the first two rows of pins in place. There is no problem with that except for one thing. Normally, pins above the lace working are safe, but with an edge or mat, you turn the pillow to work the other sides (this is described on the corner page). After a bit, you will find that your threads are getting too close to these starting pins, and catching on them. Not a good idea! So push these first two rows of pins right into the pillow up to their heads. Normally, you just push them in a little, as this makes it easy for them to hold the threads, and also to remove later. But here they do need to be well pushed in. This means that later on the threads pass over them without harm.


You work the first side of the edging down to the next dark grey line, near the bottom of the pattern. Then you need to do the corner. Click here to see how.


Carry on until you have done all four sides, which means that you are approaching the point you started. Work the last row of the last side. Those starting pins (pushed in up to their heads) should now be next to the last row of pins that you have just worked. Now to finish off.

Start from one edge - perhaps the headside. Take the relevant pair of bobbins from the end of the lace on that side, unwind them, and cut them to a manageable length (you are going to have to tie a knot in them, so don't make them too short). Get a needle, and thread it with one thread of the pair. Now prise up the relevant pin from the start (either with a thumb nail, or there is a tool called a pin lifter) and remove that pin. That will leave a little loop where the pin went. Push the needle through that loop, and pull the thread through. Now tie that thread to the other thread of the pair, as tight as you can (without pulling everything out of shape or pulling out pins!) The knot must be a reef knot or square knot. Carefully lift the tied threads out of the way, and do the same to the next pair of bobbins and starting pin. Eventually, you have threaded one of each pair of threads through the relevant starting loop and tied it to the other thread. Remove all pins, and trim the loose ends of the threads - not too close or the knot will come untied, but close enough that the ends do not spoil the look of the lace.

By the way, the point of keeping the first two rows of pins rather than just one is that you need to remove the first row to do the join, pin by pin, and then the second row of pins keeps everything steady. It took me several pieces of lace because I discovered that...

Finishing a mat

A mat is finished exactly the same way as an edge, except the finishing line goes from the point of the corner right to the centre of the mat. This can make the pins in the centre of the mat all bunched together. Normally you remove pins from near the start to reuse later. However, it may be best to leave all the pins at the centre of the mat, pushed in up to their heads so they don't snag on later threads.

To be quite honest with you, I am not very good at these finishes of lace, but I take comfort that quite a lot of professional lacemakers in the past weren't either. It's always fun to spot the start/end in other people's mats! See if you can spot it below.

Bobbin lace mat start/finish