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How to do a tally

Repeat Step

Description: C, twist left pair twice, C, twist right pair twice (please note that the twists are single pair, not T which is twist both pairs)

Working: Swap the middle two bobbins (left over right), then left pair twice (right over left). Then swap the middle two bobbins (left over right), then right pair twice (right over left). Tighten so far, then repeat.

This is used in English Midland lace, such as Bedfordshire, and in other lace traditions.

This uses two pairs, but the working is not like other lace stitches. The result is a tightly woven strip, but unlike cloth stitch, there is one thread as a worker rather than the normal pair.


Another difference is that there is a pin at start and end of the tally, but none in the middle. Tightening a tally is essential, both to push the rows close together and to control the width of the tally. However, there is no pin to tighten against, and so it is all too easy not to tighten enough, leaving a mis-shapen tally, or over-tighten, which ruins the whole thing! There are different ways to work a tally, but the way described above means that the worker thread (the pale blue bobbin above) ends in the middle after a back-and-forth row. This means that you can pull the end bobbins apart (blue and red) to control the width of the tally. The worker thread (pale blue) is pulled just enough to remove any loops in the tally and no more! The remaining thread (pink) can be tugged gently to straighten the tally, if necessary.

The problem with the tightening is that the worker thread tends to drag downwards a bit, making it hard to get it tightened the correct amount. Leave it too loose, and you get an irregular edge to the tally. Tighten it too much and the tally gets pulled out, almost like a plait. My technique is to tighten every row or so. There are three parts of the tally worked so far. The top part is tightened correctly. The bottom part can't be tightened completely because of the dragging effect of the bobbin. The middle part is the previous row, and you will find that it won't drag, and you can tighten it by pulling the worker thread gently. If it does drag, then try another row annd then tighten. If it won't tighten properly, then undo a row or so, and try tightening again. If you tighten too much, you may have to undo the whole tally, so be careful!You need to work enough rows to make the tally long enough to stretch between the two pins, like a plait. A lot more stitches than a plait, though!

You may find it easier to work a tally if you keep both pairs of bobbins in your hand throughout. Click here for more on this.

Usually you don't use pins in a tally, except one between the pairs at the top, to start the tally, and another at the bottom to finish it. However, a lacemaker of my acquaintance has worked out a way to use two temporary pins, which help to make the tally, and even shape it. Start the tally and work a few rows. Then put two pins in either side, inside the outer threads, half way down the tally and the maximum tally width apart. Now carry on making the tally, using the pins to make sure that the outer threads don't get too close together, and also to stop the worker thread over-tightening, by putting your thumbnail against the pin and the worker. Once you have worked half the tally, then remove the pins. The outside threads need to be teased gently into the tally. For a longer tally, the first position of the temporary pins can be higher up, then move them down the tally to make the next part.

Lazy Join
If two tallies meet, then they are joined with a lazy join. See pattern 82.

Tallies can be different shapes. Here are two tallies which are thin strips with parallel sides, almost as thin as a plait.

Here is a leaf, or possibly the petal of a flower. The width is kept narrow at the start, then wider in the middle, and narrow at the end again.

In English Midland lace, tallies are often used to join trails, or a trail to a bud or footside. A tally needs two pairs. There are two ways to take these pairs. They can both come from one trail, and at the end of the tally, the pairs have joined the other trail. This would be a conventional tally. The picture above shows a cucumber, which is a different technique of tally. Here the worker pairs from each trail are used to make the cucumber (which tends to be short and fat) and at the end of the tally they return to their own trail.

Sometimes small square tallies are put into grounds, especially large areas of plain ground, as a decoration. This is more usual in Bucks Point ground, but this example is in Torchon ground.

Raised tally
Raised tallies - click here to see how to work these.

There are many different types of shapes of tallies, used in different styles of lace, and these can help to identify a style.

Maltese lace has fat pointed tallies, and Cluny lace has long, thinner pointed ones. Since these start and end with points, both pairs leave the piece of lace above at a single pin. Then work the tally, controlling the width using the edge passive threads, as described above. At the end, tighten the worker thread (gently!) to bring the tally to a point, then both pairs rejoin the tally at a single pin again. I find making fat tallies quite hard. See pattern 498 for a discussion of this! The main point is that you should keep the worker thread very slack indeed. Don't even allow the weight of the bobbin to pull it straight. Leave a curve of thread on the pillow.

The long square-ended tallies used to be called barley corns. To make them square ended, each pair leaves the previous lace at separate pins, close together. That makes it easier to start the tally with a square end,m and keep the width the same throughout the tally. At the end of the tally, twist both pairs, and have them re-enter the rest of the lace at different pins again.

Cucumbers are short fat tallies. They join two trails, by using the two pairs of workers in each trail as the two pairs that make the tally. They are described above.

Wheat ears are pointed ended tallies. Often the "true wheat ear" is made from a pair leaving 2 consecutive pins, and then forming the pointy tally from a slight distance - so you see the 2 pairs of threads like a tuft or whisker at the top.

Tallies are tricky. Here are some examples of my own attempts. I hope you learn from my mistakes! See pattern 81.

Acceptable square ended tally

Not enough rows worked and rows not pushed together enough

Started fine, but not enough rows worked so end tails off

Poor control of width

Too many rows, so tally ends up flopping

Well controlled petal-shaped tally. Unfortunately, it is next to the square tally!

Tallies in a piece of lace should always be the same shape, whatever that shape is.