Bobbin Lace

This article covers just the very basics of a lace style called “Torchon”.

Bobbins

The purpose of the bobbin is the hold the thread. The first bobbins were made from bone or wood. Today, the array of bobbins is overwhelming. They can be made from glass, metal, plastic, even paper. There are specific types of bobbins. The Spangles are an English-style bobbin with a ring of beads with or without charms. A Continental-style bobbin has a larger, heavier handle. There is an unusual type of bobbin called a "mother-and-babe" bobbin with a miniature bobbin inside the handle. Specialty bobbins are available to handle thick yarns and ribbons.

A bobbin has several parts as shown below:

Threads

Today lace is made from all sorts of fibers. Traditionally linen, cotton, and silk were used.

Pillows

The pillow is crucial to the success of your project. If the core is not solid enough, your pins won’t stay in. You need a good polystyrene base. You can spend hundreds of dollars on pillows. Many books show you how to make your first pillow for little investment. Blue is a traditional color for the pillow and is good to work a white thread upon. In addition to being easy on the eye, it is more colorfast than some other colors so it won’t damage your light colored threads. The fabric should be cotton.

Pins

They should be stainless steel or brass. Since they hold your piece in place as you work, you need to be sure they have a little weight to them. Don’t get the skinny pins.

Other tools

You may need a small crochet hook, or you could substitute a fiber hider or Star De-tailor in a pinch. You need some sort of fine pricking tool to create your template. Beeswax is suggested to help your pricking tool glide. A tape measure is needed so you wind enough thread on your bobbins. A pair of scissors you can use to cut your threads and another larger pair you can use to prepare your patterns.

Your pattern is reusable, so you want to use a thin cardboard or heavy cardstock. You can laminate the pattern to prolong its life as well.

Creating the pattern:

You may want to Xerox a copy of the pattern (ensure you have permission to do so). You want to be sure to read your pattern to see whether it is to be copied the size shown or if it should be enlarged or reduced. The pattern below is the cloth stitch bookworm from the Beginner’s Guide to Bobbin Lace. There is nothing mysterious about pricking the pattern as it is like doing embroidery on paper. You want to prick the pattern on a pad or surface other than your pillow.

Next you have to prepare the bobbins. There are machines that will do this for you, but you may find it fun or relaxing to do them yourself. Patterns often suggest the length the thread needs to be. To prevent having to make knots in your thread to determine centers, it was suggested to leave the thread on the ball or cone and pull out half of what is needed, then wrap the first bobbin to within 4" of the ball. Then pull out the next half and cut the thread, wrapping the last bobbin leaving about 4" of thread between the bobbins.

Wrapping the bobbins looks harder than it really is. Wrap the thread around the top portion of the bobbin until you are about a half inch from where you want to stop. The key is to make a loop in the thread which you slip over the head of the bobbin to stop the thread from unwinding.

For bobbin lace, the stitches are really moves. You move your bobbins in specific ways which creates the design in the thread. The moves are done with two pair of bobbins. The pairs of bobbins are separated so that two are controlled by your left hand and two are controlled by your right hand. That sounds just too simple to be true!

It gets even better! Bobbin lace (at least for Torchon) has two basic moves from which everything else is created. The cross is abbreviated "c" and the twist is abbreviated "t"

To do a cross, you are working with the two bobbins in the middle (one from each hand.) Take the right-hand bobbin of your left pair and cross over the left-hand bobbin of your right pair. Here are the center two bobbins before and after they are crossed.

Basically they switch places, but the left bobbin has to go over the right bobbin.

To do a twist you move the right-hand bobbin of each pair over the left-hand bobbin. That’s all there is to that move! Here are the two pairs before you do the twist and after you do the twist.

The book Beginner’s Guide to Bobbin Lace has you work through the plait stitch which gives you practice doing the twist and cross moves to create a cord. The cloth stitch is done with three moves: cross, twist and cross, which is abbreviated as "ctc". You can also learn how to add beads and create spaces in the lace.

Thankfully, there are many great resources for bobbin lace, like this excellent website where the bobbin graphics move to show you what to do!


Bobbin lace heart made by Pam Burkhardt, a local bobbin lace maker.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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