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Bobbin lace - Number of bobbins needed by a pattern

Many beginner lacemakers get worried about how many bobbins are needed by a new pattern, and where they should start.

The best advice that I can give you is that you put in starting pins at the top of your pattern, and hang pairs of bobbins from them. If you do not have enough pairs to work a stitch, then add another pair at that point. (If you have too many pairs, then remove a pair!)

It is also possible to mark the direction of threads at the start of a pattern. If there are two pairs going into a pin, and two coming out, then you need no more. If there are none going in and two coming out, then you need two pairs starting at this pin. If there is one pair coming into the pin and two going out, then you need one pair starting at the pin.

However, there are general rules for working out the number of bobbins. Generally speaking, for strip lace, if you draw a straight line across the lace, then you cross all pairs of thread. For Torchon lace, draw this line from between two fans or scallops in the headside to the footside. Look at how the pairs cross this line and count them.

Number of bobbins

In this example, there are 4 pin holes on the line. Each pin hole has 2 pairs at it (because you need two pairs to make a typical lace stitch). There is also the footside passive pair, which does not have a pin, and always messes things up! So the count is 4 x 2 + 1 = 9. This line is also a good place to start the lace, and that means that you have worked out that you need 2 pairs for each starting pin, plus you have to put the footside passive pair somewhere, so hang it off the end pin. See pattern 5. The general rule for a horizontal start: if every pinhole is there, pairs = pins x 2 + footside passive pairs.

Number of bobbins

You may prefer a diagonal start. Here there are 7 pin holes. We need one pair leaving each pin, plus, of course, the pesky footside passive pair. But wait a minute, that only makes 8, and it's the same pattern, so it should be 9! Well, we also need a pair to work the first diagonal row (marked pink). That starts at the top (so the top pin will need 3 pairs - the edge pair, this working pair, and the footside passive pair). The general rule for a vertical start: if every pinhole is there, pairs = pins + footside passive pairs + 1.

Number of bobbins

I have said "if every pinhole is there". What do I mean by that? Unfortunately, often there are patches of solid area of cloth stitch or half stitch, and these have no internal pinholes, as you work it in rows, not diagonal lines like ground. So the rule I have given above won't work. What you need to do here is mark the Torchon grid on top of the marked line, which shows you where these pin holes would be if it was ground.

Number of bobbins

Then the count works, as above. There are 11 pin holes or missed out pin holes, so the count is 22. (There are no footside passives in this pattern). See pattern 24. You can even measure the width with a ruler, and compare it to the width of pin holes in the ground, to calculate number of bobbins. Once you have marked these extra pin holes, then they can be used as starting pins - two pairs per pin, as usual.

Number of bobbins

Another problem arises if there is no pin hole on the footside, see above. I describe this to myself as 5 pin holes! If you measure the width of the lace, this is what the width will be. So the count is 5 x 2 + 1 (for the footside passive pair) = 12. It is a good idea to put a starting pin on the footside, to hold the edge pair and the footside passive pair. See pattern 143.

One Torchon headside behaves oddly. This is the zigzag headside. For this to work, there need to be enough pairs to work the widest part of the headside, and these extra pairs get squashed together in the narrowest part. So it works more like a Bucks Point headside - see below.


Bucks Point works in a similar way if it has fan headsides. Draw the line, put in any missing pin holes, count the pin holes, and use the formulae above.

A trail headside is more of a problem. This works the other way round to fan headsides. With fans (or scallops), you draw the line and measure it across the narrowest part of the lace - between the fans. For tail headsides, you need to measure it across the widest part of the fan. The difference lies in how the different headsides create the differences in widths. With fans, the extra width is made by spreading out the pairs more (which is why the headsides are not on the normal grid). With trails, the natural width of the lace is at the widest part, and the trail takes in more and more pairs to make the narrowest part, so there the pairs are more pinched together.

Number of bobbins

The pin hole count at the widest part excluding the headsides is 8 (putting in an extra 2 pin holes to allow for honeycomb, another confusion in Bucks Point!) That will be 16 pairs. Then there is a picot pin on the right - another one pair. Plus a passive pair on the right, and another passive pair on the left, making 19 pairs in all.

The narrowest point has 7 pin holes (14 pairs), no picot pins on the line, and one passive pair on the right, making 15 so far. Since the widest part has 19 pairs, then the narrowest part must have the same number, so we can tell that there must be 4 pairs hiding in the trail at this point. (You can also count how many pairs join or leave the trail, but I tend to get confused when doing this!) See pattern 239.

Bucks Point patterns often have two passive pairs in the footside, and may well have a minimum of two passive pairs in the trail, unlike the pattern above which only had one passive pair. There is also the problem of the gimps. They do not lie on the normal grid but travel within the pin hole pattern. They may start and finish within the lace, as well.


I have not had much experience of English Midland lace, but generally the same principle applies. Draw a line across, and see how many pairs it crosses. English Midland lace may well have trails. If so, choose the narrowest part of the trail, which will be at the widest part of the lace. But it may also have spread out headsides, and to make things worse, it does not necessarily have a regular grid. Another point to remember is that plaits and tallies have two pairs in, while twisted pairs only have one.


One last point to cheer you up - all my patterns tell you how many bobbins will be needed, and where they should start, so you do not have to work it out!