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Cross twist v. Twist cross

Bobbin lace is a type of weaving, where the threads go over and under each other. This 'under-and-over' must be done in a regular way, and if you follow a single thread, you can see this happening. A stitch in bobbin lace uses two pairs of bobbins, making four threads. Every stitch can be broken down into crosses (where the second thread goes over the third) and twists where the second thread goes over the first, and the fourth goes over the third. These basic units are referred to as C and T. This means that there is a short-hand for stitches, so half stitch can be referred to as CT, and cloth stitch as CTC. Some stitches may only use a single pair and then all you can do is twist it. There are exceptions to all this, such as gimps and lazy joins, but they don't concern us here.

That would suggest that there is a unique definition for common stitches such as half stitch, and in fact I gave one above - CT. Unfortunately there are different lace traditions, and they treat these stitches in different ways. I will refer to the basic difference as Cross twist and Twist cross.

Cross twist

I use Cross twist, and so this is the technique used throughout this website.

In Cross twist, the first move in every stitch is a cross (C). That is then followed by a twist. What happens after depends on the stitch. So half stitch is CT, cloth stitch is CTC, cloth stitch and twist is CTCT and half stitch and twist is CTT (or even CTTT!)

It is generally true that you cannot have two crosses together, but you can have two twists together, or more (a spider or picot may twist a single pair six times!

This fact (of not having two crosses together) can lead to problems with cloth stitch. This is CTC. Since it starts and ends with a cross, then there is a danger that the cross finishing the last stitch may cause problems with the cross starting the next. This doesn't happen with a row of cloth stitch, as different pairs of bobbins are being used each time. However, when a passive pair leaves some area of solid cloth stitch, it must be twisted before doing any other lace stitch (which will start with a cross, remember!) If you don't do this, then the two threads of the pair 'open up', leaving a gap between them. Close that gap by twisting them! There is not a problem at the start of solid cloth stitch, since stitches end with a twist, so there is no risk of two crosses next to each other.

Twist cross

This is not my tradition, so I cannot guarantee the accuracy of this! But my understanding of other people's description is that most stitches in Twist cross start with a twist, which may or may not be followed by another, and then there will be a cross. So half stitch is TC, cloth stitch and twist is TCTC and half stitch and twist is TTC (or even TTTC!)

However cloth stitch is still CTC. Perhaps we could describe this as every stitch must end with a cross (rather than starting with one)! This way of working means that there is not a problem with passives leaving solid cloth stitch, as the next stitch will start with a twist. However, you do need to be careful before solid cloth stitch, since pairs entering the shape will have their previous stitch ending with a cross. So twist pairs before the shape, not afterwards!

A lacemaker gave me this advice: "Whether a lace maker uses CT or TC, particular situations will require an extra twist to be added to a particular pair. Rather than trying to memorize where the extra twist goes, I just look at the lace and make sure that cloth stitch diamonds, spiders or tape edges have equal numbers of twists entering that area as leaving that area. Just make it match. That is how I think of it."

Another lacemaker from the Spanish tradition (who use Twist cross) says "I do twist before going into a diamond, yes. Basically any time I'm moving from a ground section into a motif. I also (and this is something a fellow Spaniard recommended, but I don't know how widespread a practice it is) give the bobbins a couple of twists after doing each ground stitch. This saves me effort for the next stitch using those pairs and, more importantly, helps me keep the pairs together since they hang more neatly than they would leaving them after doing a cross movement.

Which is the better way?

Neither. They both work, and they both produce the same piece of lace.

Why are there these two traditions?

Both ways work, and presumably arose naturally when people started to analyse how lace stitches work. Lacemakers are taught by other lacemakers, and so pick up one tradition rather than another. Quoting a lacemaker "I have the impression that countries that use a bolster, rather than a cookie, flat, or roller insert pillow tend to do it TC rather than CT. But I also have the impression that regions that do a lot of tape lace also prefer the TC method. Additionally, I have the impression that this distinction is not absolute. There may be individuals in a TC region who do it CT and vice versa." Another lacemaker: "I learned the CTC way, but was taught (by Christine Springett, I think) to use the TC method when working the legs/plaits in Beds Lace. I understood the TCT way was Continental, and the CTC was English. I accepted that, as the English have the footside on the opposite side to Continentals, - so it seems logical to me, for them to work the stitches the other way too!"

Even in the past, lace would start up, or be revived, in an area using a lace expert from outside, and sometimes they would be from different countries. So I suspect this could lead to quite a confusion even in the past, and now of course we learn from books or the internet, and pick up different techniques from different traditions. Lacemakers can follow the same pattern and use TC or CT quite happily, possibly without even realising that there is any other way to do it! It is only when you try to analyse how a particular stitch or ground works, and take it down to the cross and twist level, that the differences appear. My own introduction to this was in trying to understand the chequerboard ground, a Spanish ground (punto de ajedrez) described in a Spanish YouTube video (in Spanish). Even after someone kindly translated it for me, it sounded very confusing as it was TC. However, I drew all the twist and crosses out as lines on a piece of paper, and then reconstructed it as a CT description.

How can these two techniques end up with the same piece of lace?

It does seem odd. But working out the punto de ajedrez, I started to understand what is happening. A lace stitch is just our way of making sense of a lace pattern. The whole thing is a mess of unders-and-overs, and threads heading off in different directions. I have seen an old lace pattern rather like a knitting pattern, just giving the stitches with no attempt to sort them out logically! I could not make head or tail of it... But even that used stitches. We tend to think of a lace stitch as a basic unit, but that is just our interpretation of what is going on. Why should a half stitch start where it does? That is the difference between TC and CT - they are descibing the same piece of lace, they are just starting the stitch in different places. And if you start in a different place, then you end in a different place.

Bobbin lace CT system Bobbin lace TC system

Here are two pictures of Torchon ground. The left picture is the Cross twist tradition, and colours each CT, pin, CT stitch a different colour. The pairs need to be twisted before the start, possibly because they come from other stitches, or twisted explicitly since they come from cloth stitch. The right picture is the Twist cross tradition, and colours each TC, pin, TC a different colour. Here, the extra twists are at the end. If you study the pictures carefully, you'll see that the twists between the stitches belong to different stitches in the different traditions. But both pictures show the same piece of lace!