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Bobbins on the pillow v. Bobbins in the hands

In the Beginers section of this website, I describe a way of manipulating the bobbins in working lace: The bobbins are laid out on the pillow in the correct order. To make a stitch, you lift one bobbin over its neighbour and put it down again. Sometimes you lift two bobbins, one in each hand, and place them appropriately. I think this is easiest for a beginner to understand, especially if you are using a flat pillow like a cookie pillow.

However, people who use a bolster pillow may have problems with this, as the bobbins tend to run together. There are also some stitches which are easier to work if you use a different technique, and hold the bobbins in your hands. You start (as always) by identifying which two pairs are needed to make this stitch. Hold the left pair in your left hand, in the correct order of bobbins, and the right pair in the right hand. To make a cross, hold the hands close together, and swap the right bobbin in the left hand with the left bobbin in the right hand, making sure that the left hand's bobbin goes above the right hand's bobbin. Click here to make sure you get this right! Twists involve changing the order of the bobbins in just one hand, with the right bobbin going over the left (whichever hand you are doing). Click here to check that you have this right. Twists tend to involve both pairs, and once you get the hang of this, then you can twiddle the bobbins in each hand at the same time. It is not hard to learn, but take it slowly at first, and make sure you have the unders-and-overs correct! The advantage of this 'in the hands' technique is that you don't have to keep picking up and putting down the bobbins, as they stay in your hands. Not an advantage if each stitch needs different pairs! However, some stitches, such as plaits use the same two pairs over and over again, and so this technique can speed things up. Even better, tightening the two pairs is done by merely moving both hands apart (if the threads are the same length!)

There is, of course, nothing to stop you using both techniques!

However, in the past (and perhaps still), some lacemakers went even further, and held far more bobbins in their hands. In "Pillow lace - a practical handbook" by Elizabeth Mincroff and Margaret Marriage (1907) it says:

"In many parts it is traditionally correct to hold a great number of bobbins in their hands while working. It is possible in this way for some to economise the time they would spend in taking up and setting down the pairs in use. But that is no reason why the beginner should feel herself clumsy and amateurish because she can work better with only two pair in hand at a time. This is much less confusing, and I have known a fairly experienced worker to waste more than the time she gained in having the bobbins so close at hand, by being obliged to undo a good part of her work because she had got hold of the wrong pairs. The Flemish lace-makers, who work very fast indeed, retain no bobbins in their hands, but let them all lie in a row on a stiff card fastened across the pillow, lifting each bobbin in turn over the next."