Lace Headsides

Every piece of lace has two edges. Of course, it has a start and end as well, but these are not usually part of the design. When working the lace, you position the pattern so that the two edges are to the left and right. The straight edge is the footside.

In English lace the headside is usually worked on the left. (There is no particular reason to do this, and European lace usually has the footside worked on the right.) This edge of the lace is most visible, and so usually it has an attractive shape which may be wavy or frilly.


Cloth fan headside
Half stitch fan headside
Other types of simple fans
Twisted fan or scallop headside

English Midland

Plaited headside
Nine pin headside
Crown headside
Trail headside
Serpent headside
Cartwheel headside

Bucks Point

Cloth fan headside
Passives and picots headside


Part twisted fan headside
French fan headside
Ribbon headside
Maltese headside

My own inventions

Simple ribbon headside
Hearts headside
Rose border

General comments about headsides

A typical piece of lace has a headside and a footside. The footside is straight and strong, since it is used to sew the lace onto something. The headside is looser. This can mean that when you take the piece of lace off the pillow, it seems to form a curved shape, like a collar. This doesn't matter. If you are sewing it to something, then the footside will straighten out. The headside adjusts by waving backwards and forwards, which forms an attractive effect. You can even emphasise that effect by gathering the lace, if you wish.

If you want a flat piece of lace which isn't sewn to anything, and doesn't curve, then I suggest that you make an insertion, with footsides on both sides. These double footsides will keep the edges straight, and the pattern is more visible between them. If you find double footsides boring, then try a headside on both sides instead. This can make an interesting bookmark. If you keep the headside design on both sides the same, the lace should be balanced and not curve.

However, if you want a headside and footside on your lace, and don't want it to curve or wave when sewn to something, then I suggest doing the sewing, then pull the headside (gently!) away from the footside. This may persuade the threads to straighten out. You can try this before sewing as well, if you want. Another method is to damp the lace, then pull it into shape, and iron it, which will make it keep its shape. Make sure that you don't use too hot an iron for the type of thread.

You could try working the lace so the headside is firmer. Use an extra twist or two at the very edge. Use a headside which isn't too big, or has shallow curves, as these approximate to a straight line better. Make sure that you tighten the threads at the very edge well. Generally speaking, Torchon lace likes the threads to be pulled quite tight (but don't pull out the pins!). I've heard this called the "Torchon Tug". Tension in the rest of the lace doesn't matter so much, as much of the thread runs in straight lines. But at the edge, they turn, so make sure that there are no sneaky loops, or loose bits.

Cloth fan diagram

Cloth Fan Headside

The cloth fan headside is worked in cloth stitch. It is similar to a cloth diamond, except you take up and lose threads only from the right. The left edge, which is the edge of the lace itself, is given a slight wave by where the pins are positioned. These are not a normal Torchon grid, but are placed in a curve (see pricking pattern on right). On the left, the diagram has two twists to the thread round the edge pins, to give a decorative effect on the very edge of the lace. You can give more than two twists, or one or none, if you prefer.

The top photo on the right shows a Torchon fan headside with a thin trail of cloth stitch inside. This is taken from the narrow zigzag pattern. The bottom photo shows a Bucks Pont fan, which is worked the same way but has different proportions. It is taken from one of the beginners patterns.

Fan headside pattern

Cloth fan headside

Cloth fan headside

Half stitch fan headside

Half Stitch Fan Headside

The Half stitch fan headside is worked similarly to the cloth fan headside, except it is worked in half stitch. The photo on the left shows it next to some Torchon ground.

The photo also shows the effect if you twist the bobbins several times at the edge of the lace. If you don't do this, you can end up with rather a loose edge. See photo on the right. This has a trail of half stitch next to it.

Whenever you work half stitch, the pairs of bobbins get split up.

Half stitch fan headside

Other types of Simple Fans

There are many types of fan. In each row, you can twist the workers (the bobbins which move across the pattern) just before the outer passives (which hang down). This gives the effect of the fan on the left in the photo. Or when half way through the fan, you can twist each pair of passives. This gives the fan on the right.

You do not need to restrict yourself to a single type of fan in a pattern. The photo on the right shows several fans in one piece of lace. The butterflies lace has an even more bizarre combination, where half the fan is cloth stitch and the other half is half stitch, with a cunning use of colour, so the cloth stitch part looks like butterflies. The clutter of spiders has fans of different sizes.

Fans headside

Twisted headside
Headside pattern

Twisted Fan Headside or Scallop Headside

This headside is used in the zig-zag lace pattern. The pricking pattern is on the right. If you want, you can make the outer edge of the pattern more curved, like a fan.

The worker threads for the main fan are red. They work across the passive threads with cloth stitch and twist. There may be extra twists in between to keep the pattern taut (although I haven't shown any). There are no pins for most cross-overs (see pricking pattern on the right), only at each end of the zig-zag of the worker threads. There are pins at the start and end of the fan as well, to get the threads in position before and after the working of the fan.

The worker threads of one fan become the outer edge of the next, and vice versa. This means, with careful chosing of coloured threads, you can get alternate fans different colours (see right). You can even swap the colours over mid-fan - see fireworks lace for several effects.

This lace will need careful tightening while being worked, as you have a lot of cloth stitch and twist without pins. If you work this pattern with cloth stitch instead, you get a different effect (see left). It also needs less tightening!

Twisted fan headsides vary a lot in size. The top one here has five passive pairs, as well as a worker pair, and the bottom pair. It is possible to have just two passive pairs, with worker and bottom pair (see this wedding garter, and of course, you also have any number between. I have seen patterns with more than five passives as well.

Twisted headside

Twisted headside

Twisted headside

Twisted headside - alternative

There is another way to work a standard twisted fan. In the original working, there are the same workers throughout. This means that they are worked cloth stitch and twist, pin, cloth stitch and twist at each end of each row, and that, combined with all the cloth stitch and twist in between can mean a lot of tightening. But it is possible to do just cloth stitch and twist, pin instead. This has the effect of constantly swapping the workers (see left - each line is a pair, not a single thread) which means that you can't play fun colour games, but has the advantage that the worker pair are less likely to run out of thread. The end result is slightly different, but not too much, and it's a lot easier to work. Please note that the pins are not put in between the two pairs as usual, for the ends of rows, but on the fan side of both pairs. This is because the threads will tend to pull towards the centre of the fan, and the pins must be put in there to stop them.

Twisted headside

Plaited headside

Plaited Headside

This is a simple but effective headside, and there are two versions of it. The one in the photo and diagram, and top pricking pattern is used in the diamond mat. This is based on a Maltese lace mat. The other is a headside in English Maltese lace. It is the same, but with two picots added along the outer edge, as in the second pricking pattern.

This uses 4 pairs of bobbins in two groups. Each group is plaited between the pins. The two groups cross over with a lazy join. Add the picots if you like them. If you don't, then the two pairs of the outer group go either side of the outer pin at the point.

This type of headside has its threads independent of the rest of the lace, unlike Torchon headsides, which tend to be an integral part of the lace. This means that it is easy to add these plaited headsides onto different designs, but the working may vary from one design to another. If the leg of the headside is meeting another leg, then you can cross them over in a lazy join, which means that some bobbins will leave the headside and others join it. If the leg is meeting a single pair of bobbins (such as in a footside) then you can work the single pair of threads across the threads of the leg in cloth stitch, pin, then cloth stitch back again. I've shown this on the left.

When using plaits, make sure that you don't do too many stitches between the pins. This makes the plait too long to fit, and will give a baggy result. Too few may let you see the individual threads, but will at least be taut. The correct number will vary on the thickness of the cotton and the size of the pattern. Once you have worked out the correct number, remember it and use it consistently throughout the pattern. It's surprising how often a consistent result looks convincing!

Plaited headside pricking

Plaited headside pricking

Plaited headside photo

Nine Pin headside

Nine Pin Headside

This is a traditional English Maltese pattern. I have been told that the name comes from using 9 pins per head, but it doesn't! An alternative explanation is that nine-pins is a skittles game, with 9 skittles set on a diagonal square. A nine pin edging or head is because they stick up like skittles. It is used in this beginner pattern. You can use the diagram on the left as a pricking pattern.

It uses 4 pairs of bobbins in two groups. Each group is plaited between the pins. Where two groups cross over, there is a lazy join. The legs are fastened to the pins using picots. There are spare pins where the headside meets the rest of the lace. You can join this headside to the lace via a lazy join, if it is meeting a leg, or cloth stitch to meet a single pair of threads.

Nine Pin headside

Crown headside

Crown Headside

This headside is used in this beginner pattern. The photo to the left shows it attached to a twisted footside. You can use the diagram on the right as a pricking pattern.

It uses 6 pairs of bobbins in three groups. Each group is plaited between the pins. Where two groups cross over, there is a lazy join. The legs are fastened to the pins using picots. There are spare pins where the headside meets the rest of the lace. You can see in the photo how any threads coming in at this pin just go round the pin and back into the pattern. Here they meet a single pair of threads, so these work across the leg bobbins in cloth stitch. If this headside is next to other legs, then they can cross each other in a lazy join.

Plaited headside pricking

Trail headside

Trail Headside

This headside is often used in English Maltese patterns. It is used in this flower pattern. It is a trail of cloth stitch, but unlike Torchon zigzags, it keeps the same width, but has different numbers of bobbins in it at different points. This particular trail has one pair of worker bobbins and three pairs of bobbins permanently in the trail. There are two more pairs which join the trail from time to time, then leave it. At the top in the picture, there is the worker pair, and five passive pairs. Two pairs leave the trail to make the top tally, leaving three pairs as passives in the leftwards bulge. Two pairs join again at the second tally, and leave the trail at the bride, in the middle of the rightwards bend. They join again a couple of rows later, at the second bride, so there are five passives at the bottom of the picture.

This technique allows you to 'lose' spare threads by hiding them within the trail. The pinholes are not necessarily regular, as trails are usually curvy. Here I've put slightly more pinholes where there are going to be less passives, to bulk out the trail with more to-and-fro of the worker pair. The different number of threads is obvious in the photo, but not in the finished lace (except to lacemakers, of course!)

The worker pair are used throughout the trail, so need far more thread wound onto them than the other bobbins. The permanent number of passives will vary according to the width of the trail, and indeed the thickness of the thread, how dense the trail, and how many bobbins you can fit on your pillow!

I've twisted the workers twice at each pin (except where I've forgotten, looking hard at the photo!) to give a slightly frilly edge.

Trail headside

Serpent headside photo

Serpent headside

Serpent Headside

This is used in the serpentine edgings. It is a trail of cloth stitch with the occasional pair leaving the trail, and twisting several times before rejoining it. The second pattern has wiggles of different lengths, but the principle is the same (see second pricking on the right).

The lace edge of this headside is straight rather than at an angle like most Torchon patterns. So you need some other technique to join it to the main lace.

The threads pattern on the left shows each pair as a single colour. The worker is red. Since the worker pair does a lot of work, you should wind lots and lots of cotton on the bobbins!

Serpent headside pricking
Serpent 2 headside pricking

Cartwheel headside

Cartwheel Headside

This is used in the cartwheel edging. It is made of plaits (red, pink and pale blue) and twisted pairs (green and dark blue). The plaits cross over using lazy joins. Other stitches are all cloth stitch. The outer edge starts as a plait, but changes to cloth stitch once the green pair join it. The workers are first the green pair, then the blue pair, then back to the green pair. There are no pins on the inside of the edge, so careful tightening is required - enough to get rid of loops, but not too tight. The pins on the outside are picots, and there are picots to hold the inner edge in place as well.

The green pair works slightly up the pillow, before joining the edge. Both the green and blue pair work from the left of the cartwheel, to the centre, then out to the edge, then back again to the centre, then back to the left. The centre of the wheel is held together with two pins, put in before and after the centre is worked.

Cartwheel headside

Bucks Point fan headside

Bucks Point Cloth Fan Headside

The Bucks Point cloth fan headside is worked exactly the same way as the Cloth fan headside. However, the Bucks Point grid is different, with the pinholes set in triangles rather than diamonds, so the fan is a different shape, thinner and more pointed.

The photo shows it set in Bucks Point ground, and the pricking pattern on the right shows some ground stitches round the fans.

You can run a gimp thread round the fans to outline them if you wish.

Fan headside pattern

Bucks Point Passives and Picots Headside

Bucks Point Passives and Picots Headside

This is a standard Bucks Point headside. It may not be marked in the pricking except as a row of holes. There are at least two pairs of passives (marked green in the diagram). The worker threads are worked across the passives in cloth stitch to the edge. Then they are worked in a picot round the edge pin, and are worked back across the passives to return to the lace pattern.

This is similar to a cloth footside except the worker threads both go to the edge and return, as opposed to one pair going to the edge, and swapping with another, which returns. Also, you don't get picots in footsides!

It is also similar to trail headsides. But trail headsides are usually reasonably independent of the rest of the lace, with the worker threads working to and fro, possibly for the whole headside, and some of the passives disappearing off to the rest of the lace, or returning back again. This Bucks Point headside has the worker pair returning to the lace, with usually a completely different pair coming back again for the next pin.

This headside is used in this It is used in this beginner pattern.

Bucks Point Passives and Picots Headside

Part twisted headside

Part Twisted Fan Headside

The headside on the left is used in my wavy lace patterns. This fan has the workers feeding through all other bobbins each time. The position of the pins gives the shape of the fan. It has an interesting hole at the base of the fan.

See right for the pricking pattern of the fan plus a little surrounding ground. The pins on the right of the fan are very close together. The pattern also gets rather sparse on the left, at the very edge of the lace, so instead of the left pair of bobbins being worked with cloth stitch, like the others, they're worked with cloth stitch and twist, and the worker bobbins are twisted just before working the edge bobbins. It is up to you how many twists you do, since this depends on the size of the pattern, the thickness of the thread and your own personal preference whether you like loose or tight lace. Here, I have shown a double twist to the outer edge to give tightness to the edge of the lace. You could give double twists of the worker bobbins round the pins on the left, at the edge of the lace. This will give small gaps right at the edge, which will make the finished lace look more "lacey".

All this twisting does mean that you will have to tighten the threads more often. You will learn from experience how often you have to tighten your threads, probably by having a piece of lace with small loops in it!

This is also called a Cluny edge.

Part twisted headside pattern

Twisted headside pattern

French fan headside photo

French Fan Headside

This is similar to the Part twisted fan headside above, except that it uses a single pin at the base of the fan. This shows a complete piece of lace with footside, but you could use it as headside for a more complicated piece of lace.

The spokes of the fan are made by the red threads (right) which work across the three passive pairs, green, mid-blue and pale blue. The stitches are cloth stich, with a twist wherever you can see a long enough thread (i.e. not betwen the stitches making one spoke, and not at the base of the fan). At the base of the fan, there is only one pin, but you need it to anchor several rows. When the red threads come to the base of the fan for the first time, work them through the pale blue threads, put the pin in, then work the red threads back again. The next time the red threads come back to the base, work them through the pale blue threads again, and loop the pair of red threads round the pin, then work them back through the pale blue threads. This is done a third time as well. It does lead to a lump of threads round that pin. It helps to tighten the pale blue threads when you've finished the base of one fan.

French fan headside

Ribbon headside

Ribbon Headside

This is rather a strange headside, as it is part of the ribbon footside! Still, this part of the pattern is really more like a headside, and I don't see why you shouldn't use it as such.

All the lines are single pairs of bobbins, worked in cloth stitch and twist, with extra twists if necessary. It is up to you how many twists you do, since this depends on the size of the pattern, the thickness of the thread and your own personal preference whether you like loose or tight lace.

Ribbon headside

Maltese headside photo

Maltese Headside

This is used in this diamond mat and in the original Maltese lace mat. The outer edge is 2 pairs of bobbins plaited together. All other stitches are cloth stitch and twist, with extra twists where necessary. There are two passives, and the worker bobbins travel through them from the edge to the rest of the lace and back again. The zig-zag edge is caused by the positioning of the pins.

The pricking pattern on the right doesn't show the passives, or the workers.

Maltese headside

Maltese headside pricking

Ribbon headside

Simple Ribbon Headside

This is a simplified version of a previous headside, Ribbon Headside. It can be used with a narrow ribbon, or the gaps left unused as decoration. I have used different colours here, but you could use all the same colour.

All the lines are single pairs of bobbins, worked in cloth stitch and twist, with extra twists if necessary. It is up to you how many twists you do, since this depends on the size of the pattern, the thickness of the thread and your own personal preference whether you like loose or tight lace. The previous pattern was really a very simplified fan made of cloth sttich and twist rather than cloth stitch or half stitch. Here I have simplified it even further. There is no real worker pair. Rather, two pairs continually cross over each other, and the remaining pair act as a passive. Next to the headside are gaps.

Ribbon headside

Hearts Headside

I thought that I'd invented this, but I've seen it in a pattern somewhere. It is a variation on a cloth fan headside or half stitch fan headside. It is worked in exactly the same way, except that the pins on the edge are placed where shown. Here I have made the worker threads different from the passives. You can work it all in the same colour of course. The cloth heart does tend to have a concentration of passives near the inlet of the heart, so perhaps the half stitch version works better. It is used here.

Hearts headside photoHearts headside photo Hearts headside

Rose border

Another invention (I think). It is line of rose ground along the edge. In the pattern, the rose ground is marked in blue, and there are Torchon ground stitches (in grey) to fill in the gaps. When you get to the edge, swap over the edge pair and the incoming pair, similar to a footside. I give the new edge pair an extra twist to give it a bit more strength.

It's hard to say whether this is a footside or a headside. I first discovered it almost by acident when I put a single row of rose ground right by a footside (including a passive) round the edge of the butterfly circle. In fact, I made the whole of the edge, rose ground plus footside, a different colour to the rest (which requires some double Torchon ground). I liked the effect, so I simplified it and left out the passive for the diamonds with rose border. It has rather a strange effect, with the square holes quite prominent. I like it though.

Rose border photo Rose border headside

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© Jo Edkins 2008