Making Lace

Preparing the pattern
Winding bobbins
Making the lace
What order to work the lace in?
What to do if you run out of thread or a thread breaks
Starting and finishing lace (different page)

Preparing the Pattern

Lace is worked on a pattern, which shows where the pins should go. You can find some simple patterns here, and there are more on the rest of this website. There are books and lace magazines with patterns, or, of course, you could always design your own!

You need to prick out the pattern. This means making small holes in the pattern wherever the pins will go. You would think that you could do this while making the lace, but in fact it's quite hard to see where the pin should go when covered with threads. It's much easier and more accurate to prick the holes first. Then when making the lace, you can 'feel' for the hole with the pin. I print out my patterns from the computer, then prick them directly, but some people prick through the pattern onto pricking card below. You can buy a special pricker, or just use a needle or pin. Pin the pattern onto something firm that doesn't mind pinds being stuck into it (you could use your pillow), and prick every pinhole. If you turn the paper over, you can spot any holes that you've missed. When done, fasten the pattern to your pillow with a pin at each corner (or more, if necessary). Push these pins in up to their heads so they don't get in the way.

Pricking a pattern

Winding the Bobbins

Start winding a bobbin
Winding a bobbin
Make a loop
Looping over bobbin
Wound bobbin
Bobbins are wound in pairs. Take one end of your thread and wind it round the recessed part of the first bobbin, at the top. You will have to decide how much thread you will need. For a small pattern, the length from your out-stretched hand to your nose might be sufficient. After measuring it, don't cut it off. Wind it on the bobbin while it's still on the reel. When all this has been wound onto the bobbin, make a loop, twist it and slip it over the groove right at the top of the bobbin to make a simple slip knot (see left).

Now measure the same amount of thread again, but this time cut it off. Wind the other end of the thread onto the other bobbin and fasten it in the same way. You should have one piece of thread with a bobbin at both ends. Stick a pin into the pillow at the start of the pattern, and carefully hang the pair of bobbins from it, letting them lie hanging down on the pillow. There should be 2-3 inches (5 cms) of threads below the pin to the bobbins. Do the same with all the rest of the bobbins. Don't drop the pillow at this point! (I did once - oh deary, deary me.)

If you need to hang more than one pair of bobbins from the same pin and your pairs of bobbins look like each other, then arrange them so the bobbins from the same pair lie next door to each other. That may make it easier to work the lace, as, if you're lucky, the pair will continue to stay together, and this means you can check you haven't forgot part of a stitch. You might even want to loop one pair through the other pair so when the pin is taken out after you've worked the start of the lace, the two pairs of threads are joined rather than springing apart as two separate loops.

Click here for a discussion on how much thread you need to wind onto your bobbins.

Second bobbin
Second bobbin
Hung bobbins

Making the lace

The Lacemaker (1669-70) by Vermeer

There are various ways to start off lace. Click here for a discussion of them.

Lace is made up of lots of stitches. Each stitch is made up of either either cloth stitch or half stitch, which both need four bobbins, or a twist, which justs needs two. So, before starting the stitch, work out which bobbins you are using. To make the stitch, you lift one bobbin over another as shown on the stitches webpage. You may need to shuffle the other bobbins along to make room. The threads follow the bobbins. The stitch is there, but it isn't tightened up, so it looks quite a mess. Don't worry about this.

Every now and then, you need to put in a pin. This will need to go between two threads. Work out which two. Carefully move the pin up between the threads, making sure you don't loose your place. When you get to the pattern, find the right hole (which you have already pricked) and push the pin in far enough to stay there firmly (but not right up to its head). It's a good idea to lean the pin away from the bobbins slightly, as they tend to pull the threads down, and, if you're unlucky, pull the pin out. At the edge, lean the pins out slightly, for the same reason. However, don't lean the pins too much. You're going to have a lot of pins close together, so they need to be put in neatly.

You should always tighten up the threads at a pin. There are several ways to do this. Give each bobbin involved a gentle tug downwards, until the slack of the thread has disappeared. Sometimes stroking the bobbins downwards, or tapping them on the top, is enough. But sometimes it's quite hard to tighten the stitch sufficiently. Then you need to take one pair of bobbins in one hand, and one in the other, and gently pull them apart from each other (see right). Obviously tugging too hard pulls the pins out, which leads to chaos, so be careful! If you don't tighten the stitches enough, then you will see little loops in the final lace. Don't worry too much, no-one else will notice (except possibly another lacemaker!) Tightening threads is explained further here. That also describes an alternate way to hold bobbins while working. Tighten lace lace
Working lace

Leave the pins in until you have worked enough lace to make the earlier part safe, even from your gentle tugs. This might be about an inch of lace. From this point, you can take pins out from the back of the lace to use in the front. However, if you are making something like a mat, or the edge of a handkerchief, then the end will have to be joined to the beginning. This is a lot easier if you leave the beginning pins in, so the threads will be in the right place for the join. But push the pins right in, up to their heads, or they will get in the way of working the rest of the lace. Click here for more about corners and mats.

Once you have worked some lace, you will find that the bobbins have used up their spare thread, and are too close to the lace. You unwind a bit more thread by holding the bobbin with the thread taut, and twisting the bobbin so some more thread comes out (but not too much!) If you are careful and twist the right way, the loop fastening the thread won't come undone.

You will find that lace patterns have designs in them. I describe some of them in this website. Before starting one design, such as a spider, sort out which bobbins will be needed, and tidy away the other bobbins to the left and right. You will need to do one design before starting on another below it. Sometimes you may need to do half a design, then change to another one before going back to the first. It all depends where the threads come from and go to.

If you didn't allow enough thread on a bobbin, and run completely out of thread, you can tie another piece of thread on, wind this onto the bobbin, and continue. The knot will show in the finished lace, of course, but most people won't notice it. Click here for a clever way to do this.

If you make a mistake, you have a choice. You can either undo all the stitches after the mistake (taking the pins out as you go), correct the mistake, and rework the lace or you can ignore the mistake, and try to get the bobbins back in the right place. You can sometimes see mistakes on antique lace!

There are various ways to finish lace. Click here for a discussion of them.

What order to work lace?

Original pattern

The other parts of my website tell you how to work different parts of a Torchon lace pattern, but how do you join them together? What order do you work them in?

Take a pattern like the one on the right.

Start off by turning it the right way round! This is the English way of working lace. The rest of Europe puts the footside on the right. It doesn't make any difference.

Turned right way up
Extend pattern

Extend the pattern and work out a beginning (see left). I've made it a point, but there are other methods. There are pinholes for the starting threads. You can probably work out that every top pin takes a pair of bobbins, except the lefthand pin (two pairs) and righthand pin (three pairs). Click here for how to find out how many bobbins a piece of lace needs.

Generally speaking, you work from the top downwards. But some areas have to be worked before others. The point at the top is an obvious place to start. Work down to where the chevron divides (dark red). Then work both sides of the chevron. They are both bright red, as it doesn't matter which gets worked first. When both are done, you have the threads ready for the rose ground (pink). After them, you need to do the bottom chevron and the top of the next (yellow). These need to be separated and joined, but the most important thing is that both sides of a chevron need to be worked before joining them. The fan and second rose ground are worked next (both green as it doesn't matter which is done first). Then the next chevrons (pale blue). Then the top spider and the net (mid blue), and so on.

As a general rule, work out what threads go into any part of the design. Any part of the pattern above those threads need to be worked first. Obvious, really!

Lace corner pattern

What to do if you run out of thread or a thread breaks

If you run out of thread, then unwind the last bit of thread. Then wind more thread onto the bobbin. If a thread breaks, then you may need to undo some lace until you have a little bit of thread to rejoin. Either way, you need to join the thread. Here is a neat way to do this.

Make a slipknot with the new bit of thread. Make sure that the running part belongs to the long part of the thread. Poke the short thread from your lace through the loop of the slipknot. Now pull the slipknot tight. Carry on pulling until the slipknot 'pops' round the thread from the lace. This makes a good joining knot, almost a sheepbend. The advantage of it is that you only need a very short piece of thread from the lace. It's far harder to tie a reef knot using a very short piece of thread! You can also push the slipknot very close to the worked lace, which means that the knot will be there as well, rather than having a knot in the thread that you are still working with, which will catch, and cause problems.

The knot will show in the finished lace, of course, but most people won't notice it.

Joining threads in lace

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© Jo Edkins 2008