Lace Stitches

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Lace is really a sort of complicated weaving, fastened into place with pins. Once you have pricked out the pattern, pinned it to the pillow, wound the bobbins and hung them from pins, you start working the lace. Bobbins are always in pairs. They are wound and hung in pairs, but the real reason is that the lace stitches are worked with pairs of bobbins, usually two pairs. So for most stitches you start with four bobbins, as on the right. These will be hanging from pins, or from the previous bit of lace. Here one pair is red and pink, the other two shades of blue. In the diagrams below, click on 'Show working' to watch a moving diagram showing how the stitch is worked. Click on 'Step' to see each step of the stitch by itself.

Basic lace stitches
Cloth stitch
Half stitch
Cloth stitch and twist
Used in English Maltese
Lazy join or windmill
Three-way join
Used in Bucks Point
Honeycomb stitch - more
Gimp - more
Picots - more
Tallies - more
Turning stitch
Linking lace
Cross-twist system
Bobbins at start

How to do a cloth stitch

Cloth Stitch

You swap the middle two bobbins (left over right), then both the outer pairs (right over left), then the new middle two (left over right). It's important which bobbins gets lifted over which. When working stitches, you lift one bobbin over its neighbour, but you may need to move the underneath bobbin across to allow room. There is never much spare room on a lace pillow! When two bobbins are lifted at the same time, you can use both hands.

This is called cloth stitch because the finished effect is like woven cloth. Click on 'Show working' to repeat the stitch, or 'Step' to go through the stitch one step at a time. Note that, at the end, the pairs of bobbins have swopped over, so the pink/red pairs are on the right and the blues on the left. Other names for cloth stitch are linen stitch or whole stitch (although the name whole stitch can also be used for Cloth stitch and twist).

For an example of cloth stitch, see Cloth Diamond.

How to do a half stitch

Half Stitch

A half stitch is not half a British whole stitch! It's more like three quarters. You swap the middle pair, then twist both pairs, but leave out the last pair of bobbins being switched. You will see that after this stitch the pairs of bobbins have now got muddled up. While the pink and red used to be together, now they are separated by a blue. You always define the pairs of bobbins by taking the two next to each other, so after this stitch, the new left pair is pale blue and red, and the right pair is mid blue and pink.

For an example of half stitch, see Half Stitch Diamond.

How to do a twist


Twisting a pair of bobbins is not really a stitch in itself, but it's combined with other stitches, such as in grounds. You must be careful always to have the correct bobbin lifted over the other. The start of both cloth and half stitch is middle pair, left lifts over right, but for the twist, right lifts over left. This is so the thread goes alternately over and under all other threads it meets.

If there is a twist in a pattern, you can do two or more twists to get a firmer result.

For an example of twists, see Bucks Point Ground.

Cloth stitch and twist

Cloth Stitch and Twist

Cloth stitch and twist is used so often that it is almost a stitch in itself. It is sometimes called whole stitch, in Downton lace, and by some Australians, but whole stitch can also mean cloth stitch. So I have used the terms cloth stitch, and cloth stitch and twist, throughout this website, as these terms are unambiguous.

You work the four bobbins in a cloth stitch. You take the left pair of bobbins and twist them. You twist the right pair as well. You can do these twists at the same time, using both hands, if you wish.

If you study the diagrams carefully, you will see that a cloth stitch and twist is the same as two half stitches on the same two pairs of bobbins.

For an example of cloth stitch and twist, see twisted footside.

How to do a picot


A picot is a loop round a pin which gives a lacy edge. It uses one pair of bobbins. First you twist them several times. Then loop the left thread round a pin towards its point, and push the pin into the pattern. Loop the other thread the same way, but towards the head of the pin, and pull the twisted part through gently. Twist bobbins. For a detailed explanation, click here.

For an example of picots, see crown headside.



The plait is used in the diamond mat and the crown headside.

You work the four bobbins in a half stitch continuously without pins. This forms a plait-like effect. Since there are no pins, when you tighten it (which you should do quite often), it will make a thick thread, which is called a leg or bride. This can make a stiff headside, or join other parts of the pattern, or be used like a gimp to outline patterns.

If you are careful always to work the plait in pairs of stitches, then the bobbins will stay in their original pairings. Here, two plait stitches are demonstrated. It looks the same as a cloth stitch and twist, as that is made up of two half stitches.

I thought that I'd invented the word plait, but I've been told by a correspondent "The continuous half stitch plait was called this in the old days of lacemaking, and sometimes, particularly in Bedfordshire called a leg, and the leaf was sometimes called a plait. Lacemakers with long hair plaited their hair using four strands of hair, except on Sundays, when 3 strands were used because of the Biblical Commandment, " Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy, in it thou shalt do no work." , so if a lacemaker plaited her hair with four strands, she was, in effect, working!! My teacher told me this in the 1950s. She was a fourth generation lacemaker from Bedfordshire."

Plaits need constant tightening to keep them neat.

Crown headside has plaits.

Lazy Join

Lazy Join or windmill

Plaits are joined with a lazy join, or windmill. Unlike a normal junction, you have two pairs of bobbins coming in from each side, making four pairs in all. You treat each pair of bobbins as if it was a single bobbin, and you work a cloth stitch with these pairs.

In the pictures, I have coloured the bobbins rather than the beads to allow more room. I've also coloured each pair of bobbins the same.

Crown headside joins its plaits with lazy joins.



A tally is a block of tightly woven threads. unlike normal lace stitches, as it is not tightened against a pin. You start with 4 bobbins (2 pairs), but these are treated individually rather than as pairs. Click here for an explantion of how to work a tally. Tallies are used in this flower pattern.

Three-way Join

Three-way join

The lazy join joins four pairs of bobbins. However, you may need to join six pairs of bobbins, as in this flower pattern. Here is a way to do it. I have left the bobbins out of the diagram, but I've coloured the threads of each pair of bobbins the same.

There are three groups of bobbins, with each group containing two pairs, a left group (red and blue), a right group (yellow and green), and a central group (grey and pale blue). Take the central group first. Take the left pair of this central group (coloured grey in the diagram). Treat it as a single bobbin. Weave the pair through the left group of bobbins. You must weave both of the pair first over, then under the two pairs of the left group. Now for the right pair of the central group. Weave this pair fist under a pair of the left group (red) , then over the other pair (blue). Look at the diagram to check you've got it right. Now take the other pair of the central group (pale blue). Weave it under the yellow pair, over the green. Now both pairs which used to be in the centre are now at the edge. Now work the four pairs now in the middle in a lazy join. Finally finish off the join by weaving the outside pair back to the centre (the grey over yellow and under the green, the pale blue under red and over the blue).

Honeycomb stitch

Honeycomb Stitch

Honeycomb stitch is used in Bucks Point net. It uses a pin. See this beginner pattern for an example of honeycomb.

You work the four bobbins in a half stitch and twist both pairs. Then you put the pin in the middle. Now you do another half stitch to cover the pin (which means doing a stitch both before and after a pin), and twist both pairs again.

The bobbins end up in their original order.

This gives a visible gap in the finished lace where the pin went.



A gimp is a thicker thread which outlines a pattern. A gimp is held in place by crossing pairs of threads.

You twist the two thinner threads, then pass the thicker thread between the two thinner threads. Finally twist the two thinner threads again. Since there is only one thicker thread, the threads do not follow the normal under/over pattern strictly. For a detailed explanation, click here.

Gimps are used in Bucks Point. See this beginner pattern for an example.

A proper gimp is a single thicker thread. But you can get a pair or even two pairs of threads, twisted, plaited or just left alone, which are treated like a gimp. See my wavy patterns or the diamond mats.

How to do a turning stitch

Turning stitch

Tape lace has strips of cloth stitch worked into pretty shapes made of curves. Sometimes on the inside of the curves, there is not room for the edge pins that you normally have in solid areas. If you use turning stitches here, which do not use a pin, it makes a tight stitch which keeps the pairs of bobbins on the same side. Since this is the edge of the lace, it means that the same pair of bobbins stays as the workers.

Sometimes a turning stitch has an extra twist of both pairs at the end. I call this a turning stitch and twist. The turning stitch (without the twists) would be used for cloth stitch tapes while the turning stitch and twist would be more suitable for half stitch tapes.

How to do a turning stitch

Linking two pieces of lace

You may wish to join or link two pieces of lace, such as the outer edge and middle of a mat. Both pieces of lace must be on the pillow at the same time, and the finished piece must be well pinned down, with pins pushed in to their heads (or they'll catch on the bobbins' threads).

Remove the pin where you want to join the lace. Push a crochet hook in under the threads (where the pin was), and catch one of the threads from the other piece of lace. Pull a loop in the thread. Now push the bobbin through the loop, remove the hook, and pull the bobbin tight. Twist both bobbins.

You are strongly advised to use unspangled bobbins for this (without beads). The whole process is quite tricky enough without the beads catching the threads as well! You can also hook both threads, make a double loop, and push both bobbins through the loop, but it's more work.

The terchnical term for this is a 'sewing' even though you don't use a needle!


Adding beads or sequins to lace

If you want to add beads or sequins to lace, then here is a technique for including them within the lace working. If you have a crochet hook small enough to go through the hole of the bead, then slip the bead onto the hook. Hook one thread and pull through to make a loop. You may need to unwind the bobbin a bit to do this. Poke the other bobbin through the loop. Be careful that the spangles of the bobbin don't cath at the threads! Gently pull the loops straight, and move the bead up to be as close to the lace working as possible. Each thread stays the same side, but they loop round each other inside the bead, rather like a sewing machine stitch.

If you don't have a crochet hook, then you might be able to poke a loop of the thread through the bead hole, or thread a needle with the loop and use that. You could also unwind one entire bobbin, which gives you the end of a thread to poke through the bead's hole, and then you can rewind the bobbin. But this is tedious, and doesn't in fact give as secure mounting for the bead. The final way to do this is to sew the bead on after you have finished the lace, knotting the ends round some of the lace threads.

You need to think about the size of the bead. A very small bead could be used within solid cloth stitching, to make an eye, perhaps. A slightly larger bead or sequin could be used within ground, where there is more room. Too large a bead might pull the lace out of shape with its weight. It could also be that you will only see the bead from one side of the lace. You might also want to chose whether the bead should be on the worker threads or the passive threads.


Cross-twist system of describing stitches

While bobbins lacemakers use the stitches on this page, they do not necessarily call them by the same names. Whole stitch might be a cloth stitch and it might be a cloth stitch and twist. The cross-twist method of describing stitches is unambiguous.

Most stitches use two pairs of bobbins or four threads. These can be described using the cross-twist system. The cross is where the middle two bobbins of the original four cross over. The twist is twisting each pair (so uses all four bobbins). So, for example, cloth stitch is cross-twist-cross, or CTC.

Click on buttons or select stitch type to produce the stitch:


Start position
of bobbins

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© Jo Edkins 2002