Lace Tally

A technique for doing tallies
Raised tallies
Different names and types of tallies

A tally is 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. One bobbin is separated from the rest. I've coloured this thread a different colour to show what's happening, but of course it would normally be the same colour as the rest. The other 3 hang straight downwards. You will find it easier if you have these 3 bobbins at exactly the same height. You may need to unwind some thread from the fourth bobbin, which is a single worker (rather than the usual pair).


Weave this fourth bobbin across the other three, then back again (make sure that you don't undo the stitch on the way back!) Either keep the bobbin in your hand, or carefully rest it horizontally on the tops of other bobbins in use; do not let it hang down normally, or it will pull the tally out of shape.

Now you need to tighten the rows, which is the tricky bit! The rows need to be as close together as possible. The worker thread also needs to be tightened the right amount to give the width of the tally. Some tallies are narrow. Some are quite broad. Some are leaf or petal shaped, starting narrow, getting broader in the middle, then narrow at the end. If you pull the worker bobbin across and up the pillow the right amount, and if you're lucky (!) the thread might tighten the right amount, and the rows close up to the previous rows. But it might snag, or the rows might stay separated. It seems to help if you put three fingers of your left hand (if right-handed) on the tops of the 3 downwards hanging bobbins, to keep a tension on those threads while tightening the worker thread. You can make the rows close together by pulling the outer bobbins of the 3 handing downwards, but that makes the thread too broad for the tally. You can tighten the thread by pulling on the worker bobbin, but that can pull the rows apart. You can push the rows together using a spare pin, not by pushing the pin in, but by using the point to push the thread upwards towards the previous rows. That causes a tiny loop at the end of the row, which needs to be pulled out (which disturbs the rows again...)

OK, I found tallies difficult! Sometimes they tightened perfectly, other times a row just wouldn't go right. To quote the book I was working from "A great deal of practise is required in order to produce good shaped tallies and lacemakers will acquire their own technique of working." I don't think that's very helpful! I've given a few techniques above in the hope that they will help.

Here are some examples of getting tallies wrong!

Tally Not enough rows worked and rows not pushed together enough
Tally Started fine, but not enough rows worked so end tails off
Tally Poor control of width
Tally Too many rows, so tally ends up flopping
Tally Well controlled petal-shaped tally. Unfortunately, it is in the same lace as the square shaped tally at the top!

These examples all came from this flower pattern. I'm sure that with practice, you'll be able to do much better yourself!

A technique for doing tallies

An email correspondent told me of a technique for making tallies which does seem to make it easier.

Tally You start with two pairs of bobbins at a pin (not marked). First clear some space on the pillow, so the four bobbins have some room. The two outside threads are the posts. One of the central threads is the worker and the other is the central passive. The posts are passives as well. Note that these are threads, not pairs of bobbins as in other stitches. Tallies are different! Only the worker moves relative to the others, so I will only label that in the following diagrams.
Twist the right-hand pair twice, see right. This is done at the start alone, just to anchor the worker.

Tally Now to start doing the rows of the tally.
Cross the middle two bobbins. This is the worker and the central passive, see left.
Twist the left-hand pair twice. This is the worker and the left post, see right.
Tally Do the same coming back again - cross the middle two bobbins, worker and the central passive (see left) and then twist the right-hand pair twice, worker and right post (see right).
This is a double row. It won't look as tidy as in the diagram (it's quite hard enough trying to draw all these threads right without making them look messy as well!)
Tally You need to tighten the rows at this point. First, lie the worker and the central passive on the pillow. Then take the posts in your two hands, and gently tug them apart. This causes the double row to slid up the posts towards the top of the tally. Do not pull the worker. This will ruin the tally. There is not much point in tugging the central passive at this point (although it won't do any harm).

Now, carry on doing double rows: cross the central two threads, double twist the left pair, cross the central two threads, double twist the right pair, pull the posts apart. Do this for about 3 or 4 double rows in all. Now carefully pull the central passive downwards. The tally (or leaf, or petal) should start to appear.

You can even start to control to width of the tally at this point. Hold the two posts at the distance apart that you want (or possibly a bit wider, since thread bends!) Pull, very gently, at the worker bobbin. This requires, as you can see, three hands, so use a finger for the right-hand post, while dealing with the worker. Keeping the posts taut is vital to stop the worker tightening too much and ruining the whole tally. But playing with the worker in this way is advanced tally work! To start with, I suggest that you don't touch the worker (except to do the crosses and twists, obviously) and let the tally form a natural width. The bobbin resting on the pillow, and the slight drag caused by working the stitches, should give enough tension to make some sort of tally. When you gain confidence with your control over the tally, then you can try to control the width to get the tally that you want.

So you should have the beginings of a good tally. Now carry on doing double rows, but now tug gently at the central passive every time you pull the posts apart. Check carefully against the pin hole marking the bottom of the tally. When the tally is long enough, then you need to join the bobbins to the next part of the lace, probably with a lazy join. If you have the other bobbins for this stitch already in position, then you can go straight to the lazy join. (I twist the left two bobbins before doing this. I don't know if it's necessary, but the right two bobbins are already twisted, and it seemed logical). However, the lace may not have the other bobbins there. If you're joing two tallies, then one needs to be worked first! In that case, put a pin at the bottom of the tally, where the join will eventually happen. Work the other bobbins until they get to the same place. Then, leaving the pin in place to start with, start working the lazy join until you need the pin. Take it out from where it is, then replace it in the same hole, but in the correct place in the middle of the lazy join. You have to be careful with this. Until the worker is anchored by the pin at the bottom of the tally, you can still ruin the tally by tugging on the worker by mistake.

Once the lazy join at the bottom of the tally has been worked, you will find that you can tighten the tally a little. Try tugging on the various threads that came out of the tally. The posts and central passive tend to make the tally lie flat. Tugging the worker won't spoil the tally (unless you pull the pin out!) but it may twist the tally. But tugging the other threads should make it lie flat again.

Tally The advantage of this technique is that the worker is not at the end of the row, but always stays within the posts at the end of a stitch. This seems to make the worker drag downwards just enough to form the tally (once all the passives have been tightened, naturally). Also, you leave the worker on the pillow while tightening the tally. (One technique I heard described suggesting holding the worker bobbin in your hand all the time. As I only have two hands, this meant that I was holding two bobbins in one hand, one of which needed to be pulled, and the other not pulled under any circumstances. Difficult...) Anyway, I found the above technique easy, even fun, to do, which is more than can be said for my previous attempts. Although you can see from the pictures that I haven't yet got the hang of constant width tallies. They are from this piece of lace. Tally

Raised tallies

How to do a raised tally

A raised tally is a tally which is worked on top of a piece of solid worked cloth or half stitch. It creates a small piece of densed worked lace above the less worked piece, creating a slightly three dimensional effect.

The cloth stitch (or half stitch) is worked down to the top of where the raised tally will be. Then a pin is put in between the two pairs that are going to be used for the tally. Now the two pairs are carefully lifted out of the way. Try hanging them off the back of the pillow but beware pins! The rest of the threads continue working cloth stitch until they reach the bottom of where the tally will be. Now the two pairs are retrieved (carefully!) back to their original position. They are worked as a tally until you reach the bottom. Put in another pin between the two pairs. Now continue to work the cloth stitch, including the two pairs in their original position.

Raised tally

The raised tally is raised above the normal surface of the lace. This means that it only appears on one side of the lace (see left). The other side shows the threads of the rest of the cloth stitch passing underneath (see right). This means that the lace now has a right side and a wrong side, which doesn't normally happen.

The eyes of the dogs in this piece of lace are worked as raised tallies.

Raised tally

Different names and types of tallies

There are many different types of shapes of tallies, used in different styles of lace, and these can help to identify a style.

Wheat ears are pointed ended tallies. Often the "true wheat ear" is made from a pair leaving 2 consecutive pins, and then forming the pointy tally from a slight distance - so you see the 2 prs of threads like a tuft or whisker at the top.

The long square-ended tallies used to be called barley corns.

Maltese lace has fat pointed tallies, and Cluny lace has long, thinner pointed ones.

Sometimes tiny square tallies are put in ground, such as Bucks Point ground, as a decorative effect.

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© Jo Edkins 2002