Tightening thread

Tightening thread while making lace is very important. If you don't tighten the threads enough, you can be left with little loops in the finished lace, which looks ugly. There is a short description of tightening thread on How to make lace, but this page goes into more detail.

  • Generally speaking, it is a good idea to tighten threads after putting in a pin.
  • If there is a mess below a pin, you may need to wait until you put in the next pin before tightening properly. For example, this is true of spiders. Even so, a quick tighten right away can't be any harm, even if it loosens again, a little!
  • Sometimes the threads look a mess, even above a pin. Careful tightening should make them line up properly.
  • The weight of the bobbin might be enough to pull threads straight for some types of stitch, such as simple grounds or net. Keep an eye on the threads, however, to check that they are OK.
  • You can 'stroke' the bobbins by putting your hand on several of them and moving it downwards. This is a quick technique, but may not always be effective.
  • If the bobbins have a flat top, you can tap them on the top - another quick technique.
  • While you are working a stitch, pull the bobbin gently towards you while you are lifting it over another. All bobbins get used eventually, so this means that you will have tugged every bobbin in turn. This reduces the amount of more complicated tightening that you will need to do.
  • Sometimes the threads change direction quite abruptly. This is true of workers, and also happens at the edge of lace. Sometimes this change of direction makes a thread go slack or even make a little loop. You can also get this with more complicated stitches, or if the thread is a little rough, or has a knot in it, or just because it is in a bad mood! These little loops or looseness will show in the final lace. Tug each bobbin in turn until you find the right one, then pull gently until the loop disappears.
  • Always tug gently. You do not want to pull a pin out, or even break a thread!
  • Tightening threads is often easier if the lengths of the threads are the same.
  • Sometimes you need to pull the thread in a particular direction. The bobbins take up more space than the lace does, so they may not be pulling in the right direction. Try lifting a bobbin and positioning it to get the thread running in roughly the same direction as it does before the last pin, then pull any loop or looseness through.
  • Sometimes threads really misbehave themselves, perhaps at a previous pin, or inside an area of cloth stitch. Any amount of tugging doesn't seem to help. You can use a spare pin as a tool, to poke at the offending area, loosening the tightness so you can tug the looseness above through, or persuading misbehaving passives to go where you want them. This pin is not pushed into the pattern at all. It is just to move the threads around a bit.
  • Sometimes it is important to get the threads really taut. The two handed technique is useful here. A stitch takes two pairs of bobbins, so after the stitch, take one pair in one hand and the other in the other hand, and pull the threads apart until they are taut. The threads do need to be the same length for this.

Tighten lace lace

You do not have to use all these techniques! Try them out, and see which you prefer.

How often (and how) you tighten threads is up to you. It takes time, and slows you down. But if you do not tighten them enough, the final lace will not look so good. Some bits of lace can be ignored while others need careful attention. Watch out for footsides! Not only do they need care as the threads change direction, but the human eye tends to notice irregularities at the edge far more than in the middle of a piece of lace. Headsides tend to be frilly anyway, but a nice straight footside with a little loop in the middle leaps out at you.

Another way to work lace stitches

The most usual way to make lace involving keeping nearly all bobbins on the pillow, and merely lifting a single bobbin, or one in each hand. However, another way, perhaps more old fashioned, is to keep a pair of bobbins in each hand. The pair is twisted by manipulating your fingers, while the threads are crossed by swapping the relevant bobbins from each hand. Normally, I suspect that this will be slower than keeping the bobbins on the pillow and only picking up single bobbins. However, if you are plaiting the same two pairs over and over again, to make a braid, bride or leg, then keeping the pairs in your hand can speed working up. Such braids need careful and continual tightening, either by pulling the two pairs apart, or pulling each bobbin down in turn. Both these tightening methods can be done very quickly if you are already holding the bobbins. (If not, you have to pick them up first, and put them done afterwards, which takes time.)


Usually, you tighten as much as you can (apart from being careful about pulling out pins or breaking threads). The threads above the pin should be in a straight line to the pin above, and so on. However, in some places, this is not so, and you need to be careful not to over-tighten.

For example, when you work cloth stitch, such as in diamonds, the passives hang straight down, and can be tightened strongly. But when you work a headside fan, the outer passives must bend outwards slightly, to fill in the curve. If they don't, then you just have a triangle with an odd edge! You do this by encouraging these outer passives to lie outwards for the first half of the fan. But don't over-tighten for the second half of the fan.

Another place where you have to be careful with tightening, is when you're working a tally. The two outer threads shape the tally. But if you tug the worker thread too much, the whole tally goes out of shape.

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© Jo Edkins 2014