bobbin lace

Bobbin Lace Walkthrough, Part Three

Bobbin Lace - Part 3

Welcome to the last installment of our little stroll through the making of bobbin lace. I’ve loved sharing it with you – I wish I did it sooner, but I’m not sure I knew enough yet. As I said in part one, it just suddenly felt natural to do it. I love it when a plan comes together.

Anyway, on we go! At the end of part two, we’d actually finished a whole pattern repeat, if you can call it that: a section of ground, a trail, spider, and finished the trail. Now we’re here, back to the ground pattern:

Bobbin Lace - Part 3

Because this particular pattern works like a maze, snakes down one length, then takes a u-turn and back up again (which you’ll probably be able to see better in a minute), I sometimes have to work around corners (the u-turn). Since I just finished that last spider and it was on a u-turn area, I have to work sections of ground that essentially turn a corner.

The above photo shows a corner, which looks the same as the last triangle of ground I worked, only bigger. This will not be worked as one large triangle, but actually as two triangles one after the other. Exactly like before, only twice. Then the corner is turned, and it’s time for another spider!

Bobbin Lace - Part 3

And that’s it! Ok, it probably didn’t seem so easy-peasy without learning all the beginner’s stuff first, but it really isn’t as complicated as it might look. I hope these posts made it at least a little less mystifying. Just like any other needlecraft, you learn the stitches and just do them in a particular arrangement, over and over and over. Actually, nearly this entire piece is worked in half-stitch, just in different ways per area. (Note: Because it is a sampler, half of the spiders are worked in whole-stitch, but you get the point.) This is how far into the pattern I am now …

Bobbin Lace - Part 3

… compared to when I just started this project back in December (that’s an A4 sheet of paper, for scale):

Bobbin Lace - Part 3

Woohoo! Almost finished with the spider sampler section! (And, actually, I’ve kept working since I took these photos, and now have only about an inch left to work.) I’m excited to surprise my teacher and have the entire body of the project done before my next lesson this weekend. Won’t she be glad not to have to watch me work all those little ground sections, over and over again?! The border will sample different ground patterns, and I’m really looking forward to getting on and learning something new!

I hope you liked seeing a little of how this whole lace thingamy works, and that I didn’t make it too-too confusing. Like any craft, it feels like a world of insanity when you first start, but it really isn’t as scary as it looks, I promise!

Bobbin Lace Walkthrough, Part Two

Ok, so last time, we finished a triangle of ground pattern and were just about to start working on a spider. Spiders are these diamond-shaped decorative elements you see in lace sometimes; my teacher says she likes them because they cover a lot of space with only a little effort. From what I hear, some people really hate doing them, but I can’t imagine why – they are awfully confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, they’re so fun!

Bobbin Lace - Part 2

If you look closely at my spiders, you’ll see a tiny diamond-shaped border around each one. This is called a ‘trail’, and it is worked much like the ground was – in half-stitch again, but instead of pinning at each point on a grid, it’s worked in tiny rows that zig-zag down from the top point out to each side point (and then back again to the lower point after the spider is completed). Can you see that there’s a tight zig-zag pattern all around the diamond? That’s the trail.

Bobbin Lace - Part 2

I am purposely brushing past the trail a little because, although it is worked very easily in simple rows, it’s so tiny that I fear it would difficult to show properly. The above photo shows the top half of the trail finished, which means the top border of the upcoming spider is done and now I have four pairs on either side all set up to be used for the spider. The rest of my bobbins are pushed out of the way for the moment, I only need these eight pairs for now. These pairs are each twisted together a number of times before anything happens, so that they make nicely defined little legs coming from the border. This will be more visible as we go on.

You can see the pattern for the spider below my work; as my teacher always says, ‘just follow the lines’. Of course those lines make no sense at all at first, but with a little practice, I could finally see that they were telling me where each pair should go, like directions on a map.

Bobbin Lace - Part 2

The basic idea of a spider is that the four (in this case) pairs on one side will all work through the four pairs on the other side, making a little pattern where they all meet in the center. Sometimes something fun and different will go on as well, but it will always essentially work that way. This one has a little fun stuff going on. Above, I’ve worked a little stitch at the top and put up a pin, which give the top a bit of extra definition. Then I did as is usual, working the four pairs on the left through the four pairs on the right. This means that the first pair on the left does a half-stitch through each right pair. Then the second left pair does a half-stitch through each right pair. Etc.

Bobbin Lace - Part 2

Because this spider has some fun shenanigans going on, some of the pairs weave around a bit before leaving the spider. I won’t go into specifics with that because each spider pattern is different and that’s just confusing. But that is why there’s some pins on the sides. In this case, it makes the spider into a little round ring, rather than a clump of stitches all together.

Then the four left pairs repeat their actions as before, finishing off the spider. Think of it as being horizontally symmetrical: my 8 (total) pairs did a little dance in the top half of the spider, then weaved around a bit in the middle, then have to repeat their dance below to make it match, then the pin at the bottom point as at the top.

Bobbin Lace - Part 2

Then each pair leaves the spider just as it came in: twisted together the same number of times as above so that the legs are again tight and well-defined (8 twisted legs coming from the border *into* the spider, then 8 twisted legs coming *from* the spider). I use those legs to work the bottom half of the trail, and now I have another completed section: a fancy half-stitch spider, surrounded by a tiny half-stitch trail.

Bobbin Lace Walkthrough, Part One

I’m still inching along on my Venus Shawl and Fa Fa Fa Socks, but there’s nothing much to see yet. In the meantime, I’ve been intensely enjoying my lacework for the first time since I started taking lessons. Let me clarify: I’ve always enjoyed *learning* how to make lace, but it was work to learn. I worked at it like practicing the piano when you’re a kid – practicing just feels like homework while you plod away at the simple stuff. Until a point where something clicks and it suddenly feels natural.

About a week ago, lacemaking became fun. Something finally settled into place. I came home from last weekend’s lesson and put my lace pillow and tools away as always, but found myself craving it a few days later.

I’ve been working at it constantly since then, and took about a zillion photos as I worked – it occurred to me that I’d blogged about my lessons and projects, but never talked about how bobbin lace is actually made. Perhaps I was still learning too hard. I’ve split this into three posts because it will be very photo heavy. I’ll keep it simple and keep the jargon to a minimum; even if the details are confusing, hopefully you’ll still leave with some vague notion of how bobbin lace works. And of course, feel free to ask any questions and I’ll do my beginner’s best to answer clearly! (Click through to see any photos bigger on Flickr.)

First let’s look at my project – here’s a reminder of my sampler pattern – those diamonds each contain a ‘spider’, each one is different. The piece will eventually include a wide border sampling different ‘ground’ (or background) patterns, but I’m still working on the spiders for now. I will walk you through one full section repeat, as it were, of ground + spider. Here’s what my pillow looked like when I sat down to work:

Bobbin Lace - Part 1

As you can see, most of my project is covered up with cloth – this is to protect the finished lace, and keep my bobbin threads from catching on the pins. (Although I only have about 1-2 inches of area fully covered by pins, the entire piece is still secured by pins pushed down here and there.) I would normally have even more covered, but I wanted you to see the work in context.

Hopefully you can see that the section I’ve just sat down to will be the ground (the simple background) pattern. My pattern is on the paper beneath my work (the ‘pricking’), so I can follow the lines and marked pinholes as I go. I will work my ground pattern up until a new spider begins (the exciting diamond-shaped area coming up ahead).

My ground pattern is worked in half-stitch, so I make one half-stitch – stitches consist of passing pairs of bobbins over each other in a particular order. (Bobbins are always worked together in pairs, two on the right working with two on the left.) Then I put up a pin at the little dot where the pricking tells me to:

Bobbin Lace - Part 1

And then work another half-stitch to cover the pin:

Bobbin Lace - Part 1

Now I continue doing exactly that, taking one pair of threads / bobbins from either side of each pinhole, and work down the diagonal row, making stitches and putting up pins:

Bobbin Lace - Part 1

Now I’ve finished one row. I will continue in this way down the remaining three diagonal rows until I get to the area where the spider will begin. Then this section of ground will be finished, and I will be all ready to set up the spider – in part two!

Bobbin Lace - Part 1

Bobbin Lace, Lesson 3

I had my third bobbin lace lesson on Sunday, after much panicked practicing of last lesson’s piece the day before, and, well, it was pretty freakin’ awesome! My teacher promised that I’d done a good job practicing my fan lace:

Bobbin Lace, lesson 2 practice
Bobbin Lace, lesson 2 practice

And I think it’s not too shabby myself. There’s a massive mistake around the pointy bit of the third fan and I got really stressed out trying to figure out where and how. Once I realized what I’d done, I saw that I’d have had to take out a whole fan to fix it, which just didn’t seem worth it for a practice piece. I know what my mistake was and that’s the important part – and, hopefully, spending all that energy trying to figure it out will keep me mindful of doing the same thing again.

Bobbin Lace, Lesson 3

So at my third lesson yesterday, we went over variations on the fan lace, and in the process learned a bit about how to manipulate the lace with extra twists. If you look at the bit I did in my lesson:

Bobbin Lace, Lesson 3

You can see that each fan is actually different from each other, and that the ‘ground’ (the net-ish bit) changes halfway through. The awesome part is that I actually understand what’s going on in these fans. In my last lesson, I was most definitely still just doing what my teacher told me to do without understanding why or what was happening as I twisted those tiny little bobbins. I’m pretty excited to finally feel like I have a grasp on what it’s all about!

Bobbin Lace, Lesson 3

I realized that I got so excited about sharing this all when I first started that I never actually told you what bobbin lace is! If you’re interested in the history at all, I’ll direct you to the Wikipedia page for bobbin lace (or what some people call ‘pillow lace’) because I don’t know anything about that (yet!). I know some of my antique needlework books have sections on bobbin lace and I’m looking forward to reading them someday – not yet though, because I could so easily get overwhelmed by information I don’t even understand yet – but basically, bobbin lace uses simple twists of thread and pins to create cotton lace that might be used as insertions or edgings or even collars and doilies. Small amounts of fine cotton or linen thread, typically, are wound on wooden bobbins like these, and then the threads are passed over and under each other in pairs in a somewhat row-like fashion (depending on what exactly you’re doing). Extra twists in pairs of threads will create stability and manipulate the look of the lace, and pins are used to position the threads exactly as you want them. Describing the action isn’t easy at all, so check out this youtube video to get an idea of how it’s done – it’s got a slightly distressing soundtrack, but shows the basic idea pretty well. You can also visit the Flickr Bobbin Lace Pool for some stunning examples (many of which will feature in this week’s Mid-Week Break, I’m sure) of what you can do with bobbin lace!

Bobbin Lace, Lesson 2

Whew, the Project That Ate The Entire Universe (aka my new knitting pattern) is just about finished. Thank goodness! I really missed doing other things, like sleeping and stuff. The new Little Dorrit & Co. embroidery patterns are almost ready as well, I’ll show you those when they go up in the shop later in the week. I was even able to enjoy my second lace lesson yesterday, out in my teacher’s lovely garden.

Bobbin lace lesson 2

Ok, so the second lesson was a little overwhelming. We crammed a lot of information into two tiny hours! This is my second sample, but honestly, I can’t remember what it is! I have some handouts to remind me, and I think I better take an evening out this week to take notes and practice. At the same time though, there is something starting click somewhere in my thick and soupy brain. It’s only baby understanding though — I can’t even put my finger on what makes sense exactly, there were just moments where it seemed almost logical. For about a minute. Anyway, we got all the way to trying a basic shell pattern in the second lesson, but only through one shell. I’ve been told to finish and maybe try it all over, but I’m pretty sure I forgot what to do the second I left the lesson.

I’ll try to finish it later this week and I’ll show it off if I manage to get anywhere decent. Wish me luck!

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