Falling for Bobbin Lace

Where knitting has knit and purl stitches, bobbin lace has crosses and twists; where knitting has needles, bobbin lace has bobbins.

Dianna Smith Mar 11, 2020 - 7 min read

Falling for Bobbin Lace Primary Image

Top, Left: The cover of the June 1931 issue of Needlecraft, the Magazine of Home Arts. Collection of the author. Top, Right: Dianna Smith’s bobbin lace edging for a collar. The pattern appeared in the September 1910 issue of The Modern Priscilla. The bobbins are from the author’s collection. Photo by Joe Coca

Bobbin lace seems to have originated in the fifteenth century or possibly earlier. Needle laces such as reticella and drawn work reach stunning heights in the hands of experienced lacemakers, and vintage needlework publications provide a wealth of tips and beautiful patterns for the needle lacer to pursue. Bobbin lace, although it is no more difficult to learn than any other needle art, remains a little more obscure.

Where knitting has knit and purl stitches, bobbin lace has crosses and twists; where knitting has needles, bobbin lace has bobbins. Although some lace projects may call for the use of hundreds of bobbins, lacemakers work in sections and never deal with more than two pairs of bobbins at a time. He or she also will need a firm pillow to secure the pins around which the lace is made. Pillows may be purchased or made at home, using one of the many patterns available in books or online. Where knitting and crochet have patterns, bobbin lace has prickings, exact representations in pinpricks of the finished lace. To adjust the size and scale of a piece of bobbin lace, the lacer simply enlarges or shrinks the printed pricking and chooses a thread to correspond.

Four years ago, I knew nothing at all about bobbin lace, but in the odd way that these things happen, I saw a bobbin lace kit at a vendor’s booth at the 2010 Bishophill, Illinois, Spin-In, bought it, opened it at home that same night, and was smitten. That impulsive purchase changed my life.

With the help of the wonderful Lacemakers and Collectors Exchange (L.A.C.E.) in Chicago and some great books, I learned the basics and even began to branch out a little. When this new interest intersected with my longtime interest in vintage and antique craft magazines, it seemed a natural step forward.

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In the June 1931 issue of Needlecraft, the Magazine of Home Arts, I found an article by Florence Yoder Wilson introducing readers to the laces of Italy, including bobbin lace. Then, in the September 1910 issue of The Modern Priscilla, I discovered a bobbin lace edging for a collar that I just had to try. Detailed instructions for working the lacy edging were provided, but it was a little late for me to send 10 cents for the “Full Size Blueprint repeating pattern” (pricking). All I had was a photograph of the edging that was fortunately clear enough for me to re-create the pricking.

I made a photocopy of the photograph, laid it on a piece of cardstock on my lace pillow, and pinned down the four corners. Then, following the pin marks in the fabric of the lace, I pricked my pattern. Any pricking will show where the pinholes should be placed, but some also come with a line drawing of the lace for the lacer to follow or even step-by-step instructions on how to start the project.

This project contained elements in which one pair of bobbins (the worker pair) is woven through three pairs of passive bobbins. Weavers will recognize the worker pair as the weft and the passive pairs as the warp of the fabric. These two columns of tape are connected and embellished by several strands of plaits with picots. Plaits are made by using two pairs of bobbins working the Cross Twist Cross Twist (CTCT) stitch, or whole stitch. Because the written directions assumed that I was using the printed pricking, I had to tease out their shortcut references, but having gotten that far, and knowing that I had Bridget Cook’s Practical Skills in Bobbin Lace close by, I was confident about moving ahead.

I have definitely fallen for bobbin lace! I hope you find this lacemaking technique as fascinating as I have.

Further Resources

  • Cook, Bridget M. Practical Skills in Bobbin Lace. Mineola, New York: Dover, 1987.
  • ———. The Torchon Lace Workbook. London: B. T. Batsford, 1988. Out of print.
  • Dye, Gilian, and Adrienne Thunder. Beginner’s Guide to Bobbin Lace. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England: Search Press, 2007.
  • International Organization of Lace, Inc. (IOLI; formerly International Old Lacers, Inc.); www.internationalorganizationoflace.org.
  • Kellogg, Charlotte. Bobbins of Belgium: A Book of Belgian Lace, Lace-Workers, Lace-Schools and Lace-Villages. New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1920; available at www.cs.arizona.edu/patterns/weaving/books/kc_lace.pdf.
  • ———. Women of Belgium: Turning Tragedy to Triumph. 2nd ed. New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1917; available at http://books.google.com/books/about/WomenofBelgium.html?id=M381AQAAIAAJ.
  • Lacemakers and Collectors Exchange (L.A.C.E.); www.lacemakersofillinois.org.
  • Lacy Susan; www.lacysusan.com.
  • Southard, Doris. Lessons in Bobbin Lacemaking. Dover Needlework Series. 1977. Reprint, Mineola, New York: Dover, 1992.
  • Stott, Geraldine. The Bobbin Lace Manual. Mineola, New York: Dover, 1989. Out of print.
  • Strawn, Susan. “All the World is Needleworking!: Florence Yoder Wilson and America’s Immigrant Needleworkers.” PieceWork, November/December 2012.
  • Tatman; www.tat-man.net.
  • Van Sciver Bobbin Lace; www.vansciverbobbinlace.com.

Novels Involving Lace

I recommend these novels for their depictions of lacemaking and lacemakers:
- Anthony, Iris. The Ruins of Lace. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2012.
- Barbieri, Heather. The Lace Makers of Glenmara. New York: Harper Perennial, 2010.
- Keene, Carolyn. The Secret in the Old Lace. Nancy Drew Mystery Stories No. 59. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 2005.

Dianna Smith learned to crochet at her grannie’s knee and continues to study and learn new crafts to share with others. She lives and teaches spinning, knitting, tatting, and bobbin lace in Springfield, Illinois, where she’s trying to build her own lace group.

This article was origianlly published in the May/June 2014 issue of PieceWork.

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