Introduction: Curved Hand Woven Bobbin Lace

About: Always making something....

Bobbin lace can be incredibly beautiful, but it's equally intimidating. Tiny threads, specialized materials and patterns that just look like grids and dots are fairly unwelcoming, and clear documentation can be hard to find.

I created this pattern to be a bit more contemporary, influenced by op-art. It only uses one stitch and it's meant to be reasonable as a first lace making project. It's based on a huge amount of research, primarily wading through blurry scans of old books and pamphlets. I've also found work-arounds for the expensive specialized tools so that you can try it out before investing in hundreds of dollars worth of bobbins. 

Bobbin lace is basically an elaborate braid and/or weaving pattern worked around carefully placed pins to form holes. I tried to make the process very clear, but the most important thing is that whatever you do, you do it consistently through the whole piece of lace.

When hand lace-making was a major industry it was common for girls to start going to a lace-making school at about 5 years old and focusing completely on lace until graduating at about 16 years old after making a "senior project" of sorts that included about 1000 bobbins. Don't feel bad if it takes an afternoon or two to catch on...

Step 1: Supplies and Equipment

For this piece I used:

- #30 cotton crochet thread
- cork tiles
- lots and lots of straight pins (I would try to have at least 200 ready to use)
- 24 clothes pins
- rulers
- scissors
- paper pattern

In proper lace making the cork would be replaced with a special pillow for pinning into, and the clothes pins would be replaced with bobbins. It would also all be on a slope to use gravity to assist with your tension.

Especially for a first try it's nice to have bobbins that can't roll and to work flat so gravity doesn't get involved. Bobbins are going for around $10 each on etsy right now and this uses 24. The pack of clothes pins I used was $2.

Step 2: Preparing the Bobbins

Lace is generally made with pairs of bobbins. Each thread has two bobbins attached to it, and you start working from the center of the thread.

This pattern has 24 ends, so you'll need to cut 12 pieces that are twice the length you need. I cut my pieces 2 yards each, which is enough thread to make about 12-18 inches of lace.

Cut the strands.

Fold each strand in half, and tie a slipknot to hold the halfway point.

Start wrapping a clothespin at one end, and wrap as much thread onto it as you can.

Wrap another clothespin from the other end, and use the spring action to adjust the two pins to be as close to equidistant from the slipknot at possible. This is mostly important for starting off well.

Repeat this with all of your strands.

Step 3: Setting Up

Lay your paper pattern over the cork. I use two layers of tiles from a craft store.

Place a pin at each cross point as shown in the picture. (Don't start at the very end. I'll explain why later.)

I tied my strands together, but that ended up being unnecessary. I only included the pictures so it would make sense.

You should just hand two pairs of bobbins over each of the first three pins working from left to right.

Step 4: Whole Stitches

This entire piece of lace is made with "Whole Stitches."

Memorize this:

cross, twist, pin, cross, twist

That's the whole thing. To actually make that...

Set the farthest left pair of bobbins off to the side, you don't need them yet. The next two pairs (one from the first pin and one from the second pin) are the action right now.

A twist is always right over left.

Twist both pairs. This is the only time you will do that, always twist everything when you're starting a piece of lace.

A cross is always left over right.

Cross the right bobbin from the left side pair over the left bobbin from the right side pair.
Twist the right over left on each pair.

Pin that cross in place at the place where the lines cross in the paper pattern. 

Cross the right bobbin from the left side pair over the left bobbin from the right side pair.
Twist the right over left on each pair.

You have now completed a whole stitch at that point. You have learned most of what you need to know to make this piece of lace.

Step 5: The First Few Stitches

Lace is often worked in diagonal rows from right to left. As you start working it will be clear why.

To continue working on this diagonal you need to manage the edge.

Place a pin in the farthest left point in the pattern. Wrap the two left bobbins around it. Twist them once (right over left.)

Then make another whole stitch using the two bobbins to the left and the next two to the right of them. (cross, twist, pin, cross, twist.)

Step 6: The Next Row

Go all the way to the right. Set the pair that is farthest to the right off to the side.

Start the next row with the next two pairs.

Work across, making a whole stitch at each cross in the paper pattern as you did before. Be sure to add a pin all the way to the left to form the edge.

Step 7: Completing the Starting Edge

Add two pairs of bobbins to the next pin to the right, and work across the next diagonal row. Continue doing that until all of the first set of pins have two pairs of bobbins hanging from them and you've worked all the way from right to left.

Step 8: Continuing to Work the Pattern

At this point you're left to continue working in diagonal rows until you reach your desired length.

At the right side be sure to add a pin to the farthest right points and wrap the farthest right pair of bobbins around it to keep the right edge neat and consistent. I added an extra twist to the bobbin pairs every time that I wrapped around an edge pin.

Watch your tension carefully - at the end of each row gently pull the bobbins to be sure you don't have any slack in the lace. Consistent tension makes for better looking lace.

Step 9: Running Out of Pins or Pattern

Eventually you'll run out of pins. When that happens, start pulling pins from the beginning of the pattern. Don't pull the pins on the outer edges, just the pins in the center (as in the photo.) The outer edge pins protect the lace from being disrupted as you work below it. If you make your lace long enough you'll eventually have to pull all of them, but put it off for as long as possible.

When removing pins do it one at a time and pull straight up. 

If you run out of pattern before the lace is as long as you want it to be just add another piece of paper pattern to the end. This pattern is designed to fit together seamlessly.

Add more cork tiles at the edge of these to continue the pattern onto.

Keep working until you reach the length you want.

Step 10: Ending Off

I worked to the end of my length and simply tied off pairs of bobbins with square knots. You could use overhand knots and leave fringe of finish this in whatever way you want.

I cut the bobbins with a bit of tail that I removed later. Don't unpin the lace until the bobbins are cut (the weight can distort the lace if they're attached when you pick it up.)

Carefully unpin the lace. Work from the start to the finish, and be careful to pull the pins very vertically.

Step 11: Finishing Options

The lace will be surprisingly sturdy when you unpin it. How you're using it will affect how you finish it.

You could just sew it to some fabric right now.

You could spray it with spray starch.

You could color it with an acrylic fabric paint (I did this on waxed paper.) I trimmed the tails down after the acrylic had dried.

You could soak the whole thing in fray check or clear fabric medium for maximum durability.

Adding any sort of glue, fabric medium or fray check will help hold the lace in place. It can then be used for jewelry or trims that take more abuse than a delicate evening dress.

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