Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Fascinating Mysterious World of Bobbin Lace

As you may know, I've been learning a little about bobbin lace.  It fascinates me to no end.  Not sure why.  It's not something I've always dreamed of doing or something that I really knew anything at all about.  It kind of snuck up on me and bonked me over the head with the "kit from hell." (Not my term for it.  It's how it's known in the lace making world.)

At a fiber festival last October, I saw a beginner bobbin lace kit from a company whose name starts with L.  Like I said, I didn't know the first thing about bobbin lace but it promised that it had everything one needed to begin and I believed them.

Unlike many other kits and whatnot, I actually opened the kit, got all the stuff out, read the directions, and boom!  Everything ground to a halt.  Worst Directions Ever for a Beginners Kit.  And the award goes to......

You guessed it.  This kit.  The supplies were fine but the instructions were horrid.  I did remember, though, that one of my volumes of Weldon's Practical Needlework (Vol 11) (published between about 1890 and 1910) had something on Torchon Lace so I dug it out and amazingly, it had better directions than the kit.  So I used the materials from the kit and the instructions from the Weldon's, I started out.  I later found a very good book at my local library (which they've now lost).

Now that I've been practicing a little, I've found some other books that give even better instruction and, best of all, I've found a group of lacemakers from whom I've learned more in 2 meetings with than I could have learned on my own in 5 years.  Because it's such an obscure craft, finding information without having those people around is really hard.  The L.A.C.E. group has been wonderful.

But, also because this is a bit obscure, I wanted to share what I've learned about the craft.
  1. Lacemakers use pillows.  But the pillows tend to be made out of straw or a particularly forgiving type of styrofoam called Ethafoam.  And they're all different shapes.  Depending on the type of lace you're doing, you might use a cookie pillow or a bolster pillow or a roller pillow.  Click here to see a variety of pillows used.  As in other of the the tools, the type of pillow is closely tied to the type of lace being made and the region where that lace was perfected.
  2. Lace is made with bobbins.  More correctly, lace is made with pairs of bobbins.  No matter which type of lace you're making, patterns will always use pairs of bobbins.  You only work with 2 pairs of bobbins at any one time, although the real lacemakers work so quickly, you might not realize that's what they're doing.  Here's an interesting video that shows the basic moves of the bobbins (you can work it "hands up" or "hands down" - who knew?).
  3. But there's more to the bobbins than you might guess at first.  The look of the bobbin will indicate where the bobbin shape originated.  The 2 main categories (although there are tons of sub-categories) are English and Continental.  (Does that sound familiar to any of you knitters out there?)  Have a look at this website for the wide variety of bobbins.  Click here to see the Continental bobbins and here for the "Midlands" and "Honiton" bobbins.  And then click here for more of the English style bobbins.  These tend to be decorated with "spangles" on the end like this:
  4. The different types of laces you might hear about are Torchon (what I'm learning and what seems to be an entry type of lace), Honiton, Brussels, Guipure (such as Saxony, Cluny, Maltese and Bohemian), Bucks Point, Tønder, and more.  They all have things that distinguish them but I'm not sure what all that is at this point.
  5. The thread.  Some laces tend to be made out of ultra-fine thread such as 180/2, which is probably a bit finer than sewing thread, I would imagine.  But you usually wouldn't use anything much heavier that size 30 thread for traditional lace.  Maybe that was the hook.  You know I'm a sucker for anything with a fine thread, right?  (Those of you who just said I'm a sucker for anything with thread should just hush or I'm coming to see YOUR stash.)
  6. Bobbin lace making was a staple money maker for lacemakers in England, France, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Italy and in the early history of the US.  It is still practiced in all those countries as well as in Australia.
It really is an abosorbing craft, not practiced by many.  But I would recommend looking out for lace makers in your area and see if you don't accept a serving your own self.

From an earlier post that never got posted:

I've crocheted doilies and I've knitted them and tatted them now I'm bobbin lacing them. This is my first attempt at something other than a straight line and, as usual, I've met with mixed sucess. But I'm enjoying it and that matters the most of everything.

What I'm doing here is Torchon lace on a round, flat cookie pillow (which is basically a type of styrofoam covered with cloth), and I'm using the beginning bobbins that came with my beginner kit.

The pricking (pattern) is copied from the Torchon Lace Workbook onto colored cardstock and then covered with clear plastic to keep the ink from rubbing off onto the thread. (By the way, this is one of the books that's highly recommended for starting and which helped me a lot but it's out of print.  If you keep your eye out, however, you can snag one for about $20.)  I'm using 10/2 cotton, aka bedspread weight cotton. It's not the usual thread used for lace making but I have plenty of it, it's a light color and it's a light enough weight to make the largest version of this pattern. So 10/2 it is.

As each stitch is made, a pin is inserted in the place marked on the pattern to keep it in place and to help make clear turnings when you're changing directions. This pattern uses a half stitch, a full stitch, a Torchon ground and a cloth stitch. The half stitch and the full stitch are used in the making of the ground and the cloth stitch.
The thread was really too heavy for this pattern but, once again, I learned so much that it was worth doing it first with this thread so I could figure out how to turn the corners and work my way around.  This one isn't really fit for anything other than learning but the next one will be better and I'll actually let you see the finished product!

1 comment:

Gina said...

Hi! found your post through a google alert. I'm a L.A.C.E. member too but I live in Indiana and am involved in the Lafayette Lacers. L.A.C.E. has a good beginning class. I took that last year, joined, and while I rarely get to any meetings there, I'm meeting with one of my own lace guild members and we work on our bobbin lace skills weekly. Even so, it's very slow going. I hope to move past bookmarks in another week or two. nice to meet you!