Bobbin lace is woven using pairs of threads wound on bobbins. A variety of designs can be woven using only three basic stitches, the half stitch, the whole stitch, and the twisted whole stitch. It is an old technique dating back to the 15th century.
The weaving is done over a full sized pattern mounted on a pillow. Traditional pillows were either round with a flat base (cookie pillows) or cylindrical (bolsters – see left), and were stuffed with straw. Modern pillows can combine these by having a revolving cylinder in the middle of the flat round pillow (see right). This facilitates the production of continuous lengths of lace. Pillows are now often made from polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) shaped to purpose, or from other dense padding material.
Patterns are usually made from heavy weight paper or card, replacing the parchment which was originally used. They are called “prickings” because the design is perforated into the card to make it easier to insert pins as the work progresses.
Bobbins were originally made of wood, bone, or ivory, and weighted with glass beads to maintain tension on the thread. Today bobbins are made from wood or plastic. Many still use spangles to weight the end of them. Spangles are decorative and serve to help identify pairs of bobbins.
Traditional threads were very smooth and finely spun, and were made of silk, linen, silver or gold. Most modern bobbin lace uses a smooth cotton thread, although there are still a few linen and silk threads available.
Bobbin lace is classified by technique. Sub-classifications within these main groups are often named for the areas where they originated, for example Bedfordshire, Maltese, Genoese, Honiton, Bruges and Brussels.
Now I’m itching to go and dig out my lace pillow, bobbins, threads and pins!