All About Lace | Part 1

1st April 2022

When we sent All Stitched Up! Issue #319 out into the world, we did not realise that there was an unintended error in it. We had featured a picture of a lovely ornament that one of our readers had created from what we mistakenly labelled as a piece of vintage crochet. It turns out that it wasn’t crochet at all. It was, in fact, a piece of bobbin lace.

Terry Mullan’s ornament

We won’t list all of the eagle eyed and expert readers who wrote to inform us that what we were seeing was bobbin lace, as there were just too many. But we would like to thank all of them for bringing it to our attention so that we could rectify our error.

Without experienced knowledge, it may be very difficult for the layperson to distinguish between different kinds of lace. The term ‘lace’ is defined in as ‘a netlike ornamental fabric made of threads by hand or machine’. What we didn’t appreciate is that there are between 15 and 20 different types of recognised lace.

The term is used inclusively for fabrics made using such varied techniques as crochet, needlelace, tatting, embroidery and, of course, bobbin lace.

Bobbin lace refers to the lace making technique most people think of when they imagine this beautiful art. It is one of the original lacemaking techniques used for handmade fine lace. Bobbin lace is created through the braiding and twisting of threads which are wound on to bobbins. The work is done on a pillow, giving rise to the alternative name of ‘pillow lace’. The formation of the pattern is achieved through the placement of the pins in the pillow that the threads are twisted around.

Bobbin lace technique (source)

Bobbin lace has been made since the 16th Century, although there is evidence that it had been practiced even before then. It is said to have evolved from braid making, which was famously undertaken in Genoa in Italy.

Pages from Bobbin Lace Pattern Book Le Pompe: Opera Nova 1557 (source)

Women across Europe embraced the technique, as it soon became a way for them to earn a living. Lace fetched a much higher price than spinning or weaving, and working with bobbins was easier than cutwork, so the art was taught in convents and schools to provide girls with an income generating skill.

Handmade bobbin lace (source)

Although there was a period during the 18th Century when the art of bobbin lace fell out of favour, it has enjoyed a resurgence in modern times and remains a popular technique in many parts of the world. Despite the ubiquity of machine-made lace, many people still love the process of making bobbin lace.

To watch an expert at their craft is mesmerising as they skilfully select the correct bobbin and make the perfect twist, causing an exquisite pattern to form.

If you are interested to learn more about bobbin lace or you would like to try it yourself, there are Lace Guilds in many countries, with an international body, The International Bobbin and Needle Lace Organisation that welcomes lace makers from all over the world. 

As the name of the international organisation suggests, there is a second form of handmade lace that is also widely loved and practiced today, and that is needlelace. Unlike bobbin lace, which is made using multiple threads woven together, needlelace uses a single thread. It is said to originate from Italian reticella but it evolved into various techniques including Punto in Aria and Hollie Point among others.

Needlelace leaf (source)

Needlelace is generally formed by securing or couching heavier threads into a pattern on a stiff background – either card or thick paper. The lace is then created using a variety of different stitches with prominence given to detached blanket stitch. The result can be just as light and ethereal as bobbin lace and, although a slower process, it has enjoyed as much of a resurgence in modern times as its companion technique.

These forms of lace making are just two of the different ways that this beautiful fabric can be created. In the next article, we will return to crochet and take a look at Irish crochet lace, as well as the wonderful technique of tatting.

Hazel Blomkamp’s ‘Dragonfly’ from Inspirations #110, formed with needlelace and beading

In the meantime, we are grateful for the opportunity to expand our own knowledge and feel very privileged that there are so many readers out there who are generous enough to share their experience and skills with us.

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