I wanted to try bobbin lace, but didn't want to order bobbins or spend a long time making an elaborate pillow until I was sure it was something I'd do more than a few inches of.
It turns out you can make acceptable lace with minimal and very cheap equipment.
Better tools are easier to work with - heavier bobbins tension better and don't catch the thread; the pins are held more firmly in a stiffer pillow, and the threads fall more comfortably over the curves - but you can make perfectly acceptable lace with impromptu tools.
If you make a lot of lace, you'll probably want to upgrage to "real" tools at some point. An search for "lace bobbins" will turn up many suppliers. I have bought bobbins and thread from Van Sciver Bobbin Lace, and have been extremely happy with both service and product (the business is run by a lace-maker: she gives good advice about what to buy).
Back to impromptu tools . . .
Essential features of a lace-bobbin:
- something you can wind a few metres of thread around
- that is heavy enough to pull the remaining thread straight
- that you can manipulate with your hands, so you "plait" holding the bobbins, not the thread
Paddle-pop sticks work rather well:
- very cheap (pack of 100 for ~ $2)
- easy to wind thread around; easy to manipulate
- you can write on the ends to keep track of bobbins
- flat, so they stay where you put them
- too light to tension the thread well, so you have to pull on them gently as you work
- sometimes a bit rough, so the thread catches on them
- flat, so they don't roll in your hands - slow to work
I've also heard of people using wooden pegs or pencils.
Real lace-bobbins are usually made out of beautifully turned hardwoods. They're easier to use, and produce a somewhat better result, but they're not essential for simple lace.
Renaissance lace was mostly made from white linen (sometimes cotton), coloured silk, metallic threads or some mixture of these.
Regular cotton sewing thread makes a reasonable subsitute for fine linen thread. Crochet cotton can substitute for heavier linens or coloured silks. It's useful for testing new patterns, as it works up quickly and you can see where individual threads go. Gutermann linen sewing thread is ok for lace, and is often available in Spotlight or other sewing-supply shops for about $4 for a 50m roll.
Real silk and linen thread is usually much cheaper by the metre from a weaving supplier than an embroidery store or fabric shop. I buy my silk from Fibreholics, and Bocksten Linen thread from Van Sciver Bobbin Lace.
A lace pillow should be:
- firm enough that you can pin a paper pattern to it
- firm enough to hold pins in place
- comfortable to sit in your lap or on a table
- curved, so the bobbins fall away from the pins, pulling the worked lace against the pattern
A tailor's ham; or even a tightly rolled towel or blanket, with a scrap of satin, cotton drill or other smooth fabric pinned around it; makes an acceptable impromptu lace-pillow.
Three "lace pillows":
On the left is a tightly-rolled blanket with satin pinned round it.
In the centre is my tailor's ham, wrapped in cotton drill.
On the right is a pillow I made. The base is a canvas-covered frame (~$5); the top is drill, backed with two layers of heavy wool; the whole is firmly stuffed with fabric scraps.
Update: The rolled-up-blanket pillow works even better with a chopping board (or stiff folder, or book, or piece of plywood, or whatever) in the middle. Take a solid rectangular thing; wrap a blanket tightly around it; pin some non-pilling cloth around that - voila! a pillow with a relatively flat surface (easier for a beginner than a steep curve).
Regular steel sewing pins (the plain sort with the small steel heads) and brass lace pins are both easy to get and cheap. Most pins have the diameter of the shaft marked on the box - from 0.55mm for extra-fine pins, to 0.7mm for sturdy sewing pins. Lace will be more even if you use the same type of pin throughout.
If you make a lot of lace, you'll need something to protect the finished lace while you work. I made a small, soft "bobbin" by wrapping a scrap of woolen cloth around a ribbon. The ends of the ribbon can be pinned to the pillow, and the lace stays neat and tidy wrapped around the wool, without developing creases.
A cloth to keep dust from your lace when you're not working on it is handy. Slip the whole pillow inside a pillow-case, then put that into a box.
It's nice to have a pricker to prick patterns in card. A pin or needle will work, but they're a bit tiresome to hold in your hand.
Lace I've made using impromptu tools:
The black silk on the white cloth is a simple, 8-bobbin pattern I made up to practice picots, and try my new silk yarn.
The long piece on the black cloth is my first piece of really lacy lace; it's a 14-bobbin pattern, in burgundy silk and white linen, based on a photograph of some surviving metallic lace from the late 16th C.
The other pieces are small experiments:
- a less-than-completely successful experiment in replicated another 16th C piece in blue and white silk (the original was red silk and white linen) (top left)
- an attempt of the border ("headside") of a broader a surviving piece (centre left); my most complicated attempt to date, made with 24 bobbins in white linen, based on a photograph of a late 16thC lace (bottom left)
- the left-over fragment of my first length, in white cotton (top centre)
- experimenting with different ways to do intersections, in coloured silks (bottom centre pieces)
- an attempt to replicate the pointed foot-side of a broader 16thC lace, from a photograph - the pattern is broadly correct but my choice of thread didn't work well, and the result isn't very neat (right)
A linen coif edged in my very first length of simple lace; made using white cotton sewing thread on eight pop-stick bobbins, using my tailor's ham with some cloth wrapped around it for a pillow.