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Polychrome silk lace

Submitted by Katherina Weyssin on May 12, 2012 - 7:12pm

A three-coloured silk lace, based on this one (08.180.505) in the Metropolitan Museum  (

Colored lace from the Metropolitan museum; accession number 09.180.505The original lace, above, and mine, worked to my second pattern, below.


sampleB on black


First Pattern

patternAprickingAFirst, I sketched the pattern on graph paper (left), at the same scale as the original (to within a couple of millimetres - I wasn't trying to be exact). This takes a surprisingly long time, to get the proportions right.

Then I used a pen to indicate all the places I'd expect a pin. I used that to make a sample pricking, with only two repeats (right).


sample on blueI worked those two repeats, in light-weight silk, and compared the results to the original. The original is in old-gold, pink and cream. I didn't have a gold or yellow silk in suitable weight, so I used green.

Conclusions, after first sample

My silk is a little finer than the original. I should either double the threads, or scale the pattern down to use with this silk.  My next attempt will be slightly smaller than the scale of the original, and only about 2/3 the size of  my first sample.

The pattern is largely accurate. I need to narrow the central triangle (in the pink silk), and shorten the points that stick out to side, as I think they're simply twisted loops (not braids).

Second Pattern

PatternBdarkerPrickingBThis one is smaller - a repeat is 20x12mm - and I I've corrected some of the faults in the first pattern.

After these first three repeats I made a few final tweaks, before pricking an entire A4 strip (24 repeats of the pattern).

SampleB on whitesample B on blueConclusions, after second sample

I'm much happier with this pattern and scale. I'm unable to get the side bars on the points as close together as in the original, with silk this fine (60/2, from fibreholics) and pins this coarse (0.55mm, from memory). Fatter silk, and/or finer pins, would allow that.

The current pattern is close enough to the original in proportions and structure that I'll be happy to continue using it. If I re-scale it again, I'll widen the base of the triangles a bit, and make the side-branches on the points a little more horizontal. (Compare the photos at the top of the page to see the places I'm talking about).

I'm content with my colours as a plausible late-sixteenth century lace (cf. the lace at the hem of these knickers, also in the met), but I'm not all that keen on them for my own clothing, so this length will probably remain a sample. I'd like to revisit this another time in different colours (possibly the cream, pale pink and gold of the original), and perhaps in slightly heavier silk.


Third and fourth patterns


I wasn't entirely happy with the second pattern, so I made a new version, using a new technique:

  • import a copy of the photo of the original into a graphics program (I use Inkscape)
  • adjust the size of the photo so the image is life-size
  • place dots and lines over the photo to create a pattern with the correct proportions
  • delete or conceal the photo, choose a good repeat and adjust the dots and lines so that I have a regular, geometric, plausible pattern (rather than one that includes wobbles that are almost certainly the result of laundering)

Once I've done that, it's easy to produce printable patterns at whatever scale I like. It's not too hard to adjust the proportions, though if they change too much the structure may need to change a little too.

Here's my third pattern, based as closely as possible on the original in the Met:


Here's my fourth, the same structure as that above, but with the proportions altered to suit my taste. I worked it in white linen (Bockens 50/2), burgundy silk (2x60/2 Schappe from Fibreholics) and gold (metallic strip wrapped over a fibre core, a gift from Eleanor).



This pdf has both prickings - the original size and shape, and my altered version.


Update, a year or two later (2014)

I'm still happy with the shape and structure of this pattern, but I'd now work it with many fewer pins. I would now pin only at the edges, and perhaps the occasional pin within the lace to support a corner or a keep a line in place.


Working notes

Some notes on the working (now I've watched a few others try this):

I think of this as three groups of 4 bobbins, and three groups of 2 bobbins.

The three groups of 2 bobbins form the three straight lines at the footside, and parallel to the footside on either side of the little crosses. 

One group of four bobbins does the middle of each point - the "tree" shape that runs up the middle of each point, with branches that run over the edges (pink in my first sample). The other two groups of four bobbins each do alternating points. They form the triangles that outline each point (green and white in my first sample).

At the footside, where a group of four bobbins meets the twisted pair that runs along the edge, you need a "turning stitch", so that the threads meet the footside then turn and go back into the lace. So, plait up to the footside, leave one pair aside, then use one pair from the plait and the pair at the footside: cross-twist-twist-cross-twist then start plaiting again. The extra twist sends the same threads back the way they came, into the lace. 

When any of the plaits meet the either of the other two twisted pairs, they separate into two pairs themselves to make the little cross.

My other lace patterns, and things I've written about lace for this website.

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