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Practising Tallies

12 bobbins; sample worked in 35/2 linen, 7mm wide

Based on the footside of this early 17th-century piece, in the art Institute of Chicago (accession number 1929.810). There are similar features in many designs, e.g. Met Museum accession number 20.186.309.

For some time I've wanted to try more Genoese lace patterns.

ArtInstituteChicao1929.810The Genoese were the masters of imitating reticella (a form of needle-lace) in bobbin lace. I find the designs used for reticella very pleasing, but I don't enjoy making needle lace; Genoese bobbin-lace patterns seemed perfect for me.

Unfortunately, Genoese lace was famously hard to work. It is characterised by, amongst other things, extensive use of tallies: little leaf-shapes made by weaving one working thread around three or more passive threads. Tallies can be very beautiful, but it requires practice to make them consistent.

Using only the very edge of this lace allowed me to work lots and lots of tallies in a very simple pattern. I'll probably work enough to put insertion-bands into a hand-towel, or something similar; by which time I hope I'll have the confidence in my technical skill to attempt a more complicated pattern.

Instructions for a technique for working tallies.

I've found this technique (and this website) really useful.

Tally practiceMy practice piece is worked in 35/2 Bockens linen thread. I began by doing it free-hand (directly onto the pillow, no pricking or guiding grid) but I found it too hard to maintain a consistent width, so I pricked a 7mm square grid.

I've read that some 19th century Italian lace-makers, working with geometric patterns, would work them free-hand onto a pillow covered in striped cloth. With a practice I think you could achieve consistent results this way in even fairly complicated patterns.

Printable prickings (pdfs) - coloured lines - black and white. 7mm grid.

You barely need a pattern for these - just a grid, square or rectangular - but printing this may save you counting spaces on graph paper.


TalliesLweb TalliesRweb



There are three prickings on each page: the version in my sample (12 bobbins), the same in mirror-image, and a slightly more complex pattern made by combining the two (16 bobbins).

The prickings have lines for the plaits and ellipses to show where the tallies go. Don't worry about trying to make your tallies the same width or shape as the ellipses in the pattern - let them form a natural width (or practise controlling the shape yourself, in whatever manner you please).

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