Learning Bobbin Lace - Basics

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  © Lorelei Halley 2012 

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 Free  Patterns  

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  Cloth Strip lesson

  Plaited Lace 
 Lesson I
 Lesson 2
  Lesson 3
  Lesson 4
  Lesson 5
  Lesson 6
  Lesson 7

  Basic A
  Basic B
  Basic D
  Braided Edging B2

Tape Lace Lessons
 Tape Lace Mat

Other Patterns
   Bobbin Winding  Hitch
  Hanging On
  Shorten the Bobbin Thread
  Weavers' Knot
  Twist and Cross
  International Color Code-Stitches
  Cloth Stitch
  Double Stitch
  Half Stitch
  Make a Braid/Plait
  Picots on braids
  Thread Size Equivalents
  Turning stitch

cookie pillow cookie      bobbins inexpensive bobbins  
     bobbins for tape lace
Every lacemaker has her own preferences for bobbins, pillows and other equipment and supplies. My suggestions are here.           

Left to right:  modern Danish, Belgian torchon, modern square.
  Thread Size Equivalents                              *

Thread size numbers can be very confusing.  Crochet is usually worked on a relatively coarse scale compared to traditional bobbin lace or needle lace.  Crochet cotton 30 is a little thicker than a pearl 12.  But machine stitching threads and machine embroidery threads 30 and 50 are much finer, and comparable to the sizes of quilting threads.  So here are some equivalents (or similars) that I use.  Each line are  rough equivalents, coarsest first.  A is coarsest, E finest.

A: crochet cotton #30, DMC Cebelia #30, Anchor or DMC Cordonnet #30, Fresia linen 30/2

B: crochet cotton cordonnet #40 (DMC, Anchor, or Lizbeth), pearl 12, Sulky 12, Aurifil 12, Bockens linen 35/2

B+: crochet cotton cordonnet #60 DMC or Anchor, Moravia linen 40/2, Bockens linen 50/2

C: Cordonnet 80 (tatting cotton), Fresia linen 80/2, Egyptian cotton 40/3, Brok cotton 36/3

D: Aurifil 28, Sulky 30, DMC Retors 30 or Broder machine 30, Brok 36/2, linen 100/2, Madeira Tanne 30

E: Aurifil 50, Sulky quilting cotton 50, DMC Retors 50 or Broder machine 50, Bockens linen 90/2, Fresia linen 120/2, Egyptian or Brok cotton 60/2, Brok 100/3, Madeira Tanne 50.  All of these are comparable to ordinary sewing machine thread.

Not everybody will agree with my equivalents in all the details.  But these are equivalences that I use in bobbin lace.  The Aurifil and Sulky threads are quilting threads and are beautiful with lots of colors.  The Madeira Tanne is no longer manufactured, but some of us have it on hand.  Lizbeth Cordonnet numbers seem to be comparable to DMC and Anchor (I only have #20 and it matches DMC 20).


 the hitch

Winding the Bobbins and Making the Hitch.                             

To begin work, wind your bobbins very tight. Roll the thread onto the bobbin, do not wrap the thread around it.  Rolling the bobbin will keep the proper twist on the thread.  Friction is all that will hold the thread on the bobbins. Don’t try to knot the thread on the bobbin: it never works because it is impossible to tie a knot tightly enough.  It needs to be tight enough that the thread cannot slip on the bobbin.  Everyone tries it but it never works. Friction and tight winding work.   Secure the thread by making a hitch, as at left.  This will allow you to lengthen the thread as you work, but will keep the bobbin from unwinding. 

For samples or a bookmark wind about two yards onto each of the bobbins. Once wound, secure the thread onto the bobbin with a hitch. The correct hitch appears at left.   Bobbins that will serve as weavers for cloth stitch, or for tally weavers, will need more.  If your pattern includes either of these, wind 3-4 yards onto those bobbins.


Whether wound clockwise or anti-clockwise the hitch should look like this.  The diagram shows the hitch on the bare wood.  But the hitch holds better if you make it on top of the thread.

Winding bobbins using just a string.

  Video on bobbin winding and the hitch.
Winding bobbins using a string
  and another

The hitch on double headed bobbins.

If you are using double headed bobbins, it is usual to wrap the thread around the head a second time.

hang bundle
thick braid 

Hanging On for Samples or Bookmarks                            *

For samples or a bookmark, tie 2 or more bobbin threads into a loose knot and hang the knot on a pin.  Once the bobbins are wound and hung on pins, make all the bobbin threads approximately the same length.  This is important and will help you maintain good quality in your work.  A good length is 4 inches to about 8 inches, depending on the size and kind of pillow you are using.  The thread should not be so long that the bobbins hang off the pillow.  The pillow should carry the entire weight of the bobbin.


Then make a braid of 4 bundles of threads, for about an inch, to start the top tail of the bookmark.

hang on in pairs Hanging On in Pairs

For a lace edging or motif, most of the time you will need to hang on in pairs.  Wind twice as much thread on one bobbin as you think you will need.  Then take the tail and start winding it onto a 2nd bobbin.  Wind off about half, until both bobbins appear to have the same amount.  If you are using a bobbin winder, this is the fastest way.

Many lacemakers say that winding about 4 times the length of the finished lace will be enough.  But the weavers in cloth stitch, or the weaver in a tally, will require about 7 times the length of the finished lace.  But these are only estimates.  With experience you will develop a better sense of what is necessary.
hang on If you are hanging on  for a cloth trail or a tape, setting the pin holding all the passives horizontally may make it easier to sew out into those loops at the end of the lace.  Once the bobbins are hung on the pin, lift the pin out and lay it horizontally, supported by 2 other pins.  This way there will be tiny loops left, which will make sewing out at the end easier.
shorten the thread Shorten the bobbin thread.                              *

As you work if you need to shorten the thread, first turn the bobbin horizontal  Then insert a pin into the loop of the hitch where indicated by * and roll the bobbin up the thread. To release more thread, turn the bobbin horizontal and just roll the bobbin down the thread. Keep all the bobbin threads the same length as you work (4-8 inches is about right). This will help your speed and quality.
weaver's knot  replace a thread Weavers' Knot for repairing a broken thread.                          *

If a thread breaks while you are making the lace, and only a short tail is left, use the weaver's knot to tie on a new thread.  It will make a small knot that won't be visible unless you look really closely. It will be invisible in practical terms.  Make this knot in the new thread.  Put the tail of the broken thread at    *  .   Pull on all 3 tails simultaneously: the broken thread, the tail of the new bobbin, and the new bobbin itself.

When a bobbin runs out of thread, you can add a new bobbin by knotting the tail of the old bobbin to the new one.

In the 2nd diagram at left the red thread is the old bobbin thread, and the gray thread is the new bobbin thread.  It depicts another method, used by many lacemakers when they see a bobbin running out of thread, is to hang the new bobbin on a pin an inch or 2 above your last row.  Then take the tail end -- 12 to 18 inches long --  from the old bobbin and wind it onto the new bobbin, along with the new bobbin's own thread, for at least 1 foot.  Make the hitch, treating the 2 threads as one.  Then work the lace with the 2 threads coming off the new bobbin.  Work with the 2 threads for about an inch or 2, depending on how coarse your thread is.  Then you can cut off the old thread, and continue with only the new thread.  Friction will be enough to hold the new thread in.  Cut the knot tail off when the lace is completed.  The use of 2 threads will be unnoticeable in the finished lace.
  twist cross

  * First, practice the basic movements: cross and twist. At left, each line represents one thread. All bobbin lace is made of two basic movements, the cross and the twist. We always work with 2 pairs of bobbins.

Take 2 pairs of bobbins. Think of the bobbins as occupying 4 positions from left to right: 1-2-3-4. Think of the numbers as applying to the positions, not the bobbins. As you work the bobbins will constantly change position.

Lift bobbin in position 2 over the one in position 3. This is a cross. Then renumber the bobbins in your head.

Then simultaneously lift 2 over 1 and 4 over 3. This is a twist. Then renumber the bobbins in your head.

All bobbin lace consists of these two movements worked with varying pairs of bobbins, in varying sequences, in varying pinning patterns.



  To make your pricking lay the pattern onto a piece of pricking card. Find a needle the same diameter as the pins you will be using. Set the needle into a pin vise so that only about ½ inch (1 cm) of the needle extends past the jaws. Prick holes through the paper pattern straight down into the card, as accurately as you can. Now set up your pillow with the pricking a little above the center on a flat pillow. The first pricking will be for braids (American English, but called plaits in British English).



In the diagram below, each line represents one thread. This shows the twist cross method, which is the one I use. (Doris Southard also uses twist cross, and I learned from her.)

  * Below are diagrams of the three major stitches: cloth stitch, half stitch, and double stitch. Some lacemakers in the world do half stitch as twist cross, and some do it cross twist. There is some controversy about this, but I believe it is pointless. The lace will look the same whichever way you do it. But you must be consistent all the time, in the same piece, or your lace will be ruined. I do it twist cross.

There is an international color coding system for representing different stitches on diagrams. Study the following diagram: Cloth stitch is represented by purple. Cloth stitch is done the same way by everyone in the world, although different names may be used.

  The stitches for twist crossers:
open method

Also called:  linen stitch, whole stitch (British English terminology)

Also called: half throw

Also called:  whole throw

The chart below represents the three stitches for cross-twisters

closed method


Also called: linen stitch, whole stitch (British)

Half stitch

Also called Wholestitch with a twist (British)

international color code The complete international color code.


  How to Do the Basic Stitches                         *                                     
cloth stitch
cloth stitch diagrammed as purple intersections
  Cloth stitch = ctc                                                                *

Each intersection is cross twist cross = ctc. 

Each line is one pair.

See  Cloth Stitch Lesson.
cloth stitch 1 Cloth stitch, first row, left to right.

In diagrams 1- 4 each line is 1 thread.
  2 Setting the right hand pin, and closing it.   Beginning the 2nd row.
  3 The 2nd row, right to left, 2nd stitch of 2nd row.
  4 The 2nd row completed.
doublestitch or wholestitch
Double stitch, also called whole stitch or whole throw or cloth stitch with a twist.                    *

In this diagram each line is one pair.

Work the pairs in the same order as for cloth stitch, but add a twist before each stitch.   The sequence for each intersection is:

twist cross twist cross.
  half stitch
  half stitch 
Half stitch                                                                                     *

In this diagram, each line is one pair.

Work each intersection as twist cross.


In this stitch, all the pairs split up.
half stitch  5 In diagrams 5 to 8 each line is one thread. 

Start the first row.
 6   First row completed.
  7 Close the right hand pin.  Start 2nd row.
 8   Complete 2nd row.
  braid - plait
4 strand braid
windmill crossing

A 4 strand braid or plait is a succession of half stitches.  It starts with a cloth stitch:
     cross twist cross   snug
     twist cross    snug
     twist cross    snug
     twist cross    snug
After each cross pull the pairs outwards and upwards to remove all the slack.  Do not count the number of stitches, just work enough to fill the line.  I  find that the braid is most neat when you start and end with a cross.

Each line is 1 thread.

Go to Lesson 1 for full instructions.

 To cross 2 braids treat each pair as if it were a single thread,
and work cross twist pin cross.

knotted picots

Knotted Picots                                                          *  

Now come picots -- the little black dots that are slightly outside the braid line. There are 3 kinds of picots: single thread, double thread, and knotted picots. Double thread picots are the usual in fine Bedfordshire laces and in fine thread laces like Honiton, Duchesse, Flanders or Binche. Knotted picots seem to be most common in Cluny, but I've also seen them described in books on Beds. I will explain knotted picots.

To make the picot on the right side of a braid, reach under the first thread and grab the other thread, using the pin to drag the thread out to the right. Keep the threads somewhat slack while doing this.

Being careful not to lose the thread, take the point of the pin over the straight right hand thread, and insert it between the 2 hanging threads.

Being careful not to drop the thread, bring the pin point up between the 2 upper threads.  

Then swing the pin over the outside thread and out to the right and set it into the pinhole.

Snug the threads so they lay flat and parallel.

When you get to picots on both sides of the braid, work one picot, then work ctc with the 2 pairs of braid threads. Then make the 2nd picot. For the rest, finish the way you started.

See Lesson 1.

double thread picot

 double thread picot
Double Thread Picots
First twist the pair 3-7 times.  The finer the thread, the more twists you should make.  I used 40/2 linen, so I made 3 twists.  The twists will serve to keep the two threads twisted around each other, giving the appearance of a single thread, instead of rabbit ears.  To make a double thread picot on the left, put the pin under the outer thread, twist the pin point up and over the thread leftwards.  Set the pin.   Take the 2nd bobbin of that pair and make it follow the same path as the 1st thread.  But it will lay on top, not underneath.  In the diagrams I haven't shown the twists, as they are too difficult to draw.

If the picot will be on the right, do the same thing in reverse.  Twist the pair 3-7 times.  Put the pin under the outer thread.  Swing the pin point up and over the thread and towards the right.  Set the pin.  Take the 2nd bobbin and make it follow the same path, but lay it on top of the threads.

See Lesson 4
  single thread picot  Single Thread Picots
 These are the simplest picots. If you have trouble doing the knotted picots try this instead. I prefer not to use them because they don't stay. They come undone if the lace piece is used or washed.
tally leaf tally    Tallies                                               *                 

  3 threads hang vertically as passives, only 1 thread weaves under and over. 
Find a full explanation in   Lesson 5, which is tallies.  It has links to videos.

Raised and rolled tallies; a Louise West video --
  sew out

 make a sewing
 make a sewing
make a sewing

Sewings                                                                                              *
When you get to the end of an edging, every pair must be sewn into some loop.  Sew each passive into its own starting loop, and sew the weaver into the weaver loop.  In general pull up a loop from the bobbin nearest the hole you are sewing into, and put the other bobbin from that pair through the loop. (Put the green dot bobbin through the pulled-up loop.)  Whenever the loop to be sewn into is made of 2 threads let the pulled-up loop be supported by both threads of the loop-to-be-sewn-into.  This gives a stronger attachment.  Whether you put the other bobbin into the pulled-up loop from the top or from underneath depends on which will give you a smoother, less lumpy, sewing.

Normal sewing: pull up nearest bobbin thread into a loop, put the other bobbin of that pair through the loop. Snug.

Sewing the passives into their own starting loops.

Sewing a pair from another part of the lace into an existing weaver loop.

If you hang a small bundle when you begin the lace, you can sew several pairs into that beginning loop.  I use this method mostly at the footside, where an edge passive and the weaver are sewn into the same loop.

If the weaver was hung on by itself, you may have to sew a single pair into that loop later on.

Sewing a single pair into the loop where the weaver went around a pin.  The fewer the twists on the weaver, the smaller the hole.  The smaller the hole, the smaller the gap between the sewn motifs.  A larger hole (made by multiple twists) is easier to see and sew into, but it makes a more visible gap.

When sewing out a tape into the side of an already completed tape, divide the pairs among the various weaver loops that are available. Some may have to receive 2 pairs in order to sew out all the pairs.

In this case the right hand section is where the tape was started, and each pair was hung in by itself. When working the left hand portion of the tape, sew the weaver into one of the starting loops, for each pass of the weaver on that side. This means that when you hang on you have to consider how your rows are likely to be spaced.

  In both of these tape laces the weaver was sewn into a previously made weaver loop, just as in the diagram directly above.  In both photos some of theses sewings are circled in yellow. 
tape crosses itself
tape crossings
Sometimes, in a tape lace design, the tape crosses itself. The most elegant solution involves making 4 sewings as you cross the tape.  You don't need to make the 2nd layer as perfect as the first.  Remember that in tape lace you are looking at the wrong side of the lace as you work.  The 1st time you come to the crossover section, work the tape as normal.  The 2nd time sew the weaver into the first 2 loops.  Then work the weaver through all the pairs just once.  Then sew the weaver into the last 2 loops.
   make a sewing  side sewing A normal sewing into the sewing edge.

This is called a "side sewing".  You hook the loop onto the weaver bar, not around all 4 threads of the sewing edge.  This allows 2 sewings into the same pinhole area.  It also causes the the edge pair to rise up into a ridge.  (You won't see this until you take the lace off the pillow.)  It gives the appearance of layering, which can be an interesting effect.
sewings    make a sewing

There are 2 ways to sew a braid.  Probably the most common is to do a single sewing.  You take the nearest thread of the braid, pull it up into a loop, and put the next nearest bobbin into the loop.  Then some lace makers do the same with the next pair of the braid.  If you do only one single sewing you have only one thread making the attachment--too much risk of breakage.

A double sewing is where you pull up the two nearest threads into a loop, and put the other two bobbins of the braid through the loop, simultaneously.  This makes a more secure sewing but is a little more difficult to do neatly.

You can also do a double sewing into a weaver loop.

And sometimes, where the existing braid just goes around a pin, you can just sew the braid around the pre-existing braid, without piercing it.

hiding ends

hiding ends 

hiding ends

Hiding Ends

Ending a piece of bobbin lace neatly is really about starting smart.  Pick a starting place that is adjacent to a dense area, such as cloth stitch, or the foot, or tallies, so the ends can hide behind them after you sew out.

The 3rd shows that hiding ends behind a braid is almost impossible. 

Another method - using a crochet hook to weave the ends in while the lace is still pinned to the pillow.

Turning stitches.  There are several different ways of making a tape curve smoothly for tape lace.  Many different versions are called "turning stitch".  To distinguish them I have borrowed some terms from other authors, and just invented some.

 turning stitch   Turning stitch right.
 In these diagrams each line represents a pair of threads.

When you reach the side which has fewer pins (inside of the curve), work through all the pairs, but not the last passive.  Set a temporary pin so the weaver and the last pair it worked through are to the right of the pin.  Take the pair nearest the pin (that last passive) as weaver to the outside edge.  Work a normal edge pin on the left.

Return and work through the row, left to right, as normal.  The old weaver has become a passive.  Work a normal edge pin on the right.

The yellow rings show exactly where the turning stitches are in this strip. This is the most commong method, especially with a winkie pin (pin after 2) edge.

   Turning stitch left.
 When the turning stitch must be done on the left side. 
   Turning stitch on 2 successive rows, right side. 
turning-stitch     Turning stitch on 2 successive rows, left side. 
 turning stitch on edge   turning stitch on edge  turning stitch on edge  Turning stitch on edge
  If you have a solid cloth stitch tape you can do the turning stitch on the edge, with the weaver and the edge pair.

The red dots show the turning stitches.
rib-turning-stitch    turning stitch oe  tenstick2L
 Rib or raised work turning stitch
 This is used in Honiton and Duchesse to make the raised rib that outlines a leaf, or makes a vein.  It is also used for tendrils.  It can use 5 or more pairs, although 4 pairs is also possible.  I have heard it called "tenstick" because 5 pairs is most common in Honiton.
Only one side has pins.  On the pinless side work cross twist cross twist cross with the weaver and the last passive.  Then take the 2nd pair from the right and work back to the pin edge. The body of the rib is always worked in cloth stitch, and the pin side uses the sewing edge (pin after 4).
blindpin blind pin Blind pin.
This is only used with a sewing edge (pin after 4).
The weaver does not work the edge pair, but is simply looped around the pin. On the 2nd pass at that pin, lift out the pin, set it as normal, afte 4 threads. That weaver loop will disappear when you set the pin on the opposite side. Notice that the same pair is the weaver with this method.
  gimp turn  Gimp Turn
 Set a temporary pin just next to the gimp, and twist the weaver 1x or 2x.  Structurally it is indistinguishable from BLIND PIN.
 czech turn   czturn  Czech turn (cz turn)
This is used in some tape laces of Eastern Europe.
This maneuver keeps the same weaver, which is useful when you are working with colors or mixing different kinds of threads on different bobbins.

The red dots show where the cz turning stitches are.
paddepootje   paddepootje pivot pin Paddepootje/Pivot pin
I learned this one from a lady teaching Bruges Bloomwork.
I have found that it functions best in a tape worked in half stitch. Other kinds of turning stitches, where weavers change, can make havoc in half stitch. But this doesn't. The last passive pair is not worked in any stitch. Simply take the weaver over the edge pair, set a pin after 2 thread (unstitched). Then take the weaver under the unworked edge pair,  and resume working in half stitch.  For successive rows pull the pin, take the weaver under and over it, contine the row. When the work gets past the tight curve, on the last pass at that pin, work a normal edge stitch. Neaten up the work by gently pulling on the edge passive.
moveover    moveover halfstitch  moveover hald stitch  Moveover
 I call this a "moveover" because you just reuse the same pinhole twice. The 2nd time you approach the 2nd pin, just pull it out and reset it in the same hole, but under the stitch just made.  You can reduce  bulk by not putting a twist on the edge pair before or after the moveover.

The first sample has an edge done -- halfstitch pin halfstitch.

The 2nd sample has the edge done -- tctc pin tctc. This makes a firmer edge.
 cheat stitch     Cheat stitch
 I learned this method in a Bruges Bloomwork workshop. It also appears in Rombach de Kievid's bloomwork book. There it is called "zeuren". I don't particularly like this method, so I don't have an example.


For full list of free bobbin lace patterns, see     free patterns  

April 2012         Last edited:   01/26/20