Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Bobbin Lace Making: Some history and a bit about Bobbins

Today, at work was the annual meeting with the accountant. He's a lovely man. He'll hence forth be known as 'Granny Doom' because there is nothing like a post meeting chit chat about other people's financial planning for the future and the global economy right now to leave me feeling depressed by my own current financial strategy, of sticking my head in the sand and hoping I'll never get to retirement age because I can't actually ever see me being able to afford to retire. Does this worry anyone else out in blog land or are you all super rich and/or too focused on getting your hands on the latest must have fabric?

Anyway, when I'm depressed I need a little eye candy and frivolity to get me back in my usual cheery vibe.  So I thought I'd blog a bit about bobbins. These lace making posts are hopelessly disorganised. Although bobbins are essential equipment - at least that's what I told myself every time I bought another pair! ::wink:: ::wink::

The kind of lace I know how to make is called Torchon Lace. It's a good starting point because you only have to master two stitches and its simple design isn't time consuming to produce (when you know what you're doing - for me lace making is not a speedy process.)  It's one of the oldest lace types there is.  It has often been referred to as beggars lace as it's not fancy and it's quite robust.  It became popular in the UK in 19C when home workers found huge competition from machine made lace.  They had two options: they either made fancier lace that the machines couldn't replicate, (which was mainly financially prohibitive) or they found simpler lace they could turn out quickly and sell to the mass markets.  Torchon was ideal for the latter and this is largely what workers in the East Midlands of England chose to do.  Many counties developed their own distinct style. Bedfordshire Lace, for example, falls within the East Midlands area, although the lace made there looks quite different from other Torchon patterns. 

In my last post I mentioned using wooden bobbins rather than plastic. If you do have to use plastic the things you have to check for is that the head is smooth and of a good shape to not allow the threads slipping or snagging. Having said that I've got some beautiful bobbins - very well made and they seem to be forever slipping their threads. It gets frustrating.  I could make lace using the cheapest bobbins I have and the most expensive and show you each piece of lace and I guarantee you would not be able to pick the one using high end bobbins or cheap ones. Things like tension when making the lace, the thread used and your accuracy are what makes good lace.

Old lace makers did not have fancy bobbins. Bobbins were essentially tools and would have been made from local fruit woods.  I bought these bobbins at my first lace day. These are vintage bobbins.  You can see where some of the designs have worn away from the constant use.  These are not particularly fine examples. I was about 15 at the time and this was what my pocket money would run to.  Fine examples of vintage bobbins go for high prices. Particularly ones made of bone with fancy designs.  As lace makers worked from home and weren't tied to particular suppliers they were often given bobbins as 'sweeteners' by suppliers looking to buy their lace.  Most commonly though husbands and boyfriends would carve bobbins for their women and some would inscribe, burn or nail pins deep into the wood to create names and inscriptions.


I quite liked the idea of family names and commemorations on bobbins so have quite a few different styles. The ones below for example commemorate my 18th and 21st Birthdays. The pyrography inscription is done in a spiral around the bobbins and the spiral is picked out in tinsel inlaid with a fine brass wire.  The spangles are garnet beads as garnet is my birthstone. I actually LOVE spangling bobbins. It is far better than making the lace to me!


These bobbins were made by The Springetts. They are my all time lace making hero's. Christine taught lace and wrote books on the subjects. (And if you are going to go and make this kind of lace I urge you to trawl ebay for her books because they are the best lace books for beginners and children I've come across.) Her husband David made the bobbins. They would sell at Lace Fairs and by mail order. I'm not sure if the company is still trading because I seem to remember them retiring and selling on the business about 10 years ago.  I could rarely resist being tempted by their bobbins as you can see!


I spangled all these myself with the exception of the acorns ones which were sold ready made with matching wooden acorn beads.  They made all kinds of bobbins styles: Pyrographed, plain and carved wood, painted, tinsel inlaid, wire wrapped and also moe unsual novelty bobbins - more of which another time.

The also made bone bobbins which were more expensive.  Traditionally bone would have been a good choice for bobbins as it didn't tend to wear as quickly as wood. My most expensive bobbin is a bone Springetts Bobbin. It was a birthday present from my mum.  It's a Scottish Themed Bobbin because my Mum wants to be Scottish and is partial to anything from Scotland (In fact I suspect if she could wake up in a tartan wall papered room, with heather under foot, to the sound of bag pipes she'd probably be deliriously happy!)



...that carved thistle is inset with an amethyst.  I should also point out my hands are quite small. If you've never seen a lace bobbin before, believe me they are not big items. 

I'll end this post for now. I have plenty more bobbin and lace making things to show you next time.  If you want to see some more bobbin pictures go to this flickr set as I won't post every single picture I took with each post.


  1. Wow they are so pretty!
    You made me laugh about your Mum wanting to be Scottish!

  2. Gorgeous!! I'm trying to talk myself out of doing research on my own....

  3. those bobbins are lovely and thanks for all that info, it was really interesting

  4. Thanks for a great post - so interesting and informative. I've been fascinated by lace making since I was about 9 and I saw some ladies making it when I was on holiday near Betws-y-Coed - I can't wait to read more...I'm going to resist going off to learn more - I can't afford another hobby!!


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