When questions arise about recommendations for tools and equipment. let's put them here.

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The most expensive equipment for bobbin lace are the pillow and the bobbins. You can save money by making them yourselves. A bobbin is just a stick of wood with a groove round the top - when I started, I used dowel and hacked out the groove with a pen-knife! You can make a flat pillow. Start with a foot square of plywood, make a bag of cloth, slightly bigger and leaving one side open. Stuff the pillow on one side as hard as you can - I used soft toy stuffing! Then sew up. A bolster pillow is even easier to make, but perhaps harder to use.

I did hear of an even cheaper idea - use a folded blanket for the pillow, and pencils for bobbins! You can buy packs of pencils very cheaply (or at least you can in UK). They must have erasers on the end. Then you can wind thread round the pencil, and the eraser fitting stops it from slipping off. This will be a little tricky to use, but possible.

Maybe proper lacemakers will sneer at this, but then I suspect that some new potential lacemakers may be like me - interested in learning the hobby, but nervous of spending a lot of money which will be wasted.

Oh, I don't think anyone will sneer at useful ideas for getting started without over-committing the budget.  I started out almost absolutely certain I wanted to take this up as a hobby (I started by collecting laces, and wanted to learn how to repair the damaged ones ...), but I still cringed at the thought of spending a couple of hundred dollars on equipment that would be wasted if I hated it, after all.  I had little kids -- I didn't have money to spend on extravagant hobbies!   :-D

Your description of the basic bobbin is very apt.

My first pillow was borrowed, and it was simply made out of cloth, fiber-fill, and a small sawdust-filled bolster.  It looked like a big round couch-cushion with a rectangular hole in the center that the bolster sat in.   The first pillow I owned was another roller-pillow, but not soft:  it was made with 1/2-inch-thick corrugated cardboard & poly-fiber-fill, with a roller made out of sawdust pounded into a cloth tube between two frozen-juice-can lids.  I made the basics with well-washed/shrunk unbleached muslin, and then covered both parts (the cookie-pillow-like base and the roller bolster) with a remnant of a washable suede-cloth.

The folded (or rolled-up?) blanket is a brilliant idea!  It's workable not only for beginners, but for teachers of groups who need to manage their students' equipment themselves (like school & youth groups -- every kid can be asked to bring in a small old blanket for the class, right?)

The plywood-based or cardboard-based pillows are a little more advanced, but still do-able by beginners.  They're for once someone gets past the very first baby-steps, but still has a long list of equipment purchases to go -- and of course, the priority at that point is almost always getting a-hold of some of those gorgeous bobbins!

I've put a general description of how to make the corrugated-cardboard roller-pillow into the Pennypinchers discussion;  when I get the time, I'll work up a more complete set of instructions (with measurements 'n' diagrams 'n' everything --- ooooh) and post them on the Patterns page.  :-D

My equipment  recommendations can be found on my website:   


Bobbins don't need to be fancy.  The only thing they need to have is a neck.  In Chicago, many of the public parks have woodshops in the fieldhouse, and citizens can use them.  There is a teacher on the premises to show you how to use the equipment.  All you need to do is scrape away enough wood from the dowel to make a neck.

Traditional bobbins are about 4 inches long.  The neck is usually about 1 inch long, or at most 1.25 inches.  The ends don't have to be pointy. 

I think a piece of styrafoam (polystyrene) 2 inches thick and 18 inches in diameter is the easiest quick and cheap pillow.  It will last through your first few months, but will not be useable for a lifetime.

I came across a site that offers 2 dozen continental square bobbins, in a package, for $16.00.  That is about as cheap as they will get.

I found a cheap source for modern continental square bobbins.


With some research I found that the polyethylene that is used to make pillows is a closed foam product. With this information I went looking for other closed foam products that I could find rather cheaply. I found that some of the camping pads for under sleeping bags is made of closed foam. While these are only about a half inch thick, a stack of them can be made for a pillow of just about any size. A new one can be bought for less then $10 and a used one even cheaper. The exercise rollers that are popular these days are also made of a closed foam material that can be used as a bolster. While the rollers normally have a diameter of about 6 inches and can be found of lengths of 12 to 24 inches they are easily cut to any length that you want. Some of the rollers have the product manufacture's name recessed into them so you need to be careful of this area. Has anyone tried cork tiles as a pillow? I could see them laminated to form a thick layer and glued to a backer-board then cut to desired dimensions.

The problem with any material used for pillows is how it responds to pins being stuck into it. You want a constant and consistent response to a pin, not variations in density, or irregularities. The best thing in to test the material with a pin to see how it feels. I did obtain a large amount of polyethylene many years ago and have used it for pillows. It does make a usable pillow, but is harder to stick pins into than wool is.

I haven't tried cork.  If the cork is in thin layers, ie 1/4 inch, a pin would need at least 2 layers. If glue is between the layers, the pin might not penetrate the glue. You would end up with lots of bent pins. So the thick ness of the material should provide a substrate of consistent density. Half inch or 3/4 inch thick cork might very well work. But multiple layers of 1/8 inch cork might not, because of the glue.  Test it to see.

I do agree that you need to be careful about the variations but for someone trying to see if they would enjoy doing bobbin lace, starting to learn or deciding which style pillow they prefer, it will work. For example, I covered a section of an exercise roller with felt and a cotton cloth just to see if I would like to use a bolster instead of a pillow. I want to make a roller pillow and a block pillow still before making up my mind on which I prefer to use and spend the amount of money required. 

The cork tiles I was thinking of are either half inch or 3/4 inch thick.  I was thinking about using the cork for the pillow portion of a roller pillow. Now I just need to wait until it warms up so I can stand to work in the garage with my woodworking tools to build a roller pillow.  I will also need to find my lathe tools and practice to make some bobbins.

My roller pillow is made using a kitchen wooden rolling pin, which I then covered with layers of thick felt (like the pads that used to be under the old Manual Typewriters ), and I used a couple of layers of that thick (i inch thick) felt, then covered it with dark fabric. MY husband made a box for ti to sit in, and I used an old foam cushion cut up for the surround. a double layer of fabric across the back behind the roller tidied it all up. I use 2 hat pins through the back fabric into the roller to stop it rolling as I tension the threads. they do the job!

Not the most elegant Roller Pillow, but it works - though a larger roller which would be wider at the top where I work, might be nicer!

I am sooooo greatful that I finally found this group! Blessed I am! I look forward to soaking up everything that everyone is willing to share with me! GOD bless you guys! 1-14-15

Hae you got all your equipment collected?


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