This relates to a piece that I've just posted in the comments section (because it led on from a previous comment) but I'm making this a discussion, because I'm inviting all you experts to tell me something.
I was working this piece with endless plaiting - half stitch, half stich, half stitch, with the same two pairs - yawn! The problem is continually having to tighten - and it needs serious tightening, either pulling each bobbin in turn or taking each pair in either hand and pulling apart. Which meant continually picking up bobbins and putting them down again. Oh, I was so BORED!
Then I suddenly remembered something I'd read in an old lace book, and almost immediately heard again from a lacemaker - something I'd never heard of before. Instead of working lace by leaving all the bobbins on the pillow, and only picking up a single bobbin to lift over another, or at most two, one in each hand, you were 'supposed' to hold a pair of bobbins in each hand, and do the stitch that way, in mid-air. That seemed weird to me! To work a line, I would have to keep putting down a pair, and swapping a pair between hands, and picking up another pair. But wait a minute - plaiting means lots of stiches using the same two pairs...
So I tried it. And blow me down, it worked! Well, it stopped me getting bored anyway - trying a completely new lacemaking technique. But it did speed things up. The stitch probably took a bit longer, as I had to fumble the bobbins over each other within my hands, but the tightening - wonderful - all I had to do was pull my hands apart! No picking up or putting down. I could even tighten each thread separately. Also - a basic lace stitch is made of twists and crosses, and with this technique, they are quite obvious. Twists are done with one hand. Crosses involve both hands, as you cross one bobbin in each hand to the other.
It did involve a certain amount of fumbling, as I had to manipulate the bobbins in my fingers, which did get a little tired out, since they weren't used to the movement. It was important to keep the threads the same length, as I tended to pull the threads tightish, to keep the bobbins parallel to each other. And dreadful things happened when a thread became unwound from its bobbins... Still, these are all beginner complaints.
My query to all you experts - do you use this technique? If not, have you ever tried it, or heard of other people using it? Is there a history to this? I once used a bolster pillow and got nowhere, as the bobbins rolled against each other badly. This wouldn't happen if the stitch was worked in the hands rather than on the pillow. And modern pillows do tend to be flat, which makes the 'all on the pillow' easier. So is the 'work in the hand' an old fashioned technique?
On my website, I have a page on tightening threads. I think it's a very important part of lacemaking, and once I started, I was surprised how much there was to say on the subject. I also invite the lace experts to give me any more tigtening techniques, or comments:

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Replies to This Discussion

I'm a complete beginner who just tried my first plaited lace a couple of weeks ago, but that's how I did it, lol.  I started out picking up and putting down the bobbins then thought "this is ridiculous" so I looked on Youtube and saw another lacemaker doing it that way, in the air. It's much easier for the tightening part and I didn't find it too awkward to do the cross and twist with my fingers in mid-air.  I put them back on the pillow to do the closing cloth stitch.

What you describe is what I do, too. I pick up the 4 bobbins, 2 in each hand. Rock the hands leftward (like a fighter jet preparing to make a turn), and this makes the twist. Then, in the air, exchange the 2 middle bobbins. I always snug after the cross. I find it snugs/tensions better that way. To tension I pull the hands apart, as you describe, wiggling all 4 bobbins to remove all the slack. A good braid is flat and smooth.  It goes very very fast.  My system is to do whatever works best.

I'm certainly not an expert, but here's my 2 cents worth...  I would have to see a video of working this way to be certain, but I believe I do this already.  However, I almost always use a bolster pillow and work palms up, so the bobbins are always "in the air" and ready for me to work across - it's very natural on the bolster.  Just last night I was doing a 3 pair plait to end a piece and just juggled the 3 pairs in my hands simultaneously.  If I'm not mistaken, I believe this is also how Idria lace workers do their plaits - holding the two pairs and just moving their hands apart every other cross to tension.

I understand about plaits being boring - the very first piece I worked when just starting off was the Ninepin lace from Stott's book.  I finished the sample but was discouraged - that's not what I imagined bobbin lace to be!  (I quickly moved on and got to more fun ones.)   But recently I've been working on laces from 1561's Neu Modelbuch, and there are lots of plaits.  Working off the bolster makes all the plaiting go much faster and I can keep my tension even.

Hi Jo, I know this is a year old post, but something that every would be bobbin lacer is interested in.   I'm just at the very beginning of all this, and have watched a lot of youtube, also.    I think what you are talking about is the difference between hands up vs hands down technique of handling the bobbins.   Anyone still reading this thread that is still confused about it, can see what is going on by the comparison video on youtube:

He has quite a few videos on youtube. This one is quite good.

I know this is old, but I want to respond to it, because these kind of questions are always pertinent.   I am just a raw beginner and can't even do anything, but practice hand movements and try to learn the sequences.   But, I will tell you this.   I absolutely hate the idea of trying to fumble with bobbins on a pillow, feels as annoying as trying to pick up a cup of unpopped popcorn that you have spilled     I much prefer the hands in the air, or 'palms up' method.  I like having 2 in each hand and confess to changing the wording to learn without confusing twist and cross, because in my mind, those both produce the same picture.    When I practiced my stitches, I called them cross and roll, cross and roll, because the twist were just kept in the same hand and rolled over one another.    The way you deal with the bobbins is you let them hang over the side or back.    The pictures of my crude work alarmed many, as they did the hands down on pillows and were quick to tell me that my bobbins were falling off the edge(!) and I needed a flat pillow to spread them on.    They could not grasp that they were SUPPOSED to do that.   I even had them pinned there, because I don't have the experience to sort a group of bobbins (nor patience), so I put steps of pins and hung them on them, and they kept tension well.   Only pillow bobbins need beads on the end, hanging ones don't.    You can put them over the back, or the side and even use a line of pins to separate them into one or 2 sets, so they are not all in one wad.   Here is a very simple video of both styles.

Here's an example of bobbins hanging over the edge or pinned:


and plenty more videos in the right frame of the same - bolster pillows with hanging bobbins.   Looks like I replied to this once before, but this time more video links.   It's such a pertinent subject, it caught my eye, again!

I must admit that my problems with the 'in the hands' method is that if my bobbins hang over the edge, then they roll over each other, and get in the wrong order. Yes, I know you can sort them back into the right order OK. But this takes time, especially if you have a lot of bobbins. With Torchon lace, where you are continually working across large numbers of bobbins, with new pairs joining or leaving the working regularly, I like everything laid out - visible - so I can see where I am, and what I'm working on, and what needs to be done next. Also, if I get things wrong, then this is apparent, not just from the bobbins in my hand but elsewhere. If I try to keep the bobbins "in the hand", I have to keep picking up a new pair or putting it down, or even swapping a pair from one hand to the other.

However, I do realise that for English Midland lace, especially with plaits and tallies, you are doing a LOT of stitches with just two pairs of bobbins, and here the 'in the hands' method is obviously better. This may be true for other techniques as well.

And I suspect that we all find it easier to do what we're used to! I wanted to high-light the 'in the hands' method, in case other people didn't know about it, since it is obviously wide-spread, and useful. It's fun to find out about other ways of making lace!

Jo, if you watch the videos in my last post, you will find many people have a line of pins that they can sort the bobbins on to.     I also see those with a lifetime of experience that have WADS of bobbins.   But, really, that is a lifetime of experience.   They are probably 70 years old and been doing it since they were 70.    I would be doing the sort on a pin method - and my projects/practices are very limited, at this point.   I watch those ladies who seem to not even care which bobbins they pick up and it doesn't even look like they are doing anything with their bobbins - but they are too good, so good they make it look simple.    For simplicity purposes, I'll show this picture of my very crude practice piece with pins on the side to sort the bobbins onto.   Notice the pins on the right edge.    When working back, they will be hung on the left edge.     Now remember, I'm not trying to say you should do it this way, only trying to show a simple version of it, to help see how the pins can help with the bobbins.    Some lay them over the back of the pillow, and slide them around in order, they don't just drop them over the edge.    By sliding them around they stay in the correct order.

But if anyone is doing a method that they are comfortable with and it all makes the most sense to them, there is no need to rock the boat and try to change it for no reason.    My brain is set to do it with palms up, since I saw it done that way years and years ago.     The other doesn't feel right in my own hands, BUT, if I were to ever get to a place where I was making things with a large amount of bobbins, who knows what I would decide was best for me then.   

Oh yes, I understand that. But a Torchon project of less than 20 pairs is considered to be a simple pattern, so think of all those pins to preserve order. You'd need the full amount on each side, since you might be working with an edge pair on one side or the other. And me and too many pins on my pillow near the bobbins really don't get on - I have lacerated jumper sleeves as it is! Also if you were doing ground across the full width of the lace, working diagonally you'd need to gradually shift all the pairs from one side to the other, then sign deeply, and move them all back for the next row. Or perhaps you don't work in rows, and do a patch at a time. But I like rows.

I'm not saying the technique doesn't work - it really does, which was why I was excited about it and posted it, in case there was anyone, like me, who hadn't met it before. Tallies are notorious for lacemakers, and it seems obvious to me that the hands technique helps since you can control the tension better. Plaits are quicker as well.

Interestingly enough, old paintings show the bobbins hanging off the BACK of the pillow, in a right jumble, with no apparent division or order between them at all. In fact they're stacked up on top of each other in a bundle. And the lacemaker obviously coped, as you say.

I think most of the laces worked on bolster shaped pillows, with the palms up method, were tape laces, which often use only 6 pairs, or 11 at most. That would make it easier to control the bobbins.

I do think the important thing is to do what works for you. Not making mistakes, and keeping good tension are necessary for beautiful lace. How you got there is less important.

I see videos where they are working wide pieces, but they never work the width across     The inside is filled with flowers and stems and curves and they are working isolated sections at a time, like:


But I also see ladies with a crush of humongous numbers of bobbins, but we are not them.    It is their culture since a child, and it is like breathing to them, second nature.   this is a bolster with lots of bobbins, I also see something very interesting.   It appears they are placing their used bobbins over and when they get a large enough group, they cover them with fabric, and start the next group right on top of the last group.    So they have layers of bobbins, that they will return and work off from the top layer down.   These are slower workers in this one, and it doesn't actually show the workers till after 20 minutes, so if you want to skip the eye candy, you can slide the video slider over to 20 minutes:

Now this lady is a speed demon and seems to mix picking them up with hands in the air: 

Rosemary Robertson has graciously given me permission to share a pic of her wonderful bolster pillow, that originally came from Puerto Rico.    She was lucky enough to come by it from her lace guild, where a former lacer donated it, who could no longer lace.    LOOK AT THE SIDE TEETH FOR HOLDING BOBBINS!


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