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

Lovely picture, and pillow. Yes, fascinating!

Now she tells me there is more!    Look what is under the cushion:

The side teeth are ingenious. I haven't seen that aspect before.

I have seen some Bengian pillows with a drawer underneath, also.


Please post the photo among our PHOTOS. The NOTES explain how to do that. Look at the one called "PHOTOS". Then we can find it in the future, and it will be searchable.

Depending on the pattern I'm working, it's not unusual for me to be putting sets of bobbins over the back of my bolster to keep them out of the way while I'm working a different section.  I can keep them in order even over the back so it doesn't take a lot of fussing to reorder them.  It's also useful when I need to stop in the middle of the piece and put the pillow to bed since it reminds me where I left off.  

I, too, use a lot of spacer pins to keep bunches of bobbins together off the side, especially when I'm working on lace with lots of "dependencies".  Spacers are also a fun way to put some "bling" on your pillow but not get in the way.

Tape laces can be simple, with 6-11 pairs, but some of the ones in Le Pompe and New Modelbuch you're looking at a lot more bobbins and moving some to the back of the pillow is a valid way of organizing them.  When working a closed motif on my bolster, like in some Idria lace, I find I need to be turning the pillow around to work it so back and front switch!

Jo Edkins said:

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 have done it with my bobbins on the pillow for many years now (although I still have much to learn), I have seen it done in the hands and always told myself to try it in the hands instead.  I'm just gong to get back into doing bobbin lace after my vacation and that is one of the things I am definitely going to try.  I don't know if it's easier or faster, but I think it looks a lot better, and yes, maybe faster also.

This it the first time I've seen an actual discussion on this topic and I was waiting to hear something on it, so thanks.  I really appreciate that this was brought up.  

I marvel at those with the bolster type pillows , and Maltese pillows, who hold all the bobbins in the hand.  I am definitely a
'lay them out on the pillow" type!!

However, - I make tallies with the 3 passives held in the left hand - between the fingers, and weave the 4th bobbin, - the worker, tail first over and under the 3 in the other hand, held fairly firmly.  I find this way Much quicker, and I can manipulate my fingers to get a better shaped tally (usually!!)

Jo, the page on tightening threads could not be found - just now, anyway.  Mr.; Google must be out to lunch!!! :)  I will check back later on.  It is 1.32pm here in Melbourne, Australia..

I was taught using Swedish bobbins and that is how my teacher had us make the stitch.  We held two bobbins in each hand, with fingers separating the bobbins.  This made it easy to tighten the stitch.  Because I learned this way, I prefer to use Danish bobbins because of the bulbous shape of the stems (just like the Swedish ones--but smaller).  When I tried using English bobbins, I found it harder to do the stitch in the air because they were so thin in comparison.  It can be done, but with the Danish or Swedish bobbins it is really quite easy.  The Swedish bobbins I have hold a great deal of thread and are meant for making yards of edging.  The Danish bobbins hold less, but still quite a bit and I have used them for edging.  Normally, I am using a homemade bolster pillow to do the work.  When I transport the bolster, I pin a ribbon across the hanging bobbins to keep them tidy.  

Elizabeth Ligeti said:

Jo, the page on tightening threads could not be found - just now, anyway.  Mr.; Google must be out to lunch!!! :)  I will check back later on.  It is 1.32pm here in Melbourne, Australia..

(Jo here) - sorry! I'm rewriting my website because it was getting very unwieldy. The new web address for 'tightening' is

That works!!!  Thank you.

Gosh! Your web site is GOOD!  This is the most comprehensive writing about tensioning threads I have ever read. Very Well done.



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