Bobbin Lace Basics

© Lorelei Halley 2012

There are only 2 basic movements in bobbin lace: cross, and twist.  (See below.)  These 2 movements can be combined to make a few basic elements: cloth stitch (the dense areas, usually motifs) and half stitch (a more open weave with strong diagonal lines), braids/plaits (a flat cord usually having 4 threads in it), and tallies (little dense squares or leaf shapes).   The lesson on CLOTH STRIP, lesson 1 and lesson 5, taken together, teach these basic elements.  Not all these elements occur in every style of bobbin lace.  There are certain problems that occur in every lace: how are the design motifs connected to the background of the lace, how is the background connected to the footside.   The different styles of bobbin lace are distinguished, for a lacemaker, by using different solutions to these problems.  So, if you learn the basic elements of cloth stitch, half stitch, braids/plaits, and tallies, you still can't make anything.  You need to learn how to connect those parts together.   

I've chosen plaited lace as a beginning point because you can make something useable at the very first lesson.  But you can start with torchon or tape lace (British: braid lace).  The lessons on Jo Edkins' website are primarily torchon.  If you choose that route, you can still get help from us.    


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. 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.

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.













Hanging on For Sample or Bookmarks

For samples or a bookmark, tie 2 or more bobbin threads into a loose knot and hang the knot on a pin.  (I prefer this for samples, to avoid the nuisance of constantly winding in pairs.)









Hanging On

For a lace edging or motif, most of the time you will need to hang on in pairs.












Shorten the Bobbin Thread 

As you work if you need to shorten or lengthen the thread, first turn the bobbin horizontal.  Then, to shorten, insert a pin into the loop of the hitch where indicated by * , enlarge the loop, and roll the bobbin up the thread. To release more thread, just roll the bobbin down the thread. Keep all the bobbin threads the same length as you work. This will help your speed and quality.



  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.


In the diagram at left the old thread is red, the new thread is gray.

To replenish a bobbin which ran out of thread: make a knot in the new bobbin thread, and hang the knot on a pin just above the last section you finished - about 1 inch above.  Then wrap the tail of thread from the old bobbin onto the new bobbin, with the new bobbin thread.  Wind about a foot and a half doubled.  Make the hitch with both threads treated as 1 thread. 










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).


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.

For Twist-Crossers:





In this diagram, each black 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.)









For Cross-Twisters:

















The complete international color code:











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.












See Lesson 1for full instructions. 



 See this for full instructions on stitches.

Cloth Stitch = cross twist cross = CTC




Each line is one pair.

Each intersection is cross twist cross = ctc. 




Cloth Stitch

On this diagram, each line is one thread.


Read down, in columns.


Each intersection is

cross twist cross

























Double Stitch, also called whole stitch, or whole stitch with a twist.

 twist cross twist cross = tctc









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   =   twist cross   =   tc












In this diagram, each line is one pair.

Work each intersection as        

         twist cross            tc

In this stitch, all the pairs split up.


In this diagram each line is one thread.


Each intersection is

twist cross.




















 See Lesson 5for how to make tallies.


For the lesson on making a cloth stitch and half stitch strip, look at this.

For the 1st lesson on plaited bobbin lace, look here

For the 2nd lesson on plaited bobbin lace, look at this.

For the 3rd lesson on plaited bobbin lace, go there.

For the 4th lesson on plaited bobbin lace, go to this.

Lesson 5 Tallies.

For the 6th lesson on plaited bobbin lace--cross 3 plaits/braids--look here.

To use Jo Edkins' website to learn bobbin lace (torchon), look here

For diagrams of various kinds of sewings, look here.  




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Comment by Lorelei Halley Administrator on September 6, 2012 at 10:23pm

Thanks Carmelina.  I did most of the diagrams for my book TORCHON BOBBIN LACE LESSONS.  But the basic diagrams work for all the styles.  It was a lot of work when I first sat down to make the diagrams.  The half stitch diagram was the most difficult.

Comment by Carmelina Andrade on September 6, 2012 at 2:16pm

Lorelei, this is wonderful! Anybody can learn with this graphics. A great effort. 

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