Bobbin lace

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Bobbin lace in progress at the Musée des Ursulines de Québec

Bobbin lace is a lace textile made by braiding and twisting lengths of thread, which are wound on bobbins to manage them. As the work progresses, the weaving is held in place with pins set in a lace pillow, the placement of the pins usually determined by a pattern or pricking pinned on the pillow.

Bobbin lace is also known as pillow lace, because it was worked on a pillow, and bone lace, because early bobbins were made of bone[1] or ivory.

Bobbin lace is one of the two major categories of handmade laces, the other being needlelace, derived from earlier cutwork and reticella.[2]


Early bobbin lace in gold and silver thread, c. 1570.

Bobbin lace evolved from passementerie or braid-making in 16th-century Italy.[2] Genoa was famous for its braids, hence it is not surprising to find bobbin lace developed in the city. It traveled along with the Spanish troops through Europe.[3] Coarse passements of gold and silver-wrapped threads or colored silks gradually became finer, and later bleached linen yarn was used to make both braids and edgings.[4]

The making of bobbin lace was easier to learn than the elaborate cutwork of the 16th century, and the tools and materials for making linen bobbin lace were inexpensive. There was a ready market for bobbin lace of all qualities, and women throughout Europe soon took up the craft which earned a better income than spinning, sewing, weaving or other home-based textile arts. Bobbin lace-making was established in charity schools, almshouse, and convents.[2]

In the 17th century, the textile centers of Flanders and Normandy eclipsed Italy as the premiere sources for fine bobbin lace, but until the coming of mechanization hand-lacemaking continued to be practiced throughout Europe, suffering only in those periods of simplicity when lace itself fell out of fashion.[2]

Traditional Types[edit]

Many styles of lace were made in the heyday of lacemaking (approximately the 16th-18th centuries) before machine-made lace became available.


Bobbin lace may be made with coarse or fine threads. Traditionally it was made with linen, silk, wool, or, later, cotton threads, or with precious metals. Today it is made with a variety of natural and synthetic fibers and with wire and other filaments.

Elements of bobbin lace may include toile or toilé (clothwork), réseau (the net-like ground of continuous lace), fillings of part laces, tapes or braids, gimps, picots, tallies, ribs and rolls. Not all styles of bobbin lace include all these elements.

Contemporary laces[edit]

Contemporary handmade woollen bobbin lace articles, Wool Expo, Armidale NSW. Pale green lace is made of 2 ply wool.

The advent of machine-made lace at first pushed lace-makers into more complicated designs beyond the capabilities of early machines, then simpler designs so they could compete on price, and finally pushed them out of business almost entirely. The resurgence of lace-making is a recent phenomenon and is mostly done as a hobby. Lacemaking groups still meet in regions as varied as Devonshire, England and Orange County, California.[6] In the European towns where lace was once a major industry, especially in Belgium, England, Spain (Camariñas), northern and centre Portugal and France, lacemakers still demonstrate the craft and sell their wares, though their customer base has shifted from the wealthy nobility to the curious tourist.

Still new types of lace are being developed such as the 3D Rosalibre[7] and a colored version of Milanese lace by borrowing rolls from Duchesse lace to store various shades and colors.[8] Other artist giving grounds a mayor role by distorting and varying stitches, pin distances and thread sizes or colours. The variations are explored by experimentation[9] and mathematics and algorithms.[10] The lace maintaining its shape without stiffening is no longer a requirement.[9]


Various types of bobbins[edit]

Paintings with bobbin lace makers[edit]




  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary definition of "bone lace"
  2. ^ a b c d Levey, Santina M.: "Lace in the Early Modern Period c. 1500-1780." In Jenkins, Cambridge History of Western Textiles, p. 585-580
  3. ^ Reigate, Emily (1986). An Illustrated Guide to Lace (1988 ed.). Antique Collers' Club Ltd. p. 44. ISBN 1-85149-003-5. 
  4. ^ Montupet and Schoeller, 1988, p. 16-18
  5. ^ Earnshaw, Pat (1985). The Identification of Lace. De Bilt: Cantecleer. ISBN 9021302179. 
  6. ^ "Lacemaking: Associations and Guilds". Fibre Arts Online Web. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Belleville, Cathleen (2002). Introducing Rosalibre Bobbin Lacle. 
  8. ^ Woods, Sandy (2003). Special Effects in Bobbin Lace. Batsford. ISBN 0713480718. 
  9. ^ a b Wanzenried, Esther. "Moderne Gronden". Kantbrief (2014-4): 24–25. 
  10. ^ Irvine, Veronika; Ruskey, Frank (2014). "Developing a Mathematical Model for Bobbin Lace". Journal of Mathematics and the Arts 8 (3-4): 95–110. 

External links[edit]