Bobbinet or genuine tulle is a specific type of tulle netting which has been made in the United Kingdom since the invention of the bobbinet machine in 1806 by John Heathcoat. John Heathcoat coined the term "bobbin net", or bobbinet as it is spelled today, to distinguish his machine-made tulle from the handmade "pillow lace", called so because of the pillow used to produce it. Machines based on his original designs are still in operation today producing fabrics in Perry Street, Chard, Somerset, UK.
The forerunner of bobbinet tulle was lace. Lace has been produced for a long time, made in tedious hand labour with thin thread and needles or bobbins. The first lace was basically made by intertwining and knotting the thread artfully. It was not until 1500, however, that more elaborate lace could be produced. Generally speaking, lace is based on a net ground. Demands rose quickly and so net-like ground for lace was being produced in special manufactures around 1700. By the end of the 18th century, people tried to produce the net ground mechanically. In 1765 they managed to create a tulle-like fabric on a so-called stocking framework. It took, however, some more years until the first real tulle could be produced mechanically. Bobbinet machines were finally invented in 1807 by John Heathcoat. He studied the hand movements of manual lace makers and reproduced them in the roller-locker machine. The smooth, unpatterned tulle produced on these machines was on a par with real, handmade lace net. Heathcoat’s bobbinet machine is so ingeniously designed that the ones used today have suffered little alteration.
Bobbinet tulle is constructed by warp and weft yarns in which the weft yarn is looped diagonally around the vertical warp yarn to form a hexagonal mesh which is regular and clearly defined. Bobbinet netting has a characteristic diagonal fabric appearance, is diagonally stable and slideproof, durable, sheer, the lightest bobbinet weighing no more than 6 g per m2 and has a high strength to weight ratio.
Bobbinet tulle fabrics have long been used for high-quality exclusive curtains, bridalwear, haute couture fashion, lingerie, embroidery, where it is used as base cloth for the actual embroidery, and as base nets for high-quality wigs. Use has also extended into technical applications where the material's properties are more important than its appearance. These technical applications include sunblinds for cars and railway coaches, safety nets, parachute skirting, radar reflective fabrics for military decoys, flexible textile switches and sensor, as well as light diffusion fabrics for the film and theatre industries. Depending on the yarns bobbinet tulle is produced with, it can, for example, be made to be almost invisible against the skin or even conductive.