Bobbin Lace

Etching by Maerten de Vos (c. 1534-1603), from series The Seven Ages  of Man. Etching by Maerten de Vos (c. 1534-1603), from series The Seven Ages of Man.

Bobbin lace, also known as pillow lace, is the product of a modified weaving process that takes its name from the way it is made, namely using a series of bobbins on a lacemaking pillow. The warp threads on a loom are represented by the threads that hang straight down, weighed by the ‘passive’ bobbins. The weft threads on the loom are represented by the ‘worker’ or ‘weaver’ bobbins that go over and under the passive bobbins, so creating a piece of woven cloth.

The process to create this type of lace mostly uses a pattern that is drawn on a piece of card (the so-called parchment or pricking card), which is attached to the pillow. The parchment has a series of holes literally pricked into it (with a pricker), following the lines of the design. Pins are put into the start of the design, from which enough threads with attached bobbins are hung. While interlacing the 'worker' and the passive threads, the lace maker follows the lines of the holes in order to create the desired design. While progressing, new pins are added to keep the developing weave in place.

There are two main types of bobbin lace, namely the continuous form, whereby the ground and motif are worked in one go, and the non-continuous form, whereby 'sprigs' (individual motifs) are made in one operation and then they are linked together with small bars (‘brides’) or by sewing the sprigs onto a mesh ground.

Actual evidence for the production of bobbin lace in Europe dates back to the sixteenth century, although there are vague written references and what might be representations of bobbin lace dating to the fifteenth century. One of the earliest known bobbin lace pattern books is called Le Pompe, which was produced by the Sessa brothers in Venice in 1557. This was quickly followed by other books, such as the Nüw modelbuch allerley gattungen däntelschnür so diser zyt in hoch tütschlanden geng und brüchig sind...erstmals in truck verfergket durch Rr. M. by Christoph Froschauer, which was printed in Zurich in 1561.

One of earliest actual images of someone producing bobbin lace was produced by the Flemish painter, Maerten de Vos (c. 1534-1603), in a series of etchings called The Seven Ages of Man, which date from c. 1580-85. The series is based on the planets and in the print called Venus, there is a young girl working on a lace pillow (lower right hand side of the print).

From that moment onwards, there is considerable evidence in the form of actual, written and visual objects for the production of bobbin lace. Over the following centuries many different forms have been developed. These are often called after the place where they are said to have originated or where produced on a large scale.

See also the TRC Needles entries on The Lacemaker; Lacemaker with a Boy Blowing Bubbles and Women Working on Bobbin Lace.

Source: EARNSHAW, Pat (1984). A Dictionary of Lace, Aylesbury: Shire Publications Ltd, pp. 18-20.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 12th June 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 14 June 2017 17:44
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