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Bobbin Lace: An Illustrated Guide to Traditional and Contemporary Techniques

Bobbin Lace: An Illustrated Guide to Traditional and Contemporary Techniques

by Brigita Fuhrmann

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After over a century of relative obscurity, lacemaking is enjoying a revival as more and more needlecraft artists are intrigued by its creative possibilities. Dating from the 15th century, bobbin lace is prized everywhere for its intricacy, delicacy, and decorative richness — and couldn't be easier to do!
In this modern, step-by-step approach to the craft,


After over a century of relative obscurity, lacemaking is enjoying a revival as more and more needlecraft artists are intrigued by its creative possibilities. Dating from the 15th century, bobbin lace is prized everywhere for its intricacy, delicacy, and decorative richness — and couldn't be easier to do!
In this modern, step-by-step approach to the craft, noted lacemaker Brigita Fuhrmann shows you how to create every kind of bobbin lace — from the simplest stitch to the most challenging pattern. In addition, she traces the history of bobbin lacemaking in Western and Eastern Europe (including Russia) and relates these two distinct types to contemporary trends.
For all its intricate, elegant appearance, bobbin lace is based on only two different movements of bobbins — the cross and the twist. Essentially, it is the technique of winding threads on bobbins around pins attached to a firm pillow. The pins hold the lace in place while you cross and twist the bobbins over each other in varying sequences to form a wide range of stitches. The richness of the lace depends on how you combine the stitches into a pattern.
Ms. Fuhrmann provides expert advice on the tools you'll need — pillows, bobbins, pins, and thread — and easy-to-follow instructions for a variety of exquisite stitches. Clear, accurate diagrams accompany stitch directions, beginning with the braid and Brussels ground and ending with the maiden's net and spiders. Learn how to make stunning straight lace and tape lace; construct fans, corners, edgings; draft patterns; finish your creations, and care for your lace.
Needleworkers at all levels of expertise will welcome this comprehensive volume. Experienced hands will discover endless challenges and inspiration here; beginners will find this an excellent introduction to the beauty and elegance of a time-honored art form.

Product Details

Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Knitting, Crochet, Tatting, Lace Series
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Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.36(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Bobbin Lace



Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1976 by Watson-Guptill Publications
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-17088-6



The development of the technique of bobbin lace is not well recorded, and a lot of the available information is founded on probability. The oldest specimens of lace have very rarely survived, and written descriptions are not always completely reliable. The first dependable recording of lace began with portrait painting, where details of clothing were accurately represented.

Knotting, plaiting, and weaving on a vertical warp all claim to be forerunners of bobbin lace—it is quite possible that in different countries bobbin lace developed from different techniques. Simple network and plaiting were almost universally known all over the world. Examples of these rudimentary laces have been found in excavations in Egypt, Peru, China, England, and Scandinavia. But the sophisticated technique of bobbin lace as we know it today did not appear until the latter part of the 15th century. The earliest form of bobbin lace was made with gold and silver threads, and these laces seem to have been haberdashery trims that later were developed into the intricate designs of the 16th century when fiber threads began to be used.


There are two theories on the origin of bobbin lace in Western Europe—one that it originated in Italy in the 15th century, and the other that the technique was brought to Italy after being developed somewhere else, such as Dalmatia. (Dalmatia was the country to introduce bobbin lace to Eastern European countries and Russia.) In any case, the fact that lace made with bobbins existed in Italy in the 15th century is proved by written documents as well as by existing examples of lace.

From Italy the technique spread quickly to other countries. Since busy trade kept Italy in close contract with Flanders during the Renaissance period, the technique of lacemaking was carried there quickly. By the end of the 17th century, Flemish laces reached such a high degree of development that the origin of bobbin lace is very often ascribed to Flanders. Also in the 17th century, France—in addition to Italy, Holland, and Belgium—began to produce some of the most sophisticated laces, distinguished by their fineness and airiness. Colbert, a minister of Louis XIV, established the lacemaking industry in France and attracted the best designers.

Bobbin lace was already being made in England by the end of the 16th century, and it became widely spread very soon. English laces developed their own technical vocabulary—some types of lace such as Buckinghamshire and Honiton are still among the best known and most valuable.

Spain, the European center of gold and silver laces, also produced some of the most beautifully colored silk laces as early as the end of the 16th century. The Scandinavian countries Sweden and Denmark have a long history of bobbin lacemaking too—the technique was probably brought there from Belgium. The technique of lacemaking spread widely in Scandinavia and has been used without any historical interruption up to the present. However, since the lace was made mainly by peasants for purely utilitarian purposes, Scandinavian lace never achieved a high degree of prominence.

During the middle of the 16th century bobbin lacemaking was introduced to the Saxony region of Germany by Barbara Utt-mann, who came from Nuremberg to the mining town of Annaberg and taught lacemaking to the local people. The industry she established prospered for a long time and influenced lacemaking in all of Germany, Switzerland, and Bohemia.

The bobbin laces were first made predominantly by nuns for purely ecclesiastical purposes; but when Renaissance fashion adopted lace, it began to play a very important role in the clothing of the noble class and royalty. As the fashions of collars, ruffles, and veils changed, new and always finer styles of lace developed, and the demand for this subtle textile grew by leaps and bounds.

In the 17th century, Western European laces reached their most elaborate level of technical and esthetic development. With the 18th century came the most lavish large pieces of lace of highly complex designs. Silk became the most popular material, and it is from these times that the beautiful Spanish mantillas originated.

The French revolution was a heavy blow to the lacemaking industry, since with the deterioration of the noble class the demand for elaborate lace became nearly nonexistent. From then on the fashion was simple, and the lavish laces ceased to exist. Even Napoleon I, who attempted to reintroduce the lace into fashion and commissioned designers and lacemakers to make many beautiful pieces, could not bring back elaborate laces.

The end of the handmade lace industry was, in effect, 1818, when the first bobbin net was produced by machine in France. Although the machine-made lace was considered an imitation at first and was not readily accepted, its lower price and availability quickly overcame the public's initial apprehension. Handmade lace became less and less in demand, even for very special occasions.


Since bobbin lace was made primarily by professional lacemakers and was not practiced as a hobby, the technique would probably have been forgotten had it not been for the peasant lacemakers. While the professionals made the fancy lace styles marked for their originality and fragile beauty, peasants produced humble lace to decorate their daily clothes and costumes. Because the folk costumes were conservative and did not change with fashion, the designs and types of lace used on these costumes carried on a continuous tradition. This lace was of a consistently high though rather coarse quality.

Peasant lace developed in all European countries where bobbin lace was made. But in Eastern European countries and in Russia, where the peasant culture was much more prevalent than in the Western European countries, the bobbin lace made by peasants for their own use developed into a highly sophisticated and technically outstanding craft with very unique and often very personal designs.

Bobbin lace was introduced to these countries from two sources—from Dalmatia, where the technique was carried through Yugoslavia to Slovakia and Russia, and from Germany and Flanders, where the technique was carried mainly to Bohemia and Poland. These two streams of influence crossed paths in many of these countries and developed into very distinct regional styles.

In Yugoslavia the first bobbin lacemaking centers were in Dalmatia and Crotia. Although Dalmatia is considered by some to be the cradle of the technique, the area did not develop into a world-renowned lacemaking center. Bobbin lace was and is still made in the Yugoslavian mining town of Idria, where presumably the first tape lace was made. (For this reason this type of lace is sometimes called Idria lace.) Bobbin lace is still made in other parts of Yugoslavia as well, and the technique is taught in a lacemaking school in Lublan founded in 1888.

In Russia bobbin-made gold and silver laces existed as early as the 15th century. These very simple, narrow trimmings—probably products of haberdashers—later developed into very rich and lavish laces decorating residences of knights, monastaries, and rich merchants, as well as the houses of the agricultural classes. Metallic lace was used on fur coats, on edgings for curtains, and even on trimmings for horse blankets. Bobbin lacemaking spread quickly, and the laces became an integral part of Russian folk art in the 17th century.

When Peter the Great tried to introduce the Western European type of lacemaking to Russia in the 18th century, he only partially succeeded. A lacemaking school was established, and Russian lacemakers produced enough fine laces based on west-em designs to export them. But the peasant laces did not seem to be influenced by this foreign trend, and their designs continued in an uninterrupted development. These laces were integral parts of folk costumes and household linens. Although both straight and tape laces were made, the tape lace technique was the most popular—designs for this kind of lace achieved the most outstanding originality in Russia. For this reason tape lace is sometimes called Russian lace, although it was not invented in Russia nor was Russia the only country where tape lace was made. In Russia itself tape lace is called German lace, although it was not introduced there from Germany.

Russian folk costumes are very colorful and rich, and it is not unusual to find intricately woven and printed fabrics, embroidery, and lace all used to decorate a single costume. The lace was usually made out of bleached or natural linen with colored thread that related the lace to the rest of the colorful costume to which it was attached. The desire for color was so great that the lacemakers began to use colorful cotton threads with the linen—they used cotton thread because it accepted bright dyes much more readily than linen thread. The favorite color in Russian lace was red, although in the northern parts of the country it was often blue. Of course, there were always exceptions, and many beautiful laces combined the bleached and natural colors of linen with pink, blue, green, and brown silk.

Inspiration for Russian laces came from countries to the east and south of Russia, and some designs of Turkish woven fabrics from the 16th and 17th centuries can be found in many Volgoda laces. The most common design elements in straight laces were the diamond and highly stylized female figures, although multicolored designs of stylized birds such as peacocks and trees, especially the tree of life, appear on very wide straight laces. Basically the same designs appear in tape laces, the tree being represented very often by a single blossom. The tapes were usually linen with ground worked in metallic or colored silk threads.

Several lacemaking centers developed in Russia, the biggest and oldest of which is Volgoda. Other well-known centers were Kirov, Michailovo, and Ryazan, each of which was distinguished for a unique characteristic. Kirov laces, for example, contained designs of flowers and other greenery, while laces produced in Michailovo were extremely colorful and gay and resembled embroidery.

Czechoslovakian lace was equally influenced by trends from both south and west of that country. While eastern Slovakia clearly reflects the influence from Yugoslavia, western Bohemia accepted bobbin lace trends from Belgium and from the nearby Saxony region in Germany. In 1642 in the Bohemian town of Vamberk, a Belgian lacemaker established a bobbin lace center that is still one of the most active lacemaking industries in Czechoslovakia. Bohemian laces were predominantly straight laces made with fine, white linen thread. Although many foreign influences can be found in the laces of Bohemia, this region developed its own unique style. The sequence later reversed itself, and Germany, Tyrol, Moravia, and Slovakia adopted elements of Bohemian lace designs.

Slovakian laces are among the most original in their peasant designs and in their use of colorful threads. These laces, like those of Russia, display a wide range of colors to coordinate with the folk costumes and household linens. The first lacemaking centers in Slovakia were in mining regions like Ban-ska Stiavnica and Kremnica. Later, peddlers carried the laces all through the country, and the agricultural class accepted them as an important part of their culture and started to produce the laces themselves. Each region developed its own characteristic designs; the laces of mining towns were usually white, fine, and precise, since they were made professionally for sale; the laces made by the farmers themselves were more colorful, coarse, and rustic.

Information about lacemaking in Poland does not appear before the 16th century. Some existing examples dating from the 16th and 17th centuries are very simple straight laces with designs of stylized flowers—mostly tulips. The first written facts concerning the production of lace in Poland date from 1777, when a lacemaking center was established in Grodno (now part of the U.S.S.R.) by a lacemaker from Brussels. In the 18th century lacemaking in Poland became very popular, and many beautiful laces were created for local use as well as for export. The lacemaking tradition was not interrupted even in the 19th century, when two lacemaking schools were established, the most important one of which was in the Silesia region. The majority of Polish laces are white, but some color schemes are worked into the ones designed in Slovakia.


It is quite evident that there is a renewed interest in lacemaking today by artists all over the world who wish to explore this intriguing textile technique. Lacemakers now form cooperatives to share ideas, information, sources of material, and outlets for their work. While some schools in Eastern and Western Europe have been offering courses in lacemaking for the last century, other schools all over the world are now expanding their art departments to include this technique.

While in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, lace could usually be identified by unique characteristics of a country or region, today these distinctions are less defined. Instead, lace is becoming recognizable more by personal style than by national style. This is probably due to a number of factors, one of which is an ever-expanding communications system. A lace technique indigenous to a particular region is now accessible to a lacemaker thousands of miles away. Contemporary lacemakers not only have the widest selection of techniques available to them, but they also have an expanded variety of materials with which to experiment. The objects they make range from the tradtional edgings and insertions to entire pieces of clothing and large two and three-dimensional wall hangings.

It is almost impossible to imagine how something so rich and intricate, so open and delicate, and so seemingly complex as bobbin lace can be broken down into a few basic principles that can be mastered quite easily. But it is possible, and in the following chapters you will learn these principles and how they are used to form stitches and combinations of stitches. Once you become familiar with this essential information, you will be able to explore and experiment with bobbin lace and create laces of your own design. Your creations, whether small and humble or large and ambitious, will be your own expressive interpretation of this beautiful textile form.



Lacemaking tools are simple and exquisite works of art in themselves (see Figure 1). In addition they are light and easily transported. In this section you will not only learn about them but you will also learn how to make many of them yourself. If you wish to purchase the tools, you may do so at a minimal cost. The materials you will need are also relatively inexpensive when compared to the worth of the finished lace.


The cylindrical pillow and the flat cookie pillow are by far the most common pillows used by lacemakers in all lands. Nearly all other pillows are variations of these two types and were developed for specialized uses or in specific countries or regions. There are many types and forms of pillows, but I will describe only a few of the more common ones here.

Cylindrical Pillow. Historically, the cylindrical pillow was used in Germany, Russia, and Italy, but now it is used almost universally for making yard goods such as edgings and tapes. It is a cylindrical bag about 6" to 8"/150mm to 205mm in diameter and 10" to 12"/ 255mm to 305mm long, stuffed firmly with a material substantial enough to hold the shape of the pillow and soft enough to be penetrated by pins. Most of these pillows are solid, but some are hollow, resembling a muff (see Figure 2). The cylindrical shape allows the lace to be worked round and round continuous) y—when you have worked your way around the diameter of the pillow, you simply unpin the completed lace and keep going. Figure 3 shows a cylindrical pillow all set up—the hanging bobbins help create the proper tension on the threads.

Most likely, the first problem encountered by lacemakers who used these pillows was the tendency for the pillow to roll. They solved the problem by propping it up against a table leg, a sofa, or some other knee-high object, and lacemakers still do this today.

To bring the cylindrical pillow closer to the eye and to allow the lace to be worked even more comfortably, stands consisting of four wooden legs connected by wooden spindles were made for them (see Figure 4). These wooden legs and spindles usually were and still are made on a lathe. This framework serves as a cradle for the pillow, which when pushed into the stand rests well above the table top. As the lace progresses, you simply lift up the pillow and turn it—the stand allows for a greater flexibility of movement.


Excerpted from Bobbin Lace by BRIGITA FUHRMANN. Copyright © 1976 by Watson-Guptill Publications. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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