Sunday, 25 November 2012

Bobbin Lace

I have had a minor hankering to learn how to do bobbin lace for many years.  Quite clearly a very minor hankering since until yesterday I didn't even try.    I was reading a book about using textile techniques in jewellery, and it had a section on making bobbin lace using silver wire to produce a flower for a ring.

I have used silver wire before.  I used a technique called, I think, Viking knitting, to make the bodies for dragonflies, and used vanishing fabric and thread to make the wings.  The silver wire is lovely stuff, supple and doesn't snap, but quite expensive with current metal prices.

I decided to start on a larger scale, and set out a fabric covered piece of Styrofoam - covered with some fluorescent tennis ball fabric I got at the Scrapstore.  I drew out the beginnings of the pattern, and set to, working with some yellow florists wire.  I thought this would be easy to handle as it stays where it is put.  I tried to follow the instructions, but they were very - move 3 over 2, cross 1 over 3....the type of instructions that don't give you any understanding of what you are trying to achieve and require a total attention to detail.   I found my attention slipping after about two moves....

After this it seemed sensible to try to understand the principles of bobbin lace, so I spent an amusing hour on the Internet watching videos.  Many bobbin lace videos are in Italian or Greek, but I found a few in English.  It was amusing to see how some people just sit down and chat to their camera, seemingly without any planning, but I found some competent bits of tutorial.

Bobbin lace is just weaving without a loom.  They always talk about two of the bobbins being the working bobbins.  What these are is the two that in effect shuttle back and forth across the piece, weaving in and out of the other threads.  You start with threads twice as long as the others.  There are two moves:  the cross, which is a thread on the left passed over the one on the right, and a twist, the thread on the right lifted over the one on the left.  I tried to think my way through this and felt that I was ending up with an unwoven bunch of thread, so tried it with four cords, a coloured and a plain cord folded in half.  In effect, done correctly, this gives you a braid.   I had a friend when I was a kid at school in India who braided her lustrous black hair with four strands rather than three - it always seemed mysterious and beautiful, and I should have got her to show me how she did it.  I don't think this is the same pattern, but if you think of bobbin lace as a form of braiding it feels less daunting.

So how does this braid get turned into lace?  Pins.  Pins are very important as they allow you to structure the material as you produce it, so that voids are made and retained.  In the simple repeated lace, which they call cloth stitch, the whole fabric is produced by repeating a cross, twist, cross pattern, with a pin holding the edge so the material doesn't just bunch up like a rope.   Everything else seems to be a variation of this, with changes in which threads you use, how many repeats before pinning etc.  I cannot claim that I have cracked the techniques of bobbin lace, but at least I feel I have got to the point where I could start. I went back to my yellow florists wire and rapidly wound my way to the bottom of the thread...not needing pins as the wire held its shape adequately for the practice session.

So what will I do with this new found expertise?  I have a plan to make a large piece using wire.  I bought a plank (how strange not to be able to just wander out to the barn and get a bit of wood!) and bleached it.  I washed it first in the bathtub, and then scrubbed it with bleach, leaving it to work for a few hours until I got the lightening effect I wanted.  I intend to make some simple lace down the centre of this plank, using eye screws rather than pins.  I wondered about using my stained glass leading nails as they have an amusing angular shape, but these little screw threaded, loop headed  devices will do better.  I can can then attach other things to the loops as I want to.

more later....