What’s Out There: Bobbin Lace

Recently I went to the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival. This year’s theme was lace. We have some amazingly talented lacemakers in the Portland Metro area! There was a beautiful exhibit of various kinds of lace. The main categories of handmade lace are needle lace, bobbin lace and decorated nets. Needle lace is created with needles or shuttles, with one thread. Examples include tatting, crochet or knitted lace. Netted lace is created by applying the pattern to a net ground. Bobbin lace uses many threads held on bobbins and the pattern is created by weaving or twining the many threads in a certain order.

Bobbin lace was first made in the mid-1400s. It evolved from braids and other small trims and became more and more elaborate over time. Belgium is where it is thought to have originated, but there was a close connection to Italy as well.

Bobbins had several functions. They store the thread for the lace, they act as handles to move the thread, and they wieght the threads to keep tension against the pins. The pattern is laid on a pillow and pins hold the threads in place.

Handmade lace was expensive and highly sought after. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the handmade lace industry played an important part in the economies of many European countries. Members of royalty, the aristocracy, and the Catholic Church were the main consumers for fine laces. Men and women competed to display the most exquisite lace on their fashionable clothes—King Charles I of Great Britain, for example, bought 1600 yards of lace to ornament his shirts. Since lace was often as expensive as jewelry, this must have cost literally a king’s ransom!

By 1600, high quality lace was being made in many centers across Europe including Flanders, Spain, France and England. Lace making was a very important part of contributing to the household income. Girls who learned could save money for their own dowry. When married, they could contribute to the household. If they were widowed, they could support themselves and their children. Vermeer’s painting, Lacemaker, shows a common household scene of a girl making bobbin lace. She may have even made her own lace collar.

Images here are just a few examples of some the many beautiful of types of bobbin lace—all made by local women artisans.

If you are interested in making lace, or seeing beautiful examples, the Portland Lace Society Annual Lace Day will be on October 14, 2017. For more information visit the Portland Lace Society

Happy Sewing!
Leigh Wheeler