Crafty Manolo » Getting Started Tossing Bobbins

Getting Started Tossing Bobbins

By Twistie


This is a fully dressed lace pillow. Looks scary, huh? All those bobbins that all look different. All those pins. All that… stuff.

When you get right down to it, though, bobbin lace is not a difficult craft to pick up. While there are challenges to last a lifetime and dozens of different styles to master, at any given moment, bobbin lace boils down to just a couple different moves using no more than four threads at a time. As for the bobbins, they’re just thread holders with handles so that you can manipulate the threads without touching them. It doesn’t matter in the work whether they all match perfectly or look quite different. Just don’t mix Midlands and Continental bobbins.

Frankly, if you can tell your right from your left and have basic manual dexterity, you can learn to make bobbin lace. There’s plenty of fine-tuning, of course, but given that children as young as six used to be professional bobbin lacemakers all over Europe, you start to realize that the essentials aren’t exactly rocket science.

But where do you learn how to do it? And where do you get the basic tools?

This is a basic bobbin lace kit from The Lacemaker. It’s much the same as the kit I started off with. In fact, I got my original kit from this very company more than twenty years ago. It includes 24 Midlands style bobbins, brass wire and beads to make your own spangles, steel pins, a 16″ ethofoam cookie style pillow, pricking card to make your patterns, clear adhesive film to protect your thread from ink on the card, a small pricker for making the holes in your pattern, cotton thread, and a basic book, Lessons in Bobbin Lace. $95.00 gets you the whole shooting match. You can also get a version with Continental bobbins, or one with a different beginner’s book.

How does it hold up? Well, I’ve still got my original bobbins and my ethofoam cookie pillow is still going strong. In fact, I made three motifs on it just last week. The self-healing foam has survived dozens of demonstrations, trips across the state and across the country, and quite a few drops over the years. In short, if you’re thinking of trying your hand at bobbin lace, this is just the sort of kit I would recommend.

On the other end of the scale, I have to mention one kit that I don’t think is a very good place to start, despite the bargain price.

This is the Lacis beginning bobbin lace kit. The ‘pillow’ is a pressed board oval on a stand of the same material. The bobbins are nearly twice the size of any other bobbin I’ve ever seen (meaning you’re going to have to choose between using them exclusively or replacing perfectly good bobbins virtually immediately), and it comes with a couple of patterns rather than a book filled with techniques and graduated lessons. It’s only $44.00, but I’ve known several beginners who gave up on bobbin lace based on their experiences with this kit. It can work, certainly. I just feel there are much better kits on the market. The company also has many excellent products. I just can’t in good conscience recommend this one. Why? Because lacemaking equipment can get expensive, but it’s less expensive in the long run to get the best you can right out of the gate.

If you’re still wondering if bobbin lace is the craft for you, there are dozens of instructional videos on YouTube that might help you out. From this one on the basics of the basic stitches, to this one which gets through less stitches, but shows some very good tips, to this video that isn’t very good for instruction but is full of  inspirational images showing you what bobbin lace can be once you get the basics under your belt.

Me? I can’t imagine not making lace now. It’s a part of my identity. It’s one of my favorite things to do. Your mileage may vary… but then again, it may not by much.

4 Responses to “Getting Started Tossing Bobbins”

  1. Impkitti Says:

    When I started out, I was fortunate to meet someone who loaned me good equipment while I put together my kit. She insisted that I purchase decent equipment and 30 years later, I am still using most of it.

    I agree that the second “kit” puts more people off than it encourages.

    I miss having The Lacemaker just across the water from me. I took my BF on a farewell visit when they were getting ready to move. I also like Snowgoose and Van Scriver for online ordering.

  2. Twistie Says:

    When Mr. Twistie and I were on our honeymoon, driving up from California to Canada, we took a day in Seattle and I visited The Lacemaker while he went and checked out a legendary record store he’d always wanted to see. We both had a fabulous day.

    I’ve also had great luck with both Van Sciver and Snowgoose. In fact, when I ordered the thread to make eleven yards of lace for my wedding gown, Holly Van Sciver gave me a 10% discount since I was getting so much thread at once. That’s good service!

    I know some other good sources that I’ll probably discuss at a later date.

  3. Orora Says:

    I’ve wanted to learn bobbin lace for awhile. There’s a folk art festival every summer in my area and they always teach it. 2011 is my year. I know enough about myself to know that if I buy a kit it’ll just sit in my craft supplies without being used, but if I take a class, I’ll at least learn enough to finish the project I started.

  4. Twistie Says:

    @Orora: Isn’t self-awareness a great thing? It does help you choose the right path. Be sure to let us know how it goes. I’ll be crossing my fingers for another happy bobbin tosser!

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