Let’s talk bobbins

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Whenever I attend a lace meeting or workshop I walk around and admire everyone’s pillows and bobbins – it is a source of endless fascination for me.  But when I started making bobbin lace I was overwhelmed by the variety of bobbins available and agonised for the longest time about what type of bobbins I should be using.

I spent many hours on the internet looking at the wide variety of beautiful bobbins for sale all over the world.  Many countries have their own style of lace bobbins, and this made the choice even harder for me.

Bobbins come in all shapes and sizes.  They vary greatly in price – from simple, mass-produced wooden or plastic bobbins, to beautiful hand-turned and painted bone or wooden bobbins that are collectors’ items in their own right.  There are also some beautiful glass, aluminium and silver bobbins, and bobbins with pewter inlays.

Continental bobbins

Bobbins are often decorated/painted/inscribed to commemorate a particular event or to reflect a lacemaker’s personal or family history (eg, births, deaths, marriages).  Bobbins may also be inscribed to celebrate a local, national or international event (eg, the OIDFA congress, the AGM of the New Zealand Lace Society, the birth of Prince George).

Commemorative bobbins for the New Zealand Lace Society’s AGM in New Plymouth in 2014

Initially, I bought some Midlands bobbins.  These bobbins are weighted with a ring of beads (called spangles).  The spangles provide weight to the bobbin and this keeps the thread taut to ensure an even tension.  The spangles also prevent the bobbins from rolling around on the pillow.

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Midlands bobbins.  These were the first bobbins I ever bought and spangled.  They are a great inexpensive option.

It is great fun to spangle bobbins and it provides an excellent opportunity for lacemakers to showcase their personality and to personalise their bobbins.   Spangling is typically done with beads, but if you are feeling adventurous you can also add some shells, coins or decorative figurines – whatever takes your fancy.

I love the look of Midlands bobbins and enjoy working with them when I am working a pattern that doesn’t require many bobbins.  But I have found that the spangles tend to take up quite a lot of room, and can be fiddly when you are working with very fine thread and need to do a lot of sewings.

When I make lace that require a lot of bobbins (say, 30 or more), I prefer to use continental bobbins rather than Midlands bobbins.  Continental bobbins are not spangled.  The weight is provided by the thicker handle of the bobbin.

Initially, I found it quite tricky to work with continental bobbins that have a round handle as they tended to roll around on my lace pillow.  But I soon discovered that the problem can largely be prevented if you use a flat block pillow.

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Continental bobbins

About a year after I started making lace I discovered continental bobbins with a square handle that don’t roll around on your pillow at all.  These have become my absolute favourite.  They are very plain, but I absolutely love working with them!

My favourite lace bobbins – the square handle prevents rolling on the pillow

I have come to realise that with bobbin selection, it ultimately comes down to personal preference.  Don’t feel obliged to use a particular type of bobbin – choose the type that you feel most comfortable working with.

Handy tip for beginners:

Not sure whether lacemaking is for you?  Don’t rush out to go and buy bobbins.  There are some really interesting websites with instructions on how to make inexpensive bobbins – using bamboo skewers and wrapping paperpaperdowel and pony beads, and dowel and paper.

3 thoughts

  1. Bobbins are beautiful aren’t they? I started out with spangles, but couldn’t imagine using them now. They get tangled and take up so much space! My binche bobbins are my favorites these days.

  2. I think using ‘real’ bobbins from the beginning is a good choice. You don’t need many, but those bobbins have been proven to be useful to real lacemakers. I don’t know any ‘real’ lacemakers who use homemade bobbins. If nothing else, take a class where they loan or rent the equipment. This can be the cheapest way to find out if you like to make bobbin lace enough to buy equipment. If renting, you can expect a deposit, but you get that back.

    1. When I started making lace, one of the ladies of Bridge Lacemakers allowed me to borrow enough bobbins to make a Torchon bookmark – what a great opportunity to “try before you buy”! About ten days later another lacemaker sent me a parcel with twenty bobbins, some spangling wire and beads in the mail to get me started. Their kindness changed my life and allowed me to discover the joy of making bobbin lace.

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