Designing Lace

You can find some patterns for lace on this website. You can also buy books about lace which give patterns. However, if you learn to design your own patterns then you will never run out of new designs!

Making pattern for existing lace
Developing existing lace to make a new pattern
Making a new design
Blank grids
Interactive lace designer


Making pattern for existing lace

If you want to design lace, first you must follow other people's patterns until you know how lace works. You will also learn the type of lace that you prefer.

A good way to start is to make up a pattern for an existing piece of lace. Perhaps you have bought the lace, or made it yourself but lost the original pattern. Choose the appropriate grid, and size. See how long several stitches of the lace take, and compare it to the print version of the correct grid type (don't compare it against the screen as this may be different).

Torchon lace

Now you must start drawing out the pattern. I'm using the lace on the left as an example. The best place to start is the footside, since this is just a straight line through holes. If you want, you can also draw the passive of the footside (see right).

Torchon lace

For this pattern, the next part is to draw out the triangles of Torchon ground. Usually these aren't drawn explicitly, but it can help drawing in the lines to see what you're doing. There are 7 stitches from one downwards point of the half stitch zig-zags to the next. From these, the lines go up diagonally to a point. Note that the outer line of this triangle is part of the zig-zag rather than the Torchon ground.

Torchon lace
Torchon lace

Start on the zig-zags. There are 6 stitches of ground going into each edge of the zig-zag. Inside the zig-zag, 4 stitches are needed to make the rose ground and spiders, which means that the zig-zag must be 2 stitches wide (see left).

Now draw in the rest of the zig-zags (see right). You'll need to keep counting and checking to make sure that the pattern matches the lace. I recommend a using a soft pencil and a good eraser for the inevitable mistakes! When drawing this design, I made the zig-zag too wide, and had to redraw it.

Torchon lace
Torchon lace

Mark the rose ground and spiders in the centre of the zig-zags. You don't need to use different colours, of course. I have used them to show the different parts of the pattern. When drawing the spider, remember that the centre hole is half way between each corner of the diamond. For this size of spider, with 4 pairs of threads coming in each side, (and for spiders with two pairs of threads on each side) you will find that the centre hole is not one of those in the original grid, but rather half way between four of them. Mark it in by eye, and ignore all the other holes. Since I am doing this on the computer, I can rub the holes out.

Now for the headside, which is a half stitch fan. First mark the bottom of the fan (which is not the same as the top edge of the zig-zag). I have marked all the threads going into it, but there is no need if you don't wish to. The top edge of the fan doesn't follow the holes in the grid. There are two ways of doing it. One is to visualise the curve of the fan, and draw it in free-hand. The other (which I have used) is to draw the top of the fan as a straight line, then join it with two more straight lines to the corners. This gives a slightly angular look to the fan, but you may prefer it if you don't trust your ability to draw nice curves! You will also need to put the holes in. You need as many of them on the top edge of the fan as on the bottom. I have drawn them in line with the bottom holes, but if you prefer, you can space them out slightly differently. You must make sure that you have the right number, though, or you won't be able to work the lace!

Torchon lace
Torchon lace

This is the finished design, and you can prick it and work it as if you had been given the pattern. The details of how you draw it out are up to you. You can include more or less information as you wish. On the left you can see the pattern of holes produced by the pricking which is the only essential part of the pattern, but it's hard to know what's going on. I prefer to use colour and even draw in the net and linking stitches as I've done above to stop getting lost when I work the lace.

Sometimes, you will find that somehow your design is not the same as the original when you come to work it. See my wavy pattern for an example of how lace can change with different proportions. Sometimes, you may even find that you have drawn something that is impossible to work! This is part of the fun in drawing up your own patterns. You learn more about the lace you work, and how it fits together.


Developing existing lace to make a new pattern

The next step is to start criticising the lace you're working from. In the above example, I don't like the half-stitch fan, which seems loose. Wouldn't a smart cloth stitch fan of some sort be better? This can be done with the same pricking pattern. Or a twisted fan? This will just need a double line of extra holes in the middle of the fan. Perhaps you could change where the spiders and rose ground go, or make the half-stitch diagonals into cloth stitch. Several of the patterns on this website started with a piece of lace that I tried to improve, such as the wavy lace patterns and the diamond mats.


Making a new design

To design a piece from scratch, you need to construct the whole thing. Start with the edges. Are you going to make an insertion, with two footsides? Are you going to have a headside, or even a headside on both sides? What will go in between? My heart patterns start with two footsides, with hearts in between, and just fills up the gaps with Torchon ground. The pattern is extremely simple! But you still need to think about how the hearts are positioned. Do they touch? Do they touch the footsides? Having designed a pattern, work it, and look critically at the result. Do you like it? Does it look too cramped or too spaced out? I recommend not making very complicated pieces to start with. It can be annoying to spend time making lace only to be disappointed with the end product. If you design lace, you will definitely get some of those! On the other hand, it is exciting to watch the first inch or so appear when you start to take the pins out, and then finally you spread the finished lace on a good contrasting background and admire it. No-one has seen this pattern before (as far as you know). It's all yours!

Certain design principles will make themselves rapidly known. You may try to put one stitch against another, and then find that they look too similar in the finished lace. Rose ground doesn't look good next to Torchon ground, as they are too similar. Spiders in Torchon ground can disappear as well. So these need to be outlined in solid cloth stitch or half stitch, which is why zig-zags are so popular in Torchon lace. Bucks Point lace gets round this problem with gimps. You also need to think about the threads going into each part of the pattern, and coming out again. There may just not be room to squeeze in a rose ground there.

I've mentioned adapting existing patterns or designs from lace you have. But you can also just pick up a single idea, like the Downton hearts and see what you can do with it. If you are fond of one stitch, such as rose ground, then you can put lots in your own lace. If you really dislike the way that half stitch muddles up all those nice pairs of bobbins, then you don't have to have half stitch.

If you want to be a purist, then you need to study a particular type of lace carefully, possibly buying a book on that lace type, making up lots of examples to understand the technique before trying to design your own. However, if you wish, you can combine different techniques from different lace types to make your own original style. If you like a headside from one type of lace and a ground from another, then why not use them?


Blank grids

To design lace, you need to start with a blank grid. To help you, click here for a choice of grids of different sizes and styles, which you can print off.


Interactive lace designer

You may feel that you'd like design some lace, but not know where to begin. Worry not! Try my interactive lace designer (strip) to make your own Torchon design. Click on a shape, then where you want it on the grid. Make sure you have a headside or a second footside. Fill any spare dots with ground, and there you go!

There is also an interactive designer for lace corners.


Return to Index

© Jo Edkins 2002