Lace Corners and Mats

Since you need so many bobbins to produce quite a thin piece of lace, bobbin lace tends to be long thin strips. In the past, for cheap lace, this was how it was made and sold. If you wanted to edge a handkerchief, for example, you simply gathered the lace at a point so the edge of the lace could go round the corner. Nowadays, people prefer to construct lace corners as part of the pattern. You may have a lace pattern with a corner already and not know how to work it, or you may wish to design your own corner from an edge pattern. This page covers both.

Working a corner
Designing a corner
Mats
Finishing an edge or mat
Rectangular or oblong mat

Working a corner

Lace corner pattern

If you already have a lace corner pattern, it will look something like the pattern on the left if perhaps less colourful! (I always like to colour my patterns so I can see what I'm doing.) The first thing you need to do is to work out where the corner line is. This is a line from the inside of the corner to the outside. You can even draw it on the pattern (see right).

Once you starting working the lace, you must use a pillow which you can get at any side, such as a 'cookie' pillow. You won't be able to use a pillow with a roller. Pin the pattern in the middle, and start working the lace from the top in the usual way.

Lace corner pattern
Lace corner pattern

Carry on working the lace until you get down to the corner line (the blue line), but do NOT work over it. This means that you will end up with a bottom diagonal line of worked lace, with the bobbins hanging downwards as usual. See left. The already worked lace and the hanging threads are shown in grey.

Now to turn the corner. Turn your pillow round so the bobbins and thread now lie over the unworked pattern. This is a clockwise turn and means that the already worked piece goes off to the right (if you have the footside on the right, as most English lacemakers prefer). It should now look like the picture on the right. You'll need to move the bobbins carefully so they hand downwards in the new direction. Now just carry on working the lace! You will find that the outside bobbins have to do much more work than the inner ones. Certain threads have to be considered as well. In this patter, two pairs of bobbins come out of the top corner fan, and need to do something before entering the bottom corner fan. You could plait them, perhaps.

Lace corner pattern
Mat This photo shows an edging in the process of being worked. You can see the start is in the middle of a side. The pillow has already been turned twice, to go round two corners, and now the bobbins are working down the third side. Most of the pins are just behind where the current working is, but a few pins are holding the rest of the lace in place, so when you come to the end, it matches up to the beginning. You can't see the pins holding the start in place, as they have been pushed in up to their heads, to stop the pins catching om bobbin threads later. I suspect that I have also left a pin or so at the corners and edge, to keep the shape. These are not really necessary.

Making a Lace corner pattern

Designing a corner

What happens if your pattern doesn't have a corner? Let us assume that you are starting with the pattern on the left. You want to make it into a corner.

First, you must find the corner line. This is not as easy as with an existing corner, as there are several places that you can draw the line. You must find the one you like best. However, there is a rule - you must NOT cross any lace design except simple ground. Also you must get the line sloping the right way. You want the footside on the inside of the corner, and the headside on the outside, so the line must slope to give you less footside and more headside. You can see on the right that there is really only one place in this pattern where you can draw the line, and even then it clips a headside fan.

Making a Lace corner pattern
Making a Lace corner pattern

Now get rid of all the pattern that is below the corner line (see left). Mirror the pattern above the line to continue below the line, but of course, twist it through a right angle (see right). This is almost exactly like the pattern above, but you will see a pair of threads right at the edge of the corner, apparently heading off for nowhere. These are the threads that I suggested you plaited with the other pair.

You have now ended up with the corner design that we saw above, but you have constructed it yourself.

Lace corner pattern

The reason why you cannot have any stitch but simple ground crossing the line is that the threads crossing the line change direction. They start going from left to right diagonally, but after you turn the pillow, they are going from right to left diagonally. For simple ground, you don't mind. As long as you have two pairs of threads at right angles, you can work them. But spiders and diamonds and fans have a very definite sense of direction, and so get confused. You can have spiders and diamonds and fans lying right next to the corner line, but they must not cross one.

Making a Lace corner pattern

If you find nowhere to draw the line at all, then draw it between two headside designs, and continue it through the rest of the pattern, even if it goes over a spider of a diamond. Then replace the mutilated spider or diamond with some simple ground stitches. If you like, you can make the diamond smaller, so it comes up to the line, but not over. You can't even do that with a spider! Here are two attempts to make a corner of the left-hand pattern, putting the corner line in different places, and filling with ground stitches as necessary. No, you really cannot continue that diagonal across the corner, however much you want to! The worker pair goes in entirely a different direction once you've turned the corner, and it just won't work.

Lace corner pattern Lace corner pattern

It is possible to have a corner through rose ground, but you need to have the corner line go between the rose ground squares, not through one. See the diamond mats designs for a further discussion of this. It would also be possible to do the same trick with triangular ground, although the triangles would end up pointing in different ways either side of the corner line. Any of the simple grounds will work in corners.


Mats

Small mat with fans photo

The designs above are edging with corners. You would use it to trim a handkerchief, or rather, you would fill the inside hole of the lace with material in order to make a trimmed handkerchief, or perhaps a mat or even something bigger (if you have the patience!) However, using this technique, it is possible to make a mat which is ALL lace. Here, instead of an edging which ends in a diagonal and then is turned to go in a different direction, you have a pattern which is a triangle, repeated four times to make a square. See right, with the corner lines marked in red. You work it in the same way as above. See the small mat for a description of how to work this pattern.

When working each triangle, you will start at the top point, at the edge. Work downwards, as you would for any piece of lace. Don't work over the corner line until you have finished the whole of the triangle. You will find that the bobbins in the middle of the mat may only do a few stitches! You will end up at the bottom corner of the triangle, again near the edge, which is where the start of the next triangle will be.

Small mat with fans pattern
Big mat

You can make bigger mats by making them a bit at a time. The mat on the left was made in two parts. Since they were designed to fit together exactly, the two pieces can be sewn together afterwards. The red line shows where the join happens. Click here for a description of how to make this mat.

You can join the edging to the centre of the lace (or one edging to another) while you are working the second piece, but it requires the first piece to be left on the pillow while doing the second. Leave all pins in the first piece along the edge to be joined (and possibly the next row as well). Push all pins in right up to their heads so they don't catch on future threads from bobbins. Click here for an explanation of the relevant stitch. It needs a crochet hook.

You can make another edging to go round the edge of that as well, if you want, and so end up with a mat as large as you want, as long as you have a big enough pillow, and enough patience! If you look at old bobbin lace mats, you can see that they used this technique, and where they sewed it. (Sometimes the sewing comes undone!)

Spiral mat photo Hexagonal mat photo
You can even make a mat as a spiral, starting at the centre, and then gradually working outwards, joining the lace that you are working on to the previous edge that you've worked. Click here for an example of this. You can make hexagonal mats as well. These will need to be designed using a hexagonal grid. You will have to turn the pillow six times, rather than four, but the technique is very similar. This mat is described here.

Finishing an edge or mat

Finishing an edge

Normally when you finish lace, you simply knot each pair of threads (click here for a description.) But a mat or continuous edge is finished in a different way.

When you start a mat or continuous edge, you will have a row of starting pins. Usually these pins get removed after a bit, while working down the lace and removing pins to use later. But for a mat you should leave the first two rows of starting pins. Push them into the pillow up to their heads. You do this to stop the threads catching on these pins as you turn the pillow to work the different sides of the mat or edge. You can remove the rest of the pins as normal.

When you have finished working the entire mat, the last bit should line up with the first bit. If you look at the pattern on the left, imagine that the green part is where you started the lace edging, and the pink bit is where you are finishing it. You should see that every pair of threads you have at the finish should match with a loop round a starting pin which leads onto a starting pair of threads. There are arrows pointing to a finishing pair and starting pair which match. Now, gently lever up the starting pin, which will allow you to access the starting loop. Unwind the pair of bobbins and cut off the excess thread if necessary, but leave a good bit to do the tying. Take one of the threads, thread it through a needle, and using this, get through the starting loop. This can be a little tricky. If you can't find the starting loop, then some of the pattern at the start (not the bit of pattern that you've just worked!) will do, but the correct starting loop is best. You may find it easier to remove some of the pins from the lace you've just been working, if they get in the way, but don't take too many out, or when you pull the threads while tying the knot, you will pull the lace out of shape. Once you have pulled this thread through, it's a good idea to put the starter pin back again, as this will give you some support when you are tying the knot. You left two rows of starter pins, and the second row helps as well.

Now you can tie this thread to the other thread of the pair. This means that hey are caught in the starting loop, which joins the end part of the lace to the starting part. It's probably better to do a reef knot rather than an overhand knot, as reef knot ends lie across the lace and seem to fade into the normal lace pattern. (Click here for more on these knots.) It never looks perfect, but it's surprising what a non-lacemaker doesn't notice! See if you can spot the joins in the mats below. It's easier to see when the start/finish line is in the middle of ground, but harder when the start point runs along the edge of a solid area.

Mat finishing Mat finishing


Rectangular or oblong mat

Making a bobbin lace oblong mat

The mats above were square (or possibly hexagonal). A rectangular or oblong mat needs a different technique.

There are two ways of doing this. Both ways require you to spot the corner lines. These are lines from the corner, at 45° to the centre. They are used in both ways. Here, to the left, the lines are red or purple. The lines are not part of the pattern. They will tend to be between two lines of stitches in the pattern.

Start at the red line. Put in the starting pins, and hang enough pairs to work half of the lace, downwards. Work the first part dowards, as shown by the first arrow. The left side will be a headside. The right side, shown by the green line, is neither a footside or even a stitch. Put the pins in, twist the edge pair twice, loop them round the pin and back into the pattern.

Turn the pillow, and work the second part, then again to work the third part. (It looks as if you're working upwards at this point, but of course all the pillow turning means the lace is still being worked downwards.) The third part has the other side of the green line, and you will need to join this to the first part of the lace using a crochet hook - see Linking two pieces of lace.

Now work the fourth part, and you end back at the red line. Join finish to start as described above.

The advantage of this method is that it uses less bobbins than the second method (below). The disadvantage is that linking the lace in the middle is not as neat.


Making a bobbin lace oblong mat

The second method still needs the corner lines noted. Here they are red, purple and pink.

The starting pins are put in, but you need twice as many bobbins. For each pair hanging downwards, there must be another pair going to the right, hanging from the same pin. Make sure these two pairs are twisted round each other, or they will spring apart once you take the starting pins out! (Or, if you're careful, you can have one bobbin from each pair hanging downwards, and the other going sideways, so there is no join at all, just continuous threads.)

Turn the pillow so the rightwards threads hang downwards, and work the part part (shown by the first arrow). You will only be using half the threads.

Turn the pillow back again, and now work the entire width of the lace, from left headside to right headside, bringing all bobbins into the working. This is shown by the two downwards arrows. Half the bobbins will end up by the pink line. They do no more work.

Turn the pillow, and work the third part, with the other half of the bobbins, until they get to the pink line as well. Join these two groups of bobbins by tying the threads together. I suggest using a reef (square) knot.

The advantage of this method is that the middle is much neater. The disadvantage is that it uses twice as many bobbins.


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© Jo Edkins 2006