Inspired by old lace

Punto in aria style Antwerp style On other pages
Semi circles
Semi circles - development
Overlapping semi circles
Step triangles
Fanned triangles
Gold fanned triangles
Small bubbles
More bubbles
Pointy bits
More pointy bits
Tulip flower
Tulip in vase
Le Pompe pattern
Wiggly points
More wiggly points

Semi circles

Punto in aria style

Old portraits often show people wearing lace collars or cuffs. Some of this lace is needlepoint, a style called punto in aria, which means 'stitches in the air'. Needlepoint is a type of lace which is completely different from bobbin lace. The pattern is laid out in threads, which are then embroderied over using a needle to create the lace. Punto in aria was so popular that bobbin lace tried to copy the style. Now, I only do bobbin lace, not needlepoint, and I don't pretend that this design is a genuine old design. But I have looked at some of the old paintings, and this is my attempt to produce a simple design in a similar style. One thing that strikes me about the old lace was that bits stick out to one side, either as pointed bits or, as here, semi-circles. Of course, this is hard to do with bobbin lace, which tends to produce a constant width. You can avoid this if you make motifs and join them together, or make tape lace. But I wanted to see if I could produce a strip of lace to do this. My solution was to have a dense patch of cloth stitch between the semi-circles, to take up the surplus threads.

The pattern is in three parts. The straight edge is twisted footside and a row of Torchon ground. Then there are the flat triangles of cloth stitch. Finally there are the semi-circles, which are made of simple pairs of threads (rather than plaits) which cross using cloth stitch and twist. Since in some places the pairs of threads have quite a distance between pins, there are extra twists, two or three depending on how far.

The straight edge and the triangles have to be worked together, a row of one then a row of the other. This continues until all threads are read to start the semi-circle. The semi-circle has two parts, and inner and an outer, and these have to be worked together as well. The threads are shown by different colours, each line being a pair of threads. The passives are all grey.

11 pairs of bobbins.

Punto in aria style

Semi circles - developed

Punto in aria style 2

This is a development of the previous idea. The Torchon ground area is wider. The closely worked triangles in the previous example have become a trail, similar to Midland lace. This is a closely worked cloth stitch which has a constant width, but actually contains different numbers of threads in it at different points. The maximum number of threads (in the narrowest part of the lace) is 8 passive pairs (plus a worker pair, of course), while the thinnest part, at the centre of the semi-circles, is 2 passive pairs + 1 worker pair. The worker pair in the previous example left the triangles to be some of the 'spokes' in the semi-circle. Here both the 'spokes' pairs are passives in the trail, and the trail has its own worker pair which never leaves it. This makes the whole lace neater.

I haven't marked the individual pairs in the trail. You start with 8 passive pairs. Then one pair leaves to make the outer edge of the semi-circle. Next, another pair leaves to make the next semi-circle in. Then two pairs leave, one to make a semi-circle, and one to make the outer 'spokes'. Lastly, two more pairs leave, the outermost semi-circle (which is tiny) and the inner spokes. That leaves the last 2 passives which always stay in the trail. At this point, work the semi-circles, then bring the pairs back into the trail in the same way, in reverse. While working the trail, you need to keep the Torchon ground in step, as in the previous example, one (to-and-fro) row of trail, then one row of Torchon ground, and so on.

A friend has described this pattern as Ferris wheels behind a fence. I can see what she means!

14 pairs of bobbins.

Punto in aria style 2

Overlapping semi circles

Punto in aria style 3

This isn't really a punto in aria style lace, but while I was doodling patterns, I came up with it and I wanted to see what it looked like. Normally these old laces have some areas sticking out more than others. This is really more of a constant width, but perhaps the 'spokes' of the wheels fool you into thinking that they stick out!

There are grey passives in the headside, with the pale blue 'spokes' zigzaging backwards and forwards to anchor them. The passives in one wheel cross over to create the next, so the outer threads of one become the inner threads of the next. The threads cross over using cloth stitch and twist. At the edges, both outer and inner, there is a cloth stitch and twist, pin, cloth stitch and twist. There are more twists to strengthen the pairs of threads as they have to go further distances, such as the outer edge and the 'spokes' which have two extra twists between the pins.

There is a line of rose ground. The straight edge is rose ground edge. I didn't quite know how to do the other stitches. On the right (which is where I started the lace), I tended to do the extra stitches as cloth stitch and twist, pin, cloth stitch and twist, which is really double Torchon ground. But by the end, the left part, I just did half stitch, pin, half stitch, which is ordinary Torchon ground. However, the angles of the threads means that they end up looking a little like more rose ground. The two techniques don't produce much difference, so you can choose which you prefer!

10 pairs of bobbins.

Punto in aria style 3

Stepped triangles

Punto in aria style 4

The designs above have headsides of semi-circles. Punto in aria lace often use triangle headsides, but this can cause problems in the design. The problem is that while you can get the threads from one triangle headside to another, this tends to leave a gap immediately under the triangle headside. In the first pattern, this is solved by hiding these threads in a thin trail. This pattern solves the problem in a different way. There are threads going parallel to the straight edge of the lace (rather than diagonal) and these are crossed by the threads going into the headside. The 'gap' is filled up with cloth stitch.

The headside is made of simple twisted pairs of threads (rather than plaits). They are twisted four times between pins, to strengthen them as much as possible. There are no picots. Where there are pins round the edge, there are four twists, then the pin is put between the two individual threads, then four more twists. The pairs of threads cross over using cloth stitch and twist.

The cloth triangles are conventional (except they go right to the edge) although they are very big, and need a lot of tightening of threads! Although the threads go into and out of the triangle is rather an odd direction, it doesn't affect the triangle itself. There is Torchon ground in between, although the threads go in rather odd directions! To start with (on the right), I made the threads follow the lines on the pattern, which meant a cloth stitch and twist, pin, cloth stitch and twist at the points. But this made a weakness there, so I changed it to Torchon ground throughout. This looks very similar, but is stronger. You do need to look at the lines on the pattern and follow them, though!

This pattern looks strange. The points of the headside are a definite weakness, as they tend to twist. (I made them shorter on the right, but it didn't help much). The pattern as a whole is rather plain. Still the principle works.

18 pairs of bobbins.

Punto in aria style 4

Fanned triangles

Punto in aria style 5

Here is a different technique to make a triangular headside. Each triangle in the headside needs extra threads going into it at the start, and leaving it at the end. These are taken up in plaits in the main part of the lace.

The plaits are marked in dark blue in the pattern below. Sometimes they cross each other using lazy joins. Sometimes the two pairs of threads making up the plait cross a single pair of threads. I did this with cloth stitch, putting a pin between the two individual threads of the single pair, halfway through. There are single units of rose ground and small spiders to add some interest.

The triangles in the headside are made with single pairs of threads twisted together, and zigzagging to meet other pairs using cloth stitch and twist. The colours show where the threads go. At certain points, the plaits split up into separate pairs of threads going in different directions. At other points, they rejoin to make the next plait. There is a pin at this point, which needs to be put in so the threads can pull against it when going to (or coming from) their different directions.

I must admit that I like this pattern. It definitely is not constant width, and you could extend the idea to make even bigger triangles. I found it quite logical and easy to work, as long as you kept the plaits tightened enough. And I think that the final pattern is attractive.

9 pairs of bobbins.

Punto in aria style 5

Punto in aria style 9

Gold fanned triangles

I made a simpler version of the above pattern (despite it having one more pair of bobbins) to made an edge for the wrists on a dress of mine (see right). The dress was blue and black, so I made the lace with gold thread. The pattern is very similar to the previous one, but there are only spiders, no rose ground. The pattern within the triangles is different, but the pattern shows where the threads should go. Again, the dark blue are plaits while all other lines are single pairs, twisted if necessary. The pale blue threads were twisted four times (as they go quite a distance) while the pink threads and the edge were twisted 3 times. That would depend on the scale of your pattern and how stiff and strong you wanted it of course. The main interest in this is the joins or cross-overs, since sometimes you have plaits crossing (lazy joins), sometimes single pairs crossing (Torchon ground), sometimes single pair crossing plait (cloth stitch pair across the two pairs of the plait, with a pin somewhere in the middle) and sometimes 3 pairs joining or even combining or splitting to make a plait and a pair. You can work out for yourself how to do it! As long as the right number of pairs go in, and the right number leave, and there's a pin somewhere in the middle, it should work.

10 pairs of bobbins.

Punto in aria style 9
Punto in aria style 9

Small bubbles

Punto in aria style 6

Punto in aria lace sometimes have a headside which looks like bubbles. This can be done with needlepoint, but causes troubles with bobbin lace, as you have junctions where there are three pairs of threads either joining or leaving, and this is of course impossible. This pattern tries a way round this. The pale blue parts are plaits of two pairs of threads. These can then split into two single pairs of threads, shown in pink. The pins help to shape the bubbles. The base of the lace is triangular ground, with a stitch or so of Torchon ground to fill the gaps. With all these patterns, there is no footside at the edge.

The bubbles aren't very obvious, but considering that it only uses 6 pairs of bobbins, this does have a distinct pattern!

6 pairs of bobbins.

Punto in aria style 6

More bubbles

Punto in aria style 7
2 layers of bubbles

Here are more bubbles. The threads of the headside leave or join a trail of cloth stitch.

The smaller collection of bubbles is done the same way as the previous example, with pale blue parts as plaits of two pairs of threads. These are then split into two single pairs of threads, shown in pink, which are twisted. They join again at the next junction,and rejoin the trail. See left

The bigger cluster of bubbles is more complicated. It starts with one pair of threads leaving the trail. These are twisted, and kept in place with pins. (I put the pins underneath both threads, rather than between them, this time, to try to avoid pinholes.) At the next point of the trail, two pairs leave. One of these pairs, well twisted, heads upwards to meet the first pair, and forms a plait with them to get to the next junction, where they divide again. One is twisted (a lot!) and shaped with pins, to form the top bubble. The threads divide and join until they get to the trail again. See right - the arrows show the direction of the thread, and the number of arrows whether it is one pair twisted or two pairs plaited.

These look more like bubbles, but I think that I must conclude that if you want bubbles, it would be better to do it in needlepoint!

6 pairs of bobbins.

2 layers of bubbles
Punto in aria style 7

Pointy bits

Wiggly lace pattern

I wanted to make a really pointy headside. It's made by extending the wiggle principle. You turn the pillow to start the pointy bit, work along one side, turn, do one fan at the top, turn again to do the other side, then turn again to go along the base. This does leave a slit along the centre. The pale blue lines show where you work up to, and then have to turn the cushon.

The headsides are Twisted Fan Headsides, mostly small ones along the edge, but a single bigger one at the top. There are cloth diamonds and triangles, and some Torchon ground.

I'm not sure that this is a particularly attractive lace (you may disagree, of course!) but it does show that the principle works..

13 pairs

Wiggly lace photo

More pointy bits

Punto in aria style 8

Another version of pointy bits. There is there is rose ground along the bottom. The pointy bits are just pairs of threads twisted and crossing with Torchon ground stitches. It is worked like the previous one, but the hole is crossed by pairs of threads twisted every now and then. Unfortunately the points twist rather!

10 pairs of bobbins.

Punto in aria style 8

Antwerp lace - Tulip flower

Antwerp style

I tried making some lace based on old Antwerp designs. Here is a simple pattern.

There is Bucks Point Passives and Picots Headside on both sides. The net is Torchon ground but not worked on a grid. The shapes (they are supposed to be tulip flowers!) are worked in cloth stitch, but there aren't conventional workers. Mostly, the worker threads cross the passives, and carry on going until they meet the headside, when they turn round (in a picot) and return to enter the shape again. However, the beginning and the end of the shape are treated in a different way. The worker pair works across the passives, then becomes a passive pair itself, finally returning as workers again at the end of the shape. This shapes the curve at the bottom of the shape. There is no pin to help you, just some passives pulling against these "start and end workers" as they leave the shape. I mark where everything goes on the pattern.

This pattern and the next were worked with flax. It is much like using cotton or polyester, except the thread seems a bit uneven. Thin flax thread can therefore break. Click here for a way to join thread.

10 pairs of bobbins.

Antwerp style

Tulip in vase

Antwerp style - Tulip in vase

This is a more complicated pattern using similar principles.

There is still Bucks Point Passives and Picots Headside on both sides. The net is Kat stitch. There are three different shapes this time (they are supposed to be tulip flowers, vase and leaves). They worked in cloth stitch. I have marked exactly where the workers go (partly to help me design it! But it works to work it too. The workers are twisted in the middle of the leaves. I am not sure whether this is supposed to be the vein in the middle of the leaf, or two separate leaves.

30 pairs of bobbins.

Antwerp style - Tulip in vase

Lace made with hair (Torchon)

Lace made with hair (Torchon)

All right, this one is a real weirdo! I read in a lace book that (occasionally!) lace was made using human hair. This niggled at me - was it possible? My hair is long - not very long, but I managed to find some hairs about a foot long. I picked them out of my hairbrush rather than taking them directly from my head. The pattern was carefully designed. It didn't use many bobbins (there is a limit!) There was no cloth stitch as the workers would require longer hairs which I just didn't have. I was also worried as to whether the hairs would 'catch' on each other, as human hairs are not smooth. Also I was worried that the hairs would break if too much strain was put on them by tightening them if I used complicated stitches. So I did simple half stitch zigzags and Torchon ground (twisting the threads an extra time between the stitches for extra strength). The edges were what I call no footside without passives.

As you can see, I messed up the start. There certainly wasn't enough length of thread to wind two bobbins per hair. So I knotted two hairs together to make a pair, and that tends to make a messy start at the best of times, and I suspect that I must have made a mistake or two. It was also tricky to handle the hairs. I am starting to go grey, which means there were brown and white hairs in the sample. I had to stick to the brown hairs and do all work against a white background to even see what I was doing. The hairs were very thin, and they also tended to curl slightly. They were also tricky to keep wound on the bobbins, as the knots tended to slip. The pattern was too big for the thinness of the 'threads' as well, so it looked very spread out.

Still, once I got going, it was surprisingly easy to work. Nothing broke. I managed three zigzags before I ran out of 'thread'. (I suspect that I could have knotted more hairs on if I wanted, but enough is enough.) Not a very beautiful bit of lace, but I've done it, and I could probably do better next time, but I don't intend too! The principle works. I hope this whole idea doesn't freak people out too much, but as my husband says, it's no worse than working with threads from a silkworm's bottom.

8 pairs of bobbins

Lace made with hair (Torchon)

Lace made with hair (Midland)

Lace made with hair (Midland)

Having said that I wouldn't do any more hair lace, I changed my mind. The problems with the previous piece was that the hair is so thin. So I thought I'd see if a Midland pattern using plaited threads would be better.

This time, I knotted two hairs together for each thread using a slip knot. I knotted all hairs in an overhand knot at the start. (I also dropped half the bobbins on the floor at one point, and they all promptly unwound and got tangled - an hour's work with a magnifying glass followed. I do not recommend this!)

The pattern is simply plaits and lazy joins. I thought that trying picots would be a step too far! So I just put a pin between the two pairs at the points on the edge. Some of these pinholes are visible. I wonder if this was where the idea of picots came from.

The main problem with working it was that I couldn't really tighten the threads much. I managed to break one thread, and after that I was a lot more careful. That means a lot of loops left. The finished lace is more robust, but it still can't really be described as attractive. Still, this whole exercise is more a challenge than actually worrying what the end result looks like!

8 pairs of bobbins

Lace made with hair (Midland)

Transparent lace

Transparent lace

Another slight weirdo. While buying some threads, I saw some 'invisible' thread, and wondered what invisible lace would look like. This is not inspired by old lace! But it seemed to go with the previous hair lace, as it is lace made with a rather strange material!

There is a twisted fan headside. The diamonds are half cloth stitch and half stitch. Then there is rose ground and spiders with a little Torchon ground to fill in holes, and a twisted footside.

This was easier to work than I thought. The thread is a little stiff and there was a loop or two that I didn't manage to pull through (because I couldn't see it!) Making a mistake and having to undo some lace is also a bit of a problem. The end result is remarkably stiff and I admit that it doesn't look as pretty as 'proper' lace, but it does work! It is, of course, not invisible at all, as the light catches it, but it is transparent, and looks different against different coloured backgrounds.

16 pairs of bobbins

Transparent lace

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© Jo Edkins 2009