Strange materials

Lace can be made of any thread which is thin enough, strong enough and doesn't stretch. Nowadays we mostly use cotton or even polyester thread. Personally I love those bargain boxes where you can buy several reels of polyester thread for about 1 each, when the reels hold 1000 metres (or a kilometre!) Modern lacemakers can also have a weakness for coloured thread, or even sparkly thread.

In the past, they used silk or flax, and the colours were white or cream, or sometimes black. Right at the start, they even used gold or silver thread, showing that an eye for sparkly thread is not just a modern idea. Apparently they even made lace of human hair, and once I read that, I couldn't resist trying it. I have also tried a modern material - transparent plastic 'invisible' thread.

Most of the patterns on my site use polyester or cotton thread, and there is quite a bit of colour used. I have also used sparkly thread, mostly on my Christmas designs. I have used flax and silk.

Strange materials
On other pages
Lace made with hair (Torchon)
Lace made with hair (Midland)
Transparent lace
Golden stars
Christmas patterns (sparkly thread, sequins, beads)
Antwerp style patterns (flax)
Fan (thread dyed with woad)
Golden Celtic knot cross

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! See below for what it looks like if worked in a more convention thread.

8 pairs of bobbins

Lace made with hair (Midland)

Braided lace


Transparent lace

Transparent lace

Another slight weirdo. While buying some threads, I saw some 'invisible' thread, and wondered what invisible lace would look like.

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

I have used this invisible thread in another piece of lace here. It is the background to a snowflake. The principle is that the snowflake is worked in silver thread, and the background in invisible thread, allowing the snowflake to show up better.


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© Jo Edkins 2009