Back to Lace-Making

June 27, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Posted in Lace | 3 Comments

As an expected and very welcome side effect of my vacation exploits looking at lace in Belgium I’ve been back at my lace pillow that had sat unloved in a corner for several years.

Having found over time that I have no use for lace doilies, and keeping the art stuff to quiltmaking mostly, what do you do? Quite a while ago I decided to just make lengths of lace, just like the ones that would have been used for decorating all kinds of things back when machine lace wasn’t invented. I’ve used some of those strips in my lace quilt (there’s one at number 10 in this post), and there was another one on the pillow, which I finished fairly quickly, because I needed the pillow for a new project:

Bobbin Lace Strip Bobbin Lace Strip - Detail

It’s not quite one meter long (which is usually my goal for these strips), and I wanted to practice working with a single thicker thread as accent here.

So, that being out of the way, what’s the new project? Looking through the lace books available in my library’s catalogue, I found a little gem of a book about Flanders lace. It is the German version of Vlaanderse Kant by J.E.H. Rombach-de Kievid. Looking at the internet, this book doesn’t seem to have been translated into English.

This image from the wikipedia article shows pretty much exactly the pattern that’s currently on my pillow:

Flanders-bean” by Poljo – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Another interesting thing I noticed travelling was just how unusual the lace-making setup I grew up with seems to be. I learnt making bobbin lace in the Erzgebirge region, and everybody there had cylindrical pillows mostly suited to making strips of lace. This is how mine looks like:


In Belgium and England I exclusively saw flat pillows, and smaller bobbins where the thread is wound at the front part. My bobbins have the thread at the back, protected by that dark brown sleeve that slides over the bobbin. There was a cylindrical pillow just like mine shown in the entry area of the Kantcentrum in Brugge, and when I asked the lady there about it she said she believes it came from Spain. Interesting. Off to practice some more Flanders lace!

Kantcentrum Brugge – Belgium’s Center for Bobbin Lace

June 6, 2015 at 5:57 pm | Posted in Lace, Museums and Exhibitions | 3 Comments

Brugge was one of the places on my must-see list in Belgium. It is one of those pretty old towns with lots of old houses and lots of water that I was to find several times during my week of traveling around.


Of course that also means the town is full of tourists and souvenir shops, but that’s to be expected. After a while I was taking care not to look into the windows of the souvenir shops, since the displays made me cringe. The lace that’s displayed as “handmade in Belgium” can’t possibly be both, given the prices listed. It has to be either machine-made or imported from somewhere where handwork isn’t as expensive. I wonder how many Asian tourists take home a piece of “Belgian Lace” that’s made the trip the other way round not long ago.

But I was here to see the real thing, after all. The Kantcentrum is located a bit off the beaten track in an unassuming building, so you’re not likely to stumble over it by accident.


The poster advertising lace-making demonstrations is one of the few things you can see from outside. Inside, there’s a nice little museum with old lace as well as new and lots of information packed into a small space. While buying my ticket, I was also instructed to go upstairs to see the demonstration when I was finished with the exhibition. To my big surprise, there wasn’t just one or two ladies sitting there with their lace pillows, but a whole room full! There must have been something like 15 to 20 women there. It seems like the courses they give double as the demonstrations for the visitors. I was able to see different lace pieces in various states of completion – great eye candy for sure.

As a nice lady in Antwerp would be telling me a few days later, the Kantcentrum is the place to go to if you want to learn to make bobbin lace. When gathering my links for this post, I stumbled over the summer courses they give – lots of interesting things, I’d love to go one day.

Twenty Times Lace – the Details Part 1

May 23, 2015 at 4:08 pm | Posted in Lace | 3 Comments

As promised, I want to talk a bit more about the different laces in my 2015 challenge piece. Here’s the numbered detail picture of the left side again for reference:

20 Times Lace left side

  1. This is the lace we got for the challenge, which we had to include in our piece. It is a fairly wide, scalloped machine-made lace.
  2. I already wrote about this piece of Irish Crochet Lace, made by me.
  3. I made this bobbin-lace edging many years ago, and it has been sitting in my little lace collection since then. I think it is put to good use here.
  4. This is technically embroidery, but it is worked very similar to needlelace, just on a fabric foundation instead of completely free. I also wanted to include the literal number 20 to commemorate our anniversary, and this was the best way I could come up with to do so.
  5. A small tatting motif from a German tatting book I had from the library, so sorry for the missing reference, since I forgot to write it down.
  6. A similar motif from the same book.
  7. This actually wasn’t a butterfly when I started with it. The wings of the butterfly are cut out from a bigger piece consisting of lots of those motifs connected by bits of openwork. I got it together with a whole pile of other laces from my mom, and this was the fabric sample for her wedding dress. According to her it is Plauener Spitze, which also fits this kind of lace. I embroidered the body of the butterfly over the lace pieces.
  8. Reticella is one of the oldest needle-lace styles. I designed this heart myself based on historical examples. Here’s the original blog post about this one.
  9. A relatively coarse machine-made bobbin lace.
  10. I made this strip of bobbin lace to practice the little leaf shapes that make up the flowers in the center of the band. They are quite tricky to get right tension-wise.

I’ll get around to the second half of the quilt next time, and of course I’d be happy to answer any questions around this batch.

Textile Adventures in Belgium – Royal Manufacturers De Wit

May 16, 2015 at 3:54 pm | Posted in Museums and Exhibitions | Leave a comment

Sadly, this year’s expedition to the textile treasures of Europe is already over, but there’s lots to tell for sure! After visiting the Netherlands last year, this year I was headed to neighbouring Belgium, which in my mind is inextricately linked to lacemaking. But as always, that’s not the only thing in store.

When looking through my travel guide in preparation for this trip, I came across something of a rarity: there was a destination of textile interest listed … the Royal Tapestry Manufactury De Wit in Mechelen. And this is not just any place, in fact, I had heard of its reputation for conservation and especially cleaning of tapestries before, on the blog of the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio, which regularly sends tapestries to Belgium for cleaning. So, this was a place I had to see, with the slight complication that there’s exactly one public tour every week, at 10:30 on Saturdays. Luckily the only other place I wanted to visit that had such restricted opening times was open on Wednesdays, so with a bit of planning and given the fact that Belgium is small enough so travelling around is not a problem, I was able to be there on Saturday. Hidden behind the high walls of a former monastery, it wasn’t very obvious to find, but the sign was clear:

De Wit - sign

Visitor groups meet up in the beautiful garden, which we would later learn houses a collection of plants that can be used for dyeing, mostly for the education of visitors nowadays, I think.

De Wit - Garden

On this Saturday, there were two tour guides, and despite the announcement on the website that the tour would be in a maximum of two different languages, the guides ended up doing two languages each, with one group in Dutch and French, and the group I joined in German and English. Everything took a tiny bit longer that way, but that meant more time for looking at the tapestries, so I certainly didn’t complain.

Having been originally established as a manufactury for tapestries, nowadays the company doesn’t produce any new tapestries, but has specialized in cleaning, conservation and restoration of old tapestries as well as in buying and selling. The showrooms on the ground floor had a wealth of old tapestries, and our guide gave us an expert tour on how to distinguish the different periods and the things to look for. I’m afraid I have forgotten most of it by now. They did have a loom set up in one of the rooms, and a lady came in to give a demonstration. I always appreciate when something like that happens, so you don’t only get to hear the theory!

We also got to have a look into the restauration workshop, where the most impressive feature were the walls filled with threads of all colours. You can see a picture of that on the webite. Under the roof there’s another exhibition area, this time with tapestries from the 20th century, which is quite a contrast to the older ones on the ground floor.

At the end, our tour took almost two hours, and was filled with pretty things to look at and lots of information. If you’re ever in the right place at the right time, go see the place, it is great!

Tatting pattern resources

April 25, 2015 at 6:42 pm | Posted in Tatting | 2 Comments

Last week, a friend of mine asked me to show her how to tat. But what pattern to use? Paging through my usual internet resources, I ended up drawing up my own version of a basic clover leaf for the first try:

Tatted Clover

It’s just three rings, with four double knots between the picots:

  1. ring: 4-4-4-4
  2. ring: 4+4-4-4
  3. ring: 4+4-4-4

A minus between the numbers means a picot, a plus shows where a connection to the previous ring needs to be made instead of a picot.

My friend got this one down pretty fast, but where to go from there? Looking at my blog archives, the previous posts on tatted flowers and tatted jewellery don’t look exactly beginner-friendly. So, back to the marvel that is Project Gutenberg’s Crafts Bookshelf we go. There’s just two dedicated tatting books in there. The flowers in the previous post came from the Bath Tatting Book, which doesn’t have any easy patterns. The second, Étoile dorée in Tatting, has only text descriptions and a few drawings where you can’t see any detail. So, those are dead ends.

However, if you know where to look, a few of the general needlework books have tatting instructions and patterns. Whenever I have forgotten how to tat, I go back to the Encyclopedia of Needlework, since I find the basic instruction in there to be pretty clear to me. For easyish patterns, I like to look in Beeton’s Book of Needlework, which starts with an extensive tatting section. There are some straightforward lace edgings in there that would be good practice for a beginner. Here’s one I’ve made before:

Tatted insertion from Beeton's Book of Needlework

The description for this one in the book is quite clear:

This insertion consists of 2 rows of three-branched patterns which lie opposite each other, and are joined by slanting rows of knots. A coloured silk ribbon is drawn through these rows which join the patterns. Each of the 3 branches of 1 pattern consists of 9 double, 1 purl, 9 double, and must be worked close to another. When the 3rd branch is completed, fasten another piece of cotton on to the middle branch. Work 12 double over this 2nd piece of cotton, and then work without the 2nd piece of cotton a 2nd three-branched pattern like the 1st.* Fasten the 2nd piece of cotton on to the middle branch of the just-finished pattern, work 12 double over it, then again a three-branched pattern; in this pattern as well as in the following ones, instead of working the purl of the 1st branch, fasten it on to the purl of the 3rd branch of the preceding three-branched pattern of the same row, as can be seen in illustration. Repeat till the strip of insertion is sufficiently long.

Instead of fastening another piece of thread to the work after finishing the first set of rings, I usually leave the ball of thread attached after filling the shuttle. The thread going towards the ball can then be used as the second thread.

Here are a few more edgings from the same book that I think would be beginner-friendly:

Tatted edging from Beeton's Book of Needlework

Tatted insertion from Beeton's Book of Needlework

So, that’s what I found just by looking in the most obvious place for me. I’m sure there’s much more to be found around the internet. I’d be happy to hear about any beginner’s resources you particularly like.

Twenty Times Lace

April 15, 2015 at 10:19 am | Posted in Lace, Patchwork | 5 Comments

To celebrate our twentieth exhibition this fall, my quilt group has come up with a special challenge project this year. As part of a fabric donation, we got a considerable length of lace which we decided would be the common material to use. In addition, the colour scheme used should be natural colours from beige to brown, making a nod to the 20th anniversery traditionally being the porcelain anniversary, and our lace having a beigish colour anyway. To top it off, the number 20 should play a role in some way, and this was the part that got me into trouble, since the size requirement of 40×40 cm hadn’t been changed.

Being interested in lace of all kinds, you can’t give me some lace and not have me think “I’m going to use 20 different pieces of lace here!” Collecting materials, I acquired my mom’s collection of mostly machine laces, looked which of my collection of handmade samples would be useful, and then tried to figure out how to put 20 different pieces into 40×40 cm. Turns out in order to not run out of space, I would have to keep things fairly simple. My original ideas where much more elaborate, with lengths of lace interweaving between the horizontal and vertical directions. But as is often the case, constraints ended up making it all better: the simple layout leaves space to show off the laces themselves, which was supposed to be the point, after all. So here’s the finished piece:

20 Times Lace - finished

And since it’s the laces themselves that are the interesting part of this piece, I’ll do a detailed writeup of what you’re seeing here in the following couple of posts. As a teaser, here’s the left side all numbered so we know what we’re talking about.

20 Times Lace left side

Which lace do you like best, and why? Which one would you like to know more about? Mind you, since some of it has been gifted to me, I may have not much information on it either.

Adventures in Irish Crochet Lace

March 14, 2015 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Crochet, Lace | 3 Comments

I haven’t been writing about lace (or anything else — sorry for that) for a while, but for one of my current projects I do need lace — lots of it. I’ll write more about that project in a later post, but what’s important for the moment is that I want to include as many different kinds of lace as feasible. And of course I’m using that as an excuse to try something new to me. For this project I need small pieces of everything, so it is a perfect opportunity to experiment.

I have long been fascinated by Irish crochet lace and the ways it imitates the older and more elaborate bobbin and needle laces. You can see a few examples here and here from the V&A’s excellent online collection. Especially in the second image you can see clearly how Irish crochet lace is built: Individual motifs, often flowers or leaves, are worked and then connected by a background. While I have made some of the motifs before, I never tried to make a connected piece of lace with this technique.

For a pattern to use, I needed to look no further than my own hard disk, which houses a fine collection of digitized public domain needlework books. The one I ended up using is Thérèse de Dillmont’s “Irish Crochet Lace”, which I originally downloaded from the On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics. There’s lots of stuff there, not only about weaving but about all kinds of needlework. There doesn’t seem to be a way to link directly to specific entries, but the books are sorted by author, and you can find the book I used under the letter D.

Helpfully, the book has draft patterns for several lace edgings, and given the space constraints on the piece I am doing, I choose the narrowest edging available. Printing out the pattern and enlarging it to the size needed was the easy part. I made the individual pieces first, and then matched the pattern to their size, since a huge disadvantage of using old sources is that I generally have no idea what the thread sizes they recommend for a pattern actually look like. I used pretty much the thinnest thread I had on hand anyway, otherwise things would have gotten bigger than I needed.

So, how to get the pattern actually made up? The instructions in the book were not very extensive, so I went with my first instinct and set the pattern up like I would do for needle lace: Attach the pattern to a piece of cardboard and sew the ornaments down where they belong.

Irish Crochet Edging - PatternThat turned out to be a lousy idea, since it is nearly impossible to crochet next to the cardboard, as opposed to sewing like for needle lace. I also realized that I really needed to use a thinner thread for the connections for things to look even remotely good. This is where I was when I gave up in frustration:

Irish Crochet Edging - this doesn't workI ended up throwing the whole thing into the proverbial corner for a while, pretty much until I really needed the finished piece to go on with the whole project. At that point, I came up with what turned out to be a great solution: not only did it work, it saved me an additional step later.

For the project in question, I was going to attach the lace pieces to a dark ground fabric. So, why not use the ground fabric as the pattern? Being much more flexible than cardboard, it should be much easier to crochet on top of it, and I would end up with the lace already attached where I needed it anyway. I transferred the pattern to the fabric, and suddenly there was progress:

Irish Crochet Edging - in progressIt’s still far from perfect, but it starts looking like it’s supposed to be. I ended up doing a few parts twice, but it got finished fairly fast after that point. Here’s the finished piece after washing the markings out and pressing:

Irish Crochet Edging - FinishedNext time, I’ll show you what I made of this and other lace goodies from my collection.

Crumbling Beauty – Finished

November 30, 2014 at 6:25 pm | Posted in Patchwork, Quilting | Leave a comment

The arabic star pattern quilt I posted about here has been finished for a few weeks now. The yearly exhibition of my quilt group finally gave me the opportunity to get a decent picture of the whole quilt:

Crumbling Beauty

I’ve named the quilt “Crumbling Beauty”, since the image I finally chose came from the idea of a colourful mosaic slowly falling apart with the passing of time. Its size is about 1*1.5 meters.

One decision I made fairly late, after I finished quilting, was to have the pattern symmetrical in the vertical direction. I had to cut off about 10 cm of the quilt along the left side to achieve this, but I’m happy with the result. The quilt has a very asymmetrical feeling anyway due to the way the colourful part is concentrated in the upper left corner, and I think having at least the pattern symmetrical balances that a bit. I also can see a cross forming around the central blue octagon in the middle of the upper part, extending vertically and horizontally through the red stars. I’m not sure how visible this is for others, what do you think?

Embroidered Letters

September 6, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Posted in Embroidery | Leave a comment

On one of my current projects, I needed to add some text that was supposed to be readable and pretty technical. While embroidering letters has obviously a long tradition, often in connection with monograms and samplers, what I needed was a bit different from anything I had seen before. Here’s a progress picture of the quilt in question:

BaustelleneinrichtungsplanSee all that text on the bottom, in nice long German words? This is a relatively small piece, so the capitals are about 1 cm high on the left and 0.7 cm on the right. That’s pretty small to get clear lettering in any textile medium. One obvious solution for this would be machine embroidery. Since I currently don’t have access to an embroidery machine, that option was out.

So, what did I do? After quite a bit of trying different things, I found a solution that worked for me. Let’s have a closer look, first at the text on the right:

Small backstitched lettersAs you can see, this is not a purely textile solution. I used coloured pens to transfer the text on the fabric, and the colour stays visible on the finished letters. Using one strand of standard cotton embroidery floss I backstitched around the contours of the letters, giving a nice crisp finish to each. It does look a bit uneven here and there, but if you look at the piece from a distance, it’s clean and readable.

The letters on the right, being a bit bigger, I did fill in:

Embroidered LettersThe letters were traced with a black pen, then outlined in backstitch as above. For filling in, I used a line of chain stitch in the letters, and French knots for the dots on the i’s.

This piece will be part of a larger project about the construction site that’s taken over my backyard during the last year. For German readers, there’s a bit more here: Hofbaustelle.

Tips and Tricks for Machine Couching

August 30, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Posted in Patchwork, Quilting | 2 Comments

I seem to have contracted the couching bug lately, looking at my recent projects. First mention of this technique is here, way back in 2010, resulting in this quilt:


1001 Nights full viewI also used it in this year’s challenge quilt, and quite recently, to quilt the second incarnation of the arabic pattern from the quilt above.

While doing so, I realized that I have amassed quite a bit of experience with machine couching by now, and thought that some of the things I figured out might be interesting to others as well. So for once, I remembered to take a few pictures of the process. Here’s how the quilt looked like the last time I posted about it:

Crumbling Beauty - LayoutI finished the top pretty much in the arrangement you can see here, layered and basted it, and started quilting by emphasizing the pattern lines with a black thread with some sparkles in it. Here’s a picture of my sample, so you know approximately what I’m talking about:

Finished SampleThe pattern is all straight lines, with quite a few more or less pronounced corners. It is those corners that need a bit of care to make sure the couching thread ends up where it needs to go, and the corners themselves nice and crisp. So, after sewing up to a corner, I’m turning the thread and carefully pinning the next corner, like this:

Couching - Pinned CornerYou can see that I’m not pinning the couching thread itself, but catching the fabric twice, once immediately before the thread and once after guiding the pin over the thread. This keeps the thread able to move up and down, so I can easily regulate the tension, but fixes it sideways. I’m using a normal zigzag stich in my sewing maching to hold the thread down. When approaching the corner, I try to make sure the needle ends up on the inside of the corner before turning. I sew up right to the pin or even just beyond it. This helps to make the corner crisp.

Couching up to cornerAt this point, with the needle stuck in the fabric, I lift the foot and turn into the new direction, stretching and pinning the couching thread to the next corner in the process.

Couching - after turningI then continue sewing towards the next corner, where the process repeats. The result looks pretty good, I think, I hope I can show you the finished project soon!

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