Bobbin Lace
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© 1996 Christiane Eichler
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Bobbin Lace

Bobbin lace is a technique that resembles both braiding and weaving. A pattern, called pricking, is pinned to a padded surface, the bobbin lace cushion or pillow. Threads are fastened to the prickings with pins. On each thread hangs a bobbin, which also serves as a weight. The threads are then braided in pairs. The structures thus formed are secured with more pins pushed into the cushion. For most techniques you move only 4 bobbins at a time. You then work through your bobbins in rows (there can be between 3 and 200+ pairs on a cushion, depending on the pattern), picking up and putting aside pairs as needed. The resulting lace is a filigree fabric, in which not only the threads, but the open parts as well make up the design. Some parts look like a net, others like woven fabric and some like braids.

The technique of bobbin lace is very old and was derived from weaving and braiding. If the bobbin lace makers were organized in Guilds, they often didn't have their own guild, but belonged either to the weavers or the braiders. Bobbin lace was possibly invented at two locations at the same time, namely in northern Italy and in Flanders. The Technique then fastly spread throughout Europe, later also to North America and Asia.

In Germany it was Barbary Utmann who introduced bobbin lace making during the 16th century. This was a welcome source of income for the people of the Erzgebirge Region, because the mines were exhausted, and people didn't have other possibilities to make a living. Very often whole families made bobbin lace, women, men and children alike. The lace made by women however was considered the most precious, because of their finer fingers. Other areas in Germany where there is a considerable tradition of bobbin lace making are the Pfalz and the Bayrische Wald.

The peak of bobbin lace making was reached during the 18th century. Industrialization led to the decline of the craft during the 19th century. The invention of machines which made finer lace faster than the most industrious woman made handmade lace obsolete. But despite this decline bobbin lace was still and is still made in the Erzgebirge Region. Today lacemaking is a hobby for most people. Some of the lace schools are still intact. Not all kinds of bobbin lace can be reproduced by machine (e. g. Guipure laces). Today bobbin lace making as a hobby is in an upswing again, not only in the districts were bobbin lace was made traditionally.