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Lace making comes in many forms and has a rich history. In lace making ‘proper’ there is needle lace and bobbin lace. Then there is tatting, plus fine open worked crochet and knitting which might also be described as lace.

Lately I’ve been poking my toe in the water of tatting and bobbin lace. And this post compares the two when it comes to tools required, learning, mastering and the end result.

First up:


Tatting as it exists today is relatively new to the scene. It developed out of netting or knotting in the 19th century to use smaller shuttles and finer yarns to make trimmings, collars, doilies and such. This was very much a domestic/leisure activity to make for the home. It didn’t have the cache of fine lace and was usually restricted to trimmings for children or homewares.

However, tatting a pretty but robust lace which will hold up to washing.

Tools and materials:

  • Tatting shuttles. 1 is enough to get started. But after a while you’ll need a second. They cost just a few quid. There are plenty of antique/vintage ones out there too.
  • A fine crochet hook if your shuttle doesn’t have a pointy end to pull yarn through when joining rings.
  • Thread. A fine crochet cotton is ideal. Size 10 works well to start with.


Essentially tatting is just a series of hitch knots slipped round another part of the thread and pulled up to form a series of loops and chains. These are decorated with picots and linked together to form the pattern. This is not a tutorial, there are lots out on the Web. The trickiest part is figuring out how to get the knot around the right thread to slip through, and remembering to relax.

It took me a week or two of practise to get to grips with it. There was a lot of swearing to start with.


Tatting is not fine lace making. It is limited as to how much variation you can achieve. But it is a rhythmical and very satisfying process and the action of manipulating the shuttle and thread can be very elegant. So you can see why polite Victorian ladies would occupy their hours in the parlour or drawing rooms busy at their tatting. And the end results can be very useful and pleasing.

It is cheap to get started. And very portable. Once you get to grips with the technique there’s not much more to it. Just follow the pattern – of which there are many for free on the internet if you search. Stick to simple edging patterns to start with.

All the necessaries will fit into a small tin. And your ongoing project will fit into your pocket. It is also relatively quick compared to other sorts of lace making.

Bobbin Lace

When you say Lace Making it’s bobbin lace that most people think of.

It takes many different forms and has a history going back hundreds of years. Lace was highly costly and a sign of wealth for the fashionable elite from the 17th to the 19th century and employed many women (yes, usually women). Its decline came once lace could be manufactured.

Tools and materials:

  • Lace making pillow. These come in many shapes, depending on the type of lace being made. Round or cookie pillows are the easiest to get hold of to start with and the cheapest. For making long edgings you need one with moveable blocks, a bolster or the French sort. They can get pricey but there are instructions out there to make one yourself.
Found this on Etsy. It needed recovering but came with bobbins and an old pricking.
  • Bobbins. These work in pairs. You’ll need 6 – 10 pairs to get started but will soon need many more.
  • Pins. Hundreds of pins. Normal dressmaking pins work fine to start with.
  • Patterns/Prickings. Once again there are plenty of patterns available for free. You’ll need a computer/scanner/printer to copy them out to make a pricking to put on your cushion.
  • Thread. Very fine crochet cotton (size 30 and finer). Size 10 is a bit thick but good to start with.


The concept of how bobbin lace making works is hard to get your head around at first. It is more akin to netting and weaving than anything else. The bobbins tension the thread, then pairs of pairs cross and twist around each other in sequence to create the stitches. Pins are put in at precise points to hold them in place and create the pattern.

There are lots of good Youtube tutorials and other resources online which go through the basics.

Learning bobbin lace is a deep rabbit hole that can’t be mastered in a couple of weeks or months. There are many styles and techniques that operate in different ways to produce an infinite variety of results. Torchon and Bucks Point work on a grid system which seems to be the easiest way to start.

These are samples of Bucks Point Lace, Practising different techniques and stitches.


Bobbin lace making needs the tools, and it is SLOW. Expect to lose many hours to it. It is also very confusing at first. There is a lot of terminology to learn as well as the stitches themselves, not to mention following the pattern.

But having said that, compared to tatting, the possibilties are endless. And there is scope for much creativity and self expression once mastered – which may be many years hence.