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Bobbin lace in progress at the Musée des Ursulines de Québec

Bobbin lace is a lace textile made by braiding and twisting lengths of thread, which are wound on bobbins to manage them. As the work progresses, the weaving is held in place with pins set in a lace pillow, the placement of the pins usually determined by a pattern or pricking pinned on the pillow.

Bobbin lace is also known as pillow lace and bone lace, because early bobbins were made of bone[1] or ivory.

Bobbin lace is one of the two major categories of hand-made laces, the other being needlelace, derived from earlier cutwork and reticella[2].



Early bobbin lace in gold and silver thread, c. 1570.
Contemporary hand made woollen bobbin lace articles, Wool Expo, Armidale NSW. Pale green lace is made of 2 ply wool.
Lacemaker, 1664

Bobbin lace evolved from passementerie or braid-making in 16th century Italy[2]. Coarse passements of gold and silver-wrapped threads or colored silks gradually became finer, and later bleached linen yarn was used to make both braids and edgings.[3]

The making of bobbin lace was easier to learn than the elaborate cutwork of the 16th century, and the tools and materials for making linen bobbin lace were inexpensive. There was a ready market for bobbin lace of all qualities, and women throughout Europe soon took up the craft which earned a better income than spinning, sewing, weaving or other home-based textile arts. Bobbin lace-making was established in charity schools, almshouse, and convents.[2].

In the 17th century, the textile centers of Flanders and Normandy eclipsed Italy as the premiere sources for fine bobbin lace, but until the coming of mechanization hand-lacemaking continued to be practiced throughout Europe, suffering only in those periods of simplicity when lace itself fell out of fashion.[2].


Bobbin lace may be made with coarse or fine threads. Traditionally it was made with linen, silk, wool, or, later, cotton threads, or with precious metals. Today it is made with a variety of natural and synthetic fibers and with wire and other filaments.

Elements of later bobbin lace may include toile or toilé (clothwork), réseau (the net-like ground), braids, picots, tallies, and fillings, although not all styles of bobbin lace include all these elements.

Contemporary laces

The advent of machine-made lace at first pushed lace-makers into more complicated designs beyond the capabilities of early machines, and then eventually pushed them out of business almost entirely. The resurgence of lace-making is a recent phenomenon and is mostly confined to a hobby status. Guilds of modern lacemakers still meet in regions as varied as Devonshire, England and Orange County, California. In the European towns where lace was once a major industry, especially in Belgium, England, Portugal and France, lacemakers still demonstrate the craft and sell their wares, though their customer base has shifted from the wealthy nobility to the curious tourist.

Bobbinet is the name for the machine-made bobbin lace, made by machinery designed by John Heathcoat in 1806.


Many styles of lace were made in the heyday of lacemaking (approximately the 1500s-1700s) before machine-made lace became available. Some well-known types of bobbin lace are:

  • Honiton - A very fine English lace with many flowers
  • Torchon - Well-known for its variety of beautiful, often geometric grounds
  • Cluny - Flowers, braids and picots (tiny loops of thread) make this light and delicate
  • Bedfordshire lace (Beds) - this has flowing lines and picots (to foil the machines)
  • Bucks point Buckinghamshire lace - very "lacy" with characteristic hexagon ground and often with a gimp thread (a heavier thread worked through for emphasis)
  • Mechlin, a fine, transparent Flemish lace known for its floral patterns, fine twisted-and-plaited, hexagonal ground, and outlined designs
  • Valenciennes, a French bobbin lace with a net-like background originating in the 18th century



  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary definition of "bone lace"
  2. ^ a b c d Levey, Santina M.: "Lace in the Early Modern Period c. 1500-1780." In Jenkins, Cambridge History of Western Textiles, p. 585-580
  3. ^ Montupet and Schoeller, 1988, p. 16-18


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

  • Jenkins, David, ed.: The Cambridge History of Western Textiles, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0521341078
  • Montupet, Janine, and Ghislaine Schoeller: Lace: The Elegant Web, New York: Abrams, 1988, ISBN 0-8109-3553-8.
  • Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM, Oxford University Press, 2002.

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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