Guest Writer: Hana Marmota- Bobbin vs. Crochet Lace

A few weeks ago, I referred to a piece of bobbin lace as “crocheted” and Hana corrected me.  I respect her knowledge in this area (turns out, she has lace in her blood), so I asked if she would mind very much to write a guest post on the differences between the two.  She did!  Thank you, Hana.  This is also a 3hourspast first- I’ve never had a guest post!  Hana writes about vintage topics, costuming, food, hairstyles, sewing and Czech life at Marmota’s Dress Diaries. (I don’t know about you, but I’m always in awe of non-native English speakers who blog.)


First, I must thank Steph for taking my nitpicking in such a good humour! I have tried both crochet and bobbin lace (even though I usually suck at crochet and am constantly distracted from bobbin lace by things like sewing); I can usually tell the difference between crochet and bobbin lace at first sight. While, as it turns out, many people can’t. When I had seen (machine-made) bobbin lace labelled as crochet one too many times, I wrote a post about the difference – a bit of a ranty post. Then Steph made the mistake as well and I pointed the difference out to her – and she asked me to write a guest post about it. Speak of grace.

So this is my attempt to write a more in-depth, non-ranty explanation for Steph’s readers.

When I was thinking about better ways to explain the issue to people who have tried neither crochet nor bobbin lace, I realised that, as sewists, even though you would not be familiar with either of these techniques, you would probably know a bit about the difference between knits and wovens.

Crochet, while it’s not the same as knit, is similar to it in that it works with a single, continuous thread, forms it into loops and connects those by threading one loop through another. You can think of a crochet chain as a knit with only one “stitch” in the vertical direction.

In crochet, you start with a chain like that, and then work on it further by adding other stitches into these loops. English terminology is rather lame here; you’ll get a better idea when I tell you these “stitches” are called “columns” in Czech.

They do look a bit like columns, don’t they? These particular ones are, I believe, called “triple stitches” in English terminology; as the name suggests, there are also simpler, smaller ones – but the basis is the same. Loops threaded through one another.

So these are what crochet works with. As a result of that, you can never, ever find a simple, “unworked” thread in a crochet work. You can always discern those interconnected loops when you look closely.

Bobbin lace, on the other hand, is basically a type of weaving. It works with several (sometimes many) threads, wound on a special kind of weighted bobbins (thus the name), and the lace is formed by swapping those with one another – a bit like braiding – or weaving them over one another (or both).

So there are no knit-like loops in bobbin lace. You can find sections of simple, “unworked” threads in bobbin lace. Even if they are not there, you can see that the lace was formed in a weave-like manner. You can see that it was made from several threads, not one. When you buy yardage of machine-made bobbin lace for your sewing projects it will unravel into numerous threads at the cut ends.

There are bobbin lace trims playing up the similarity with crochet – like, probably, the green one here. Not all of the machine-made lace is “mislabelled” by mistake; but a lot of it is. Look for the loops and stitches so that you know what you’re talking about when you’re labeling it yourselves. You can always call it “crochet-like bobbin lace”. :-)

Yes; most bobbin lace you will come into contact with will probably be machine-made. Bobbin lace technology, as a variant of weaving, lends itself quite easily to mechanisation. Bobbinet, the historically first type of machine-made lace, is – as the name suggests – based on the bobbin lace technology. Even though bobbin-lace makers work on a bobbin lace pillow, use pins for anchoring their work and swap their bobbins with an inimitable flair, and it all looks very complicated and confusing, the basics of bobbin lace technology are actually fairly simple – and they can translate quite easily for machines. There are loads and loads of bobbin-lace yardage on sale – which is probably why handmade bobbin-lace makers like my grandma focus on making bobbin-lace pictures and other more sophisticated creations like these:

(These are some examples of my grandma’s work, and examples of what bobbin lace can also look like. As you can see, there also are “chains” – but these are not created by “looping”, rather by a sort of braiding.)

Crochet, on the other hand, is a bit too much of an exact science for machines (and me…), and it seems that even though there are some “crochet machines” that make crochet-like tape trims (contrary to my original belief), they cannot do much. Definitely not much that would come close to the brilliancy of handmade crochet lace – it looks more like hairpin crochet, or does not even look like crochet at all. From what I’ve seen online, these machines deny crochet the one thing that makes it special and work with more than one thread.

These are an example of what manufacturers would probably label as machine-made crochet:

While these are like bobbin lace in that they work with several (and simple) threads, and would (and do) also unravel at the ends, they are like crochet or knit in that there are some interconnected loops holding the threads together; so they behave more like something between a knit and a woven… My Czech source specifically labels these machines as “knitting” machines – so it is, again, partly just an English thing.

I hope that covers all of it. I must also say that with all my love and preference for bobbin lace, I actually very much admire people who make crochet lace. People who make things like this vintage/antique lace from my stash are creating something very unique.

I owe much of my knowledge of these things to my mom, who taught me the basics of crochet (and knitting), my grandma, who taught me the basics of bobbin lace, and to the book Dějiny odívání: Krajky, výšivky, stuhy, prýmky (“History of Clothing: Laces, Embroidery, Ribbons, Galloons”) by Alena L. Čechová and Anna Halíková, published in 2004 in Prague by Nakladatelství Lidové noviny. So sorry that I do not know what English sources to recommend… share if you know!

—-

Thanks, Hana!  You just wrinkled my brain. :)

Tomorrow- switching from lace insertions to lace fabric, I’ll talk about pattern placement, cutting and handling lace fabric to its best advantage.


13 comments

  1. Wow Hana! Thank you for making this so clear with wonderful photos and explanations! You are right that many of us sewers use the term “lace” very loosely but now we should be on the lookout for the difference between the two…loops or braids. Thank you Steph for bringing in an expert for us!

    • You’re welcome! My scanner proves a good tool for getting these detailed photos of intricate lace – if you need more detail, you just set up higher resolution.

  2. I’ve never even heard of bobbin lace, and always assumed that the narrow lace and the wide meterage of lace fabric were largely crocheted (the stuff that looks crocheted, at least). Thank you for the informative guest post, and for sharing the beautiful bobbin lace work your Grandma made!

  3. Thank you! My mom has always crocheted (and I did quite a bit as a teen), but I know nothing about bobbin-lace. I would call your columns “double crochet” or possibly “triple crochet” stitches, and the style overall “filet crochet”, but I’m not exactly an expert.

    My mom (a serial crafter) also dabbled at one point in tatted lace, which consists of lots of interconnected little circles. I could never quite wrap my mind around it, but the result is really pretty.

    • Yes, it is “filet crochet” – I think I mentioned that in my original post. One of those few terms, actually, that are the same in English and Czech! “Filetové háčkování” – “háčkování” is crochet as in technique.
      And, actually, “column(s)” are a term for all stitches except when you make a chain in Czech. “Short columns” and “long columns”, namely. Plus some others less used.

      There are, of course, many other kinds of lace, like many types of needlepoint lace. But bobbin lace is the one you most often get into contact with nowadays when you are dealing with these yardages of cotton lace tape, and for a reason I still do not quite understand, it is often labelled as crochet – even those that do not look like it. Which is why I’m now on a lookout for it.

  4. A group of lace makers had a stall at my daughter’s school fair a couple of years ago. They had a project going which visitors to the booth could work on as the ladies explained how to work the bobbins to make lace. I’m fairly certain that they only intended each child to do a tiny little bit but my daughter was fascinated and they couldn’t get rid of her. I think she nearly finished their whole project on her own. The ladies were also kind enough to send her the finished piece in the mail after the fair. I can see that she will pick up some kind of craft as she gets older – she has that ability to focus and create and easily becomes absorbed in tasks like this. It will be interesting to see what she settles on.

  5. Thank you, I enjoyed learning more from someone who knows! Your information on the differences in lace is fascinating and informative.

  6. Thank you – how fantastic.

    I’ve had the privilege to work with some stunning antique lace, and to assist a number of lace historians in identifying lace for museums, and it is really amazing how complicated lace gets – its a whole world unto its own, even more complicated than sewing.

    Your grandmothers work is fantastic. Especially that darling little snail!

    The one thing that I would say is that if you cut a piece of crochet lace (or find a piece that someone unfamiliar with it has cut) it looks like it has multiple pieces of thread – but they are really all cut bits of the same thread. Does that make sense? So it can trick you!

    And that green lace would totally have tricked me!

    Thank you Steph for hosting!

    • True about cutting crochet – I should have made that more clear.

      And all the types of lace mentioned in that book wrinkle MY brain. Hands-on experience is probably the only way you can really learn how to deal with them. So I’m very grateful for the women in my family for teaching me these techniques, if only the basics of them. Bobbin lace skips generations in my family – which is why I want to keep it going.

  7. Thanks for the interesting post, guest and host as well! I recognized the bobbin lace as one of the products of medieval Bruges, in the Netherlands, and a new community makes it as well. I spent some time in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, and the women of the Galle area are making bobbin lace to help rebuild their homes and economy. The Dutch colonizers brought the skill and demand for the finished lace with them 500 years ago, so for the modern lacemakers it is a matter of reviving an art that had been losing in competition with machine made trims. A group of generous British women has supplied high quality materials and tools. So we all need to wear more lace trim! Good quality lace will last more than one garment! How about some lace-intensive designs?

  8. Thank you Hana I love this. Great idea Stephanie to have Hana write here too – congrats on your first guest post!

    My nana was an amazing embroiderer but she also did some tatting and I remember marvelling at the ease with which she made such beautiful pieces. I wish I had some of her work.


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