Judging Bobbin Lace

By Mary K. Campbell
This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in spring 2005. Click here to see the original publication.

In  my needlework judging career, I have too often been asked to judge an area in which I am not an expert.  This occurred some years ago when I was given bobbin lace to judge at the state fair.  This experience was a goad to me to learn more than the basics of bobbin lace.  So I began a five year study of the most commonly done bobbin laces today.  As an outcome of this study, I would like to offer the following general criteria for judging bobbin laces.

Most important is cleanliness.  Lace, as any other textile should be presented clean and new looking to the judge.  Dirty lace either denotes old lace that has been used and not cleaned or lace made with sloppy technique so that the thread was handled too much.

A majority of the laces we judge will be two-dimensional.  In these cases, flatness is a judging consideration.  Since lace is not usually made on a perfectly flat surface (most pillows have at least a slight curve to them), thread tension and the angle placement of the pins will affect the bowing of the lace.

As in any textile art, the weight of the thread will affect the look of the lace.  To some extent this is a personal preference (heavy vs. light, open vs. closed holes).  But when the weight of the thread interferes with the optimum look of the lace, the taste boundary has been crossed.  If the lace is too fragile for its intended use or the thread so heavy that the design elements are overwhelmed, then the thread choice was inappropriate.  As in any fiber art, dye lots are a concern in lace making.  Thread that is supposed to be the same should be.

Pin holes are an element in the design of bobbin lace and also a product of its construction.  But the size of the holes is a matter of thread tension and the size of the pins used.  In general, the finer the thread, the finer the pins should be.

Bobbin lace often uses “hang pins” that are later removed to increase the neatness of beginnings.  Proper thread tensioning after the removal of the temporary pins insures a consistent look to the work.

Many pieces of bobbin lace show symmetry in the design elements.  But more important is the symmetry shown when entering and leaving a motif such as a fan or a spider.  This symmetry is a manifestation of even thread tension and good technique.

When a thread must be added to a piece of bobbin lace it is essential to add new threads without knots.

Modern lace sometimes includes the use of color in the threads chosen.  As in the addition of beads, the question must be asked: Does this enhance the lace or detract from the lace pattern itself?

One of the more difficult skills in bobbin lace is endings. Therefore, one often sees the work of beginners with a tassel of the threads at the bottom of the piece.  This is a perfectly acceptable ending for a bookmark or practice piece, but would not be acceptable on a collar or jabot.  Be sure that it is neatly and solidly finished off.

Joins and sewings are more advanced techniques that show clearly the skill of the lacer.  The more unobtrusive the joins are the better. The placement of the join on a continuous piece of lace is very important.  The join will always show, therefore, it should be placed off center (not on the true North, South, East or West) and not in a right angle corner so as not to draw too much attention to itself.

Lace may be finished with attachments in the form of buttons, snaps or Velcro.  These should be
unobtrusive and firmly attached.

Lace used as an edging must have a final join that is strong. Strength is more important here than is invisibility.  It is acceptable to overlap the lace for one repeat on a garment and oversew the edges.  If the lace has a traditional sewing, an apparent line across the lace is acceptable if there are no loose ends showing.

Framed lace will not have to withstand handling and use.  Therefore, the invisibility of the join is more important than its strength.

Lace attached to fabric can be stitched on with any number of embroidery stitches.  The only requirement is that the attachment must be even and sturdy.  The material that carries the lace should closely match the lace threads in weight, color and value.  The width of the attached lace should be proportional to size of the piece of material.

Beyond all these considerations are the elements of the bobbin lace that are particular to the specific kind of lace (e.g. Torchon, Bucks Point, or Russian Tape Lace).  However, these are the starting points for evaluating any of the bobbin made laces.