Needle Lace Tutorial -- Plain Bookmark Sampler 1-- Couching the outline, and the first filling stitch

Blue words are links to other websites, photos, or diagrams. 


The basic stages of making true needlelace are these:

1.  Make the layered sandwich of cloth and pattern which are the temporary scaffolding for your work.

2.  Couch down the pair of outline/cordonnet threads, making junctions which will hold the lace together.

3.  Work the lace filling stitches.

4.  Work close buttonholing over the outline threads, covering and locking the thread tails in place on the cordonnette.  (It is cordonnet or outline when naked, but cordonnette when you are in the process of buttonholing over it.)

5.  Cut the lace free from the backing by cutting between the layers of the sandwich.


For this basic needle lace lesson you will need --

SUPPLIES: 1. Average size sharp needle plus thimble, both for couching, ordinary sewing thread for couching.
2. Tapestry or blunt pointed needle. You should keep tapestry needles sizes 20-26 on hand, for use with various thread sizes. (Tapestry needles have blunt points, and we use them because the lace thread should not pierce the cordonnet or snag itself.) Use whatever size best fits the lace thread you decide to use; 22 and 24 are most useful.
3. 1 - 4 pieces of cotton cloth 12 x 5 inches (30x13cm). Read the comments below. Different lacemakers use differing numbers of pieces of cloth.

For the original size (pattern is 6.25 inches or 16 cm tall) use DMC or Anchor cordonnet 60-80 or Egyptian cotton 36/3 for outline threads, and cordonnet 100, Aurifil 30 or 50, Sulky 30, linen 100, Egyptian cotton 50/2 for lace thread.

150% of original size (8 1/8 inches or 21 cm tall): use cordonnet 30 or Brok 24/3 for outline threads and 60-80 cordonnet (tatting cotton) for lace thread.

In my sample (11 inches or 27 cm tall) I'm using 8/3 linen (similar to crochet cotton 10 - 20) as outline thread, and linen 40/2 and 35/2, or crochet cotton 30-40, Sulky or Aurifil 12 as lace threads.  


PATTERN AND SETTING UP:  For a pattern go to our PHOTOS, look for the  album TUTORIAL PLAIN BOOKMARK and look for BOOKMARK (on blue paper). Pattern Also make a copy of the diagram. Diagram When you get to a screen with only the pattern or diagram right click on the image, and you will have the option of saving or printing the image. If you save the image to your computer you can then use whatever graphics or photo program you have to print it out at whatever size you want. Please look at my webpage on learning needlelace. All those images are thumbnails: click on the image to see the larger size original image. I have tried to answer all the possible questions with those photos and drawings. I realize it is not perfectly clear all the time. I keep trying to improve it.

Working a plain rectangular bookmark will give you a chance to begin controlling your tension. It may take doing several pieces until you are reasonably satisfied with how your stitches look. It took me a long time and lots of attempts. I tried it in the late 1980s and did so badly I gave up. But this year I started again and improved a lot with our experts’ advice.

Make a sandwich of 2, 3 or more layers: 1, 2, or more, layers of cotton cloth, medium weight, about 2 cm larger than the pattern. Print the pattern on colored paper if you are using white thread, but print on white paper for colored thread. Put sticky plastic film over the pattern. This will prevent the printer ink from coming off on the lace and will keep the needle from puncturing the paper (except when you intend it to). Baste the layers together. Multiple layers of fabric make it easier to release the lace when it is completely finished. You can just slide your scissors between two layers of fabric and easily see the couching stitches. You can then cut only those couching stitches without risk of damaging the lace. Then start to lay the cordonnet/outline threads.

LAYING THE CORDONNET/OUTLINE THREADS:  The diagram is a rough sketch showing how to lay the cordonnet/outline threads, rather than an exact map. The outline threads are the scaffolding that holds the piece together. It is important that it be hooked to itself frequently enough to give stability. Couch the doubled cordonnet, starting at A (the arrow). Your couching stitches will pierce all the layers, but nothing else will. The outline threads will merely lie on top of the pattern. The couching stitches should be 2 -3 mm apart (about 1/8 inch), and they should be perfectly perpendicular to the outline threads. Use a sharp needle and a thimble. It is only in couching that you will need a sharp needle and a thimble. See HERE.

Couch the threads down around the outer perimeter, passing by B and C for now. See bookmarka When you start back up the last side, that is when you take the inner thread back horizontally and hook it onto the first side. At D take the inner thread across to C, hook it onto the outline threads there, (see photo bookmarkb )and back again. At E take the thread to B, hook it around the outline thread, and back again. In my diagram points B and C are different . As far as I can tell from what other experienced lacemakers have said, either of these methods are OK. As I worked I thought of a 3rd method, shown here. You can either use a crochet hook to manipulate the outline thread, or thread it into a tapestry needle. The diagram shows only 2 horizontal bars, but the actual pattern has more. I suggest trying both B and C linking methods. Then you will be able to see their relative merits when you are finished with the piece.  Note that at D and E the threads just lie next to each other.  This is considered acceptable along the outer edge, where buttonholing over it at the end will hold it together.  But junctions like that inside the piece are not adequate.  To end at F you want one of the tails to hook onto the beginning loop and then return back where it came from. The other should continue in the direction it was going. The tails should be about 1 inch (2cm) long. Of course I show the pair of outline threads far apart to make the junctions easier to see. The threads should lie right next to each other, touching. End the couching thread by fastening it onto the cloth at the back.

DOING THE STITCHES:  So many of our experts have said that doing a few stitches well is more important than trying to learn a long list of stitches. I have come to share this idea. The most popular traditional lace styles use only a small number of stitches. I am suggesting that you start with the easiest ones, and those used most often. This bookmark has 6 sections that you can fill with stitches. (The narrow sections are for trying out several kinds of bars.) I suggest doing only 2 or 3 stitches, but repeating them in more than one section. You can then try out different spacing, and see how it looks and whether you like it that way. The pattern was drawn on graph paper and has lines going across the space. That will help you keep your rows straight. How you space the stitches and rows will depend on what size thread you decide to use. With needlelace there is no need to be exact in choosing a thread size, since you can simply change the spacing of stitches to accomodate different thread sizes. Needle lace is not like bobbin lace, where the thread has to closely match the pattern, nor is it like crochet or knitting, where you have to have an exact number of stitches in each row. In needlelace you can decide how close together or far apart you want the stitches to be. Part of the learning process is developing good judgment about what spacing to use. Only practice can teach you that. Just do what fits, and what looks good.

Everybody agrees that corded Brussels is the easiest stitch (also called corded buttonhole, detached buttonhole with a straight return). Please go to my web page for diagrams. Look here. Diagrams are also available online at #737 and #738.  For corded Brussels for left handed stitchers, see here.

In order to get control of tension you will need to use both hands. I am right handed, and I am writing this using that assumption (not fair to lefties, I know). Look at Rochelle’s video  and carefully watch what she does with her left hand. Keep watching until you see it. After every stitch she uses her left hand to hold that last stitch in position, so it doesn’t loosen. Rochelle works holding the work in her hand. Once I started using the methods Rochelle demonstrates in her video, my tension improved immediately and my stitches became more regular. As soon as I make a stitch, I use my left thumb to hold it down so the thread doesn't slide around or the tension loosen. And I keep my left thumb on it as I am moving the needle and making the next stitch with my right hand. Right hand makes the stitch, left hand holds it down after it is made so the tension doesn't slacken. Also look at This is the lacemaking in Croatia video. Once you pass the weeds and the harbor, you will see a woman working at lace in her house, near a window. Watch her left hand. She uses a pillow and her left hand is free to keep tension on the thread after she has made each stitch. Keep watching until you understand it. My webpage   Avital's recent video of a Burano lacemakers shows how she uses her pillow. has links to some other videos of Burano lace makers. How they use their hands might offer suggestions, also.  Catherine Barley's video showing her working the cordonnete is also useful.  She rolls the pattern sandwich into a sort of tube around her forefinger. Watch closely and you will see that after she makes each stitch, she puts the middle finger of her left hand on the stitch to keep it from slipping and losing tension. It is another way of handling the pattern as you work.

START YOUR LACE THREAD by threading it under the couching stitches for 1 cm, then wrapping it around the cordonnet. See here. The yellow thread is the lace thread. The first row are just simple buttonhole stitches worked over the doubled cordonnet across the top. When the first row is done, at the right hand side, wrap the lace thread around the cordonnet and return it in a straight line across back to the left side. Wrap it around the cordonnet on the left several times until it is at the right distance from the previous row to start the new row. See here. As you work the 3rd row from left to right, catch the straight return thread as well as the bottom loop of each stitch from row one. Don’t let yourself run out of thread in the middle of a row. Sacrifice a length of thread instead. Corded Brussels is usually worked close together, so your thread should be 3-4 times as long as the length of the row you will make with it. For stitches that are more spaced out you won't need that much. When you get to the bottom of the shape you can either whip the last row to the cordonnet at the bottom, or you can work the buttonhole stitches of the last row onto the bottom cordonnet, depending on how the rows are spaced. Most stitches tend to curl upward to some extent. The corded and whipped variants do that less than the plain versions. But it may still be a problem. You can see the urward curve in my photo. So when you whip or buttonhole that last row, you may have to pull to some extent to bring the last row straight and make it stretch. See straightened rows here.

I will work this pattern also and post photos to illustrate various stages. All the photos and diagrams for this tutorial are here.

The 2nd lesson in this tutorial will be about 2 more stitches to fill the spaces, making some bars in the narrow spaces, and buttonholing the cordonnette. I imagine the stitches each being repeated in more than one section, for practice and to improve tension.

© 2010 Lorelei Halley This may be copied for personal use, but not for any commercial use, nor may it be copied or posted on another website. Links are welcome.

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Replies to This Discussion

Any member is welcome to join in this tutorial/workshop at any time. I will keep an eye on it for new comments and questions. If something isn't clear, post your question as a reply here. Also post photos or scans of your progress in the comment box (the 2nd button on the bar above the box is the camera icon, for uploading photos from your computer). When we see the progress reports we can make suggestions. I welcome participation from any of our experienced lacemakers who have something to say. We may not all agree. But if we state the reasons we do things a certain way, our beginners will develop an understanding of how to decide the best way to solve a problem in their particular situation. I've come to believe that in needle lace, as in bobbin lace, there is NOT only one right way to do something. In the text above, in large type, are several links to photos of the work in process at key points. As you move your cursor over the text, wherever you see a word pop suddenly with underlining, that is the link. There are also a few links to outside sources. All the blue words are links to photos, diagrams or other web pages. Again, watch for the suddenly appearing underlining.

Lorelei--I think this is good. May I add an alternative way to do the cordonnet? Feel free to delete this if you want to keep it simple.
I use a relatively stiff paper (eg, copy paper), add 1 piece of fabric behind it and put them in an embroidery hoop that is only slightly larger than the diagram to be used. I often pin the parts of the cordonnet to the hooping to aid in couching. I also sometimes use it for the filling--it helps to keep rows straight and tension even to begin with. If one has experience in embroidery and are familiar with hoops, one might be comfortable with this method.
I would add to your piece "couching stitches should be 2-3 mm (1/8") apart". And that the stitches should be perpendicular to the cordonnet, not slanted.
Excellent, Lorelei.
However, I use 4 layers of fabric behind my pattern, as then I have a firm base, and when it is time to release the completed lace, I can snip the couching stitches from between 2 layes of fabric, - which I find better. I just pull them apart until I reach the couching stitches, and I have something to hold firmly and separate while snipping. It is well nigh impossible to snip the couching stitches from the front, just under the lace, or from the back!
Liz and Debbie: thanks.
Lorelei, the Big thanks is to you for all the work you have done, and do, for this site. Gosh! How did we ever manage without it? It does make you wonder, doesn't it?!!
I wonder how many of us are members, - as we seem to be getting more and more people joining up - which is Fantastic!
And to think you worried, initially, about if there were enough people interested...!!! :)
Liz: we are at 176 members. I've been laughing, too, about my former expectation that it would take us 2 years to reach the 150 mark. We are a little over 8 months old!

As to the work -- I just hope people are using it. I'm working harder being retired than I did when I was working. Of course, this is brain work, that was physical work. My waistline displays the difference.
176 already? Gosh!- and Golly Gosh! That is Amazing! And absolutely Fantastic!

Obviously your remark about a needlelace site being needed was correct!!

I have learned SO much, - and only just gone into the Blog site - and found lots of stuff!!!!!!!! :)
I went there early on and it was empty, so never visited again!! I am a slow learner!!! :)

This section will be very good, although will it overlap the Beginners page, I wonder.
Liz: this tutorial is IN the BEGINNERS group. It is actually a discussion within the BEGINNERS group. I just figured out a way to put the basic information right at the start in a position where people will be able to find it easily, even in 2 years' time. Anybody could learn by going to the very first post in the beginners groups but there would be pages and pages of posts to read through. Here the instructions are easy to find. And I can keep on revising the tutorial text as I figure out better ways to say it, better ways to clarify the instructions. It was a matter of understanding what the software can do, and then figure out a way to make it serve our purposes. I sat and thought about this for nearly a week before posting anything.
Great work, Lorelei.
Thanks, Debbie
Sorry, Lorelei, I did not realize where this was! I get an email saying there is a message, and I just click on that and the new mesage appears!! : Thank goodness, as I am not good at navigating around sites!! This site is easy, luckily, but I don't always get to the heading, - just read the messages as I click on them in my emails!!

You must have a very orderly mind, and a lot of computer savvy!! I envy you!

Yes the beginners information is probably scattered through the pages of messages, so collecting them together is a great idea.
You are right, - there are various ways of getting to the same end, - as in bobbin lace, and we can all learn a different way, try it, and see if it better or worse than your usual way of doing something. that is how lace evolved - different people trying to solve problems, and then sharing the result with others. that is the Fun part!!!


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