Backings and pads, needlelace pillows, Aemelia ars, needles, Halas and Venetian Gros Point.

Backings and pads

I have never used cardboard as backing for my patterns. More the opposite. I’ve kept them very flexible. Are any of the other needlelacers out there using cardboard?

I have always used 2 – 3 layers of calico and sometimes, depending what I’m stitching, a thin piece of padding between 2 layers of calico with pattern and then contact of appropriate colour. This works very well and gives you more flexibility than cardboard. However, my new “thing” is polyurethane (sp?) sheeting which I bought in the art supply shop and cut up into approx A4 size pieces on the office guillotine.  I use this for Aemilia Ars and likeminded needlelace and it is absolutely brilliant.  The quilters amongst us tell me that it is more or less equivalent to the template “stuff”  that they use, though I think that that might be a little heavier and not quite so flexible. It is very flexible, cuts very easily with scissors, pricks wonderfully and the needle goes through easily.  Just use a piece of the poly… pattern on top and then blue contact.  Don’t have to stitch the pattern down etc. etc. It is particularly good for NL which requires support stitches only.  For NL where you have to lay down and couch the cordonnet, it might not be quite so good – have not tried that as yet!

How do you get into the middle of a big piece if you can’t squidge it up in your supporting hand? Or is it flexible enough to do that? How does it wear? Does it split after being folded back and forth a few times or being pierced close like when you are couching?

The biggest piece I have used is approx. 10cm x 18cm and another is approx 14cm square.  Wears v.well, haven’t had it split as I don’t have the need to fold it back other than maybe bending it a bit backwards.

But…don’t you fold over your finger to maintain your tension? Not a sharp fold but a wrap around?

No – I tension with little finger of right hand whilst holding the needle and do the bending or whatever with the left hand.  I’m sort of ambidextrous (was left-handed and forced to be right-handed) and so sort of have my own way of doing things!

But what about when you have to take the tension off to make the next
loop. Don’t you hold it down with your left, or am I getting too technical here?

Am holding the thread down very firmly with the left thumb whilst I make the loop.  Can still use the left hand to bend the backing being used. Needle and thread in the right hand and tension with the little finger by twisting my hand.  It is sort of an automatic movement!

I never heard of using cardboard. I put contact over the pattern and two layers of calico underneath. While we’re on needle lace, do most of you use a pillow for it? I don’t, but then, I don’t like using an embroidery frame either.

Margaret Stevens who went to Bologna, Italy to learn Aemilia Ars, was taught in the class to use Bristol Board – 2 layers. I have just received a book on AR from Kiparra, and it specifies 2 layers of Bristol Board.  Unless you have a stash of the stuff or can find a stationer etc. who might have some – it is now, like so much else, unavailable. Same old story – distributor does not sell enough to the retailers, so no longer brings it into the country! Bristol Board is more flexible than most cardboard, but don’t really like it – too stiff and your fingers suffer. That is how I ‘discovered’ the poly… sheeting in the art shop. Must ask them about architects linen as they also stock a lot of supplies for architects.

When I attended the AGM week in Adelaide in 2002 I did needlelace workshops with Christine Bishop and she presented us with pieces of card as a “pad” to work our Punto in Aria piece on, I attempted that for about 5 minutes then asked her if she would mind if I used a small calico pad which I had brought with me as I couldn’t get on with the inflexibility of the card. She was quite happy to do this and the following 2 years at the AGMs when I also did the workshops with her she would look at me, smile and say  “or you can use a small material pad” when she was giving us the initial instruction!

When I asked Christine Bishop that question … “Why cardboard?” She said
“because that was the way it was done traditionally!”

Not most types. Most were done on the architects linen. I guess it depends on the type of needlelace.

Yeah, I think it was in relation to the Punto in Aria specifically
…Christine said it was what the “nuns” used …

I guess it would depend on what was available then too….

Don’t know if architect linen is still available in Aussie land – I have a laaarge roll that I brought back from UK a few years ago – there is a supplier in Cambridge who used to advertise in the English “Lace” mag.  It is lovely to use – slightly crisper than contact and less likely to tear around the needle holes, plus you don’t get bits of it stuck in the back of the lace.

Olwyn Scott tends to use a stiffer backing also – usually manilla folder card I think. I’m with you though – I find it too stiff – makes holding the work difficult.

Am I game enough to say that I use cardboard for needle lace. It was how the instructions I found told me to do it. As for big pieces I haven’t tried,  as I too didn’t know how to get the middle parts done on cardboard.  Will have to try calico after reading all the entries here.  And perhaps look up a few diferent books or websites.   Being able to manipulate the calico to where you need to stitch must help a lot….. with larger pieces.

Needlelace pillows
I designed and made my own pillow so that it would be light enough to travel to the Adelaide 2003 workshops with her and I have to say that now I do ALL my needlelace on it even the smaller pieces… I am doing a large piece at the moment and even though it is on a large calico pad there is too much to scrunch up in my hand to get to the centre(By the by ….I also hate using a quilting hoop for hand quilting – have to be able to scrunch it hence why I only do smallish quilts LOL!)My Needlelace pillow is a covered Polystyrene cylinderr, which sits on a “bean bag” (filled with the light polystyrene beads).My DH brings home the empty “Fax” paper cardboard tubes and I have one of these tubes on top of the cylinder with a cover cloth over the whole thing to give the “lift” of the particular area I am working on. I am right handed so have the needle in that hand and I rest my left hand on the top and control the tensioning with the thread between my left thumb and forefinger. You can get up a lot of speed this way working with both hands rather than holding the pad in one of them!

I don’t use cardboard, just 2-3 layers of calico. I like to trace the pattern onto graph paper, then the pattern onto contact and then onto the calico. The contact keeps it all in place while I baste it down. Flexibility is important. I sometimes  use a pillow, bought a tailor’s ham for the purpose – a cheap and handy suggestion that came from Arachne.

I also use a pillow for bits where I need two hands to work – twisted stitches and the like as well as Halas – mine used to be filled with rice but it started walking!!! so is now filled with dolly filling beads.

Aemilia Ars
Has anyone with the Aemilia Ars book made the flower motif with Antwerp stitch?  I am not sure if it is like the knotted edge stitch, probably need new glasses as my attempt is uneven.

Yes, it is the knotted edge stitch – it is in the Anchor book of 100 embroidery stitches (plus a lot of other books somewhere!). The Embroiderers Guild usually has it.  Very handy little book to always have on hand. My Antwerp stitch on the sample was quite inspiring – I was quite amazed.


Of course,  I can enlarge a little,  I will get some milliners needles @ the weekend.   Why didn’t I think of that

I’m not sure that milliner’s are the right sort of needle. They are also called straws and have a very straight shaft with a narrow and short eye, and a sharp point for piercing through felt and raffia (hats). They are usually used for brazilian and grub roses. I use very fine tapestry needles that have the long eye and blunt point, the same as you use for cross-stitch. Those headband maginifiers are marvellous if you can get them in the right spot.

Am definitely using milliners – they are slightly longer and heavier than straws and yes, the leverage is better, especially with heavier threads.  Also not so hard on the hands.  I use these for Aemilia Ars and Reticella and fine needles for other needlelace – tapestry 28’s and crewel 10, 11 and 12. Just a matter of personal preference and getting used to it!

A very fine tapestry needle is best for needlelace and Teneriffe. I have a habit of sewing myself and a blunt needle means that you don’t pierce your skin and you don’t pierce the thread. In fact this type of needle is excellent for cross stitch on evenwave linen too.

Millners and straw needles are one and the same. In fact some brands have
both names printed on the packet. As Rochelle says thay have a long straight
sharft and no bulge for the eye therefore are great for bullion stitch.  Not
terribly good for needlelace as they have sharp points and you run the risk of splitting the threads.  Like Rochelle I think a 26 or 28 tapestry are the best for needle lace. Of course if you are using thicker threads use a thicker needle.

I LOVE my Ballpoint Needles … in fact on the list of things to get in 2 weeks time on my UK trip is Ballpoint needles they are at the top in great big letters!  :-)))))))

A couple of years ago Lincraft did their “own brand” ballpoint needles they seem to have stopped now! and there were 6 needles of the finest size in the packet ( I don’t use any of the larger ones … they seem like coffin nails!) which was fairly economical and they were lovely to use.

Now the only ones I can get here in Perth are the “Birch” ones from Spotlight and you only get 1 needle of the finest size 🙁  which works out to be $2.15 per needle!

Luckily I stocked up before Lincraft stopped doing them so have my special stash in the studio!!!

I had some available for my students last AGM workshop week as a lot of them had never tried them and had only Tapestry 28’s and found it so much easier with the ballpoints.

If I can track down some good ones I will let you all know and maybe we can get some sent here!

I am amazed how any of you work with anything with a point …. perhaps because I work with very fine thread I have trouble  …the point catches and splits threads
Britt _@/


Halas is very similar to all other Needlelaces – but each one has it’s own little twists and tweeks. The basics are the same, though – Couch down your trace thread, then work the fillings!

You do have to do the couching neatly as the (single thread not the usual double) Cordonnet is “pierced” by the needle as it is a needlelace which does not have the Buttonholed Cordonnette done at the end

And when I started doing the first sample square (darning for Halas lace), even in a good light, I could not focus on the threads and kept picking up 2 threads instead of one.  Or maybe it’s because I can’t control the needle properly with my knobbly fingers.

Two suggestions Noelene, before you throw it away.

First, you can couch Halas with zigzag stitch on the sewing machine. A friend of mine made a size 12 ladies vest and couched the whole lot on the sewing machine and found it no different to work than hand couching. She had more cats whiskers to pull out at the end, but she thought the time, and in your case the stress on the hands, savings were worth it.

Second, if you space the threads for the linen stitch (darning) too close they are very difficult to pick up. The threads should be about two needle widths apart, even up to 3mm. You might have had them too close. Try again a little wider apart, then throw it away.

The sample pads which I provide for my students I do with zig zag on my sewing machine which is adequate for trying out new stitches …. but I would never use the machine to do the “real thing”  I can control the stitch spacing much easier by hand especially on lots of curves! I can understand if it is a big project though …..
I actually like the hand couching … working out the least amount of joins etc… I find it very therapeutic … though when doing my largest needlelace project to date (the infamous knickers!) it was pretty frantic “timewise”.

I feel a bit like that too, but my friend was so successful and her work had so many curves I would be inclined to try it. Remember it was Halas and a nice soft thread to couch. She did say going around the corners was fiddly.

The zigzag sewing machine option sounds good for simple projects, Rochelle.

I am trying to space my linen stitch very close together.   Might cut it out and have another go, you never know. I tried it a bit wider apart to start with, but it looked nothing like the illustration in the book, so I tried again as close as I could get it.

The tension increases as you do a larger area. It might not have looked much over the first ten rows, but complete double that and it looks much better. It’s like weaving on a loom, you have to be pretty tough on it and push it up with your needle to make it go into place. More so than torchon. Think pinless ground and you are pretty close to the mark.

When Olwyn Scott did the workshop for us in Ipswich she pre couched everything with the sewing machine on zig zag .

Ringsticks (see lace tools)

Venetian Gros Point
It is the raised Venetian lace that is embellished with rings, picots, and couronnes. This type of lace was at its peak around the 1670s, and is very beautiful.  Grinling Gibbons, the famous wood carver carved cravats in the style of this ‘Gros Point’ type of lace, and they are the most stunning pieces of wood you will ever lay eyes on.  One – the best – is featured in the Catherine Barley book, “Needlelace,- Designs & Techniques, Classic & Contemporary”. Another, simpler, one is in the V.& A. Museum in London, and that wooden Cravat was actually worn, some 50 or more years later, by Horace Walpole, in Parliament.

I just couldn’t poke the needle into the “hole” -too blunt – although we were told to use tapestry needles I was itching to use a sharp!  Also the rows as they got narrower just keep curving under on the left hand side, making it impossible for me to find the first “hole” of the next row.  Combination of lots of things and I am pretty sure I was pulling my stitches too tight which didn’t help as I could not see where the “holes” were supposed to be cos they’d closed up!  I shall perservere in a day or so when I’ve gotten over today’s efforts.

Yep, too tight, and when you do your first stich after your return, pull it down firmly not to close it up but to open it. That should stop you from getting wonky triangles. Sounds like you also had a mite too many stitches on there for the size of the triangle. There should be a needlewidth between each one when you put the first row on.

I have found that Honiton patterns work well in NL.  I did the Icecream Cornucopia from the Biggins Honiton. I also did the Rockinghorse in the Biggins book in NL.

Starting Needlepoint Lace, by Valerie Grimwood  ISBN 0 7134 5807 0.
Batsford  1989, 1st paperback 1995 It is Very basic, with a 4 petal flower with different sts in each petal, then moves on to the Sampler, with a variety of stitches.   Then a couple of projects at the end, with colour and design mentioned.