Straw and fibre pillows, styrofoam and ethafoam pillows, other fillings, block pillows, attachments, ratchet pillows, needlelace pillows, le puy pillows, travel pillows, sitting straight, pillows and bobbins, and pillow covers.

Straw/Fibre Pillows
A well stuffed straw pillow is truly a joy to use; a soft pillow, on the other hand, makes it very difficult to make good lace because of problems in tensioning the lace properly.  Straw might be one of the most old-fashioned pillow fillings, but it is also one of the best.  One of the most hilarious workshops I have ever given was on making straw pillows – the sight of a dozen women banging pillows with hammers and mallets, and even jumping up and down on them to compress the straw was wondrous to behold! The following instructions are for making an 18” (or 50 cm) pillow.  By the way, I’m not sure whether my estimate for the amount of straw is correct – I would be interested to hear from anyone who tries it.

18”/50 cm circle of 12 mm plywood/pine board
22”/60 cm circle of medium canvas or very strong calico (available from camping shops)
24”/65 cm circle and 2 x 18”/50 mm squares of plain dark coloured cotton poplin
1/4”/6 mm elastic to fit…………….2-3 kg straw
1 staple gun or packet of drawing pins or wood glue…….1 hammer or mallet

Cut straw into approx 1”/2.5 cm lengths.  Remove all hard pieces – this is very tedious, but you will be grateful later.  Spray with insecticide and allow to dry.  Or dry in cool oven; maybe put in the freezer for a period.  Place canvas on plywood and attach overlap to underside of wood, using staples, drawing pins or wood glue.  Leave a gap large enough to stuff in the straw.  Stuff in as much straw as possible, close opening temporarily with drawing pins, beat pillow hard with hammer to compress.  Open pillow, stuff in more straw, and beat again.  Continue stuffing and beating, stuffing and beating, until pillow is hard and smooth.  It should rise to about 1-2 inches in centre, tapering away to nothing at edges.  Pull canvas well before final closing with staple gun, drawing pins or wood glue.  A lace pillow cannot be too hard.  You should not be able to make a depression when you press it with your thumb.  Sew a narrow hem on the circle of poplin, thread with elastic, place cover on pillow, and pull up elastic to fit.

My board was 24inch diameter.  The 2 layers of cloth were cut in rough circles just bigger than that, then tacked/nailed onto the boards – into the ½ inch deep depth of the chipboard, and then the excess was trimmed away.   Then I have the large loose cover which I folded into 4, and rounded off to make a circle, neatened the edge with bias tape, and ran elastic through the bias taped edge, to make the loose cover. The straw goes between the double layer of fabric and the wood.  2 layers, with one on the other’s diagonal, prevents stretching of the diagonals when doing the stuffing, so the end result is smoother.


My 2 straw pillows are still good after 27 years. I failed to remove the knots in the straw, so pins strike a hard bit sometimes. I put 2 layers of cloth tacked to the ½in thick pressed board cut to a 24inch diameter circle, and left just a small area untacked.

One layer went one way, and the other straight grain on the first layer’s diagonal   –  ||| then \\\ so there is very little “give” in the fabric. Then I chopped up the straw into small pieces 5 or 6 inches I think, and fed it into the space, and poked it down Hard with a stick (broomhandle or something similar), add a couple more handfuls of straw, and push it down – and so on. Getting it about an inch or so thick around the edges, and slightly more in the middle was a challenge, and getting it Smooth was the hard part.  No lumps – No hills and valleys!! I took out and replaced handfuls to get it right!   But they are Great pillows – though heavy.

As some tiny bugs worked their way through the pinholes on prickings, I sprayed under the loose cover with some Baygon, and that stopped that annoyance!!! I have a loose cover with elastic around the edge, that I can remove and wash if/when necessary.  Made of cotton gabardine, I think.  One navy blue, and one burgundy.  Dark green on my 18″ horsehair pillow!.


Cut a piece of wood (using a jigsaw) to the circular dimension you want about 18 inch diameter. Staple (using a staple gun) a thick piece of felt about 24 inch diameter, leave a hole big enough to put your hand in. Then stuff the thing with straw, not the good Lucerne stuff for the garden but the hard dry stuff that has no green in it, I think it was wheat straw. You have to cut it using secateurs. When completely stuffed finish stapling it. I think country people have easier access to bales of straw then city folk. I remember a bale of hay did my whole group for pillows.


My favourite pillow if I had to choose would be the ones stuffed with coconut fibre as is used for lining pots in the garden.  Just make sure to pick out the really woody fibrous parts and stuff away. I would next time perhaps run some clean water through to rinse any dust out and then lay out on the path to dry thoroughly but I have not done this on the three that I have made in the past.  Perhaps a little more expensive than sawdust but good result without the worry of contamination with glues, insect pre-treatments, excessive dust etc.


I have used barley straw in preference to wheat straw because the knots in the straw are not as big and hard. Coconut fibre is very good to use as well, but the best if you can obtain it is horse hair, if you can find an old horse hair mattress or have friends who own horses, don’t like sawdust or wood wool or shavings


I have made a big tape mat that was too big for my pillow. so I made a large moveable mat and put it on top of my pillow and I used to just move that around I found it much easier than re-pinning it all the time.
I will try to explain the moving pad I made for the large tape lace. I think I cut the two pieces of head cloth from a 36 inch piece of material. I also had a piece of horse hair under felt, and cut that round and covered it with the head cloth, that was my moving pad, place the pattern onto the moving pad and stitch on to it so as it would not move in race horse tacking stitch around the edge, it would tuck under my 24 inch pillow so as I could start in the center of the piece then I would move the pad onto the pillow where ever I was working, never took out demonstrating as it was too bulky but it worked lovely at home. I know some one who made the same thing using old bath towel for the padding, I stuck the pad to the lace pillow with a couple of hat pins, which were very easily removed when you needed to move it on the pillow.


I prefer a sawdust filled pillow! I know they are much heavier but they just ‘sit’ and if they start to go soggy I can give them a good prod or add some more stuffing! Part of the fun is making them too and after thumping them with the mallet I walk on them too  – to even it all out! Great for the frustrations! I usually have something ‘on the go’ on a styrofoam pillow to take demonstrating or to a lace day as it is lighter to carry but use the sawdust ones for anything ‘good’


I’m assuming it is mane or tail horsehair as is used in top quality passementerie or upholstery????


You need a board the diameter or square or oblong that you require. Tack some hessian or burlap onto the back, sandwiching the board in the hessian.Tack firmly around the edge of the underside of the board, leaving a small section untacked.Through this hole you push as much horse hair as you possibly can, into the space between the board and hessian using an awl to help push into place. When you cannot push another hair into the space, tack down the remaining hessian at hole. Cover the hessian with calico and tack to back. To prevent tacks scratching furniture  a two inch wide strip of wadding is placed around the under outer edge and covered with calico, lastly a plain piece of calico with edges turned under is tacked over the raw edges on centre of underside and so make a neat job. The pillow is now ready to have its cover put on in colour of your choice. I’m sure other fillings can be used but I still consider horse hair is the NO 1 for lace pillows.


I used the teased hair, after washing of course, as it had come from the mattress. It was roughly about 2 to 4 inches in length and yes it did appear to be curled.


I too have a Norman McLean horsehair pillow, and I agree with Ruth that it is most beautifully made, especially the circle of padding underneath. Mine is still firm, but the 3 other horsehair pillows I made in the early days developed soft spots after twenty odd years of use, and I’m afraid there’s nothing for it, Ruth, but to open them and re-stuff. Horsehair is very difficult to find, but you may find an upholsterer who is using more modern materials and can let you have some. (On the other hand, many upholsterers regard it as gold dust  and guard their precious supplies.) I was fortunate that a lacemaking friend very generously gave me a small bag of horsehair,. I opened up the 3 old pillows and  re-stuffed them, and they are wonderful to use again – my favourites, in fact.

I have a handful of the horsehair – it is strongly curled, and the pieces are about 12cm long, as far as I can tell. The handful is just a curled up mass – with a rather wirey feeling!   I got a big bag of it from an uphosterer some 12-15 years ago. For something like $12 – $25  I think.

I spoke to a friend about horsehair as used by upholsterers and she explained that the horsehair in this instance came from horses deceased and at the place where old horses go before they drop dead in the paddock. (The knackery) She didn’t know how it curled, but she thought that it was probably the chemical used in the tanning process. Then we watched an episode of ‘Worst Jobs in History’ and they had a tannery there. The presenter started stripping the fur off a cow hide with a sharp scraper. If the chemicals don’t curl it, the scraping could. So although I don’t have a definitive answer to how horsehair is curled, I think it is probably the process of defurring. The upshot of it is, the curling process is probably not necessary for stuffing pillows, but if you have access to uncurled normal horsehair off the animal’s back, I think you could stuff as many pillows as you like with it.

This traditional pillow is hard packed with barley straw. It has a large 14″ working surface and an overall depth of 5″. You can use this pillow on either side for both large and small projects. Cover this pillow in the traditional way using one medium blue hemmed 18″ fabric square draped over the pillow.

You might be able to resurrect your squishy pillow by fitting something like a bit of washed-in-hot-water-and-pilled-a-bit wool blanket over the top of the pillow.   I pulled the blanket tight and pinned it with glass-headed pins (in the absence of a stapler) all around the side of the pillow.  Then I made a removeable cover (circle of thick material several inches bigger than the size of the pillow, hemmed it and threaded a bit of tape through to pull it up – I don’t use elastic, ‘cos it perishes) – certainly has improved the situation quite nicely!

Builders blue board – it is a board of insulation Styrofoam, 2.5 metres long by 60 cm wide and 3 cm deep (about 1 inch, I guess).  It’s light blue in colour, a bit like sky blue.  It’s so long that I have to ask them to cut the board in half so I can get it into my hatchback car. It doesn’t crumble like white polystyrene foam (like the sort they make fruit boxes from).  I usually have a base of 3mm MDF board (from the local hardware shop), then the blue board, then a layer or two of old blanket, then a cover of homespun cotton fabric- I’ve got a couple of 9 block pillows, and a couple of just big plain squares or rectangles of the stuff as pillows (just pinned around the edge if the truth be known – the 9 blocks are properly sewn up by hand).  The very good stuff for making pillows is available from Clarks Rubber and called “Ethafoam” but it’s much more expensive than blue board. And for roller pillows, the way to go is to buy a swimming pool “noodle” – it’s just the right texture for a roller pillow core.

Ethylene foam is available from Clark rubber as a gym mat.  The adult gym mat has a stamped surface – to stop it tearing – it is not suitable.  It’s too hard to pin through.  The child’s gym mat has the soft unstamped surface and makes great pillows with a layer of felt on top.  Sounds better to my ears too: with the felt on top of the polyethylene foam.  If you need to cut it for a block pillow, it is a breeze if DH has a band saw.  If you put removable covers on the pieces of a block pillow, consider putting a layer of low-grade foam underneath to provide a space for the hem and ties to bed into.  It prevents the small blocks from rocking.

I spent yesterday afternoon making a new pillow. DH cut me a 24 inch circle from the base of an old bed (masonite I think) then I cut a matching circle out of some foam with a bread knife then sloped the sides down towards the edge.

I found the 5cm thick board too bulky, I prefer the 3cm. To cut it, lay it on the floor, get a long ruler and carefully measure the middle line, run a knife along it, and snap.

I did make a quarter-circle pillow of polystyrene with two moveable truncated wedges of ethafoam that just fit Pat Milnes’ Torchon fan but being in a hurry to finish it for the workshop, and not looking ahead, I made the centre and outer edges of ‘broccoli boxes’.  I remember seeing somewhere a picture of a fan pillow that had a rotate-able circle at the ‘point’ of the quarter-circle.

I love my bread knife!  So useful for a lace maker. I needed a new pillow and didn’t have time to find my jigsaw to cut the polystyrene with real precision.  Out with the bread knife and 3 minutes later the Dow polystyrene insulation board was cut to just the right size. 10 minutes later I had it covered.  Pins all up the side as I stretched the cloth and although I’d be forced to redo it if I was making a garment, I have no doubts it will work well for the new project which is a torchon fan from one of the Bolillos mags.  I’d strongly recommend breadknives in a lacemaker’s toolbag.

Other fillings
I can tell you I once made a bolster pillow quite successfully out of the old nylon pantyhose of all the ladies in the church! I collected them all, washed them (again! just in case…), then cut off all the elasticy bits, then chopped the remaining bits into smallish pieces to use for packing the inside of the pillow.

For my pricking board, which I made over 20 years ago when I was into spinning, I made some felt -about 3/4 inches thick- and stapled it to a plywood board approximately 7 inches  by 9 inches. Easy to carry about and great to use.

I usually use only one thickness of an old pure wool blanket which I find enough.  You don’t want a lot, just enough to ease the pins through into the polystyrene. I like sewing around the edges of my blocks, to give a really tight fit, so the blocks fit as close together as possible.   I’ve even cut two paper pattern pieces – one for the top and four sides, and the second for just the bottom, so I could cut the fabric to size, and stitch tight side seams to the top piece, put in the blanket square and the polystyrene block, fold over the seam allowances, then hand stitch the bottom piece around each side, pulling tight as I go.  And I use quilting thread so I can pull tight and not have the thread break. And I always glue the four corner blocks and have the five moveable blocks.  I just slather a snake of Aquahere on each corner and plonk the (stitched) corner blocks on, make sure there’s no excess glue, then put in the other five and make sure they are all pushed together tight (I put a big band of wide elastic around the edge) and leave the whole thing for a couple of days until the glue is dry.  I’ve never had a glued block move yet.  And I have minimal problems with gaps between the blocks for pins to fall into.

I use a lightweight alternative to the wood base. The local framer has a backing that is sort of plastic corrigated cardboard. Strong and lightweight, easy to cut with a stanley knife. I also do not glue the blocks down, I simply use an inch wide elastic to hold the lot together, thus giving me the most flexiblity in movement of blocks. My pillow is actually a 5 block. One on either side and three down the middle. If I had a 9 block I think I would simply add an extra length of elastic around the outer edge of the pillows to hold them together.

Are you referring to coreflute (sp?), it is the stuff used by real estate agents for their For Sale signs and those running for political office

If you want to be REALLY smart, use a base of light plywood and get aluminium ‘angle iron’ (strip of aluminium bent in the middle so that each side is a right angles to the other – I wish I could draw it here!).  Cut the aluminium to fit each side. Mitre the corners.  Rivet to the wood, and cover the outer side of the aluminium with an attractive braid.

I made a extra large three block a number of years ago and put that in a frame – was easy to work with.

I have a nine block pillow made for travelling. The blocks are about 15.5cm square and are on a piece of thin ply wood cut to exact size.None are glued down which IMHO would defeat the purpose of the blocks! There is a fabric cover (like a box). The bottom is made to fit the blocks and wood. It has a handle at the back and velcro on both sides and front. The top of the box (cover) has a handle at the back and is larger at the front and is gathered onto the other piece of velcro so there is space for pins, a roller, etc.

Pinning & working on a nine-block pillow
When you are working on a nine-block pillow, what do you do when the pin should go where two blocks meet?

A slight angle on a pin will ensure it digs in one side or the other.  I sometimes use some fine, glass headed pins I picked up in a Woolworth’s supermarket, which are longer than my normal brass pin.  Wish I could find some more of them.  They do well for pins near a join, which may have a bit of a tug applied to them (pins in fishtail fans, for example). Of course, I don’t do ultra fine work on a nine block pillow,  but using say Finca 40 will allow me to pin across the block divisions with no sign of the slightly angled pins when it has been taken off the pillow.

I have found that sliding a narrow piece of cardboard under the pricking so it covers the gap, and at least a row of pinholes before and after, is usually sufficient to hold the pins well enough for modest tensioning. As Noelene elaborated, the more accurate the blocks, the closer they will fit together.

The perfect answer to “spaces between the blocks” is very simple. Just fold a paper towel or part of one and place between the blocks. The towel spreads itself out, fills the gap nicely, and holds the pins firmly in place.

One of the first lace books I read after basic ‘primers’ was Eeva-Liisa Kortelahti’s “Bobbin Lace” and I was intrigued with her idea of a rotating collar for moving the bobbins (p 6-8). It remained just an idea until I started Flanders – four bobbins per pinhole in the ground seriously increases the number of bobbins on the pillow!

The fifty kg assembly doover certainly opens possibilities.  Where did you find it?

The Round Swivel Assembly, intended for TVs and such things I think, did come from Bunnings

I so must have missed the piccie with the rotating base, are you talking about a “lazy susan”, I have a great one made from mdf, it is 24 inches across. I bought it a few years ago at the Stitches & Craft show at Rosehill racecourse.  I find it terrific for my straw pillow when doing sew in type laces.

I think that you can get a similar rotating base from Cake decorating shops, but I don’t know if it would be sturdy enough to have any thing as heavy as the things on Jay’s Pillow.

The pillow itself is not very heavy – most of the weight is from the metal base.  The roller box and the dowel in the roller are wood but the rest is ply-wood, ethafoam, felt and headcloth.

There are two contrasting lace making methods.  A Lazy Susan as Lynn described is useful when the lace and bobbins are rotated together eg in Russian tape lace where you need to rotate the pillow to keep the ‘action’ in front of you. In yardage the action stays in front but the bobbins, especially if you are using a large number, have to be moved so the ones in use are at the front to make tensioning easier. (This may only apply to lacers like me who work hands down.  If you work hands up on a flat pillow it might be usual to lift the bobbins to the front then return them to their side position after the stitch is made).  For this a cake stand or Lazy Susan is not suitable, unless you could cut out the centre without affecting the rotating mechanism, because the lace in the centre remains stationary while the bobbins revolve round it.

Imagine a lazy susan split into two concentric parts – the outer ring on which the bobbins rest revolves round the stationary inner circle that has the pricking.  Pp 6-8 of Eeva-Liisa Kortelahti’s early book “Bobbin lace”, (1981) show a moving support for the bobbins on her pillow.  It looked a bit fragile to me but the idea stayed in my head for many years until I saw a rotating TV stand. With woodwork help from DH I completed the pillow last year but this workshop is the first ‘outing’.

A simpler idea was posted on Arachne a couple of years ago by Doris Southard
(An American lace book author):
“Cut a circle about 18″ across from quilted fabric, with a hole in the middle about 5” across.  Sew this to a backing of heavy plastic of the same size and shape and cover all raw edges with bias tape.  This goes over your lace on the pillow, plastic side down.  The bobbins fan out to lie on the quilted fabric.  As you need to move large numbers of bobbins aside, you just turn the “donut”, without disturbing the placement of the bobbins.”   Would work best on a flat pillow I assume.

I don’t know whether this will help you, but it worked for me when I was doing a large piece of Russian lace:  buy an “Aerobic/camping mat” from Overflow or similar shop.  They cost about $6.00.  Cut up squares of various sizes and use them underneath each part of the pricking as you need them.  Your pillow will look shockingly untidy and cumbersome, with the pricking hanging over the edges, but you can move the rubber thingo around so that the part you are working on is on the actual lace pillow, and the parts you have finished are jutting over the edge with the pins in.  NB – be careful picking the pillow up as at least some of the pins will be sticking out the bottom of the rubber as well!

The pillow extension on the back is 3ply wood in the shape of a church window.  Which is 25 inches in length and 20 inches in width. On the front down the bottom at the straight end is polystyle foam covered with the same material we cover out pillows.  It is staight at the bottom and the inside cut at the top end is in the shape of a half “C” that the pillow fits into. The bottom of the “C” shape is 4 and half inches wide and the side of the “C” shape is 10 inches.  When the pillow is on the board it extends the 20 inch pillow four and half inches in all and that sure helps if you are working on a square piece or a round lace or like I do Milanese lace. I would not be without the extension as it means I do not have to have a bigger pillow.

The bobbins were having “Lemming” tendencies and kept leaping off the edge now that I am working on the outer circle and more often than not near the edge so I comandeered a piece of packing polystyrene from DS’s new stereo player and cut it to same depth as my pillow and I also cut a curve along one of the long edges the same “arc” as my pillow so I now have an extension to just move around as I need to… works a treat! Only downside is I have to work it at a table.

Different types of pillows and bobbins
The first time you try something, cut the foam or whatever you are using and then make a lace sample directly on this ‘raw’ pillow using just a cover cloth and the pattern, to see if it is what you want before you invest a lot of time in covering it properly. Lace makers are practical people and have used what they had to hand – straw, seagrass, felt, sawdust… A frustrated beginner in Israel reported to Arachne that she had begun with disposable diapers in a cake tin. There are rumours that lacemakers caught short at a workshop resorted to toilet paper rolls – as roller/bolster pillows <g>. The basic requirement of a pillow is that it holds the pins firmly but they are easy to insert and pull out.

I think the colour of ethafoam distinguishes the grade, fineness of the holes. I bought white offcuts from Metro Foam Products, in Silverwater, Sydney (about 5 cm thick but they sliced it horizontally into two 2.5 cm thick pieces for me.  It is a bit less stiff than the black 1cm thick piece I had as a sample from the Powerhouse Museum (museums use it for packaging).

My favourite though is a bit ‘springier’ – a blue ethafoam. Many calculations later, and me and my trusty bread knife produced an octagonal block pillow 3 cm thick, and a 2cm thick Dutch style pillow (permanent sides, three central blocks down the middle).

My ratchet pillow has a ratchet spanner (with most of the handle cut off), attached to  a spindle and embedded in the middle of the pillow.  The spindle was thrust through some pool noodle and wrapped in felt. On the base board are two supports for either end of the spindle and the spanner (a Super Cheap special) is fixed to the outside of one of the supports.  The ‘knob thingy’ on the spanner lets the roller rotate away from me and stays firm when pulled towards me.  It can be changed but I have to undress the pillow a bit and dig into the foam surround.  So far I never needed to do this, reverse lacing was on one occasion dealt with by re- pinning.

My (home-made) roller pillow is stopped from turning by a long pin – more like a small skewer really – that goes through a hole in the top of the wooden box that the roller sits in, and sticks into the side of the roller.

I presume Sharon means a roller pillow – where the roller is stopped from moving by the use of a ratchet.  John Beswick makes one which has a little peg lever which fits into a series of holes on the side of the roller, which is much better than my original roller pillow from New Zealand which relied on a peg down the side of the roller to stop it from moving.

Seeing your piece is 18″ x 18″, I would suggest you make a 9 block pillow, each block 6″ by 6″.  Cover each piece with its blanket topping, and cotton fabric stitched on tight.  Then cut a piece of ply 18″ x 18″, and glue the four corner blocks in place using Aquahere, just a squiggle down the centre of each block, not too much so that it doesn’t ooze out the sides.  Then put the other five blocks in place, and push everything tightly together, and put a heavy weight on top until the glue is absolutely dry. The 5 loose blocks then fit firmly, and you don’t need anything more to keep them in place. As you say, you can use your 18″ by 11″ to make a whole lot of extra blocks for it – both 6″ by 6″, and (I would recommend” a couple of 6″ by 3″. I’ve got two pillows made this way and they’re always in use.

Definitely at least 2 half blocks, they really make things easier. And extra blocks are a very nice thing to own, they come in very handy, as Vicki said, when you do a class and you want to make several pieces of lace without having to finish them.

My favourite block pillow is based on 15cm x 15cm.  I have two of these squares in the middle as well as 2 x 7.5cm x 15cm.  The two sides can be 45cm x 15cm each or they can be comprised of three blocks 15cm x 15cm on each side.  I have a few spare 15cm x 15cm for workshops, meaning that I can take out an incomplete exercise, for completion later (of course!) and then put in a fresh one for the next class exercise.  The two small blocks of 7.5cm x 15cm come in handy when you want to move just a bit further up, but not much.

I have a block pillow with a 15″ square of moveable blocks in the middle.  The blocks are a mixture of 5″ square, and half blocks of 5″ x 2 1/2″ square.   I actually prefer the smaller blocks, and wish there were more of them in my pillow.   I find that if I have to move my work up 5″, I’m leaning too far over my work, resulting in back and neck strain.  Yes, I do have to move up more often, but find it much easier on the body to do so!

The van Sciver website shows two block pillows, one with blocks 7″x7″ (and half blocks) and the other with 18cmx18cm blocks and half blocks. Don’t know why the different units – I guess they are the same size anyway! 10 inches seems pretty enormous and would restrict you to two in a row?

If it were mine, I would make 10″ x10″ blocks, and leave the rest for the sides. It’s better to have big blocks, because that were you do your lace, and smaller ones can be too small fairly quickly, even if you don’t think so now!!!. It’s also better to have square blocks, as you can turn them around and work on them in both directions, you get more mileage out of them that way, as your pinholes are not all going down the same path.

Do you always work on a NL pillow? What sizes are your 2?

I work with a pillow regardless of how big or small the piece is …. you can get a real rythmn going when you can stitch with both hands rather than having one of them “tied up” with the holding of the pad…. the only time I don’t is when I am teaching and most of the students are working “in the hand” (I did have one working with a pillow at the AGM)…though I am quite happy to show them my pillow and how to use it (Yes I will have the (bigger) normal one with me next Month. The larger one’s cylinder measures 27 cms long and the smaller 14cms.

My NL pillow is in fact a tailor’s ham – nice little shape, cheap ($20 at Cleggs) and ready-made! I find that using a pillow enables me to  wiggle stitches into place with both hands, when necessary.

What does a Needlelace pillow look like?  I know about the material pads, the acrylic things (Amelia Ars style) but have never seen a picture or heard of an explanation of a nl pillow.

Nl pillows are like small bolster pillows. I made mine from a coffee tin, covered it with some old dressing-gown wool or windcheater material, then covered that with navy cloth.  The NL pad is pinned to this, and a stick shoved between the pad and the pillow, to lift up that small area, so you can get your needle in and out. The stick can be rolled to the next part, to work there. It sits on your lap. I have a small wicker basket, minus the handle – to use as a stand for it, when it sits on the table at demos.

Here is what to do for those who can’t understand the instructions in French:
website : http://commerce.sage.com/dentelle%2Dle%2Dpuy/ Click on the word catalogue in the blue part on the left of the frame. This brings up a list, the top word being “carreaux-métiers” (pillows). Click on that, you get 3 choices of pillows, the first one being “Carreaux – Traditionnels (traditional pillows). Click on that and you get a new information on the right side, with reference, description, Price… If you click on the words ” Carreau traditionnel en cotonnade”, you will get the picture of a traditional Le Puy pillow. The shape may remind you a bit of the 19th century Princess pillow, although the cylinder on that was higher than the French one. It was probably based on this type of pillow.

Don’t worry, you don’t need another pillow. You just work French lace as you do the rest, but in France, they work their lace the continental way, i.e. holding all the bobbins in their hands and making them skip from one hand to the other, instead of having them laying on the pillow as we do. This is what actually produces that clicking sound that you read about in old poems and stories. But is is not necessary to do it to be able to work the lace. Most of the old lacemakers in Le Puy made lengths of lace to sell by the metre, this is why the rotating cylinder was so popular. Of course, it can be a bit awkward if you’re trying to make a handkerchief corner!!! You had to wrap up your work and unpin it to put it at 90% for every corner!!! Most of the young lacemakers I saw in Le Puy, and in Bayeux, use the multiple squares flat pillow we use, but they keep the traditional one for demos and costumed occasions. They’re not cheap, they cost about 100 euros last time I looked, which is about 150 dollars!!

Courtrai, a town in Belgium, also known as Kortrijk. I’ve been trying
to Google a picture of a lace pillow, but no luck so far. They did make
a lot of different style laces, Guipure, Valenciennes…

I just spoke to Inez  this morning and she is still making her travel pillows so if anyone would like one please contact me and I will pass her addy on  i.e. if she hasnt already joined Gumlace  in which case email her directly.

I have emailed a couple of photos to Noelene in case anyone wants to see another travel pillow. The pattern is by Britt Fairchild and the poor workmanship is all me I tried to add some padding by using the high density foam but it is a bit too thick and has bulked it out in the green one. The velcro does not work too well – my placement was faulty and I used tarzans grip – which did not grip. The purple one is better as I used the framers card (a plastic card that looks like old fashioned corrigated cardboard) so it is even sponge cleanable.

Sitting properly
I’m finding the dining room table with a straight back chair and a cushion at my back is the best for me at the moment, and I definitely have to get up every 20 mins or so.  A lounge chair is too low and too deep.
One more tip is to have a small footstool for your feet.  This improves your posture a lot when sitting upright

Good posture is very important for lace making.  Make sure you are comfortable and relaxed,  sitting hunched over your lace is sure to give you backache, so have your pillow in a position for you to keep your back straight.

From someone who is just starting out, what are the advantages and disadvantages of both Continental and Spangled bobbins? Also, some books say you should NEVER have your pillow on a slope, it should ALWAYS be flat – others say the complete opposite.  Is there a correct way, or is it a matter of preference?

I learned to make lace in Denmark.  I use Scandanavian/Danish bobbins (as opposed to Continentals).  I learned to make lace palms down.  However, I learned to make lace using 2 bobbins in each hand rather than one.  The bobbins are manovered by gripping them in the spaces between the index- middle- and ring fingers up at the larger knuckle and then I sort of throw the bobbins around.  I have arthritis in my thumbs and cannot manage picking up midlands with my thumbs and forefingers – 10 minutes of lace with them and that’s it!

I learned to make lace on a roller pillow – even a hanky edging with corners.  I wasn’t going to take any pics of that poor pillow, but Helen if you are interested I am happy to take some pics of it and the type of bobbins I use (Neil Keats has told me he can supply them here in Australia and in a variety of different coloured timbers); and I can get hubby to take some photos of me working the bobbins.  The “apron” of the pillow has a *very* gradual slope and is nice and cushion-y to dig my knuckles into.

I have a mushroom pillow that I don’t use anymore as my bobbins roll all over the place (!) – and my pattern doesn’t sit very nicely.  I have a round flat cookie pillow that I only use for tape style lace & Christmas decorations on bangles (as my bobbins roll all over the place!).

When I made my wedding veil, I used a large piece of foam and a smaller strip, to aid in “moving” the pattern up.

I find that if you use continentals, you must have a flat pillow lying flat as well (unless you have, and know how to use a bolster). If you don’t have a flat pillow, lying flat, the bobbins will roll and that often results in loosing the twists out of the thread, causing it to break, and that constant rolling drives me bonkers!! You need umpteen divider pins to keep them under control.

The French square ended bobbins are great to use, and quite pretty as well, and so good for lace that requires a lot of sew in’s. They still tend to slide along somewhat even so. Spangled bobbins are really good for all laces that do not have sew in’s, and they are so nice with all the pretty beads. And you can put stitch holders through the spangle and keep them out of the way without getting them tangled.
The problem with mushroom shaped pillows is that if you use it for a circular piece of lace, you often have to remove the pins from the beginning of the piece to get rid of the bubble in the pattern when nearing the end, and often the piece of lace will not lie flat when completed, though ironing it will often straighten it again.(thank goodness!) The pillow that causes this problem for me is a 60cm round horse hair filled pillow.

I always slant my pillow so that I don’t hunch over the pillow.  A slant on my pillow means that I can sit back in the chair with a good posture.  To get it the right height I balance the far end of the pillow on a table and have the near end resting in my lap. I love the spangles on the midlands – very pretty.  However, not practical if you have a lot of sewings. I don’t like the continentals that are perfectly round in diameter – they roll all over the place – very annoying. However, if there are a lot of sewings in the pattern, I use my continentals with the square cut shank.  I particularly like the ones made of pear wood, although the ornate ones are easy to pick up, whether you are a beginner or someone with stubborn (arthritis) hands.

I can’t stand continentals either, but if you used a bolster pillow, as I think many Europeans do, then they would be easier to work with than Midlands.

If I was starting again, I’d go for all “Square Belgian style” bobbin but as I’ve already got a reasonable size collection of Midlands, I’ll just stick to enough squares to do tape lace with. No beads to get in the way of sewings.  And there’s no doubt in my mind that half the attraction of Midlands are their decorations and pretty beads.
I do tape lace on a flat pillow, sometimes just on a very slight slope, but I do Torchon or Bucks on a gentle slope – usually a cover cloth rolled up and propped under the far side of a flat 9 block pillow.   I seldom use my mushroom pillows, except when I do things like small motifs for Christmas. I read somewhere that Honiton should be done on a flat pillow, but apart from a tiny sample just to give it a try, I’ve never done any.  I did have a roller pillow once, but the apron was so steep the thing used to give me nightmares, and I sold it.

Jennifer has offered some more information about ratchet pillows. As the lacemaker works the lace the wheel is pushed away and the ratchet holds it from moving forward.  If the lacemaker wants to move the wheel forward (eg when penelope lacing) she lifts the metal strip up enough to clear he ratchet mechanism. My Danish pillow allows the metal strip to be swivelled sideways to release the ratchet.

There are a few loose tacks underneath that I want to sort out before I do anything else.  I will need to actually make lace on the roller, but I think I may need to refill the roller – or make a new one.  I also want to make a pillow cover *before* I make any lace.  The fabric on the pillow is velvet in beautiful condition.  (I actually think I got a bargain with this one!) I have no idea how old the pillow is but the tacks holding the fabric to the board on the underside of the pillow appear to me to be very old furniture tacks.

My danish pillow – the one you don’t have photos for – the roller is raised above the pillow and each end is screwed into the pillars coming up from the pillow.  So if I need to repair the roller I can “theoretically” unscrew it, repair it and screw it back again. If you look very closely at the close-up photo of the roller and the ratchet you will see that the central dowel of the roller is held in by thread.  If I cut the thread to take the roller out to repair/replace it, I am not sure how I would secure it once more.

Pillow covers
For a pillow cover I am using a cotton drill fabric with 3% elastine.  The elastine provides just a little bit of give and enables a lovely rounded shape without creases around the perimeter.

I started making the cover to my large polystyrene pillow (24″). I stuck a few sheets of newspaper together for the pattern (as on Judith Markham’s website instructions), got a piece of string attached to a pin and a pen at the other end to make a compass and drew the pattern. Funny how you mean to do these things for months and then it only takes 15 minutes or so once you get going. I’ve pinned the paper pattern onto the material but have left the cutting out till daylight. I’ll make the casing tomorrow and get some elastic to thread.