Pricking mats, contact, gasket paper, coloured cardboard, laminating, coming to the end of a pricking, prepricking and colour coding prickings.

Pricking mats
Q.                Does anyone have any good ideas about what to use as a pricking mat.

A1.  I used to use a cork mat you use to protect your table from hot items, but that was fairly stiff, but it made a good firm base.  I have a round one, the same size as a place mat.  It was about half an inch or more thick, not just the thin sheet of cork that’s on the back of some placemats.  But now I make myself lace pillows out of the blue insulation board you can buy in sheets from insulation specialist companies (my supplier is in Canberra) and I have lots of offcuts, so I took a piece of this, covered it with a piece of old blanket and some cotton fabric (must admit it’s only pinned on, not stitched) and this is much more comfortable.

A2.  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

A3.  I use an A4 size self-healing cutting mat – you know the kind patchworkers use for measuring/cutting.  It is green and has measurements along the sides.  I’ve been using it for 8 or 9 years now and it is still in great condition.  I think you could get one from any good patchwork/craft shop or a national chain like Lincraft/Spotlight.  In between the pricking and the mat I place a layer of waxed kitchen paper (6 sheets ironed together – 5 facing one way and 1 the other way so that all the wax is inside, if that makes sense) – this really helps the needle go through easily.


Cover pricking with see through yellow, pale blue contact.  If it is shiny rub it over with some steel wool, it is better if it doesn’t have a shine on it.

Can also use a scratchy plastic pot scrubber to do the same thing

I found 3 rolls of the Jade green a couple of weeks ago – and bought all 3 rolls, as that is my preferred colour to work on.  It is a soft bluey green, and “kind to the eyes

I’m a dedicated used of gasket paper, since that is that was the only really suitable card available for prickings in the early 1980s when I learned and I have never found card that I like using as much as gasket paper. I accept that with polystyrene pillows, a less rigid pricking is perfectly okay. These days, I always use the matte aqua Contact although I have some pale lime green which I prefer for dark coloured threads. But I absolutely LOVE a dark purple shiny Contact I bought years ago for working with white threads – the shine didn’t use to bother me, but if I used it now I would rub it over with steel wool or similar to remove the shine. I don’t really like the Contact/paper/card sandwich for all-lace mats – for these I prefer to make a non-Conctact traditional pricking – since the pattern is not actually stuck to the pricking card (Contact is stuck only to the pricking card at the edges and the paper pattern in the middle) and the  paper/Contact combo always seems to bubble irregularly. Having the pattern ON the pricking card would solve this, but I would have to compromise and use card that was okay for the printer. I’m quite used to working without pattern markings on my pricking. Again, when I learned, there was no really safe marker on the market, so we marked our prickings with white ink using a mapping pen, a thoroughly horrible exercise, so I usually didn’t bother. Before I submitted my Stage 1 Proficiency, I sat down and marked all of my prickings, but the lace had already been worked with the unmarked pricking! As a side issue, I once decided to “simplify” the joining of 4 “quarter” patterns for a large mat by printing onto overhead projector film since even when printing from a computer-drafted pattern (as opposed to photocopying, which we know creates some distortion) the matching up is never as simple as it should be. Unfortunately, overhead projector film distorts even worse that paper going through a printer. (There is an up side to this story, though, as I had drafted from a picture and forgotten to reverse everything  and it wasn’t a symmetrical pattern. I was able to rectify this by turning the joined pattern over before pricking, and the Contact/overhead projector film didn’t bubble the way a paper/Contact combo does).

I’m with you on gasket paper!!   Amazed the men in the car spare parts shop some years ago by going in and ordering a whole roll of gasket paper – they were even more surprised that I knew exactly which thickness of it I wanted…and that I wanted such a large amount.   The main problem with buying it “en masse” like that is the oily smell and feel – but after a few years of sitting in the cupboard, the smell and feel has totally disappeared.

Historically, prickings were made on parchment – which in turn, at least in England, was replaced by pricking card – a stiffish, glazed card. Rosemary Shepherd in her original book, suggested a suitable substitute was 0.4mm gasket paper.  For those who don’t know, gasket paper is light cardboard, impregnated with some sort of oil, and was used for sealing joints in car engines.  (I was told by someone years ago that these days the technology has changed.)

Rosemary suggested that gasket paper was “an excellent but unorthodox substitute for parchment”, because at the time it was available from most motor car accessory shops.  Gasket paper is difficult to tear, and is quite easy to prick through, unlike most card sold for prickings, which Rosemary described as “stiff and difficult to pierce”.

I’ve found that, whether I want to make a pricking the “proper” way (pricking through the gasket paper from a master copy, then drawing in the lines and other symbols direct onto the pricked gasket paper) or the easy way of slapping a photocopy onto the paper and cover it with adhesive contact, the gasket paper helps make a virtually indestructible pricking, which will last repeated. The oil does not come off on your lace, even if the lace is worked straight on top of the gasket paper.  When I first bought my roll of gasket paper, the oil smell was quite strong – however, that soon disappeared.

In OfficeWorks I bought a pack of thin card (thick paper?) in a nice light blue (lots of other colours available also!). The theory is I can print the pattern onto it and don’t need to cover it in contact – haven’t tried it yet but can’t foresee any problems so long as I don’t want to stiffen the lace when it’s finished!

The only problem you’re likely to encounter, Lisa, is the ink, from whatever form of reproduction you use, rubbing off on your thread.    Certainly I’ve found that the ink in my printer/photocopier gives a slightly dirty look to the lace if I don’t use contact.

I use card to copy my pattern. I’ve discovered that laser printers don’t have the same problem as ink jet in terms of smudging the thread.

My new stuff is Optix – 140gsm (there is also one ~90gsm, from memory – normal paper thickness). It’s supposed to work in all printers, copiers, faxes; acid free, fade resistant etc … the one I got is called Viza blue; there is also an aqua colour which I liked but they were out of it in the 140gsm.

I’ve used the nice light blue lightweight card (“Powder Blue”) for years – it’s one of the reasons why I just love to get my prickings for workshops in advance, so I can scan and print onto the card.  It’s not the Quill “Multiboard” which is too thick (210 gsm), the one I buy is a Tudor brand distributed by Spicers Stationery, and is 150 gms copy board 3TAC160 Blue.  It goes through my printer without any problems, it’s quite cheap, and as you say, it’s much cheaper to buy clear Contact than the coloured stuff.   I really dislike the coloured stuff personally, it’s too vivid.   The only time I can buy the coloured stuff in blue in green so that I’ve got some for workshops “just in case” is at the very start of a school year, when stationers seem to stock a lot of different sorts of Contact to cover books.

For those who would like to print onto coloured card but have concerns about inkjet ink – try a quick spray with artists fixative. A can from an art barn lasts for a couple of ages as long as I remember to turn it upside down and give a quick spray before putting it away.


I have a laminator at work and bought a packet of 80 micron laminating pockets to use.  First I photocopy the pricking on pale blue paper, and then laminated it.  Then I prick the holes before attempting the lace.  Trying to push the pins through the laminating film has two problems, it hurts my fingers after a while and I seem to bend a lot of pins.  I use a fine needle to make the pinholes ahead on the laminating as I go.  Laminated prickings are nice and firm also they help keep the pinholes straight.

I didn’t find the laminated paper hard to prick. I just did it as I was going along. Didn’t pre prick it just with the pins.

We use contact on top or under the laminate it works very well. We bought a cheap laminator from Aldi I think the whole thing cost us $30 including 100 pouches. We will replace the pouches at Woollies or someone similar,where ever we get the best deal.We just photocopy the pattern onto white paper cover with contact and laminate or if we forget we just put the contact on top.

Personally, I don’t like laminating because there are 3 pinholes to go through if you go over the same pattern several times, and that can get a bit skewed if the bottom laminating film moves a bit. Also, if you have small patterns and you print several on the same sheet and then laminate the sheet, you have to cut them out afterwards and you lose the sealed edges, so your pattern can move inside the laminating film. If you only laminate one small pattern per sheet, it can gete quite expensive. But on
the other side, you don’t get the sticky residue you sometimes get from Contact when you pull the pins out of the holes….

I use 150 gsm laminating pouches. It is waterproof, prevents ink transfer to thread, is easy to prick, holds the pinhole shape well (even after several uses) and you can ‘mend’ a misplaced pinhole by turning it over and rubbing the unwanted pinhole

I wonder if it really would be better. My reason here is that laminated things are very glossy and you would get reflections from the light wouldn’t you? Unless offcourse there is a mat finish that is available. Might stick to gasket paper as well as contact and my scotch brite after all.

There are matte laminating products – one of the English lace suppliers offers to sell laminated patterns, and when she gave the details of what she used on Arachne, she definitely mentioned “matte”…..

I use heat laminate and that has a lower melting point side in the middle so that it melts and adheres to the item being held. The older style laminates used to only adhere to itself. You will notice 1-2mm around the pricking is translucent – that has not adhered to anything and it is this are that seperates. I just make sure I cut wider than that and use the scissors to round off the otherwise sharp laminate corner.

End of Pricking

Q: If I’m at the end of my pricking and I want to continue, what do I do?

A: You need to move your lace up on the pillow so that you can start at the top of the pricking again.  To do this, remove all pins and then reposition the end of the lace on the top of the pricking.  If you just ended with a windmill crossing, you will want to keep the pin in the crossing so that the crossing is re-pinned correctly.  Once moved, re-pin the lace ½ inch or so.  Alternatively if you will be doing a lot of yardage lace, you may want to purchase (or make) a roller pillow.If you are making a pattern once AND it is not too involved then prick as you go is fine or use the thin card and contact bit. If you are making up a pattern several times or it is a floral bucks or you are making a length of lace and will be reusing the pattern Prick onto proper card. When you put the pins in light card, the pin hole can become bigger than intended, once off won’t cause a problem BUT if every time you put a pin in the hole expands pretty soon you lose the pattern detail and the hole spacing. If you haven’t pricked the proper card before you start you may not be able to get into all the pins because the pins you have used already may prevent you putting in the next pin (ie you can lose a pin hole or 2 thus ruining the pattern.


I would be interested in hearing what others have to say.   Apart from a few bent pins, what are the disadvantages of not pricking a pattern prior to starting?

Perhaps it may help if I tell you what Yvonne Scheele told me when she was here. She NEVER pricks a pattern. She covers the pattern with contact, places the backing of the contact at the back of the pattern and uses it that way. The 3 layers are thick enough to be firm, and thin enough for pins to go through easily. I have only pricked point ground patterns since she told me that, as I feel for this lace the pinholes are too close together and need to have a very firm backing. It does work very well with all other laces. Try it out on something small and see how you feel about it. If it works for you, you won’t have to waste time at the workshop preparing the pricking.

I always pre-prick.  I find that:
1) because I use “proper” pricking card (don’t ask me what it is, just know I get it from Lace Inspirations specifically for this purpose and it comes in different thicknesses), if I don’t pre-prick I bend a LOT of pins – and even with it pre-pricked I still bend quite a few, and
2) as I do a lot of patterns with large numbers of pinholes … really helps
me gain a good understanding of the working method, if I am very familiar with the pricking….

I am definitely NOT happy with a paper copy of a pricking with just contact
on top.  I’ve been obliged to use this method in a couple of workshops, and
did not like it one little bit.  It just “felt” wrong. It doesn’t seem to hold the pins in properly. I buy a light quality card from a local stationery shop in Powder Blue.  I don’t know the name of it (I threw away the cover of the last packet I bought) but it comes in A4 in 50 sheets to a pack for about $10.00, and is lighter in weight than the Quill brand Multiboard or XL board usually available.   It goes through my el cheapo HP printer like a charm, so I can print straight onto the card, and then just put some Contact on top. I was shown the knack of putting contact over large surfaces some time ago – peel the back off, and hold both ends so the Contact forms a “U” shape, sticky side out of course.   Place the bottom of the “U” in the centre of your pricking, and gently lay down each side. I too like to “feel” for the pinhole – my eyesight is none too good.  I’d rather pre-prick in a good light with my magnifier glasses on than wear the magnifiers as I work.

Agreed, a pre-pricked and drawn pattern on proper card is best especially for fine work, and also if the pattern is to be re-used – eg  anything you’d use a block pillow for. (Proper pricking card is waxed both sides and is quite dense for its thickness. You can re-use the pricking quite a few times before it starts to get ratty!) I have some fine brass pins which I only use for fine work – they bend very easily, so I do pre-prick anything I use them with. (Also because the heads are smaller and they can do serious damage to the pin-pushing finger!!!) For thicker thread I use long stainless steel pins which are a bit thicker and much more robust, so doesn’t need pre-pricking if I’m just using thin card or paper covered in adhesive film which works ok with a pattern you only intend to use once. Sometimes I use the film’s backing paper behind the pattern for a bit of extra body – it’s a bit easier on the pin-pushing finger than cereal box or similar weight card. How much movement / distortion you get does seem to vary with the composition of the pillow – my sawdust / wood shavings pillows can distort significantly, but I have no (or at least, very little!) problem with my favourite felt or with decent quality foam pillows. And again, free laces, Milanese, Withof etc you decide where to put the pins as you go so you can’t pre-prick the pattern! (The challenge is to keep the spacing even, so it helps if you’ve had practice with regular grid patterns first!)

I always prick my pattern first and I get very tetchy in workshops where this is not an option. However, Ruth mentioned my most pressing reason – I don’t have to peer at the pattern trying to work out where to put the pin, because I can FEEL for the holes with the point of the pin. (It was not until I did a workshop or 2 where we were told just use the pattern sandwiched between Contact and its backing did I find out how much I rely on feel rather than sight to place my pins). I do the pricking itself in good light, usually under magnification to get accuracy. I also find that whilst manilla folder or a Contact sandwich is okay for dense polystyrene, it is hopeless if you use a more traditional pillow, such as horsehair because you need the firmness of the card to help hold the pins in place. I find even the good matte Contact bubbles and is otherwise naughty for anything much bigger than a bookmark or coaster. I’ve gone back to using plain card, with no working lines marked for anything larger. (When I started making lace, there were no RELIABLE permanent markers and no Contact, so we made a traditional pricking and marked with white ink using a mapping pen. The marking of working lines was such a chore that I learned to work without them at a very early stage – this is “traditional” in many places, as the number of unmarked prickings in museums etc demonstrates.)

The biggest disadvantage of not pricking is wear and tear on your fingers!!   When I was quite new to lacemaking, and was still in that phase when I thought I could improve on what everyone else did, I tried it – and the damage I did to my finger joint is still there to see. Accuracy of your lace is another good reason to prick the pattern.    It’s quite easy to feel for the pricked hole with the tip of your pin, before slipping it in the hole – and you’re less likely to put the pin in the wrong place, but if you’re relying on being able to see where to put the pin in amongst all the others on your pillow, you’re likely to be squinting at an angle, and the pin will often go in “just off” the spot. I’ve tried the contact-over-the-paper method too – but I do find that the pattern “creeps” on the pillow as I work the lace, and I’ve actually kept a small length of such a pattern (no more than about 8 cms ) to show people who don’t believe me how much distortion there was in that small length.     I made an identical length of lace with a pricked pattern on backing card to show the difference in the quality of the finished piece – quite dramatic! Pricking a pattern also gives you a chance to think about how it should be worked before you actually start making mistakes on the pillow.

Colour coding patterns

I knew I’d find a use for my expensive pack of coloured pens I was advised to buy for a workshop a while ago. Do you try to mark a copy of the pattern up using European colour coding for lace patterns, Elsa, or do you just try to track the passage of various pairs with different coloured pencils?  I’m going to try to mark up an enlarged pricking using European colour codes, just to see if I can do it.

To make sure my trails in Torchon are balanced and facing the right way, I fully draw them in Lace 2000 in different pale colours – one colour for half stitch, another for cloth stitch, and they still show up on the blue card and under the clear Contact.  Once in the past I had to cut off an intricate crossing trails Torchon edge involving over 60 pair after I’d done about 5 inches, because I’d mixed up which trails were cloth and which half.   I kept the piece in my “Samples” book as a warning to watch more carefully next time.

There’s no one standard colour-coding system.   The European countries
seem to mostly adopt the Belgian colour code. The Bucks books published in England (Cook, Stott or both together) seem to use another.  Nottingham doesn’t seem to bother….101 Torchon Patterns by Robin Lewis-Wild uses an adaptation of what she calls the International Colour coding system (which I assume might also be the Belgian system, given that she spent some time studying there)…That’s why it’s always important to read the front of the book – to see what particular system that author is using.

I usually enlarge and photo copy the diagram then use my coloured markers to highlight the different features and techniques within the pattern. I use red for the gimp, green where pairs are added (floral Bucks) and blue where they are taken out. I also put some of these markings onto the pricking by putting a small coloured dot beside the pinhole. This reminds me to look at the working diagram at this point. I hate undoing work. If the pattern has a kat stitch ground I use a very fine lead pencil and draw the working lines onto the pricking. If there is no working diagram I enlarge the pricking and make my own. I like to have everything worked out before I begin the lace.

One thing that does work, is to colour each thread on the working diagram in a different colour and see where it is going. That is the method I used when I was learning Flanders