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More on bobbin shapes

Below are a some comments from Arachnians -

Hi all!

I read the letters talking about bobbin shapes, and someone was wondering why Midlands are shaped the way they are. I can't be an expert on this, but what I had been told was during the beginning of the industrial age, many trees were cut down to make charcoal to supply the factory's energy needs. That caused a wood shortage. The bobbin makers, in order to save wood, and therefore money, would make; their bobbins out of finer pieces of wood.

Well, that worked to a point. The bobbins were finer, but they now were too light to give the needed tension on the threads. That is when they started putting a little ring of beads on them, to give them that extra weight. I could be wrong.

What I would like to know is this: Is there a standard for Midlands, Contintials, and Honitions? I have seen Midlands really small, with little space for threads, and ones with LOTS of space for threads. What is the ideal diameter?

For Contintials, should the bulb be a certain diameter? What is the difference between a bulb end and a ball end? Is it better that they come to a point, or that little ball to catch your sewing thread?

Should the Hontion's be a certain length before it comes to a point?

JoAnne "PhaserBait" Pruitt

Firstly the sizes.

I have lost the database that I had for 150 bobbin sizes, but there is the results of measuring quite few of my generic East midland collection.

length. Longest 114mm - Shortest 84 mm
Long neck length. longest 21 mm - Shortest 11 mm
Diameter Widest 12 mm - Narrowest 4 mm.

Subjectively I would offer the following general observations.

1. Bobbins were on the whole fatter than they are currently (say 7 or 8 mm)
2. The necks were definitely shorter (say 12 or 13 mm) and a large number of them were tapered.

The following observations I would love to discuss with other knowledgeable persons please.

Bobbins made in Bedford were thinner (more delicate) than the other midlands bobbins.
The older the bobbin the narrower and shorter it is.

Why East Midland bobbins are different to continental lace bobbins? (We must also accept that the South Bucks bobbin is a "very" continental like bobbin)

The short answer is that I do no think we will ever know. But I love to speculate, and there are as many speculations as there are "experts"! Firstly that was the first time that I had heard the shortage of wood theory. It really dose not sit well in the general context of things. You need so little wood to make a bobbin. I believe it is on record that the South Bucks bobbins were often made from off cuts of the furniture makers. You can get them from a twig too. It could be a reason why we have so many bone bobbins, but I am again not to comfortable with that idea either. None-the-less the said theory will become part of my notes. Who knows, it may be proven one day.

Re: continentals versus East Midland.

Sure they are different, but take away the spangle and many continentals are not so "very" different from the East Midlands bobbins. The slim Belgium bobbins, quite a few Spanish bobbins and many individual continental bobbins, have more than a passing resemblance of East Midland bobbins. It is the sheer variety of shapes and designs of the East Midland bobbins that is breath taking, but it is possible to put together a little group of East Midland bobbins that could be quite Continental in their overall appearance (and vice versa).

Currently I am looking at the possibility of the Normandy Bobbins having more than a passing influence on our(East Midland) designs. The Normandy bobbins are quite unique in their beauty and decoration which includes colouring and pewter inlays. I need to see a lot more Normandy bobbins.... all pictures will be gratefully received.

Regarding the continental bobbins, I would like to make a facetious remark (which perhaps has more than a grain of truth in it!) "The shape does not matter as long as it "clicks"

Finally, I lean towards the reason for East Midland bobbins being as they are was more of a function of "fashion" or just that the lace makers liked "pretty tools" When lace making became a very utilitarian occupation (the late 19th and early 20 century) and you look at the catalogues of EP Rose and Jonathan Harris (In Springetts book) you will see a large variety of "Continental looking" bobbins offered. The bobbins were very plain. So I think it is like us today, if we can afford it then we fill the pillow with pretty bobbins, if we cant then we use plastic or machine made bobbins.

This has raised a question. What would we see if we looked at the bobbins produced when lace was in a boom period and when it was in a depressed period?

Brian Lemin

Dear Arachnids,

Here's my take on the bobbin thing.( Why East Midland bobbins are different to continental lace bobbins?) I personally think that the many English sailors carved the bone bobbins for their sweethearts with what they had at hand, bones, while away at sea. Of course bone being thinner than wood led them to carve/whittle the long narrow shape. When bone led to wood the lacemakers were already used to that narrow shape, and continued.

As far as the........ "The shape does not matter as long as it "clicks" I have to tell you about the wonderful sound I heard from bobbins made in Porto Rico! It was absolute music. I attended a class/work meeting in Alexandria, VA last week and 2 lacemakers were from Porto Rico and had these long narrow bobbins made of bamboo. They were just magical in the sound they made.

Lori Howe

Morning All,

Lori speculates that Midland style bobbins were carved by sailors for their wives/sweethearts while they were at sea. (Sailors not sweethearts!) A pretty story , but... Most show the signs of being 'turned' not carved. Turning requires a lathe, probably not available on a ship. Also the Midlands by definition is not near the sea, so few men would have become sailors from that area.

I have a bobbin that you might like to speculate on though. It is bone, rough, carved? from the early 20th. century. It is spangled with blue and white glass beads and has a small brass button with the words 'Legion Etrangere' I reckon that there is a book waiting to be written about that bobbin!

Jean Barrett in Cleveland, U.K.

It is my understanding that bobbin shape was affected by: tension: either by the weight and size of the bobbin itself or by adding beads and decoration, thread: the thickness and weight of the thread also affected the shape of the bobbin and the weight it would add to the tension, and sewing s: the more sewings, the less likely there were to be beads, spangles, or decoration on the bobbins. I thought that this is why there are almost as many variations in bobbins as there are in types of lace.

Name unknown

Regarding bobbin shapes, I love to collect Midlands bobbins, but there is no doubt in my mind that a lacemaker who is working for her living, will be able to make lace faster using continental bobbins which are all the same size and weight. I think the varying shapes of continental bobbins have been determined by the type of lace being made, the thickness of the thread, the shape of the pillow and therefore the way the bobbins are handled. The varying Belgian shapes, differing as they do for Rosaline, Duchesse, Bloemwerk, Michelin, etc. are examples of this.

Elaine Merritt

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