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Whittling bobbins

Some time back, I told how I first started making bobbins on my electric grinding stone - yes, the thing my husband sharpens the lawn mower blades with. I would purchase dowling from the hardware or craft store and cut it into bobbin size lengths. Next I marked a lines for the top and bottom of the neck/thread area. Then I would hold the dowel up to the turning grind stone and rotate it, grinding away the unwanted portion. Do be careful not to let the fingers slip down between the stone and the tool rest! ALSO, BE SURE TO REMOVE ANY SIDE COVER FROM THE STONE if there is one. Saw dust trapped in the cover can catch fire. I was able to get very uniform results and even made grooves and notches to decorate the handles. I have a lathe now - another hobby!

Lorri Ferguson

When I began bobbin lace, I had more time than money, being unemployed and not old enough for pension and DH on early disability. So operating on the philosophy that anything someone else can make, I can make, I went out into the back yard and with my Girl Scout knife, cut suckers from a maple tree and whittled some bobbins. Although I still have several of these on a demo pillow, I learned 2 things.

1) green wood warps as it drys
2) thin new shoots are soft in the center. Neither contributes to good bobbins.

So - to whittle good bobbins, I suggest you start with a purchased hardwood dowel. Hardwood supply stores and some hobby/craft stores carry birch, beech or maple and walnut dowels. Oak has too course a grain. Whatever they carry at Lowes and 84 lumber is not satisfactory.

For English Midlands and honiton 1/4 inch (6mm) dowel is about right. For Continental bobbins get the size you need for the widest part of the bobbin. These are a little harder to make as one has to trim more wood off.

Cut dowel into length of bobbin - about 4 inches(10 cm)

Measure, and with a pencil, mark where the neck of the bobbin starts and ends.

The neck is where the thread will go.

I whittle by using a technique sometimes called "chip carving", except I smooth the wood instead of leaving a chipped surface.

You will need a very sharp knife ( a sharp knife is safer than a dull one) I no longer use my scout knife as I had to stop and sharpen it too often. I use a mat knife or an "X-acto" knife that one can just change the blade.

If you are making a continental bobbin, you should whittle the neck end to about the diameter of the head before marking the neck. Always cut away from you and take small cuts, working around the dowel.

To shape the neck: Lay the dowel on a flat smooth surface (a kitchen cutting board) Holding the knife perpendicular to the dowel, make a scoring cut at each mark all the way around it by rolling the dowel away from you as you apply pressure with the knife.

Now holding the dowel so that you will be cutting away from you and that your fingers are above the knife, cut a very small sliver of wood starting about 5mm above and towards cut. Repeat, taking small slivers out all around the dowel. Reverse dowel and do same at other end of neck. Level space between cuts in same manner. If neck is not narrow enough, make another scoring cut and repeat whole process.

Shape the handle in the same manner. For a honiton bobbin I just put the tail end in a pencil sharpener. For a Midlands bobbin one needs to drill a hole for the spangle wire, and also to shape the head for the thread knot.

Just remember to make very small cuts and to work around the bobbin so that it stays symmetrical.

When the bobbin is the right shape then you need to make if very smooth. I sometimes use a nail file for this, and at least 3 grades of sandpaper (emery cloth). Wrap it around the bobbin and holding the paper, turn the bobbin back and forth. Wrap the sandpaper around a small wood block ( or the nail file) to get into the corners. Finish with the finest grade you can find.

Bobbins may be used unfinished. I finish mine with Tung oil, or Danish Oil finish. Some prefer a varnish or polyurethane finish. You could even use nail varnish (polish)

Louise Hume in Central Virginia


I think you instructions are very good. I may try it some day. I used the grinding stone to make my early bobbins. I have saved some apple wood purnings and intend to make a set from them, the whittling technique would be 'so in charater' for that. I do admit, I am really hooked on the lathe though.

Lorri Ferguson in the foothills of MT. Rainier

Re whittling bobbins: My first 20 or so pairs (until I found a supplier) were hand-whittled also (from square stock cherry left-over from my soon-to-be-abandoned hobby of miniatures making). I essentially did what Louise does, except for one thing. Louise wrote:

< Now holding the dowel so that you will be cutting away from you.>

I never could get any decent control doing it this way (any more than when I learnt to sharpen my pencils, or cut big loaves of bread, or...), so I carved towards myself, using the thumb as the stop at the beginning (until there was enough of a "shelf" between the neck and the handle to act as the stop). So my thumb was hamburger.

Tamara P. Duvall
Lexington, VA, USA

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