Wednesday 28 February 2024


Prickings are the patterns of dotted holes that lacemakers follow to make bobbin lace. Technically the pricking shown in the image is only half complete as I am pricking the holes for the pins as I work the lace. Traditionally, the pattern would have been pricked in its entirety before the actual lacemaking began. Most prickings were made from an existing pricking or a copy of the pricking. Copies were made by placing a piece of thin paper over the reverse side of the pricking then rubbing over it with something like heel ball to leave an impression of the dotted pattern on the paper; in the same way as brass rubbings are produced. The reverse of the pricking was used because pushing pins through card or vellum leaves the top feeling smooth but causes a rough surface on the underside where the pins have displaced the card.

Copies were made by placing the original pricking (or the rubbing) over a new piece of card on a cork base, then pushing a pin through the existing holes of the pattern or the marks on the copy to produce a new pricking underneath the original. This was done using a pin permanently fixed into a holder, like a bobbin shaft, or using a pin vice (shown here) which holds the pin firmly in place. Using a pin on its own would be extremely fiddly and probably hurt your fingers as pricking lace patterns requires firm, precise, pressure. This image also shows how a pricking for a length of lace can be cut so the two pieces interlock and a continuous length of lace can therefore be made by alternating them.

Sadly the phrase “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes” has nothing to do with lace prickings. It is said by one of the witches in Macbeth and is used to describe an ominous premonition, so it’s a creepy feeling rather than an overuse of lacemaking equipment!

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