Learning Needle Lace - How to Make Needle Lace
  Learn How to Make Needle Lace

  © 2009 Lorelei Halley

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  in process/working setup    

  Needlelace stitches   

To review the 4 basic methods of working needle lace, look here.

The overall strategy for western European needle lace  -- the couched cordonnet method.                                                                                           

Needle lace, also called punto in aria, is made of button hole stitch (and its variants) without any permanent fabric foundation at all.   This is the strategy for the needlelace method.   To recapitulate the working sequence for needlelace:

1.   Prepare the 2 layer sandwich/scaffolding of one or more layers of cloth plus the paper pattern (a 2 layer or 3 layer sandwich).    bkmk

3 layer sandwich and cordonnet/outline threads  connectioning the cordonnet/outline thread  to itself  Some lace makers prefer a multi-layer sandwich with 4 or 5 layers.

2.  Couch the cordonnet to the 2 layer sandwich/scaffold.  Look closely at the junctions of the cordonnet in the photos below to see different ways of connecting the cordonnet to itself.  (These images are actually thumbnails, so click on each one to see the original image, then view them at 200% if you want to see more detail.)   You can easily see that the cordonnet is doubled.  Follow the cordonnet to each intersection to see how it is hooked to itself in many places.  This is necessary to ensure the stability of the whole piece after it is cut off the temporary backing. See 2nd photo, above.  The junction of the outer perimeter with various structural lines is not connected, as this seems unnecessary.  Buttonholing the outer perimeter at the end will solve this problem and keep the outer rim attached to the interior structure lines.

needle lace sampler needlelace in process needle lace in process
cordonnet possible paths
 Possible paths for cordonnet/outline threads

Laying the outline threads, Starting the first junction  Closeup of the first junction  The first junction hooked on, traveling the thread back to the outer edge.  Rejoining the thread which traveled to the outer edge  All junctions but the last two, completed  The 2nd to the last junction completed. Done this way to prevent bulk at the leaf tip.  The final junction

See leaf oth218new   below for completed piece.  See Needlelace Tutorial 2  for detailed explanations of how this piece was made.

3.     Work successive rows of the chosen filling.   To start filling areas begin by running the thread under the couching stitches for about an inch (2cm), then wrapping the lace thread around the cordonnet a few times.  Make sure you never run out of thread in the middle of a row.  End the row by wrapping the ending tail around the cordonnet. 

start the lace thread      Only the couching thread that holds down the outline threads pierces the cloth and pattern sandwich.  The beginning and ending threads for the lace stitches wrap around the outline threads.  The lace thread never pierces the pattern or the sandwich. Wrap lace thread around outline threads to start. In this photo the gold threads are the cordonnet/outline threads, the orange are the couching threads, and the yellow is my lace thread.  You can see it wrapped around the cordonnet in the lower left corner.  I have just worked the first row, anchoring it to the cordonnet across the top.  None of the yellow thread will pierce the pattern or the sandwich.  The ending tail will be wrapped around the cordonnet in the same way.

 4.   Once all the fillings, bars & brides have been made work close buttonholing over the cordonnet with the stitches very close together.  This permanently locks the beginning and ending tails of the lace thread so they can't unravel.  It locks everything together so the lace can't come apart.  It is really an ingenious method.

buttonhole the cordonnet oth218

leaf 10     LH

needlelace in process, oth217
leaf 8    LH
In these photos I have started buttonholing the cordonnet -- the final step -- which locks the beginning and ending tails of the lace threads so they can't pull free.  Those loose threads that you see are extra ones laid on top of the outline before you start buttonholing it.  This pads the outline and makes possible a smoother finish to the leaf veins.  

5. Slide scissors or razor blade between the 2 layers of cloth (or between the cloth and pattern) and cut the basting stitches.  The lace will then lift off the pattern.  Pick out the little basting threads where you can see them.  bkmk5

Here is one showing the cutting away process: 

Another photo of the cutting-away process:

6.  Go to Needle Lace Tutorial for detailed instructions for a simple bookmark, to learn the basic method.

For a description of variations on this working method see the introduction.

In addition to the 2 layer sandwich, some needle lace workers attach the sandwich to a cylindrical or cookie shaped pillow.  Those who use this method say it allows them to use both hands to guide the thread, since the pillow is held in the lap not in the hand.  Most workers who like this method seem to prefer a hard bolster about 8-10  inches long and about 6-7 inches in diameter.  A pillow is also helpful if you are working on a very large piece, a foot our more.  Something that large can't easily be rolled over a finger.  A video of a woman using a pillow to hold the lace while she works, using both hands to manipulate the thread.

Needle lace in process -- the working setup, some in the hand, some on pillows:                                     *

Working setup

Working in the hand:

This one shows Alencon needle lace being made at the  Atelier National du Point d'Alencon, and shows how they hold their hands..!/photo.php?fbid=205318246149062&set=a.205318009482419.61877.178783055469248&type=1&theater

Using a pillow:  

 A bolster can be made out of a large coffee can or oatmeal box.   

A video by The Lace Guild which shows how bobbin lace and needle lace are made.  The needle lace section begins about 3.35 minutes into the video.  It shows how to create the sandwich

Needle lace in Croatia which does show enough to see the working method. The 1st part is needle lace, the middle is bobbin lace and the last part shows both knotted netting worked in the round and tenerife type lace.  Also some children learning needlelace and using a bobbin lace type of pillow shaped like a Honiton pillow but a little larger.    At 53 seconds she works lace with a pillow.  At 1 min 12 sec she couches the skeleton. At 1 min 37 sec others work with pillows.  At 2 min 2 sec she cuts the lace free from the  temporary backing.

This one shows Burano in process, you can see how she uses her pillow:

This one shows Burano needle lace, how pillow are held, some work in the hand, one lady cuts the lace free using a razor blade  


For a collection of videos on needle lace and other lace making methods, see:

Working in the hand as in oya -- Mediterranean knotted needlelace -- or in puncetto:

     phb/Alex Ligeti

I show my samplers and early pieces, below, to encourage others.   My early pieces are very messy, but with practice and good advice one can really make progress at this form of lace.

 needlelace sampler, my 1st oth 228 oth228 LH  

needle lace sampler
794 LH

needle lace sampler
oth 224 LH
bookmark sampler
oth 203  LH

needle lace bookmark sampler

oth 201

 My first needlelace samplers:  messy stitches, and a tension problem I hadn't yet solved.  But this gives an idea of the different densities which can be achieved by just switching between different variants of the buttonhole stitch, many, many variants.  Different spacings, whether or not twists are added, exactly where you put the needle, all produce markedly different textures and densities.   You can also see the close buttonholing covering the cordonnet.  That is the last step in making needlelace.  It binds the beginnings and endings of the lace filling threads to the cordonnet, and binds the cordonnet to itself, ensuring that the lace won't come apart.  It also makes a neat and smooth finish for the lace.

needle lace maple leaf
Maple leaf oth233 LH

pearl 5 as outline thread, Anchor broder cotton #25 as lace thread. Corded single Brussels (vein is twisted Brussels), double Brussels, single Brussels.  I used a real maple leaf as the pattern.
      The difference in quality between the first two above on the left (#228 and #794)  and the maple leaf #233 below is help I received from experts on NEEDLELACETALK.


The work of other beginners:            

  needlelace sampler  needle lace 626  Made by Jennifer Audsley, from Grimwood's book.  She says "The little flower pattern is from Valerie Grimwood's book STARTING NEEDLEPOINT LACE - A COURSE FOR BEGINNERS.   I had no experience with lacemaking at all, just got the book and had a go". 

Her first attempt is much better than mine! 

 Here see the work of another beginner who is doing  very well, Lenore English: 

An original design for a sampler of stitches, showing stages in the working:

Another beginner's work:

The group below were made by Alix Hengen-Muhlen of Luxembourg after passing the beginner's phase.

learn needle lace needlelace needle lace with bar ground needlelace flower  needlelace dandelion needle lace sampler of fancy fillings
Learn needle lace, and then make a piece like Alix's.  #773     779 778 780 781 775


Learn needle lace with online lessons (needle lace tutorials online):

Carol Leather -- this one has a free pattern:  very good   exceptionally good

This one has a free pattern, diagrams of how to lay cordonnet, and stitch diagrams  by HS.

In French, with good pictures:   In Czech, but the site has a translation button, and her diagrams are very clear and well drawn.

I recently started a needle lace social network on Ning.       Come look and join us. Beginners can post questions and get answers from experts. 

Ideas for small learning projects made into brooches: and

Needle Lace Free Patterns:   There are some internet sources for free patterns.  You will have to hunt a little through these.  bk   I did see some simple motif patterns for Venetian style needle lace.   Look for Dillmont.  The booklets on needle lace and reticella have a few patterns.  Also look for  these 2 books available as pdf downloads which contain patterns/photos of simple geometric laces which might be used as beginners patterns for basic needlelace or aemilia ars.    

See also the needlelacetalk network, which has an album of needlelace patterns.

My free patterns for needlelace.

Needle lace stitches: -- The entire DMC ENCYCLOPEDIA is available online for viewing and part  as a free download.  It contains a large section of needlelace stitches.  It places them in the context of Battenberg type tape laces.  But the stitches are the same, whether used in Battenberg or true needlelace.   The stitch diagrams are in the Irish lace chapter, chapter 13.

The following has downloadable sections of the DMC Encyclopedia:  

My diagrams of some needle lace stitches.

General information on needlelace online:                                                                          *

Arachne also has many members involved in needle lace, instructions for joining  here:

Books:                                                                                                        bk

The books list and comments are suggestions from Alix Hengen, Elizabeth Ligeti, Ilske Thomsen, and Lenore English.

Valerie Grimwood STARTING NEEDLEPOINT LACE - A COURSE FOR BEGINNERS  .  ISBN 0-7134-5806-2 Batsford.  This is really just a beginners book, nicely done but you will need a better one pretty soon.  This is considered a very good beginner's book in English, an alternative to the Guild of Needle Laces pamphlets.

Lenore English says: "I have found the Basic Technical Instruction Book [below] to be very helpful, with good diagrams and pictures of the finished projects. The projects are arranged in increasing order of difficulty, and I have ample opportunity to practice my stitches."  Available from    and they take Paypal. 

  • The Guild of Needle Laces, BASIC TECHNICAL INSTRUCTION BOOK, 8 1/4" x 5 3/4", 48 pp, self published, paper back and stapled. It has 7 patterns and 21 stitch diagrams, beginning with the simple leaf. The booklet continues with a nice progression for learning new stitches, with a veined leaf, shell, flower, bird and scallop shell.  The final lesson is making circles, or couronnes.
  • Guild of Needle Laces has published a second book, INTERMEDIATE INSTRUCTION, same size, with 11 new stitches and 8 patterns. It also contains stitch diagrams from the Basic Technical Book

For photos of many pieces made from this booklet:

Catherine Barley, NEEDLELACE: DESIGN AND TECHNIQUES, CLASSIC AND CONTEMPORARY, 1993, reprinted 2001.  A very good book.  This is the one most often recommended as an intermediate level book, to follow the Guild of Needle Laces or Grimwood.  Detailed and complete instructions for some gros point, hollie point and point de gaze pieces, as well as some patterns.

Pat Earnshaw NEEDLELACE , Merehurst, London, 1991 ISBN 1 85391 158 5    She explains the historical development of needle laces and their progression from Point de France to Point de Sedan to Alencon, Argentan, Argentella and reseau Venise.  Stitch diagrams and enlarged samples of stitches typical of these various styles.  Many examples of complex circles and hexagons used in these antique laces.  Many spacing variants of twisted buttonhole.   Having read her book I now have a better understanding of how needle lace history parallels bobbin lace history.  Some patterns for modern use of the old techniques.  This is considered another very good intermediate level book.

Irma Osterman, LACE MADE WITH A NEEDLE, 2003 self published.




N. Lovesey, INTRODUCTION TO NEEDLEPOINT LACE, 1985.  I personally think this is her best, for the clarity a beginner needs.

N. Lovesey & Catherine Barley, VENETIAN GROS POINT LACE., 1986.

Jill Nordfors, NEEDLE LACE & NEEDLEWEAVING, 1974.  Mostly she is showing how to add sections of needlelace onto the surface of the cloth, as part of surface embroidery.  She doesn't really explain how true needlelace is made (cordonnet, etc.)  But there are a lot of stitches and many examples of the modern use of needlelace stitches.

Jill Nordfors Clark has another book out NEEDLE LACE TECHNIQUES AND INSPIRATION  1999.

La Dentelle à l'aiguille by Brigitte Delesques Dépalles.  ISBN2 902894 97 X Ed. Créér.  This book has more stitches, some very typically from Argentan and Alençon, a nice history of needlelace seen from the French side and a few patterns.

Nadelspitze alte Technik neue Muster by T. Mathes.  ISBN 3-926923-12-1 E. Winter Verlag.  This book has as many stitches as the French one but different ones, in large diagrams.  It has a very modern approach with some ideas for small modern pieces.

Pat Earnshaw YOUGHAL LACE - THE CRAFT AND THE CREAM (covers techniques and history)

There is also a video (I haven't seen it) by Carol Williamson.      See this for a photo of the lesson piece.

Some Teachers:

For help and advice consult books by Irma Osterman, a nationally known needlelace teacher and writer.    Irma says, "Recently I have been teaching the fine old traditional needle laces:  Gros Point, Point de Gaze, Point d'Alençon and Youghal. "  A few years ago she self published a book on Youghal needle lace, and in 2003 she self published her second book, LACE MADE WITH A NEEDLE, a book for beginners.   It was written for  those who wish to learn needle lace, but do not live near a teacher.  It has 46 pages of text with patterns and photos (2 pages in color) and examples of work done by students..  The basic construction and stitches are explained in words and diagrams as well as new ideas for lace.  The more advanced can find the book useful especially the three pages of Frequently Asked Questions which occur regularly in her classes.    The regular lace dealers of IOLI carry it.   She was the needlelace editor for the International Old Lacers Bulletin for many years, and wrote a series of articles for it on needlelace technique.  Irma Osterman died on 12/28/2011.

Nancy Evans is another well-known American needlelace teacher. 

There are individuals teaching needlelace, but they are few and far between.  That is why I started NEEDLELACETALK.   Some of the world's best needle lacers have joined the network (it is free to join).  And they offer their advice and assistance whenever you need it.  All you need is a digital camera, phone with photo capability, or a computer scanner.  You can shoot a picture of your problem area, post it on needlelacetalk, and ask for advice.  With a good close up photo we can identify the problem and talk about solutions.

We have a partial list of teachers on needlelacetalk.  Look here:    



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August 16, 2010                   Last edited:   01/19/20