Needle Lace Tutorial - Bookmark
(Needlelace Instructions) (Needle Lace Lesson)

  © Lorelei Halley 2010 

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Click wherever you see a hand, to follow a link or view a photo or diagram at full size.  Working a plain rectangular bookmark will give you a chance to try out the method and to begin controlling your tension.  The pattern was drawn on graph paper, and this will help you keep your stitch spacing and row height consistent.   It may take doing several pieces until you are reasonably satisfied with how your stitches look. It took me a long time and lots of attempts. I tried it in the late 1980s and did so badly I gave up. But this year I started again and improved a lot with advice from

I worked this sample in multiple colors so that it would be easy to see different threads functioning in different ways.

Supplies for this bookmark:  Average size sharp needle plus thimble, both for couching, ordinary cotton sewing thread for couching.

 You should keep tapestry needles sizes 20-26 on hand (or some other kind of ball point needle), for use with various thread sizes.  (Tapestry needles have blunt points, and we use them because the lace thread should not pierce the cordonnet or snag itself.)  Use whatever size best fits the lace thread you decide to use; 22 and 24 are most useful.  Sizes 26 and 28 do exist, if you like to do very fine work.

1-4 pieces of cotton cloth 12 x 5 inches (30x13 cm).  Some lacemakers use 1 piece of cloth, but some use 3 or 4.

Print the pattern on ordinary copy machine paper (colored paper for white or ecru lace thread, white for colored threads).  I tried light card, but it was too hard to punch the sharp couching needle through the card.  This slowed down the couching process and was hard on my fingers.

Sticky plastic film to cover pattern.  The sticky plastic filem + ordinary weight paper pattern gives enough body to the pattern, protects the paper from tearing, but is still easy to pierce with the couching needle.

pattern for needle lace bookmark sampler

For the original size (pattern is 6.25 inches or 16cm tall) use DMC or Anchor Cordonnet 60-80 or Egyptian Cotton 36/3 for outline threads, and Cordonnet 100, Aurifil 30 or 50, Sulky 30, linen 100, Egyptian cotton 50/2 for lace thread.

150% of original size (8 1/8 inches or 21 cm tall): use cordonnet 30 or Brok 24/3 for outline threads and 60-80 cordonnet (tatting cotton) for lace thread.

In my sample (11 inches or 27 cm tall) I'm using 8/3 linen (similar to crochet cotton 10 or KnitCroSheen) as outline thread, and linen 40/2 and 35/2, or crochet cotton 30-40, Sulky or Aurifil 12 as lace threads. 

making the needle lace sandwich scaffold
Pattern and Setting Up:   For a pattern use BOOKMARK.  When you get to a screen with only the pattern or diagram right click on the image, and you will have the option of saving or printing the image. If you save the image to your computer you can then use whatever graphics or photo program you have to print it out at whatever size you want.  I suggest that you use ordinary 20 # copy paper.  Even with the plastic film on top it will be thin enough to puncture easily with the needle as you couch the outline threads down.   
Also make a copy of the diagram.  Please look at my webpage on learning needlelace.  All those images are thumbnails: click on the image to see the larger size original image. I have tried to answer all the possible questions with those photos and drawings. I realize it is not perfectly clear all the time. I keep trying to improve it.

Make a sandwich of 2, 3 or more layers: 1, 2, or more, layers of cotton cloth, medium weight, about 2 cm larger than the pattern.  Put sticky plastic film over the pattern. This will prevent the printer ink from coming off on the lace and will keep the needle from puncturing the paper (except when you intend it to). Baste the layers together. Multiple layers of fabric make it easier to release the lace when it is completely finished. You can just slide your scissors between two layers of fabric and easily see the couching stitches. You can then cut only those couching stitches without risk of damaging the lace. Then start to lay the cordonnet/outline threads.
diagram 1  diagram 2
starting to lay the cordonnet/outline threads hooking the junction
3 possible junctions
alternate kinds of junctions
Laying the Cordonnet/Outline Threads: The diagram is a rough sketch showing how to lay the cordonnet/outline threads, rather than an exact map. The outline threads are the scaffolding that holds the piece together. It is important that it be hooked to itself frequently enough to give stability. Couch the doubled cordonnet, starting at A (the arrow).  Your couching stitches will pierce all the layers, but nothing else will. The outline threads will merely lie on top of the pattern. The couching stitches should be 2 -3 mm apart (about 1/8 inch), and they should be perfectly perpendicular to the outline threads. Use a sharp needle and a thimble. It is only in couching that you will need a sharp needle and a thimble. 

Couch the threads down around the outer perimeter, passing by B and C for now.  When you start back up the last side, that is when you take the inner thread back horizontally and hook it onto the first side.   At D take the inner thread across to C, hook it onto the outline threads there,  and back again. At E take the thread to B, hook it around the outline thread, and back again.

In my diagram  points B and C are different . As far as I can tell from what other experienced lacemakers have said, either of these methods are OK. As I worked I thought of a 3rd method. 

You can either use a crochet hook to manipulate the outline thread, or thread it into a tapestry needle. The diagram shows only 2 horizontal bars, but the actual pattern has more. I suggest trying both B and C linking methods. Then you will be able to see their relative merits when you are finished with the piece.  Note that at D and E the 2 outline threads just lie next to each other.  This is considered acceptable along the outer perimeter of a piece, where buttonholing over the outline will hold it together.  That kind of junction is not considered acceptable in the interior of a piece. 

To end at F you want one of the tails to hook onto the beginning loop and then return back where it came from. The other should continue in the direction it was going. The tails should be about 1 inch (2cm) long. Of course I show the pair of outline threads far apart to make the junctions easier to see. The threads should lie right next to each other, touching. End the couching thread by fastening it onto the cloth at the back.
Rochelle's video

Lacemaking in Croatia

Burano lacemakers 1

Burano 2

Avital's Burano lacemaker
 So many experts have said that doing a few stitches well is more important than trying to learn a long list of stitches. I have come to share this idea. The most popular traditional lace styles use only a small number of stitches. I am suggesting that you start with the easiest ones, and those used most often. This bookmark has 6 sections that you can fill with stitches. (The narrow sections are for trying out several kinds of bars.) I suggest doing only 2 or 3 stitches, but repeating them in more than one section. You can then try out different spacing, and see how it looks and whether you like it that way. The pattern was drawn on graph paper and has lines going across the space. That will help you keep your rows straight. How you space the stitches and rows will depend on what size thread you decide to use. With needlelace there is no need to be exact in choosing a thread size, since you can simply change the spacing of stitches to accommodate different thread sizes. Needle lace is not like bobbin lace, where the thread has to closely match the pattern, nor is it like crochet or knitting, where you have to have an exact number of stitches in each row. In needlelace you can decide how close together or far apart you want the stitches to be. Part of the learning process is developing good judgment about what spacing to use. Only practice can teach you that. Just do what fits, and what looks good.

In order to get control of tension you will need to use both hands. I am right handed, and I am writing this using that assumption (not fair to lefties, I know). Look at Rochelle Sutherland’s video and carefully watch what she does with her left hand. Keep watching until you see it. After every stitch she uses her left hand to hold that last stitch in position, so it doesn’t loosen. Rochelle works holding the work in her hand. Once I started using the methods Rochelle demonstrates in her video, my tension improved immediately and my stitches became more regular. As soon as I make a stitch, I use my left thumb to hold it down so the thread doesn't slide around or the tension loosen. And I keep my left thumb on it as I am moving the needle and making the next stitch with my right hand. Right hand makes the stitch, left hand holds it down after it is made so the tension doesn't slacken.  Catherine Barley also handles her pattern in a manner similar to Rochelle's:   She has the lace sandwich rolled over the forefinger of her left hand.  After she makes eash stitch she puts the middle finger of her left on top of the stitch to keep it from slipping and losing tension.  Also look at This is the lacemaking in Croatia video. Once you pass the weeds and the harbor, you will see a woman working at lace in her house, near a window. Watch her left hand. She uses a pillow and her left hand is free to keep tension on the thread after she has made each stitch.  She makes the stitch with her right hand, then immediately pulls on it with her left hand to keep the tension and make it hold its position.  Keep watching until you understand it. My webpage has links to some other videos of Burano lace makers. How they use their hands might offer suggestions, also.

starting the lace thread 
corded single Brussels
 starting the 1st row
 the first row worked onto the cordonnet
 corded row done, starting 3rd row
 whipping the last row to the cordonnet
 whipping finished, 1st segment done
 corded Brussels, more dense
Doing The Stitches
Please go to my web page for diagrams.  Diagrams are also available online at   

Everybody agrees that corded Brussels is the easiest stitch (also called corded buttonhole, detached buttonhole with a straight return).

Start your lace thread by threading it under the couching stitches for 1 cm, then wrapping it around the cordonnet. In the 2nd image, left, the yellow thread is the lace thread. The first row are just simple buttonhole stitches worked over the doubled cordonnet across the top. When the first row is done, at the right hand side, wrap the lace thread around the cordonnet and return it in a straight line across back to the left side. Wrap it around the cordonnet on the left several times until it is at the right distance from the previous row to start the new row.  As you work the 3rd row from left to right, catch the straight return thread as well as the bottom loop of each stitch from row one. Don’t let yourself run out of thread in the middle of a row. Sacrifice a length of thread instead. Corded Brussels is usually worked close together, so your thread should be 3-4 times as long as the length of the row you will make with it. For stitches that are more spaced out you won't need that much. When you get to the bottom of the shape you can either whip the last row to the cordonnet at the bottom, or you can work the buttonhole stitches of the last row onto the bottom cordonnet, depending on how the rows are spaced. Most stitches tend to curl upward to some extent. The corded and whipped variants do that less than the plain versions. But it may still be a problem. You can see the upward curve in my photo. So when you whip or buttonhole that last row, you may have to pull to some extent to bring the last row straight and make it stretch.

I imagine the stitches each being repeated in more than one section, for practice and to improve tension.

The last image at left is the same stitch worked more densely (closer together).
  In some of the other spaces work a few more stitches.  Double Brussels and the simpler pea stitch variants are probably the most useful and the easiest.  I'm not showing plain simple buttonhole because that is actually one of the most difficult stitches.  It is easy to understand and easy to do the stitches, but getting the tension and spacing right is very difficult, as it tends to curl up.  Save it for later.  Needle lace is about juxtaposing dense areas and open, transparent areas, so that there is a constant variation between the two.  These next  stitches are all relatively open.  The important thing is to learn the best way to space each kind of stitch, and to achieve even tension.
double buttonhole stitch
double buttonhole stitch, double Brussels stitch
Double Brussels -- Also look here, figure #721.  As you work double Brussels it is really important to stick your left thumb on the thread coming from the 2nd stitch of each pair. Otherwise the thread will slip and the stitches you just made will change size. Figure out some way to nail each pair of stitches down while you are making the next pair.  Notice that the last row is whipped to the cordonnet.
pea stitch variants 1 and 2
pea stitch variant 1
pea stitch variant 2
Pea stitch, variants 1 and 2 -- DMC figure #726.  You don't need to work both variants.  Choose just one and do it twice.  The purpose of doing any of these pea stitch variants is to get used to the idea of working different sequences of stitches in different rows.  There is another variant of pea stitch which looks much more striking and is actually used more often than these (and in several traditional styles as well), but I found it difficult to make it look good until I got fairly good control of my tension and spacing. So I'll save that one for later.

For pea stitch 1 I whipped the last row to the cordonnet.

For pea stitch 2 I worked the last row of buttonhole stitches onto the cordonnet (you can see the yellow thread).
plain twisted bar
DMC #694
Alençon bar on one laid thread
Making the Bars: -- When I drew the outline for this simple bookmark I left some narrow spaces between the segments because I wanted to try out several kinds of bars. These bars are not used in all laces, but they are very useful if you are designing your own work (where you can do whatever you like). The narrow spaces are bounded by 2 parallel horizontal outlines.

The illustrations in the DMC Encyclopedia pertaining to the bars seem clear enough to me that I have not redrawn them myself. --  Figures #694, #695, #696 are the most basic. The Guild of Needlelace book 1 also has these bars on pages 32 and 33.

Plain twisted bar or Alencon bar
Anchor your thread to the cordonnet as you normally would and throw the thread across and whip back.  WHIP  the thread around the cordonnet until you are in position to make the next bar.  (Ecru thread lies on top of the pink thread.)
 double twisted bar on 3 foundation threads
double twisted bar
Alençon bar on 3 foundation threads
Double twisted bar or Alencon bar  (actually has 3 foundation threads, whipped on the 4th journey)
Attach the thread onto the bottom cordonnet and throw the thread to the top cordonnet and around it.  Take the thread back to the lower cordonnet (2nd pass), around it, and back to the top cordonnet (3rd pass).  Now whip back over all three foundation threads, at least 3 times, or covering the whole bar, if you wish.  Whip the thread around the bottom cordonnet until you get to the position of the next bar.
(Lavender thread diagonally on lower bar is the whipping.)
 plain buttonholed bar
DMC #696 Venetian bars
Venetian bars
Venetian bar or plain buttonhole bar
I laid down 3 foundation threads, and then buttonholed over them.   But it can be done over just one foundation thread.

You don't need to work the bars if you don't want to. Instead you could work 2 or 3 rows of double buttonhole in those narrow segments.
  Buttonholing the Cordonnet: this is the last step in the actual lace making process. It has 2 purposes: to lock all the beginning and ending tails of lace threads onto the cordonnet so they cannot pull loose, and to make a smooth outline. However, achieving a smooth outline needs help. Experts recommend laying two padding threads on top of the cordonnet and buttonholing them onto the outline. I have found in practice that this really does make a difference and is worth the effort, and I often use more than two.

When deciding where to start the buttonholing, what sections to do first, you have to think about layers. In many pieces which represent real objects, you will want some parts to appear to lie on top of others. And that part should be done last so that the bottom loops of the buttonhole stitches are above other outlines. In this piece layers are not important. So the horizontal internal outlines should be done first, and the outer perimeter done in one movement, and last.

I am writing these instructions assuming right handedness.
hooking the padding threads to the cordonnet

4 padding threads laid in
Padding threads:
Take a thread twice as long as outline segment you are going to work and hook it to the right end of the outline bar. Use a crochet hook or thread it onto a tapestry needle to manipulate it. You can use the same thread you used for the lace stitches or you can use something else. Some styles of lace use a great number of padding threads  (as many as 16) and this produces a raised and sculpted look. I often use 4-6 padding threads because I like the look of a prominent cordonnette. There is no rule. But use at least 2 or it will be very difficult to get a smooth outline. You should use the same thread for buttonholing the cordonnet as you used for the lace stitches. Usually the padding threads, outline threads and lace thread are all the same color. If they are different colors, the underneath layers will be too visible and this may ruin the effect. In my sample I am using different colors so you can easily see what I am doing. If you are right handed work the buttonholing on the cordonnette from right to left. The reason for this is that you can then use your left hand to keep those 2 padding threads in position. On one of my first pieces I thought it would be clever to whip the padding threads into place so I could work from left to right. But the diagonal whipping thread defeated the purpose of laying padding threads down, and I ended up with a lumpy cordonnette. So keep the padding threads loose, but guide them with your left hand. By the end of this piece you will find working buttonhole stitch from right to left very easy, I promise.
4 padding threads, I am taking the 1st bh stitch
Hook your buttonholing thread
to the right hand end of the outline segment you are planning to work. I usually let a tail as long as the segment lie along with the padding threads and then I work the buttonholing over the outline threads, the padding threads, and the tail of the buttonholing thread. After 2 stitches it is locked quite well.

Start buttonholing the cordonette

I have laid 3 beige padding threads, and 1 green tail from the green buttonholing thread.  Here I am taking the first buttonhole stitch.
starting the buttonhole stitch  I have laid 4 yellow padding threads and am using the same thread to start the buttonholing. 
half row of buttonholing completed  Here half the buttonholing is completed. 
most of the horizontal cordonnette is finished   Most of the horizontal cordonettes are finished.  I will cut off the short tails before I start buttonholing the perimeter of the piece, and will keep the long tails and add them to the padding threads for the outer cordonnette. 
needlelace bookmark sampler finished The last step is to slide a scissors between the layers of cloth and cut the basting stitches and couching stitches.  See here.

A sample worked by chimerastone:

and another:

I have written another tutorial based on a simple leaf pattern drawn by Lenore English.  Needlelace Tutorial 2


© 2010 Lorelei Halley This may be copied for personal use, but not for any commercial use, nor may it be copied or posted on another website. Links are welcome.                              November 23, 2010            revised January 6, 2011