Articles I have written on needlelace

PatternTo help those who are beginners and maybe struggling a bit with their needlelace I have reproduced the following articles, written by me,and published inThe Guild of Needle Lace's magazine 'Needle 'n Thread'.

To read the article 'Making my first piece of needlelace' see below.
To read the article 'How to lay a cordonnet' Click here

Michael has also put together a detailed step by step article on how to make the piece of needlelace opposite.To see the detailed instructions... Click here

Making my first piece of needlelace

The Design

The design I chose to start with was of a group of four mushrooms. Because I can work with computer graphics quite easily I am able to draw a design on the screen and then manipulate the design to suit. Without this facility I would have to draw it out with pencil and paper and use a rubber to erase and redraw lines I was not happy with. Once you have the design to your satisfaction it is a good idea to make a final drawing in ink, unless you print it off on the computer, as a pencilled drawing would gradually get erased by the constant movement of the needlelace pad. The design is reproduced full size below. The arrows indicate the direction of the filling stitches and the little red lines indicate the start and finish of the first line of filling stitches in each area.

Make sure the size of your design is such that it is not too big that it would take forever to work the filling stitches and not so small that it would be impossible to work.

Deciding on threads to use

The next thing to do is work out what threads to use. As a complete beginner I stayed away from stranded cottons and silks and worked with Perlé 8 and 12. If you put skeins or balls of your chosen colours over the pattern you can see if the colours compliment each other and fit in with the design. I chose perlé as it is easier to work and does not shred so easily.

Filling Stitches

Then I needed to work out what filling stitches to use and the direction they will be worked. I used corded stitches to start with as these are easier to get in straight lines than non corded stitches. Once I had worked some of these I could then try a non-corded stitch. I am told that single corded Brussels is the easiest stitch to start with as there are no gaps to contend with and there is a cord to help keep the lines of stitches even.

I decided that I would fill the largest area with Corded Single Brussels. The rest of the stitches are as detailed on the pattern. I worked out where to start all of these stitches and have marked these positions on the pattern as well.

All of this information needs to be put onto your cordonnet pattern before you start laying your cordonnet as you cannot do it afterwards. You don’t have to mark up your pattern this way but it does help. Even if you have thought all this up, you can change your mind and work other stitches and direction as work progresses if you want to.

Working the Cordonnet

The next thing to do was work out how to couch down the cordonnet. I have made this into a separate article for reasons that are explained in the article.

I pre-picked the holes around the top mushroom cap as I thought this might make it easier to guide the needle up on the design line. I did not get on well with this idea and did the rest of the cordonnet the conventional way.

Working the filling stitches

I started with the top mushroom cap using a perlé 12 space dyed thread. The making of the stitches and keeping an even tension did not seem to be difficult at all. I have heard many students say that they find keeping the tension is the most difficult bit. All I can say is take your time and watch carefully as the thread is pulled up and don’t pull it too tight. I did take a long time over this first area to make sure that the tension was right and that I was going into each loop of the stitches in the row above.


The first row was the most difficult in judging how many stitches and the spacing of the stitches. This came easier as I worked the piece.

The curve of the stitches was a bit off putting as I knew that they are supposed to be straight rows, but by the third row it had evened out.

I was also surprised at the number of times that I had to join in a new thread. I was using lengths of thread a bit longer than the length of my arm as I am informed that is all that you should load into the needle. These three rows took 2 lengths of thread.

At the end of each row I took the thread under and over the cordonnet twice.

For the other mushroom caps and the stalks I used a perlé 8

Top stitching

After finishing all of the filling stitches it was time to start the top stitching. I noticed that the cordonnet was very thick because of the double loops at the end of each, the whipping of the last row in each area and the joining in and finishing off of the filling threads. Nevertheless I still added two more threads around the edges as the text books say one should. To keep the top stitching neat and tidy I took my time and made sure that each stitch laid closely to its neighbour and the knot laid to the outside of the work.

What did I learn?

Working the mushrooms the first thing I found was that I needed a good light and a good magnifying glass.

I found you need bucketfuls of patience, making needlelace is not quick.

After working 3 or 4 rows of stitches my thread used to start unravelling as can be seen from the picture below. It does not matter if it is Perlé, stranded cotton or fine silk, it just happens. Kay does not know what I am doing to cause this to happen.


I had a problem with needles to begin with. When we ran our mail order business for stumpwork supplies we used to sell Prym ball point needles, then we could not get them any more so we tried others. Pony, Milwards and Hemline but none of these were very good as ball points so we started to use No 28 tapestry needles as these were the smallest tapestry needles available. These work all right but I found them too short for my size of hand. The best ball point we have found is a Clover Blunt Tip but they are expensive at over £6.00 for 6 needles. They are very brittle and I have broken 6 of them so far. Kay does not know how I do this as she has never had one break on her. Talking about needles I also use an Embroidery needle No 9 to couch the cordonnet down and also for the top stitching. What needles do you use?

What next?

By now I am hooked on making needlelace and now wanted to do something different and something that I have not seen before. I decided that I would make a Blue Tit but Kay thought that might be a bit difficult and suggested a Robin.

This led me onto another area that I have been asked about and that is how to make a piece of needlelace from a photograph.

As you know I am a keen photographer and had several pictures of Robins. I chose the one that is depicted above. This is then placed into a drawing programme and traced around the relevant parts as a needlelace pattern. You can also do it with tracing paper and a pen.

The stitches are all corded single Brussels as I wanted it to look realistic and not to be too ‘lacy’. The exception is the post which is worked in up and down stitch. The legs were two cordonnets padded out with four lengths of thread and top stitched over. The eye is a black bead. For the curve at the top of the head I used two needles to maintain the curve in the stitches.

I was reasonably happy with the finished result but the belly is too square and the top stitching far too heavy. I need to improve on these area for the Blue Tit which was my next project.

The Blue Tit

After the lessons learnt on making the Robin I needed to be aware of not making the cordonnet too thick when finishing and starting the rows of filling stitches, starting and finishing threads that are joined in and casting on the first row.

I also wanted to try and replicate the shadow in the lower part of the belly. This was achieved by changing the thread colour in the middle of the row. Not easy but I think I managed to do quite effectively.

To keep the cordonnet thin I ignored all of the advice about ending and finishing the rows of filling stitches. I used Corded Single Brussels thoughout except for the green on its back which is Single Brussels.

At the ends of the rows I only went around the cordonnet once and did not whip the last row. I started the next area by making the foundation row of stitches into the last row of the area above. Two needles were used for the curved bit of the belly. The eye is a small bead. The blue area of the wings was worked as one, working the filling stitches over the cordonnet’s for the wing edges. This though resulted in very thick black top stitching. For the tail, I worked it again as one area and threaded a black thread through the stitches which gave a more pleasing look.

Each area was filled so that the last row of stitches sat just inside the cordonnet thread to reduce the thickness when it came to top stitching. There were no extra threads used when it came to the top stitching. I used a sewing needle when making the top stitching and if it went through some stitches instead of under and over then so be it. This was the only way I could reduce the thickness and I think it worked out reasonably well.


Working out a Cordonnet

Firstly I must point out that I am not an expert in needlelace and the following are my observations through writing and drawing needlelace patterns over a good number of years. I have used the Mushroom pattern from my earlier article as the basis for this article.

The text books say that the theme throughout is to make sure that there are two threads couched down over all lines of the design. Keep the number of branches to a minimum. The finish does not have to end where you started. Try not to start on a corner as this will weaken the cordonnet. It is a good idea to start off in the middle of the design if possible as this gives a stronger join as you are working filling threads from both sides. Try to start on one of the longer lines of the design.

When I am working out a cordonnet diagram I use the computer as described earlier but that is the way I work. To work with pencil and paper I suggest putting small symbols on the lines as you work round, >> indicates that you are couching down both threads and <> indicates that this line is a branch and is therefore a single thread going one way and both threads are couched down on the way back.

Once you have decided where you are going to start working round the design looking at all lines coming off the line you are working on to see whether or not you could make a branch to an already laid line. It is always good practice to make a branch to an area where the cordonnet threads are already couched down but this is not always possible. You can make a branch to an area where the threads are not already couched and leave a loop at the end of the line to be picked up later.

With all of the above in mind I decided to make the start in the centre at the bottom of the large mushroom cap.

cordonnet 1

I started with the loop at A and worked round to B. I ignored lines going off at L, R and D as there were no laid lines at the ends of these lines to make a branch.

In hindsight and after gaining more experience I would start where B is and thread the two cordonnet threads through the original loop and then work down to C.



cordonnet 2

At B it was obvious that I needed to make a branch to A to complete the top mushroom cap. (A branch is a line that has a single thread going one way looped under and over the already couched threads and laid back to where it started, in this case a single line to B, and back to A giving you your two threads.)

In hindsight and since learning a bit more I should have started where B is, worked round the mushroom cap and taken both threads through the original loop. This would have saved having to make a branch B to A.

cordonnet 3

All of the following sequences are straight forward.

From B two threads down to C

At C one thread round to D under and over and back to C. Back at C pick up the thread that was left and both down to E.

cordonnet 4

At E, branch to F, both threads down to G, branch to H, two threads round to I.


At I there is a choice, you can go down and round with both threads past O and onto N and then take a single thread all the round the mushroom cap to O, under and over at O and back to J, make another  branch J to I, then back to K make a branch at K to L then back to O to pick up the thread you left. The problem here is that is a long way to go and three branches to make with a single thread.

cordonnet 6

If it is done the way I did it, taking both threads up the stalk past K and M to N making a branch K to L, There is only the one branch instead of three.(It is better to couch both threads down wherever possible and keep the branches to a minimum.)

At N I now have to make a double branch with a single thread. Until now we have taken a single thread to already couched threads and laid back to where we left off.

This time I took the single thread to J and back to O then down and round to I and back to O then back to N where I picked up the thread I left behind.


Take both threads down and round to P. Make a branch P to M. Then both threads round to Q. At Q take one thread under and over at R and couch all three threads back to Q. Take the other thread left at Q and lay it over the threads L to R and couch down over the existing threads

This concludes the design of the cordonnet for this design.

What I have shown you is the text book method of working a cordonnet. There are times when you cannot work a single length of cordonnet, or for other reasons you want to work the cordonnet in sections.

penguin cordonnet

As in the case of this penguin - it has two cordonnets. This is perfectly acceptable as long as the cordonnets are linked into each other.

I have shown one cordonnet in a magenta colour and the other in black.

I have also shown below enlarged the cordonnet around the penguin’s eyes, although it looks complicated with a bit of thought it is possible to work two circles in a single cordonnet.

parrot cordonnet

The parrot shown here was worked with several cordonnets linked into each other as I wanted a different coloured cordonnet for each area of the design.

This idea helps when it comes to the top stitching as you do not have to worry that the cordonnet will show through when the top stitching is completed.

The cordonnet for the parrot was worked without drawing it out first. As long as you give some logical thought to the direction of each line round each area before it is couched I found that it was not difficult at all.

I mentioned in the third paragraph of this article the use of arrows if you were working out the cordonnet using paper and pen.

The drawing shown shows the finished cordonnet using this method.


I have found this article to be one of the hardest I have ever composed. There are so many variations to working out a cordonnet for any given design. I hope it has taken the fear out of those who have struggled with this topic. It is not difficult, it just needs some logical thought given to the pattern, and work around the design in sequence. If it is a very complicated design see if it can be broken down into sections and the work out each section before moving on to the next.

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