Hairpin Lace Pieces

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Recently, I feel life has been an exploration of synonyms for tired. Fatigued, exhausted, spent, weary, shattered, frazzled… I think if it is possible to feel all of them at once, I am doing an excellent job. Much better than I feel I’ve been doing with my crafting, though I have managed to sneak in a little hairpin lace making of late!

We’ll save the melodrama about 2020 for the traditional end of year reflection post but I am feeling very much excluded from a world where baking sourdough and banana bread is the order of the day and picking up some quaint and eclectic hobbies. I feel I have reached the stage of the year where I don’t have aspirations, other than for a couple of days’ worth of sleep.

Doing a lot of machine embroidery has been good while tired. Digitising takes a huge amount of effort and concentration but I have to admit that stitching out other people’s designs is something of a guilty pleasure. If I’m not going for adventurous fabrics or tricky threads (or murdering needles) then stitching out a design has become a relatively painless process.

However, sometimes you want to just do something with your hands and while the machine thrums away, your hands are free to enjoy some crochet. It has been a long while since I’ve done any hairpin lace. I taught myself while I was living in Japan having found a gorgeous adjustable Clover frame from a very cheap pamphlet whose title literally translates as ‘Cute Hairpin Lace’.

Hairpin lace is a technique that uses a U-shaped frame (originally presumably a hairpin) and a crochet hook and feels somewhat bizarre when you’re getting used to it. It’s a very unnatural motion at first, as you start by essentially tying yourself onto the frame, wrapping the yarn around, inserting the hook, and then flipping the frame as you make the stitch.

The Clover hairpin frame is a particularly nice frame to use as it has a small slot in the bottom where you can secure the starting tail to stop everything slip and sliding about while you’re learning. Getting the first few loops going is a circus act of tension and balance. The slip knot will want to live up to its name and, if you want to make a strip of lace where the loops are an even size either side of the spine, you need everything to stay dead centre. It always takes me a good few attempts to start a strip in a way I am happy with.

Once you have the basic motion though, the hairpin lace strips are highly customisable. You can change the position of the spine to have loops bigger on one side than the order, good if you want to make something round. Instead of just doing single crochet stitches for the spine you can do something more elaborate. You can also do a lot of work on the lace strips when you’re done.

To refresh my memory, I decided to have a go at making the four very adorable doilies from the book. I got our my beloved Tulip Etimo hooks, some Olympus size 40 cotton, and went to work… The instructions for these are relatively simple and it wasn’t long before I was happily counting away with my first strip finished.

Then it came to join it in the round, which is just a standard crochet method with more care needed to weave the ends in. (It’s possible to accidentally dismember the spine a little if you don’t think how the stitches are formed). What I noticed is that I had a huge bulge in the centre, and there was no way with no amount of optimistic blocking, that this was going to come out.

So, I tried again. And again. I relaxed my tension a little, checked my counting, but to no avail. I could not reproduce the beautiful flat piece of fun on the cover of the pamphlet. Then, I went back to read the instructions and felt like a bit of an idiot. I’d taken great care to make sure I’d read the Japanese text properly, what I hadn’t taken any care to do was to make sure that I’d read the numbers correctly… They were in Latin script so there was really no excuse for mistaking 10 for 40…

This meant that I’d been using the wrong size crochet cotton so of course I was never going to make a perfectly round piece of lace. As soon as I started using the right sized thread everything magically started working okay. I opted for some Alize Miss Batik, which comes in some wonderful variegated colours. It’s a tiny bit thicker than the Olympus Emmy Grande that the book suggests but with a slightly relaxed tension it works just fine (and if anyone knows a UK supplier for that stuff, please tell me, it’s fantastic!)

The only thing I don’t particularly enjoy about hairpin lace is the seemingly infinite amounts of ends to weave in but I love getting to do some silly picots and twist together loops to make all sorts of shapes. With the exception of the double braided one, which was a pain because I don’t see how you can do it without taking the hook in and out of the work repeatedly, these were all relatively straightforward to work. I love how much variation you can get with just small changes. I haven’t bothered to block or iron these so they could look a bit tidier but they are still very cute!

This was a fun, simple project to work on and I wonder if I could use these as embellishments for some fabric perhaps. I saw some wonderful heirloom quilt projects that got me thinking a little too hard recently… but for now, some sleep and the hope of five minutes of peace…

9 thoughts on “Hairpin Lace Pieces

    • It doesn’t seem to be a hugely popular technique so there’s not much in the way of patterns out there – the one excellent ‘ideas’ book I have is in Japanese – but I think it’d be a lovely and relatively fast way of making lace edging and things for designs. I love bobbin lace but it is infuriatingly slow.

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