Monday, April 20, 2009

Spangled Midland does not refer to bellybutton rings.

I've mentioned before that I make lace bobbins. I made a couple of pairs last week, so I'll share step-by-step how I do it. If you happen to have wood lathe experience, you probably have the skills to do this, too. But there is no need to follow the same steps as I do...this is what works well for me, but I will probably continue to refine my process.

As I discussed before, the elements of a Spangled Midland style lace bobbin are:

1. the thistle top, so named for its shape, and which provides a useful location for the special knot used to hold the thread at a given length, yet easily unwind additional thread.
2. the neck, onto which the reserve of thread is wound
3. the handle, which is used for manipulating the thread and generally has decorative cuts
4. the spangle, which provides weight for maintaining tension, keeps the bobbin from rolling, and is pretty.

In this example, I turned the bobbin out of a 3/8" diameter birch dowel. I like using dowels because it saves a whole lot of time compared to roughing from square stock. However, I've only found a fairly small selection of hardwood dowels, so beyond birch, oak, walnut, and cherry, I use pen blanks.
As shown above, I set up about a 6" length in a headstock drill chuck, supported at the tailstock end by a 60 degree cone point live center. I start with cutting the thistle top at the tailstock end. First I cut the angled top,
followed by a simple bead to form the bottom of the thistle shape.
Then, in several passes I cut a narrow neck about 1" long.
After marking off the final length (total length should be 4" to 4 1/2", but should be the same for both bobbins in the pair), I cut a decorative design in the handle. I don't plan it ahead of time, but just follow the whim of the moment. Likewise, I don't try to make both bobbins of a pair match...the second one never looks as good, and the pairs generally don't stay together through the lacemaking process, anyway. However, I do use the first bobbin as a reference for the second, so that the dimensions of the thistle top, neck, and length, will be about the same.

I sand the bobbin with strips of sandpaper, starting with whichever grit seems necessary based on the cleanness of the cuts, and progress down to very fine grit. The neck and thistle top in particular need to be very smooth, so that the thread will unwind smoothly. Finally, to cut off the bobbin, I use a skew chisel to cut down to a narrow point and finally part it off. I've tried using parting chisels for this, but the skew just seems to work better and give a better looking end.
I use tung oil to finish the bobbins. Then, I drill a small hole at the end of the bobbin for the spangle. I cut a few inches of brass wire and thread it through the hole, leaving the bobbin hanging in the middle of the wire. (the spangling pictures are taken using a cherry bobbin I had on hand, because I didn't think to take pictures while I was spangling the birch pair.)
Next I slide on beads symetrically on either side, finishing with one large bead. I do not use plastic beads, as they don't seem to give enough weight.
I cut the wire on one side, near the last bead. With a pair of pliers, I form a small loop. Then I pull the other end of the wire snugly through the loop, cut off near the loop, and form another loop, linking them together.

With the pliers, I pinch the loops flat, then pull the large bead over the connection. And then the bobbin is complete and ready to use!
And here is the cherry pair I made last week:

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