The basic characteristic of Ruskin Lace is the fact that it is worked directly into the fabric and not as a motif and then appliquéd into the fabric.
Below is a brief outline of some of the techniques used in Ruskin Lace. Full instructions for every stage in making Ruskin Lace in the time honoured, traditional way can be found in the book Ruskin Lace – A Complete Guide by Karen Quickfall
Ruskin Lace is worked wherever possible on to an evenweave fabric, which is a fabric that has been woven with the same weight of yarn in both the warp and weft direction. This ensures that when the traditional four-sided stitch border to the pattern areas and the inside of the hem is worked, the block will be the same square shape in both directions. A count of 28/29 threads to the inch is ideal and although natural coloured fabrics were traditionally used, many people are now making Ruskin Lace on coloured fabrics.
Linen Lace thread is the preferred working thread and the thickness should preferably be equal to the fabric thickness or slightly thicker. The Bockens Knyppelgarn No 30/2 (unbleached), No 50/3 or 60/3 half-bleached or colour 470, work very well. If you are working with a coloured linen fabric then a DMC, Anchor or Finca Cotton Perle No 12 can usually be matched or contrasted as preferred.
A Tapestry needle (size no 22 or 24) is used for the four-sided stitch.
A Sharps needle (no 6) is used throughout the rest of the technique. A Sharps needle makes a round hole for the thread to follow, making it easier to pull the needle through the bars and especially when making picots and bullion knots.
Plotting and pulling threads
Pattern squares are measured using a tape measure rather than by counting threads, as there is usually a little discrepancy between the number of threads in each direction across a counted square. Most of the threads are being removed in order to work the pattern so it doesn’t really matter about the number of threads, but if it’s not square then it will show!
The four-sided stitch outlines every Ruskin Lace pattern (and around the inside of every hem) and threads must be cut and withdrawn to give you the space to work the four-sided stitch. Two threads are cut, the next four are left in and two more cut to leave ‘tramlines’ of pulled threads.
The photograph on the left shows the pulled out threads ready for the four-sided stitch to be worked.
The photograph on the right shows a row and half of the corner worked in four-sided stitch.
There are instructions for both right-handed and left-handed stitchers in the book.
Preparing the square for the pattern
Once the four-sided stitch is complete the pattern area can be prepared by cutting and pulling threads to outline the the ones we need to keep. The square is now stitched onto ‘leathercloth’ – this is a fairly robust material that will flex and bend and can be stitched into, but it will not stretch. It has a smooth upper surface and usually a bonded woven bottom surface. I’m currently using an upholstery faux leather fabric which works very well to hold the fabric square taut whilst the pattern is being worked. The fabric is stitched onto the leathercloth through the centre of the four-sided stitch. This will not permanently mark the fabric in any way and is the closest to the fabric that will be cut away. A hoop or frame is never used for Ruskin Lace.
The pattern square can now be prepared with threads being withdrawn to outline the padded roll and the centre three horizontal and vertical threads. The spaced whipping is now worked – these are the stitches that hold together the four threads left for the padded roll at the inside edge of the square.
The padded roll is the next part to be worked. This gives a neat, secure edge to the pattern square and holds many parts of the pattern in place.
There is padding cord, made up of three threads, in the padded roll which gives it its characteristic fullness.
Once the padded roll is complete then the excess threads can be cut away, leaving the three central horizontal and vertical threads. These are the square foundation bars and will be whipped, taking care not to push the central junction out of place.
The final part of the pattern grid comes with the insertion of the diagonal foundation bars and then the pattern square is ready.
The grid that has been created in the stages so far, support the pattern within the square. For larger squares there may be the addition of diamond foundation bars or even sub-dividing the square again with window-grid foundation bars. All the instructions for these elements can be found in the book.
Patterns are now created using Buttonhole Stitch in the main. It is always worked from left to right (whether you are a right- or left-handed stitcher) and foundation threads are laid within many elements to make this possible.
Circles or squares of three threads are laid in a variety of positions to create the patterns using elements such as;
- decreasing pyramids
- 1-thread bars
- woven shapes
- loop units
Patterns are suggestions, not hard and fast rules, as every student works at a different tension and threads vary in thickness too. Elements can be interchanged either because of space or personal preference. In this way the original patterns are still evolving today whilst the technical aspect of the lace isn’t compromised.
Once your piece of work has been completely finished then it can be cleaned and pressed (full instructions are in the book) and an edging can be applied.
Bullion Knots provide the traditional edging to a piece of Ruskin Lace and these are placed over the outer edge of the hem. Bullion Knots are also used to join pieces of Ruskin Lace together when items are made, such as needle books, pincushions, book covers, bags, etc.
Other fancier edgings made up of loops and picots as well as bullion knots can be added to Ruskin Lace samplers, mats and table runners – the choice is yours.