“Spangles and Superstitions”
The practice of adding “spangles” (rings of coloured beads) to the ends of bobbins (the East Midlands ones in particular) seems to be a unique trait of English bobbin lace makers. I wondered why the East Midlands style of bobbin had the added spangle, and not the pointed-ended Devon bobbin. I have since learnt that Devon lace traditionally required finer thread, and also the ability to pass the pointed end of the bobbin through loops of thread, thus the spangle would have encumbered this.
I have also discovered there are many superstitions and beliefs surrounding the beads used for lace makers’ spangles. I found a fascinating little book called Spangles and Superstitions by Christine and David Springett. The following information on this post was learnt from that book.
Glass beads would have been used to decorate the spangles, being easily obtained and adding colour and sparkle, but also other trinkets too. These objects were chosen purely for their required weight, but more often than not, for their personal significance to the lace maker. As quoted in Spangles and Superstitions: “…such as a shell brought back by a sailor in the family or as a souvenir of a rare trip to the sea, sometimes a button from a fiance’s waistcoat, or even a fob from the watch chain of a loved one.”
I have included a photo of some lace bobbins I found on eBay, one of which has two buttons on its spangle, rather than beads.
“Eye” Beads: Protection against the Evil Eye
Some beads were made with spots added to them in a contrasting color, to represent an eye. It is believed that lace makers would make sure there was a particular type of bead somewhere on their pillows, an “Eye” bead, to keep away the “evil eye” and to keep an eye on the lace, to avoid costly mistakes in their lacemaking. These beads could be “Serpents Eye” beads, or “Evil Eye beads”. These combined the spiralled line of the snake encircling the bead with a spot representing the “eye”.
A bunch of buttons at the end of a spangle was supposed to give the same effect as an Evil Eye bead. It was considered wise to have buttons on bobbins at work on the lace pillow as protection against the evil eye, avoiding mistakes!
Particular types of buttons can also have personal significance for the lace maker. As quoted in Spangles and Superstitions, “when a lace maker became engaged she would use her fiance’s waistcoat button to spangle a bobbin inscribed with their names. On the other hand, a trouser button had a very different meaning! Should a spinster who was previously considered to be “on the shelf” finally manage to catch herself a husband, then her lace making “friends” would take an ‘old maid bobbin’ (very thin and plain!) and spangle it with a single trouser button! A subtle comment indeed!”
A bead made from the wood of a yew tree was believed to protect the owner from accidents.
Leopards are bobbins from either bone or wood inlaid with spots of pewter. In the Bedford area it was believed that leopards would protect the lace maker from arthritis and rheumatism.
To learn more about spangles and superstitions and beliefs about them, see Spangles and Superstitions by Christine and David Springett, and The Romance of the Lace Pillow by Thomas Wright.