Bobbin lace is closely related to weaving and plaiting, and to techniques used to create a variety of braids which might collectively be classed as passementerie. Early references to ‘lace’ invariably refer to ties of some sort (like a modern shoe lace) and the term bobbin lace does not come into general use until well into the 1600s, with several different names used in the preceding century including ‘passemayne lace’ and ‘bone lace’. Bobbins are simply handles on which long lengths of thread can be wound to aid manipulation and reduce tangling; the name ‘bone lace’ suggests that the first bobbins were actually bones, and leg bones of rabbits and various game birds do make perfectly serviceable bobbins.
It is not possible to say exactly when bobbin lace broke away from other decorative passementerie techniques; however in the first pages of the Nüw Modelbuch, a bobbin lace pattern book published in Zurich in 1561, the author states that bobbin lace was introduced to Switzerland from Italy 25 years earlier. This seems quite likely and ties in with Rosemary Shepherd’s studies of a number of fifteenth and early sixteenth century portraits which appear to show simple bobbin lace (detailed in her Early Lace Workbook – Bobbin Lace Techniques before the Baroque (see http://www.lacedaisypress.com.au).
What is certain is that by the second quarter of the sixteenth century bobbin lace was becoming extremely important in the world of fashion.