Laying Tools

What is a laying tool?

A laying tool is an object used to help manage your stitches. Some stitchers refer to them as their "sanity savers". It helps to lay the threads flat or get them into position. Silk ribbon embroiderers use them to stroke the ribbon helping it to lie correctly or curve nicely. Even cross stitched designs can benefit by helping the two ply threads lay side by side and not cross over each other. It is also a great way to control your tension if you tend to pull your stitches too tight. We’ll touch more on how to use them later in this newsletter.

Does it really make a difference?

The Kreinik Company recommends the use of a laying tool when working with their silk thread. By neatly laying the silk straight while stitching you obtain the maximum degree of uniform light reflection which is what makes the silk shine. If you submit your stitching for competition, the judges will look closely at your stitches to make sure they are all going the correct direction and lay uniformly against the fabric.

What are they made from?

Laying tools can be made of almost any material. The key is that the surface is smooth so threads do not snag on the needle.

Wood is a very popular medium. Wooden tools can be very plain to very ornate depending on the artist. Most of them are turned on special machines called lathes. Other tools may have been hand carved. This laying tool has a rounded tip while this one has a pointed tip. The CoCoBoLo Wooden laying tool/awl is an example of beautiful craftsmanship. You want to choose your tip according to how you plan to use it. If you are trying to keep individual fibers separated then a pointed tip might be most helpful so you can work the threads after the stitch is completed. If you are working with silk ribbons you will want a rounded tip so you are less likely to pierce your ribbons.

Metal laying tools work especially well with silk threads as they tend to be smoother than wooden laying tools, but most metal laying tools have very sharp points! One of the most widely used metal laying tools is the BLT (Best Laying Tool). The BLT was first created by Shay Pendray, who is a well-known canvas work designer and teacher. What makes this tool unique is the very fine point and four-sided handle, which keeps it from rolling in your hand. The BLT comes with a clear plastic case. Here is a wonderful laying tool if you are working on very small projects. You can also use a larger needle as a laying tool. The Ribbon Weaving Needle would be a good example. They come in three lengths and have a flat surface that would be great to stroke silk ribbon.

Some metal laying tools are designed to be worn on your finger. One of these is called a trolley needle. Several blogs and websites said that Cat Woman’s fingernails in one of the Batman movies were actually trolley needles.

If you use a trolley needle, please be careful how you wear it because if you scratch an itch without thinking, you could injure yourself. Some people wear the needle trolley on their thumb to avoid personal injury.

Bone needlework tools have been around for centuries. The American Indians tried to use all the parts of the animals they killed. From the bones they made things like bowls, garden hoes, fish hooks, awls, and needles. This bone needle is helpful when working with silk ribbon because the diameter of the needle is small. Some of our bone laying tools have a larger diameter with decorative tops like thes ball top laying tools.

Laying tools can come in many different shapes and patterns.

Glass laying tools are very smooth and work wonderfully with silk threads. Glass is made primarily from sand. Glass items were created in the pre-Roman era using molds and forms. The technique of blowing class was discovered around 50 B.C. and revolutionized the art. Glass blowing has quite a history. For more information check out this website. Unfortunately we do not carry any glass laying tools at this time.

Some people try to use items made of plastic such as a pick-up stick. These will work in a pinch, but we recommend spending a little more money to buy a tool that is sturdy. You need to be able to apply a little pressure without the tool bending or breaking.

Specialty Materials & Reenactment Era Designs

Multiple Uses

Some laying tools have multiple uses. For example, the heavier tools can also be used as an awl. WiseGeek says "The name awl refers to a number of small, pointed tools that are used for different purposes and feature a sharp, metal blade, often a rod with a shaped tip, which may or may not come inserted in a haft, or handle." (reference link)

For embroidery purposes, an awl helps to open up a hole in the fabric so you can stitch without wearing on a large ribbon or fiber. You may want to open up the hole for an eyelet so it is centered and does not break any fabric threads. Awls can be manufactured as a stand alone tool often with a more pronounced taper.

Another use for a laying tool can be as a counting pin. Some people use their laying tool as a shawl pin. Get your knitted or crocheted shawl in place over your shoulders or around your neck and run the laying tool through to hold it secure, like when you pin fabric. Some of the longer laying tools could even be used to pin your hair up.

How to Maintain Your Laying Tools

Many of these tools have small tapered points, so you will want to keep them protected either in a case or with a point protector.

If you have a bone laying tool, you can take out small burs or sharpen a point with an emery board. Nail files are handy for keeping your nails and tools smooth. You can use very fine sandpaper on a wooden laying tool to do the same thing. If your laying tool keeps getting caught on the threads even after buffing, it is time to get a new one!

So, how is it used?

For Needlepoint and Cross Stitch:

Bring your needle up through the fabric like normal. Don’t take your needle back through the fabric yet. Let the thread lie flat with the "topside" of the thread lying against the fabric. Hold the laying tool in the opposite hand you stitch with. Using the tool gently press the thread against the fabric and slide the tool along with thread. Imagine your thread is on its back and you are stroking it to make it lie down, nice and straight. This stroking action will spread the fibers a bit which will make them cover better. Leaving the tool on the thread, go ahead and finish your stitch. Slowly pull the thread through the fabric and it will form a loop around the tool. Now let the tool guide the thread as you finish the stitch, removing the tool at the last moment.

If you get a twist in your thread as you begin to pull the stitch through, you can hold the thread just above the laying tool. Then as you tighten the stitch the twist will go through the fabric first allowing your flattened thread to lie correctly.

Silk Ribbon Embroidery:

You can use your laying tool a couple of ways when doing silk ribbon embroidery. You stroke the ribbon to get it to into the correct shape. When you pull your ribbon through the fabric the edges will curl either in (concave) or out (convex). If you want the ribbon to be flat, hold the ribbon in the direction you are stitching. In this case, the "topside" of the ribbon is on top and not against the fabric. If you think of your ribbon as a cat standing up and stretching, you will run your laying tool along the "belly" stroking the underside of the ribbon. Be sure to take your stroke right up to where the ribbon comes out of the fabric. This will help get it into shape and it increases the sheen, or shine, of the completed stitch.

Another way you can use your laying tool is to untwist your ribbon as you pull it through the fabric. When you are creating your leaf or loop use your laying tool to flatten out the length you want by stroking the underside of the ribbon. Then position the laying tool at the end of the ribbon, keeping some tension on the ribbon. Slowly pull the ribbon through the fabric and the twisted part will go through first. Use this same technique to create uniform loops in your stitching.

Language Note: Lay vs. Lie

Grammar Girl explains that: "If you…just focus on the setting/reclining meaning of lay and lie, then the important distinction is that lay requires a direct object and lie does not. So you lie down on the sofa (no direct object), but you lay the book down on the table (the book is the direct object)." (reference link)

Grammar Traps offers this tip: "If you’re in doubt about whether to use ‘lay’ or ‘lie,’ try substituting a form of the verb ‘place.’ If it makes sense, use a form of lay.” (reference link)

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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