The Bobbin Trend
The Bobbin Trend
Revel in the rich history of bobbin furniture as we explore the origins of this ornate woodwork technique. From ancient Roman artefact to elaborate centrepiece for the English monarchy, discover what makes the centuries-old bobbin style so timeless.
How is bobbin furniture made?
Bobbin turned furniture, also known as spool furniture, is made using a lathe; a blade set on a rotating axis that turns continuously while the wood is pressed into it to create distinct indentations and markings.
Although enjoying a revival, this wood-turning technique certainly isn’t new. Archaeologists have excavated handmade wooden bowls and cups from shipwrecks and burial sites as early as 500 AD, while illustrations dating back even further have been found on Egyptian monuments and Roman artefacts. Many depict a bow lathe; where string is tied around the end of the wood and drawn back and forth while a handheld blade cuts into it, almost like a reverse saw.
Early lathe workers would have had to use their bare feet to hold the cutting tools to free up their arms for the sawing motion. By the 17th century however, a hand crank was added so that an apprentice could rotate the wood while the master turner continued to carve. It eliminated the tiring sawing motion which meant more fluid and elaborate designs emerged during this era.
A Royal Welcome
When King James I ascended the throne in 1603, it marked the end of the Elizabethan era and the dawn of a united England and Scotland. With renewed interest in the monarchy, opulence and grandeur was ushered into the homes of the upper classes. Furniture was designed to impress visitors and became increasingly oversized and decorative. Long dining tables rose in popularity to accommodate more guests for feast-like dining while tabletops became wider, often including extensions and folding leaves to create yet more space. Dining furniture was adorned with roughly carved acorn and bulb-like shapes, especially on the legs.
Seen at all angles
With such large and interchangeable dining tables, seating needed to become more lightweight and moveable. The Farthingale chair was designed specifically for women, featuring a low back and no arms to allow space for the wide-skirted fashions of the time and be light enough to be able to lift and move.
It also meant that chairs were designed to be more ornate all round as they would be viewed from every angle. Chair designs became more decorative, with attractive ornamental backs and bulb-shaped legs that matched the grandeur of the dining tables.
The Italian Influence
In an effort to make pieces more decorative, English furniture-makers perfected the curling Italianate designs and classical motifs brought over by Flemish carvers during the Renaissance of Elizabeth I’s reign. Wood-turning became increasingly experimental, challenging the makers and materials to produce spiralling forms on legs, scrolling arms as well as botanical and marine scenes carved into chests and cabinetry.
Jacobean furniture championed locally sourced English woods like pine, oak and mahogany that were far more readily available than exotic materials like mother of pearl and lacquered Asian woods that had to be imported in. The woods used lended well to the heavy, solid silhouettes and hand-carved shapes that were so sought after and gave pieces a distinctly English feel that can still be seen in modern interpretations.
As England expanded its trade reach throughout the 17th century, furniture became interlaced with techniques and materials discovered in new lands. ‘Turkey work’, a knotted woollen technique inspired by the imported Persian and Turkish carpets and kilim rugs, was introduced to upholster seating and chair backs to soften the heavy perpendicular shapes and complement the richly carved woodwork.
The new Bobbin look
Towards the end of the 17th century, the bobbin trend fell out of favour. It wasn’t until the arts and crafts movement of the 1900s, which celebrated traditionally crafted pieces, that bobbin-style furniture was rediscovered and reproduced. In the wake of the industrial revolution, furniture was pushed into mass production with the ornate designs now easily achievable with steam-powered machinery instead of the previously passed down skills from master to apprentice. While the handmade aspect of bobbin furniture dwindled, the ease of production meant a vast array of new styles, colours and materials could be used to create the same effect.
Our own bobbin collection is lovingly handmade from ash wood by talented artisans to recapture the ancient craft of wood-turning and upholstered with natural linen in the spirit of a Jacobean antique. But our range of bobbin-inspired homeware transcends furniture and can be found in lighting, glassware and beyond so this timeless design can be enjoyed anywhere in your home.