When we chatted about our favorite embroidery tools a couple weeks ago, some readers brought up a tool called an aficot, which raised some virtual eyebrows out there and brought up a few questions.
Here in the States and among embroiderers, the aficot is not really a super well-known tool. It doesn’t come up in embroidery conversation much. It’s not a highly marketed tool. And it’s not that easy to find a nice aficot.
The aficot is more commonly used in lace-making, but it has its uses in embroidery, too. If you do a lot of whitework that involves satin stitching, or you love to satin stitch monograms or the like (in any color), you just might find an aficot very useful!
It’s also one of those tools that’s fun to have lying around, because people look at it and can’t help asking, “What is that thing?”
So, here’s a shot of my aficot. I’ll tell you a little about how it’s used and where you can find your own.
Such a lovely tool! I do so love beautifully made wooden tools.
The aficot is a tool that descends from the lobster claw. In lace making, particularly in Alençon lace, the lobster claw was used in two ways: 1. to polish raised threads, and 2. to smooth down areas of tape or fabric between lines of stitching, to make the stitching stand out better.
You can see, in this video on Alençon lace, the lobster claw in use for the latter purpose. You’ll see it sneak in very briefly around the 2:37 mark.
The aficot replaces the lobster claw. It can be made of material other than wood – for example, there are references in lace-making books to aficots made of steel – but the wooden aficot is more common.
The aficot fits right in your hand, and you can hold it comfortably just like this. I normally use it with my right hand, but you can hold it in either.
If you get a good one, I would venture to say it’s probably the most comfortable tool you’ll ever hold, because it just fits right into the palm of your hand perfectly and your thumb sits easily on the curve where the tool moves to a flat tip.
The key to a good aficot is that it must, absolutely, no matter what, be perfectly smooth. If it has any abrasiveness to it – any splintery area, any ridge from a molding (if it’s steel or any other material) – it will not do what it is intended to do, and in fact, it’ll do just the opposite.
So, how do you use it? Embroiderers use that flat, smooth, slightly curved tip to burnish or polish threads, especially raised satin stitching.
This is a monogram I worked a while ago on an old oat-colored linen towel.
This is the type of satin stitching that you’d use an aficot on.
Once the satin stitching is finished, you take the flat tip of the aficot, and you polish the threads lightly. You don’t have to push and prod them or use a lot of pressure on them. You just start at the base and polish up the sides and across the top of the stitching.
The stitches sort of meld together better – they cozy up next to each other and fill out the surface, making it super smooth.
Incidentally, if you don’t have an aficot, you can still polish your threads. If you have scissors that are well made (like these Dovo scissors or these Premax scissors), you can use the outer curve on the finger holes to polish your threads, as long as the steel is perfectly smooth.
Where to Find Aficots
Well, there’s the million dollar question! You’re probably not going to find an aficot at a local shop.
Here in the US, (updated 2017) I found my aficot through a woodworker named Michael at M & H Handcrafts, which is no longer a functional website and I don’t know where Michael went or if he is even making them anymore! He made his tools out of exotic hardwoods and they are simply gorgeous.
In the UK, I’ve seen aficots available through the Guild of Needle Laces. I’ve not tried theirs, so I don’t know what it’s like. But if you’re looking for one, you’ll find it there. They also have other interesting lace-making tools that the embroiderer can make use of, too.
It looks like you can also find them through Needle Paws in the UK. Again, I’ve not tried them or done business with them, but it’s worth checking out, if you’re looking for an aficot.
I’ve not been able to put my finger on a source in Australia or New Zealand, but maybe someone else knows of one and can mention it below?
And that, my friends, is the aficot.
Such a lovely tool!