An Introduction to Working with Lace
Before You Begin
Determine the kind of lace you’re working with. Doing a little homework will set you ahead: this guide is intended to offer some introductory sewing tips, but extensive information on lace itself is available online and will get you informed about your fabric. Some basic categories are sheer lace, which will likely require a lining, stretch lace and “full lace,” or all-over-patterned, which either won’t need or will only require a partial lining. There are at least 14 kinds of lace which are well-known to an intermediate or advanced sewist, and many more varieties in between. Taking note of the weight, embroidery (if any/how much?), density of the pattern or coverage and stretch factor will help set you up for success. Even better: having a chat with your retailer or doing some quick internet searching about your exact material should give you all the background you need. (Hit us up on Instagram @ZeloufFabrics with quick questions and comments or try calling or emailing Zelouf Fabrics at 212-221-3131 and firstname.lastname@example.org for a more in-depth recommendations from our expert team.)
Once you’ve determined what kind of lace you’re using (lace often has contains kinds of fibers woven through its embroidery) your technique will follow. The guide below is meant to offer general information for those getting ready to work with this challenging, classic fabric.
-Lace fabric and pattern of your choice
-Fine sewing pins
-Fabric clips work well for lace with too many holes to allow pins to stay in place.
-Sharp sewing needles (70/10 for sharp needles thin enough for your lace fabric)
-If sewing with stretch lace you will need stretch needles.
-Sewing machine capable of sewing zigzag stitches OR a serger machine for seams
-Lining material (many kinds of fabric are suitable for lining lace, season [hot or cold?], texture preference and personal budget will guide you)
-Sharp scissors or a rotary cutter (for stretch lace)
Most lace is washable. As always, double check with your retailer. But lace typically shrinks quite a bit after washing. We recommend hand-washing lace with warm water and gentle detergent, then air-drying. For a dry-clean-only garment, steam the “wrong” side with a towel or good press cloth underneath. This ensures the design isn’t flattened. If you don’t have access to a steamer then try holding the iron half an inch over the surface, then store the fabric in a rolled towel. Most fabrics will shrink considerably after drying.
Lay out lace overnight. Allow the fabric to “stretch and breathe”—settle, in other words—and relax out of its wrinkles.
As with any other project, read your pattern instructions, lay out pattern pieces and think through the steps of the process before cutting into the fabric. Some helpful questions: Will you finish the seams, or leave a scalloped edge along the pattern of the lace? Various seams (sleeves versus a hemline or neckline, for example) may be better-suited to different finishes. Does the project need a lining? Have you taken stretch sizing into your calculations, if applicable? Maybe also consider: how will I style this? Styling is part of the fun, and this question might inform your decision-making as your work progresses.
Constructing Your Garment
Doilies, table-runners and other decorative applications of lace are much more straightforward. Lace garments, on the other hand, necessitate a little more visioning.
As with any pattern, it’s best to map where the large and small shapes in the lace will fall on the body. As a rule, larger shapes emphasize and draw attention, smaller shapes minimize. You may be working with a vintage or heirloom lace, for example, and want to highlight the detail in such a special fabric—laying it over a bodice or simple skirt could create a stunning end-result. Lace also has denser and more delicate sections of the fabric, which a sewist may want to use strategically to cover or reveal different areas of the body.
It may be advisable to use a lining to pattern your garment. Cutting out a solid, more stable material is easier than starting with your lace. Decide which side of your lining you’d like to show through the lace—the fabric may have a shiny and matte side. You may even decide to get creative and line the garment in a different color. Black on black, of course, is a favorite of ours.
Some Notes on Machine Sewing
We love lace for its lightweight, delicate look and feel. Lace can be so light, though, it may fall into your machine’s throat plate! Going slow, using a light touch on the foot press and gently holding up the thread when you backstitch will keep your lace from getting sucked into the throat plate. Taking breaks doesn’t hurt.
A few basic seams:
Sheer Lace: Typically requires a lining. Start with the lining to make your edges neater. Tuck the lining inside the garment and trim close to your stitch line. Darts look most polished and flattering when lace and lining are sewed together to form a single stitch line. This will also prevent the seam from showing on the outside of the final product.
Stretch Lace: Zig-zag seams work great. Test and adjust tension and width on a scrap of fabric first. Sergers are great for finishing edges.
Patterned Lace: Baste seam lines before cutting: lay down pattern pieces, baste and cut pieces individually to ensure the design matches up. Pieces should also be cut wide at the side intended to be seamed. When sewing on a machine you may need to take your foot off the press while turning the material to navigate delicate corners.
Lace is one of those classic materials that can always be made new. The mixing-matching-power-clashing trends of 2022 dictate that outre-granny is “fashion insider” again, that ethereal summer looks can easily be achieved with a mix of lace and flowy fabrics, that “fancy-dress” can go anywhere and leather-and-lace isn’t such a bold take on this everlasting trend. Explore your inner tea party princess or channel Miss Havisham (not a quite a role model but absolutely a style icon) in the antique look that’s light enough for summer.