Lace adds a certain elegance to your sewing projects, whether it's an accent on a curtain, an overlay on a skirt, or a full-fledged lacy wedding gown. It's not quite the same as other fabrics, however, so before you dive right in on your first project, check out these tips and tricks to working with this unique material.
1. Understand what type of lace you're using
You may not realise just how many different types of lace there are, but they all have unique characteristics. From the bold shapes of Chantilly lace, named after the town in France where it originated, to the delicate, almost floating patterns of Alençon lace, there are certainly plenty to choose from! The main thing to keep in mind with lace is how it's constructed. Most lace today is made by embroidering onto a background fabric, typically netting. In some cases, a dissolvable base material is used, so that the finished embroidery is free-standing. One of the main differences in types of lace is whether or not the fabric can be cut without ravelling. Knit or crocheted lace, as well as heirloom bobbin lace, cannot be cut without using techniques to prevent this, while lace embroidered on net or another base fabric can safely be cut with minimal damage. Check out more types of lace here.
2. Even non-stretch lace can stretch
While nylon stretch lace exists for projects like activewear, lingerie, and costuming, since all lace is primarily made of empty spaces, it does stretch a bit under its own weight. For that reason, remember to give yourself a little extra space when trimming the excess from hems. The lace will likely spring back a bit, and you don't want to find your hard work wasted on a skirt or overlay that's suddenly too short!
3. Use invisible seaming techniques
Nothing mars the delicate designs of lace like big bulky seams. Of course, you can't always avoid visible seam lines, but even though lace's open structure causes some problems, it also provides unique solutions. For example, on net-backed lace, you can use appliques cut from extra yardage to overlap seam lines Stitch the applique all the way around, and voila! The join is--pardon the pun--all but seamless. When it's not possible to use this technique, sewists have come up with other clever ways to hide the bulk. Check out this tutorial on disguising seam allowances in Chantilly lace!
4. Get a little extra
Lace patterns are often directional, and if your pattern calls for symmetry, it's crucial to make sure you've got enough fabric to lay everything out just right. Use the "with nap" measurements if your pattern provides them. If not, be sure to add the extra yardage for yourself. Lace is unforgiving when it comes to hiding your mistakes, so having a little extra to work with is never a bad idea!
5. Try thread tracing
One of the challenges particular to lace is the difficulty in marking your patterns. Marking pens and chalk don't show very well, and notches all but disappear. Instead, use the technique of thread-tracing. With a bright, contrasting colour of thread, simply run long basting stitches through your lace in the areas to be marked. You can follow these lines as you cut and sew, and simply draw the threads out afterward, leaving a pristine and perfect seam line.
6. Prep your fabric before you start
Lace is often heavily starched, which is great for keeping it neat on the bolt and terrible for determining how it will actually behave in a garment. Following the care instructions, gently rinse your lace and allow it to dry before beginning your project. It may be necessary to re-starch your lace to help keep it supported while you sew, but starting from a blank canvas, as it were, means you'll have a better idea of how your finished project will look.
7. Pattern weights are your friend
Lace is notoriously slippery, and pins, no matter how long, are likely to end up on the floor as often as in your project. Rather than trying to pin out your pattern on a material that keeps shifting, use pattern weights to keep everything in place. Don't have pattern weights? Here's a tutorial for making your own.
8. Avoid backstitching
Typically, when starting or ending a seam, we backstitch to lock the seam in place. With lace, however, backstitching can cause the background fabric to bunch up, leaving the ends of your seam less than tidy. Instead of backstitching, leave slightly longer thread tails at the start and end of your seam, and tie them off by hand. It's a bit more labour-intensive, but worth it for a tidy finished look.
9. Build your own lace
Lots of lace designs, especially in bridalwear, call for lace that's heavy in design in one section—at the hem, or on the bodice, say—but which is less busy elsewhere, sometimes leaving just plain net. Rather than looking for fabric that meets your needs, often it's easiest just to create it. By stitching lace appliques to the underlying fabric, you can create the custom lace look without needing to embroider it all by hand, plus you can ensure symmetry in your design without having to buy lots of extra fabric.
10. Take advantage of decorative edges
Most lace has at least one decorative edge, typically a scallop. This is the perfect finish for a hem or neckline, where a bulky finish is sure to show. Consider how you lay out your pattern to take full advantage of this time- and trouble-saving feature.
11. Choose the 'right side' and stick with it
Most fabrics, especially prints, have a clear right and wrong side. This is true of some lace as well, which is embroidered on just one side of a fabric. Other types of lace, however, are less clear. Even if it doesn't seem to matter which is the 'right' side, you should still designate one side or the other and be consistent throughout your project. That way any subtle colour or texture variations are also consistent, and you don't accidentally end up with one off-colour panel.
What do you think? Ready to get started sewing with lace? Tell us about your own lace tips and tricks in the comments below!