8 Tips For Sewing With Lace

Red lace overlay on white dress. Asymmetrical hi-low hem on red lace

There are so many uses for lace in sewing. Accents, trims, overlays, even entire lace garments! I’m kind of lace obsessed, and I use it on so many things. I often hear that lace can be intimidating though. How are you supposed to work with it? It has all those holes and it’s a super thin fabric. Well, here are a few tips that I’ve learned that may be useful if you want to sew with lace, but aren’t sure how.

1. If you need to iron stretch lace, use a low heat. Most stretch laces are made with some form of nylon or lycra, and will melt at higher heats. I would recommend that you start with an inconspicuous spot on the lace and “test” iron it. A press cloth can also help eliminate any melting issues. Lay it on top of the lace where you’ll be ironing to give it a “safety layer”. For a press cloth, I usually use a scrap piece of cotton fabric that won’t melt.

Lace being iron with a cotton layer fabric between iron and lace.
Cotton safety layer.

2.  If you are going to be wearing the lace, you should probably prewash it. This might sound like a no-brainer, but I hear that question a lot. Most fabrics will have their care instructions on the website you bought them from. I suggest you follow those. If you don’t know the care instructions, you can usually machine wash it in a lingerie bag, and then hang dry.

3. Use a ball point needle for sewing stretch lace. Treat it like you would a knit in this case, ball point needles keep the lace from getting damaged, just as they do with knits. Non-stretch lace can handle a universal needle.

4. Use something to stabilize the start of your seam so your machine won’t “eat” the lace. Few things are more frustrating than starting a new seam and having your lace get sucked down into your feed dogs! You can start with a more stable fabric and feed that through right before your lace to give it a starting point, and then trim it off after you’ve sewn your seam.

As an alternative method, you can also place a small piece of tissue paper under the lace at the start of your seam, to give it some traction. The seam will create a perforated edge in the tissue paper, which you can tear right off.

Now, I know there is some back and forth about using any kind of paper in your machines, some people say never do it because it hurts your needles. In my experience, however, the tissue paper tends to be much more helpful than it is harmful.  I generally just use a small piece and I’ve never had an issue with it.  In fact, using paper is probably more common than you think.  For example, Alison Smith (Author of “The Sewing Book” and head of the School Of Sewing in the U.K.) uses regular paper to stabilize seams when sewing lingerie. She says it’s fine, because it really doesn’t cause any more damage to your needles than your fabric does.

Example of starting with a stable fabric just before feeding lace through sewing machine
More stable fabric being fed through just before lace. (Pictured is Ponte.)
trimming the more stable fabric from the lace
Trim the more stable fabric from the lace.
tearing the tissue paper from the lace via perforated edge.
Perforated edge in the tissue paper.
IMG_20180611_113119-01
Tissue paper under start of seam.

5. Back stitching at the start and stop of a seam can often make your machine “eat” the lace. If your seam will be joined with another seam, it should be secure enough to not need to back stitch.

Example: If you’ve sewn a sleeve, the start and stop of the sleeve seam will often be encased in the side seam. That should secure it enough to not need to back stitch.

You can also consider tying it off at the start and stop of your seams. Using a seam ripper, pull the top thread through to the back and tie a square knot. (Note: If you are using tissue paper at the start of your seam, or if you are using your lace as an overlay, back stitching should not be an issue, as you have something to stabilize your seam.)

Seam ripper pulling the front threat to the back
Pull front thread to back of fabric to tie it off.

6. For stretch lace, use a stretch stitch or a zig-zag stitch. Since the lace stretches, your seam also needs to stretch. It’s fairly similar to working with knits in this way. I know a lot of people don’t like the look of zig-zag stitches, but one of the best things about working with lace is that, if you match your thread to your lace, the stitches are nearly invisible! Thanks to all the holes and beautiful patterns in the lace, your thread blends right in. For non-stretch lace you can use a straight stitch. You can also use a serger for your lace, however, if you do choose to serge your lace, I recommend that you make sure all the threads in your serger match, since your thread will be visible from both sides.

7. If you are using lace as an overlay, baste all like-pieces together. For example, cut one front piece in your main fabric, and cut one front piece in your lace. Next, baste those two layers together before piecing the pattern together, so you can treat them as one layer. It’s an extra step, but I promise it will save you headaches and frustration down the road! It’s so much easier to align four layers acting as two, than it is to align four layers acting as four.

Lace overlay on white fabric basted together
Overlay with main fabric basted together.

 

8. Top stitch your seam allowance to one side. It helps secure the seam and gives it a more professional look.

There you go! These are the tips and tricks that I have found to be the most useful when working with lace.

red lace overlay on white dress with an asymmetrical hem.

The dress pictured in this post was made using this stretch lace as an overlay to this Ponte De Roma. Pattern used is the Sweetheart Dress from Patterns For Pirates.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any tips for lace that have worked well for you? Comment below if so, I’d love to hear from you!

red lace overlay on white dress with an asymmetrical hem on the overlay

red lace overlay on white dress with asymmetrical hem
Because we all need to see a twirly picture!

You can see more from me at jenniemasterson.com or by checking out my instagram.

Jennie Masterson

An ordinary girl working to create extraordinary things, inspire others, and find healing through sewing.

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