Sewing with Lace

Lace – feminine, delicate, sexy, intricate, romantic, dressy, tough to sew, love it, not my style or too expensive. Whatever your personal thoughts are about lace, there is always a special feel and look to any item with even a bit of lace on it.

Lace is generally easy to work with. Many laces have a net or mesh background. This way of construction lets you ignore the grainline and focus on the motifs.

I love working with lace. Currently I am restyling and fitting a wedding gown from the 1960s for the daughter of the original bride. It is made from ivory Peau d’ange lace, trimmed in ivory Alencon and pearls.

Peau d’ange is a type of Chantilly lace. The motifs are applied with a “flossy” yarn to create a softer texture. I think it also has a glow or sheen that is very distinctive.

Chantilly lace has delicate motifs, usually floral, on a fine net background. Generally the pattern is allover. When you buy Chantilly ask the clerk to trim around the motifs and not cut straight from selvage to selvage. You and the next customer will both benefit by getting more usable lace.

Alencon (ah-lawn-sawn) lace begins as Chantilly lace. A fine satin cord is added to outline the main motifs, giving a raised look. The Alencon may be accented by beading. Alencon is available as fabric, trim by-the-yard or appliques. It may have fringed threads (I call these eyelashes) on one or both edges where strips of lace have been cut apart. Don’t trim off these threads as they indicate quality.

When you buy Alencon, you may want to cut around the motifs on one side. Lay the trimmed side over the straight cut and stitch around edges of the motifs. This is called a lapped seam.

Schiffli lace has a fine net background, with motifs of stitching meant to imitate hand embroidery. It is almost always yardage, not trim. It is so “airy” it does not lend itself to heavy beading. Sew straight seams in Schiffli, being careful to match motifs.

When you see a very “heavy” lace, most often as appliques or as trim it is probably Venise (Ven-eece) lace. It looks three dimensional or re-embroidered. Venise does NOT have a net background. The motifs are connected by “picot” bridges, which look similar to a tightly crocheted chain. Venise can have a matte or a shiny finish.

Cluny (Clue-nee) lace looks hand-crocheted. It is made from heavy cotton-like yarn. It usually features paddle or wheel motifs and may also have raised dots or knots worked into the design. Cluny does not look as dressy or delicate as Chantilly or Schiffli lace. It would be wonderful as a gown for a garden wedding. This “country-look” lace lends itself well to the horsehair hem.

Galloon lace is scalloped on both selvages and comes in various widths, from narrow trim to wide yardage. It may be applied as a wide border or be carefully cut down the middle, between the patterns, to produce twice as much trim.

When underlining lace, cut tulle, organdy or batiste from the same pattern pieces as the lace. The underlining and lace should be basted together and treated as single pieces in construction. You will probably underline lace sleeves for strength and stability. The bodice may or may not be underlined depending on the style.

If you find a special lace applique you might want to attach it to an underlay of tulle or organdy and add it to the bodice of a T-shirt. Check the placement before sewing. It may be too revealing for your taste if the shirting will be trimmed away. (You could put the lace on the back at the neck for a surprise “walk away” look).

When you’re sure where you want the applique, you can then hand or machine sew it directly to the T-shirt. If you choose openwork, very carefully trim away the T-shirting from under the lace, leaving about 1/8″. This is the same method you would use to produce an openwork design on the sleeves, skirt or train of a bridal gown. It can take time, but is an elegant and striking detail.

Many laces can be hand-washed. Always test a sample first. I use two drops of JOY dishwashing liquid to a half-gallon of lukewarm water. Gently press water through the lace. Squeeze carefully (never twist) to remove most of the water. Rinse several times in lukewarm water to remove the soap. Squeeze out lace. Press out moisture by hand between white terry towels. Reshape on a dry towel until almost dry. Press with a moderate iron (barely warm) right side down on a white terry towel. This avoids crushing the motifs.

Two hints for sewing lace:

  1. Cover the “toes” of the presser foot with MAGIC tape. The tape keeps the lace from hooking over the toes as you sew.
  2. To prevent the lace from being pushed by the needle through the hole in the plate while sewing -place a piece of tissue between lace and throat plate. You may have to gently pick bits of tissue from the finished seam.

A couple of books that I refer to when sewing with lace are:

Do you have a product or a topic that you would like to see discussed in this Wild Women Who Sew column? Just email me with your topics or questions.

Anita, a Wild Woman Who Sews
Wild Women Who Sew is a monthly column at Fabrics.net

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