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Making Freestanding Lace with Embroidery Machines

Updated on October 21, 2015
Choker style necklace using a Brother SE400, a 4x4 embroidery machine and Sulky thread. Design is Urban Threads.
Choker style necklace using a Brother SE400, a 4x4 embroidery machine and Sulky thread. Design is Urban Threads. | Source

Lace? On My Embroidery Machine? How?

Free Standing Lace, or "FSL" is easy! All you need is an embroidery machine and the correct stabilizers.

Back in the old days, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, and the development of machines in the garment industry, lace was made on machines, and further back in history, lace was made using bobbins, needles, and even your fingers. Queen Mary of England was very fond of "knotting", a type of macrame. Today, lace is still made on machines, mostly in China, or India.

Making lace on your home embroidery machine uses similar methods, but on a far smaller scale. You can create wonderful tatted style designs, full creations such as masks and necklaces, or ornaments for nearly every holiday. You can find a list of designers at the end of this article.

Using your "WSS" or "water soluble stabilizers", and thread, and a design of your choice, you will have an entire creative world open up for you.

Getting Started

First things first, there are some basics you need for lace making on a machine. First, you obviously need an embroidery machine. Type or brand doesn't matter, they can all do lace. But for those interested, I use a Brother SE400 or a Brother PE700II for my work.

First thing you'll need to buy after your machine is water soluble stabilizers. Often shortened to "WSS", you'll soon learn, there are hundreds out there. I'm going to only suggest two at this time, but experiment and find the one that suits you best.

  • My first, and favorite stabilizer is Fabri-Solvy from Sulky. This is a non woven "fabric" that is fairly firm, and I've found it works on most of the lace I make. The chances of it shifting if hooped properly are very slim.
  • My second choice of WSS is Badgemaster. Created by MonoSol, this is a thick, vinyl like material, that reminds people of thick saran wrap. It does have an odor that many find unpleasant, but this will not affect the lace since you'll be rinsing the lace at completion. I use this type for stitch heavy lace, such as the lace found at places like Urban Threads. It shifts even less than the Fabri-Solvy and seems to handle even the most difficult of lace.
  • Thread. You can use nearly any type of embroidery thread, and I haven't yet run into one I couldn't use, although I strongly caution against using metal threads for your first pieces of lace, metal thread needs ideal conditions for just embroidering names, and with lace, well, you need extraordinary conditions and lots of patience re-threading.

Other than avoiding metal threads for your first lace, I do suggest threads such as Sulky, Robison Anton, Kolorsemb, and Marathon. I'm partial to rayons, polyester core works wonderfully, and for a "handmade" look, you can use cotton made for embroidery machines only. The best in my opinion, is by Mettler, and is a cotton covered polyester, meant for the speed of embroidery machines.

Do not use regular sewing machine thread or serger thread in your embroidery machine for any project. The lint is very damaging to the machine. Just because you can use these threads on the machine, doesn't mean you should.

Sharp scissors are a help for trimming threads, your snips or other scissors are fine, you will want to trim any loose threads while sewing, nothing can drive you crazier than having a piece of loose thread inside an otherwise perfect lace design!

My last tool is merely suggestion, but with especially difficult lace, I find a beverage of choice helps. Fill up a wine glass, or line up the shot glasses, my biggest rule for making free standing lace is to be relaxed!

Hair Piece

A hair piece, meant to be used with a hair stick, done using Sulky lace. From the "Evenfall" collection by Urban Threads
A hair piece, meant to be used with a hair stick, done using Sulky lace. From the "Evenfall" collection by Urban Threads | Source

Hooping Your Stabilizer

First thing with good lace making on your embroidery machine is about your hoop. No matter if you have a 4x4, or a 5x7 or a giant hoop, you must always hoop your stabilizer as tight as possible. This can be difficult and time consuming, but worth the effort with the results.

When properly hooped you should be able to play YYZ on the results. Taut, tight, and should sound like a drum when you flick it with a finger. This is especially true if you are using the Badgemaster, the Fabri-Solvy will have a little more "give" to it because of the fabric like material.

Lace TARDIS being created on a PE700II using one layer of Fabri-Solvy
Lace TARDIS being created on a PE700II using one layer of Fabri-Solvy | Source

"Bad" Lace

Mistakes happen. With lace, you'll have more mistakes than perfect runs at first, and that can be discouraging. But don't worry, this can be fixed!

First thing that can happen is "separation". This happens when you've got what appears to be a perfect piece of lace and then on rinsing the lace, you discover what you've got left is now a wet, gummy pile of thread.

Usually the cause is not hooping your WSS tight enough. Other causes can be as simple as where your machine sits. Is it on a sturdy table? How is the vibration? Heavy vibration can cause the hoop to "jitter" causing the WSS and thread to shift in the design. If your machine has a lot of "jitter", invest in a vibration pad. Even simply setting a large mouse pad under the machine could help. Watch your hoop when it stitches, is the machine sturdy but the hoop vibrating a lot? Invest in a vibration pad and see if it helps.

Upper tension should be set at no higher than 2. Thread for lace needs to be fairly loose. Setting it above 4 will cause the thread to be taut, and the design to move to the center. I've even had lace pop entirely out of my hoop because I had the tension on the machine too high. If you are not sure how to adjust your upper tension, please read your user's manual.

WSS types are important. I've only had a few piece of lace that don't stitch just fine on Fabri-Solvy. But every so often, I get this one piece of lace, that is so stitch heavy, and so detailed, that I am better off cracking out the Badgemaster from the start. As I've mentioned, Badgemaster has the texture of a light vinyl or heavy saran, and unless you have some of the issues mentioned above going on, this stuff with tame the wildest of laces.

Don't sweat the small "mistakes". I've got a couple of pieces that no matter how much I spend in hooping, or how often I adjust the tension, they simple have tiny "bad" spots where there is a teeny tiny space that won't be noticed on a trotting horse. If it really is driving you crazy, just cover it with a bit of fabric from the back, sew some ribbon on it, or use it for insertion on another garment. It's all usable!

Very rarely, you may need to use two layers of WSS. I honestly feel that 99% of the time, lace makers are wasting materials doing this. If it sews out "bad" 6X then by all means, try it. But chances are incredibly good that you didn't hoop tight enough, or didn't use the right WSS, they are not all the same, and it is better to use the correct product once rather than waste the wrong product that could be used for other projects. If you've tried several kinds of WSS, and none are "perfect" usually two layers of Fabri-Solvy are going to do the trick.

Stitch heavy design from Urban Threads (tricorne hat) done on two layers of Fabri-Solvy, one of the few times Badgemaster didn't save me.
Stitch heavy design from Urban Threads (tricorne hat) done on two layers of Fabri-Solvy, one of the few times Badgemaster didn't save me. | Source

Stitching

The first thing FSL does when stitching out, is it creates a "base", this is a network of fine cross stitches that if you were to look at closely, somewhat resemble tulle. This network is the platform for your lace and will sturdily hold the stitches on top. Designers are very creative at shapes for this base, and you'll everything from basic pieces, to elegant chokers.

You may have color changes with your lace, if you do, simply change your thread when requested.

Bobbin thread in most cases should match your upper thread, but you can create lace with more "depth" by using one color in the bobbin and a second at the top. Plain embroidery machine thread works just fine in your bobbin.

Do not panic if your bobbin thread runs out mid project. This happens to me constantly and I have a few designs that require up to 6 bobbins. Simply stop your machine using your button, cut the thread, take the hoop off, and put in a new bobbin. Planning ahead helps here, always wind at least two bobbins full of your thread color for fast changes. Replace your hoop, and continue sewing.

Experiment! I've gotten lovely results by watching my machine closely, and when the bottom network was down, stopping my machine, and changing the thread color. Even if the item has no actual color changes, there's no rule that says you can't stop the machine and change the colors!

Cotton embroidery machine threads give a heavier, more handmade lace look. This is wonderful for things like edging.

Slow your machine down the first few times. Once you've gotten used to how lace stitches out, switch speeds, if you have several, try them all, it might be that you can only do lace at 350 SPM, or you might have certain pieces that stitch out perfect at 1500 SPM. You're the best person to determine this because you know your own machine best.

Rinsing and "Stiff" Lace

Check your packaging for rinsing instructions. I use Fabri-Solvy and Badgemaster and rinse according to their methods.

Once I pop the lace off the hoop, the first thing I do is trim off extra WSS. I put these scraps into a box I have near my machine. I'll explain why in a bit.

Once trimmed, I then rinse in hot water, if you want your lace to be a little stiff, then don't rinse all the WSS out. The WSS feels slightly "slick" and you'll be able to tell by touch if all the WSS is out or not after you've rinsed a few pieces.

Stiff lace is easily achieved. For my TARDIS above, or for some ornaments, I want the lace stiff. But even only rinsing part of the WSS out might not be enough to be as stiff as I need the lace to be.

Remember those scraps? Take a small handful and put them into a jar that is big enough to dip your lace into. Throw these scraps into the jar, and fill nearly to the top with hot water. Then just dip your lace! I've sometimes dipped my lace, let it dry, and dipped again to get a super stiff result.

You can also use products such as Plaid's Stiffy to "paint" the item, or, a mix of white glue and warm water also is useful. Spray starches also will work, but won't create a hard lace.

Needles

In most cases, sharp, 75/11 needles are just fine for FSL, occasionally, I do use Schiffli needles, which were made specifically for Schiffli machines that are made by Schmetz. Also, I do use a 65/9 sharp to get a finer look, but I usually use this needle only when I'm making lace using silk thread.

Needles are much like WSS in the sense that each person has their own likes and dislikes, the more lace you make and experiment with, the more you'll develop certain tastes and needs in needles.

Sometimes, you want super stiff lace, mini lace tricorne designs from Urban Threads
Sometimes, you want super stiff lace, mini lace tricorne designs from Urban Threads | Source

Have Fun!

Most of all with lace? HAVE FUN! Nothing about creativity should be so serious that it scares you! Yes, you will make mistakes, yes, you will learn curse words that you never knew existed.

But think of the lovely creations you are making! (not to mention the expansion of your vocabulary) If you use your embroidery machine to add things like butterflies to jeans, then make some lace butterflies for the always difficult to do pockets! Use 3D dragonflies to create wonderful bridal headwear.

WSS and thread can be expensive, but buying these items in bulk online from places like World Weidner will help to save some money. Thread from places like Kolorsemb is fairly cheap, and the spools give you enough for quite a bit of lace. Use things like stitch calculators to help you determine how much thread you need.

And no matter how many "fails" you have, keep trying, lace is one of the many facets of machine embroidery that take a little more time and effort and much patience. But the results can be breathtaking.

Lace butterflies are perfect for the hair, adding to jeans or shirts, or hanging on a mobile in a window. Design, Urban Threads
Lace butterflies are perfect for the hair, adding to jeans or shirts, or hanging on a mobile in a window. Design, Urban Threads | Source

Places for Lace

I haven't found every place out there for lace, but I've found what I feel are the best places for FSL. Using my tips, and any of the designs here with your machine will give you some of the best lace possible.

If you're on Facebook, I run a FSL group.

Urban Threads, purveyors of all thing cool has some truly unique FSL

Advanced Embroidery, this place has Battenberg, cutwork, and all sorts of lace, really, just explore.

Embroidery Library, the owners of Urban Threads, Emblib has some impressive lace of their own.

Secrets of, TONS of lace, much like AED above, just do some looting.

Anna Bove is your place for the more elegant laces

BFC Creations doesn't have a lot of lace, but what they have is quality and clever.

S-Embroidery is much like AED and Secrets Of. Lots of digging. Freebies are here

A Stitch A Half has a few rather elegant designs

Criswell has simply stunning lace. These are the folks who started it all with "K-Lace". Expensive, but worth every penny.

Linda Gee, elegant, and classy

Amazing designs, mostly basic lace designs

Zundt? Expensive, but AMAZING. Fantastic stitch outs, they are the equal of Criswell.

Terradon specializes in charms, they're little, cute and prices are decent. Great for FSL bracelets and the like.

Sue Box, nice doily designs

Tavern Maker has tons of freebies. Just explore the site.

Designs by SicK lots of cute designs

Designs by Petro

Embroidery Designs, these are various sellers, so just be sure to really dig

Cindy's Embroidery has lots of freebies here

Sonia Showalter has some great designs in FSL

Holly Design Studio has a few FSL designs

Love of Lace, lots of interesting designs here

Sadia Sews, religious FSL

LS Dian TONS of freebies, search the entire site, this is a German designer, so let your web browser translate, she also has some rather wonderful lace for sale. Site has frames which are rather annoying.

Filip Koza, tons of freebies. Updates fairly often.

Lace masks are some of my most popular items to make using FSL methods. Designs are Urban Threads
Lace masks are some of my most popular items to make using FSL methods. Designs are Urban Threads | Source

Credits

All photos are of my own works and can be seen in my Etsy shop, where I accept custom orders for lace. Please contact me about custom creations.

Photographs by Bunnykissd

Majority of designs featured here are by Urban Threads and stitched out by the author.

Comments

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  • desain-baju profile image

    Ade bordir 3 years ago from INDONESIA

    nice design

  • jaiejohnson profile image
    Author

    Jaie Johnson 3 years ago from Oswego, New York

    Wonderful isn't it? I love lace myself, but too fumble fingered for bobbin lace. This is a wonderful alternative.

  • AudreyHowitt profile image

    Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

    I love lace and did not know there were embroidery machines!