Hi, I hope you had a great weekend – even if it did snow on the first day of spring on the East Coast! I had a great time with the Bay Area Sewists on Saturday. We got together to Learn about Lace at Britex Fabrics! Waring: This is a really long post with tons of photos and at the very end, a link to a fantastic list of tutorials compiled by Natalie Wiener, the notions floor manager at Britex Fabrics. Natalie was our lace guide and gathered many examples of lace to present a brief overview of lace, including working with lace.
Natalie makes historical costumes and over the years has become quite an expert on lace. And of course, she wore a beautiful lace dress that day as you can see in the photo below.
We met on the fourth floor of Britex (yes, there are four floors to Britex), where you’ll find oil cloth, fake fur, felt, leather, vinyl, remnants, and more. We were initially supposed to meet on the first floor but it was getting too crowded so we went up to the fourth floor, which has a bit more open space. Natalie had gathered bolts of lace and yards of lace notions to show us the different types of lace available at Britex – everything from imported French lace to stretch lace.
Here are some of my notes and photos from our meetup. (Any errors are mine so if you have any corrections, please let me know!)
Natalie began with Chantilly lace, a delicate, soft spiderweb lace whose name comes from the city of Chantilly, France. She’s holding a pretty orange Chantilly lace…
.. and here a black Chantilly lace. It’s quite delicate looking, isn’t it?
She said that France still makes the best lace. Chantilly lace is made using 19th century looms and they come in narrow fixed widths that are determined by the size of the loom, with 36 inches being the widest. One of the characteristics of these handmade laces is the eyelash fringe on the edges of the lace. There is also machine-made lace that imitates Chantilly – even down to the eyelash fringe. Some are quite good and of course, more affordable.
Here’s an example of Alençon lace. This is a type of lace you’ll see with bridal or evening wear. Here are a few Alençon laces that Britex sells online (more available in the store). Natalie’s hand is on the eyelash fringe on the right. She referred to the wider laces like this as “all-over lace.”
She explained that the loom creates a ladder at the edges and when you cut it off, it creates the eyelash. (Sorry this is an inadequate explanation but that’s what I scribbled in my notes.)
This is a lace with eyelash fringe – but I think this lace is machine-made rather than hand loomed. But they put the fringe on the edges to make it seem more high-end. It really does look like an eyelash on the scalloped edge, doesn’t it?
Handmade Alencon lace can be insanely expensive, which you can read about in this Alencon Lace post on a Visit Normandy blog (7 hours to produce 1 cm! Wow.).
Here’s a red and black re-embroidered lace. It’s a lace with red cord embroidered on a fine black background.
This lace has a green net background and doesn’t have any edging.
This dark grey lace is an example of a Guipure lace, which doesn’t have a mesh background.
Here’s a lace with a Chantilly pattern with roses and sequins.
A beautiful Guipure lace with beading – you can sort of see that there are tiny beads on the “wheat” stem design. This is a handmade lace – those beads are put on by hand(!) and thus it’s $450/yard (yes, that’s four hundred and fifty dollars, not $4.50 – yikes).
There are also “chemical laces” in which the lace designs are attached to a backing that is later chemically dissolved leaving only the design.
This is a lace with embroidery. Some laces are created by embroidering on mesh or on sheer fabrics. The cut-outs on this lace really emphasize the cool design. Who knew there was so much variety to lace? This is not your grandmother’s doily!
And look at this pretty one!
Bobbin laces are made with thread, typically 90 percent cotton and 10 percent nylon. Bobbin lace is often used for heirloom sewing – Christening gowns, baby blankets, etc. Natalie said she could talk for 5 hours about heirloom sewing but for our purposes, she just showed us a few samples, such as this one…
… and this one, which could be used as an insertion lace – sewn between two fabrics (see tutorial list at the end for a machine technique on sewing lace insertion). Bobbin laces comes in traditional colors…
… and in fashion colors such as this Chartreuse bobbin lace you see in the center here.
And here’s some more lace!
Natalie was asked – what do you do with lace that’s 10 inches (~25 cm) wide? She said it could be put around the waist as an accent, used for a sleeve or perhaps along the hem of a jacket sleeve.
Natalie’s tips on lace selection:
- Choose a lace of similar weight and drape as your fabric.
- If you’re using a stretch fabric, then you need to choose a lace that stretches, too. If your lace doesn’t have any give, then your lace may get damaged when the fabric stretches.
- Some laces have a lot of give to them so give it a gentle tug in both directions. You may find it has more give in one direction than the other.
Natalie’s tips on working with lace:
- Prewash lace in a cold, gentle cycle and let it air dry flat. Beaded lace should be dry cleaned, not washed, because the beads may come off. Nylon lace could be draped over something to dry, provided it doesn’t have any embellishment that weighs it down and could stretch it out.
- To iron – use a press cloth and low heat. Silk Organza makes an excellent press cloth.
- Hand sew beaded lace trim. If you use a machine, it could damage the beads (not to mention break a needle!).
- It’s fine to use a sewing machine with all-over lace, such as her lace dress.
- Lace is forgiving to work with because it doesn’t ravel so no need to worry about finishing edges, with the exception of bobbin lace trim. If you’re putting bobbin lace at bottom of a skirt, for example, she suggests making a narrow french seam to join the edges. Then the raw edges, which can fray, will be enclosed.
- If you are using all-over lace with a scalloped border for a garment with a curved hem, such as a skirt or a dress, you won’t be able to position the pattern piece so the scallop is on the curved hem. So cut the scallop off and set it aside. Cut your pattern pieces out and after it’s constructed, you add the scallop to your hem.
- You could sew all-over lace with a base fabric underneath it.
- You can cut out part of lace and apply them to other places – by sewing or by using fabric glue. Natalie recommends sewing if the lace is delicate. Glue can show through unless the lace is thick. But she warns that glues will eventually fail so you may want to sew a few of the edges down as well as use glue.
- If you’re making a garment with applique lace, use a lapped seam (see “Seams and Finishes” in Lace Tutorials and Info for a link to step-by-step instructions for lapped/applique seam). Natalie said instead of cutting a straight line through the flowers, you could cut around them, then lap the pattern pieces so you have a seamless pattern.
- There’s no grain on lace, which makes it possible to cut and sew around the motifs, such as the lace below.
- Though laces don’t have a grainline, the exception is stretch lace where the direction matters. It stretches on the grain. Sew stretch lace with a ball point needle or you could damage the lace.
After Natalie’s talk, we held a drawing for two Sew Chic Patterns – the Valentine slip and the Beatrice Pocket Dress, both of which can be made with lace if you so desire. This indie pattern company features patterns with a vintage flair. The designer/pattern maker Laura Nash sent us two patterns to give away. Thank you so much, Laura!
Melissa was shocked and thrilled to win the dress pattern…
and Becca was the happy winner of the Valentine slip!
And of course we had a group photo with Natalie…
… who graciously gave us a great handout with info (and links!) on lace – from seams and finishes to embellishment with lace, heirloom sewing, and patterns and projects! She sent me a PDF and I put all the info on this
page Lace Tutorials and Info post: Sewing with lace – a resource list. Thank you so much, Natalie, Kelsey (Britex’s marketing director), and Britex Fabrics, which gave us a 20 percent discount on fabrics that day! After seeing all these wondering and stunning laces, I definitely like lace a lot more than I ever did before!
Happy Sewing, everyone!