Lace machine embroidery designs look so difficult, but they could not be easier to make. Your machine does all the work. I will show you how to stitch a freestanding lace star and create a holiday ornament that looks oh, so complicated!
Photos by Debbie Henry
Let's create an elegant freestanding lace Christmas ornament!
Only designs that are digitized as freestanding lace (FSL) will stitch out as true, stand alone lace. Instead of highly skilled and time consuming handwork created by crochet, bobbins, needles or tatting, machine embroidered lace is created by connecting layers of thread stitches to each other. But without a base fabric, how do you support the embroidery?
Types of stabilizers
Freestanding lace always begins by hooping water-soluble stabilizer. The stabilizer works as a foundation for the stitches to build upon and is rinsed away when the design is complete.
Water-soluble stabilizers (WSS) are available in three basic types. One type resembles cellophane (pictured above left) and can also be used as a topper when stitching on fabrics with a nap, like fleece, toweling and velvet. The second type looks like sheer mesh (pictured above right). The third type has a milky appearance with the consistency of a thin, pliable plastic (pictured below). That is the kind we are using in this tutorial.
Hooping heavy water-soluble stabilizer
I am using Sulky Ultra Solvy stabilizer (left). This snowflake design by Oma's Place has a high stitch count so I added another layer of WSS on the front and back. Clip the WSS slightly smaller than the inside hoop size, mist it with water, and finger press it to the hooped stabilizer. Do the same on the back side, being careful to not stretch the hooped stabilizer. Let the stabilizers firm up before starting to stitch.
FSL designs have a considerable amount of interconnecting underlay stitches, a base upon which the lace will be built (right). Some designs may look lacy when stitched on fabric but, unless they are digitized specifically as freestanding lace, they would unravel when the water-soluble stabilizer is rinsed away.
Pull the bobbin thread to the top
Use the same thread in the bobbin as that with which you are stitching. That way, both sides of the FSL piece will be beautiful. Most of the time, designs are digitized for 40 wt. thread. Using a heavier thread will produce a thicker embroidery, which tends to appear less delicate.
The snowflakes design features two color changes. Since it is easier to see in red, I am showing this technique now but you should pull the bobbin thread to the top from the very beginning. That keeps the thread tail from becoming entangled with other stitching. At the first stitch of a color change, lower the needle through the stabilizer to catch the bobbin thread and pull it to the top. Hook a seam ripper or the point of your scissors through the bobbin loop and pull the thread end to the top. That way you can keep both thread tails out of the way of the embroidery.
When the embroidery is complete, it may not look quite like you imagined. Do not worry!
Remove the water-soluble stabilizer
Clip away excess WSS. The rest will be washed away. Start by rinsing the lace in warm water, rubbing the piece between your fingers to dissolve WSS around the edges. Then soak the piece in warm water. Change the water several times to remove the bulk of the stabilizer. Leaving some WSS in the stitching gives the piece a crisp appearance, much like it had been starched. Blot the piece dry on paper towels and lay it flat to dry overnight.
Enjoy your freestanding lace ornament
You can attach a hanger and you are done or, for even more contrast, cut a piece of red felt and glue the lace to it. I cut this felt with the AccuQuilt GO! using the Star Medley die. See the blog post Embroidered Ornaments are a Cut Above With AccuQuilt GO! Dies for other embroidered felt ornaments.
How do you display your freestanding lace designs?