Free-Standing Lace

There’s all these beautiful free-standing lace designs available. Now what?

Free-standing lace has special requirements that differ from regular embroidery. For starters, standard stabilizers don’t work. What should you use? There are 2 options: heavy water-soluble film1 and water-soluble cut away2.

Water-soluble Film

A heavy water-soluble film will work for a smaller lace design but it has a drawback. Like water-soluble topping, this type of backing can tear away during stitch-out increasing the chances of misalignment which can be disastrous for free-standing lace. To increase the chances of success slow down the sewing speed.  Decreasing the upper tension can also help prevent ripping. Use caution in decreasing tension, the goal is to reduce the pull of the stabilizer but too much reduction in tension could prevent the stitch from forming correctly.
Water-soluble Cut away

For larger designs the better option is the cut away water-soluble backing. The fibers in this type of backing add strength to the backing that will help prevent tearing. For very large or stitch heavy designs add a second layer laid at an angle from the first for extra resistance to the pull of the stitches.


Since the back of free-standing lace is just as visible as the front lace designs look the best when the bobbin thread matches the top thread. But what kind of thread is the best? Well, that depends on the look desired. Cotton thread has a matte finish that will give a look more like hand worked or tatted lace. Rayon and polyester both have shine. Polyester doesn’t like to crease – instead of turning a sharp corner to lie flat it will curve causing loops and thickness in the lace. Polyester is not the best choice for lace designs with wider fills though it will work well on designs with narrower columns. Rayon will crease so it can be pressed to lay smooth making it ideal for designs with wider fills. All other factors being equal, Rayon lace will be softer than polyester.

Finishing Free-Standing Lace

Now that the design is stitched the stabilizer must be removed. To make this easier, roughly trim around the design to remove the excess stabilizer. Warm water works faster than cold. To speed the removal up further gently rub the lace while it is submerged in water. When rinsing, some of the water-soluble backing can be left in the lace to act as a stiffening agent or the design can be rinsed completely. Leaving the lace stiff can be beneficial for ornaments while complete rinsing is generally preferred for garments as the lace will be as soft as the thread used. Hard water makes rinsing more difficult, especially if a sticky water-soluble was used. A water softener or distilled water will eliminate this difficulty.

  1. Water-soluble film like Badgemaster or Super Solvy
  2. Water-soluble cut away like Aqua Mesh or Wet & Gone