How to Embellish with lace

  • By: joleenllorence
  • Date: August 19, 2022
  • Time to read: 6 min.

One of the variations I suggest for the Shell Coin Purse pattern is to embellish it with lace. In this post I show you how to do that, to create the purse version seen to the right.

There are several ways you can embellish your designs with lace:

  • use an all-over lace fabric as an overlay
  • apply strips of lace directly to the fabric
  • shape the lace to your own design.

Let’s see how to do all three, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Using a Lace Overlay

The quickest and easiest way to get a lace effect on your purse is to use an all-over lace fabric as an overlay, and then treat the two fabrics together as one.

1. Cut the lace fabric a little bigger than the pattern piece and placed it over the top.

An all-over lace fabric is placed on top of the main fabric and treated as one

2. Once you are happy with the placement, baste round the edges. You can either do this by hand or machine, or even skip it and use pins to hold them together if you’re confident. The idea is to secure the two pieces together – from now on you treat the two layers together as if they were a single piece of fabric.

3. I prefer to leave the lace a little larger than the main fabric and then cut it back after I have the sewn seams, just to avoid trapping the edges.

4. Repeat with the other side and make up the purse as usual, treating the main fabric plus lace as a single piece.

This method works with any semi-transparent top layer – for example you could use this sequined organza.

This sequinned organza can be used in the same way

You might get an interesting effect by layering different coloured pieces of organza over each other. Or combining several layers of differing materials. Or what about layering over patterned fabric?  Or how about… the ideas are endless!

Using Strips of Lace

You could also use strips of lace to embellish. For example, you could sew them on in straight line, in curves, echoing the design lines or just at random over the surface of the fabric. Here I decided to try a strip of narrow lace curving round the top of the purse.

Sewing on lace in straight lines is straightforward, but shaping it around curves is a little trickier, since lace typically isn’t stretchy. If you want it to lie flat, choose a narrow lace which is open on one side like the lace I chose here, and put the open side on the fullest part of the curve. The tighter the curve, the more open your outside edge of lace needs to be.

1. Play around with different arrangements until you’re happy. Remember where the seam allowances are – you want to make sure your lace is all within the finished area.

2. Make sure any design elements are positioned correctly, and pin those first – I wanted the group of three petals to be centred at the top.

Centre the lace at the top and then pin into place, open edge of the lace on the fullest part of the curve

3. Continue pinning, gently curving the lace round the curves. Allow the ends of the lace to run off the sides of the pattern pieces – these raw edges will be secured in the seam allowance.

4. Once it’s pinned in place and you’re happy with it, sew it securely to the fabric. You can sew either by hand or machine – if you’re sewing by machine, you might find it easier to hand baste the lace in place first.

5. Make up the purse as usual from here on.

Alternatively, you could make up the purse first, and then sew the lace on by hand at the end. The advantage of this is that you can see exactly how the finished purse will look. The disadvantages are that you have to sew it by hand (I’ll do anything to avoid hand-sewing!) and it’s trickier to do when the pattern piece is no longer flat. You also have to secure the ends of the lace neatly, rather than just trapping them in the seam allowances.

This method works best for narrow lace, and designs that don’t curve too much. But if you’ve got your heart set on particular piece of lace, or a very curvy design, you can use the following method with strips of lace too, and curve any piece exactly how you want.

Shaping the Lace

I actually learnt this method when I was applying the lace to my wedding dress, but it works equally well for a small purse (and the lace doesn’t cost as much!). The idea is to cut and shape the lace so it fits your design exactly. This is a little trickier and takes more time, but allows you the ultimate control over the lace.

For this large piece of lace, I wanted the scalloped edge to echo the top curve of the shell. It almost fits – but not quite.

The scalloped edge of the lace echoes the shape of the purse – nearly!

  1. Start by pinning the lace where you want the edges to be, allowing it to wrinkle and fold as you force it into shape. I chose to centre the small heart motif at the top first, and then work round the curved edge.

Lace is pinned to fit, creating folds.

2. Again, remember to allow for the seam allowances. I have set the scalloped edge of the lace a little further in still, so there should be around 5mm (a scant 1/4″) of the satin under-fabric showing around the top edge when it’s finished. This also prevents the edge of the lace catching in the stitching.

3. Now you need to make the lace lie flat; cut into the lace, and then overlap the cut edges so that it lies flat. Cut close to the main motifs as these are the pieces you want to keep intact – the plainer areas can be overlapped without drawing attention. The photo shows where I cut into the lace – close around the outline of the big flower. I had to cut quite high up to get it to lie flat, but that’s okay.

Cut the lace close to the motifs

4. Once you’ve got the lace lying flat, pin it in place. Decide on the edges which pieces should overlap each other. Generally, you want design elements, like the flowers here, to overlap plainer areas. But you may also find that two large motifs coincide. If so, try both arrangements and chose the one you like best. If your design is symmetric, remember to overlap the same way on the other side.

Overlap the cut edges and pin so the lace lies flat

5. In this design all my pieces of lace overlapped each other. But if you find you have gaps, then cut out individual motifs from another piece of lace and position them to fill the gaps.

6. Choose a thread to match the lace and start sewing it by hand around the cut edges, taking tiny stitches on the top (my stitches were around 1-2mm). You want to secure the cut edges of the top overlap through the underlapping lace, and to the main fabric. I tried to enlarge the photo to show you the stitching, but even at 500% I couldn’t see the individual stitches!

Lace is sewn in place with tiny invisible stitches. It’s hard to tell that this isn’t a single piece of lace

1. Work round all the cut edges. This secures the lace pretty well, and the quilting lines on the coin purse design will secure it still further, but if you’re worried about how well it will hold on, you could always add a top layer of organza as an overlay (see above) to hold it in place.

2. Trim the lace to the pattern piece and make up the purse as usual, treating the lace-covered fabric as one piece.

You could take this further, and create your own lace by cutting out and positioning individual motifs. Or perhaps just sew on a single motif as part of a more elaborate design – the choice is yours.

Do you have a sewing project you could use this technique on?

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