How to Sew Applique Seams on Lace

My project “Miss Fisher’s Lace Fantasy Duster” hit a snag… ba-da-boom! Pun pun pun!

No really, it did. But I figured it out.

The Art Deco-inspired lace I bought has beautiful scalloped eyelash borders on both sides. I wanted to make the most of this design, so I lined up the fronts of the duster along these motifs.

I also lined up the sleeves this way, so that the pretty scalloping would fall at bracelet length along my arms. So far, so good.

But what to do about the hems and the V-neckline? This isn’t the kind of lace where you can just trim around for the motifs – the curves go every which way. I thought about just doing a rolled hem, or using a decorative stitch on my machine to mimic the scalloping, but I really wanted that eyelash and scallop look everywhere.

Threads Magazine to the rescue! An issue from 2006 had a great tutorial on how to sew with lace. Here’s a step by step on how I made it work.

  1. Cut the pattern pieces out of the lace along the seamline as if it’s a normal piece of fabric.

2. On another piece of lace, trim carefully around the motifs, following them where they go. They might go a couple of inches away from the border. That’s fine.

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3. Lay the cut-out motifs on top of the cut edge of the pattern piece, right side of pattern piece to wrong side of lace motif, as you would for an applique. My lace was fairly thick and durable, so I just pinned the bejeezus out of it, but for a more delicate lace you may want to use some temporary fusible whatnot.

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4. Sew with a narrow zigzag along the edges of the lace motif. Follow the cuts and curves where they go, which might be pretty close or fairly far away from the raw edge of the pattern piece, depending on how the motifs lay out. This was pretty easy since I have these black edges all over the place on my lace, but you get the idea. (At least, I hope you do.)

You will end up with a mess that looks like this:

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But fear not!

5. Trim away the excess on the pattern piece from the underside. It was difficult to get a good picture of this, but basically flip the whole thing over to the wrong side and feel along with your fingers for where the motif is sewn on to the pattern piece. Use some small sharp scissors to remove that excess from the raw edge of the pattern piece, leaving only the appliqued motif behind.

It takes time and patience, but in the end you get this:

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Can you see the seams? Didn’t think so! I mean, you can feel the difference but you can’t see it unless you look really closely. And who’s going to do that?

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Miss Fisher’s Lace Fantasy

I have never sewn with lace before. I don’t wear lace, actually. I mean, I donned a tiered lace Scarlett O’Hara dress for my junior prom, but that was back in the 80s when I could be forgiven for it.

But lately, I have been craving lace. Miss Fisher is to blame.

Played by Essie Davis, Phryne Fisher is the quintessential 1920s fashionista, swanning around in lace jackets and dusters as she solves crimes, saves the day and gets the men on the TV show “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.” (It’s an Australian show, available on Netflix in the US.)

I bought some Art Deco style lace from Mood Fabrics in New York:

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And I am learning how to sew lace for the first time. The red thread you see running through the center is the center back.  One of the first things you learn is to use running threads and tailor’s tacks to mark the pattern.