Lace is a huge word that covers a lot of things. Everything from hand-made bobbin lace trim to mass-produced nylon seen on prom dresses across the globe.
Wikipedia defines it as “A delicate fabric made of yarn or thread in an open or web-like pattern”.
Since it’s an open pattern, it’s used as a trim or an embellishment, rarely as the primary fabric in a garment – unless you’re feeling very daring or making something that you’re planning to show to only a very limited audience – nudge, nudge. By all means, use it as an overlay to a solid fabric, though.
Lace can be made by hand or by a machine. Hand-made lace is beautiful and very, very expensive. Hand-made methods include needle lace, cutwork, bobbin lace, tape lace, knotted lace, knitted lace and crochet lace. Actually, you can learn to make bobbin lace and crochet lace pretty easily and it’s a great hobby – as long you don’t have cats or kids.
Anyway, when it comes to cosplay, you’re almost certainly considering mass produced lace. There’s a HUGE variety of machine-made lace out there. It can range from very narrow – like a half-inch wide, which you’d use for trimming a costume – to 45 inches wide, which you’d use in a larger project, for skirts and full-size garments.
Mass produced lace is sometimes called raschelle lace. Most adjectives attached to any description of lace in an online store are brand names. There are two things you want to know: what it is made of and does it stretch?
It’s almost always made of polyester or nylon, sometimes with a little elastane added to allow it to stretch. Lace trims, being cheaper to make, will feature a greater variety of yarns – cotton and rayon as well as the usual suspects.
Both polyester and nylon laces can range from pretty soft and drapey to seriously springy. That hand and springiness of a lace is something you want to pay attention to if you are planning to use gathered lace on your project – whether gathering it into a waistband for a skirt, or gathering a trim to go on the edge of something. If the lace has a soft, fluid hand, it’s going to droop, no matter how tightly you gather it. If it’s seriously foofy, though, you’ll end up with an effect that’s halfway to a poofy crinoline petticoat.
Don’t confuse nylon lace with nylon netting. Netting is a larger mesh – usually – and doesn’t have a pattern embroidered on to it. It’s useful stuff and there’s a whole entry dedicated to netting and tulle, so you can learn more, there.
Stretch lace is great when used as an overlay on a close-fitted costume piece – such as cream lace over a brown waist cincher in a steam-punk ensemble, for instance.
Although you’re likely to be using a polyester or nylon lace, if you’re using a substantial yardage – a 45” wide or wider bolt – you still want to pre-shrink it before cutting. Hand wash it in warm water and let it air dry. Don’t put it in the washer, as the agitator in your machine will tear it apart. If you have a European style front-loader, you COULD toss it in there, but I’d be nervous.
I cannot imagine why on earth you’d want to subject lace to an iron but if you must, turn it all the way down and use a press cloth, too. It’s an artificial fiber and there’s not very much mass to it. That stuff will scorch and melt at the drop of a hat.
Prices start at around $5 a yard, ranging as high as $30 yard for lace made for interior decorating – you’d use that for drapes and suchlike. But you know what I always say? Never neglect a visit to the upholstery section when you’re fabric shopping.
Because of its open structure, sewing lace can be challenging. It’s another one of those fabrics that can have you wishing for a serger by the end of the project. A zig-zag stitch is going to be your friend when you’re trying to sew lace to lace, although the specific technique really depends on how you’re using the lace. There are a lot of good tutorials on YouTube and I suggest you look them up. Stop by the resources page to see a couple of suggestions.
Sometimes a stretch needle makes sewing lace a bit easier, as done underlining the lace with a tulle – which can look really nice. Use a cotton or a polyester thread.
PS, because it’s specialized stuff, there is a separate entry for Battenberg lace.