Needlelace Instructions


Loretta's Custom Stitchery

Needlelace has been a needle art form for many centuries.  One of the cradles of it's development was around Venice, Italy.  From there it moved into Belgium and France as well as England.  The basic method of work is to draw the outline of the design on a paper or fabric to use as the couching pattern.  Then cords are couched to the outline and lacy buttonhole filling stitches are worked between the couched cords.  All the filling work is done on the surface.  These threads never go through the couching pattern.  Finally the couched cords are finished with closely spaced buttonhole stitches and then the couching threads are clipped and removed from the back side of the pattern.  The final product is a piece of free standing lace. 

To make needlelace projects more versatile for use as dimensional units, I use fine wire in place of the cord along the outlines.  When finished these flower petals or butterflies that I have created can be shaped without starch.  On the lace angel, only the wings were edged in wire, while the skirt and shawl used a thread cord for the couched edges.     

The first step is to create a couching pattern.  I break from the tradition of drawing it on fabric with India ink and then pad that layer with several more layers of fabric.  I put the design on printer/copy paper and iron a layer of heavy fusible interfacing to the back side.  For my design packets and classes, this has been a good solution since they are printed from my computer. The pattern holds up for 2 or 3 uses.  

The second step is to couch the cord or wire to the pattern.  If you are making a single leaf or petal, you will need about " of wire extending at the base to poke through the background fabric to attach it.  I like to cover these ends with a little piece of tape so I do not snag my threads on them.  The couching stitches should be very small on the top side where they cover the cord.  The spacing can be between 1/8 and 1/4" apart.  Use sewing thread for this step. 

Next you will fill the area inside the couched outline with a variation of the buttonhole stitch.  The most basic is the single buttonhole stitch shown here.

Use a tapestry needle that fits your thread, and a rather long piece of thread.  Anchor the thread by overcastting the couched wire a couple of time as you position your thread at the upper left corner of the area.  Make small, closely spaced buttonhole stitches across the top edge from left to right.  At the right edge overcast the couched wire once, and then work buttonhole stitches into each loop between the stitches of the first row.  All your work will be on the surface of the pattern and never pierce it.  Only the couching done in step two pierce the pattern.  Also you will never tie knots.  All ends are hidden by overcastting the couched edge.  

For a lacier look, you might choose to use the double buttonhole stitch.  For this stitch anchor your thread and begin at the upper left corner.  Make two closely spaced buttonhole stitches, then leave a space and loop and make two more closely spaced stitches.  Continue across the top  this way.  Anchor the thread on the right side with 2 overcasts of the side so you give yourself a little space before beginning the next row.  Work back across making two closely spaced buttonhole stitches over the loop between pairs of stitches, then leave a loop as you go on to the next loop of the first row to make your next pair of stitches. 
When you need a very solid look, perhaps to contrast with a lacy part, try the corded buttonhole stitch. It is also known as the cloth stitch.  For this stitch anchor your thread and work one row of closely spaced buttonhole stitches across the upper edge.  Anchor the thread with one overcast of the right side and bring the thread all the way across the work to the left side.  Anchor it there just under the first row.  Work your second row of closely spaced buttonhole stitches into each loop between the stitches of the first row, and over the thread you stretched below it. 
When you have filled the area within the couched outline, you will finish the piece by covering the outer edge with closely spaced buttonhole stitches, facing outward from the edge.  This will cover all the tail ends of thread you left there from the beginnings and endings of the filling work.  Hide the final tail in your work along the edge. 

Now it's time to cut the couching threads on the back side of the pattern and pull all of them out so you can lift the finished petal or leaf  from the pattern.  With the wire edge, you can shape it.  Now it is ready to apply to your stitched fabric piece.  The wire extensions need to be poked through the fabric and sewn securely to the back side.  If you have made a 2 or 3 petal grouping, you will sew the center of it to the background fabric and then add stamens.  

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