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How to Embroider Free-Standing Lace (FSL) With Your Machine

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When I first got my embroidery machine, I had no idea how many things you could do with it!  As a mom of two girls, my plan was to monogram or embroider everything they owned, and that was that.

Once I started learning more and browsing around embroidery design websites, I came upon the concept of free-standing lace.  I was hooked!  In today’s beginner embroidery tutorial, I want to show you how to machine embroider free-standing lace, also known as FSL.

free-standing lace embroidery tutorial

What is Free-Standing Lace?

Free-standing lace embroidery designs are designs that support themselves after the stabilizer is removed.  You’ll stitch directly onto pieces of stabilizer rather than onto fabric to create these embroidered beauties.  Examples of FSL projects include FSL Christmas ornaments, bookmarks, earrings, clothing decorations, and so much more!

Finding Free-Standing Lace Designs

If you go to embroider free-standing lace, you will need to make sure the design is digitized to be stitched without fabric underneath it.  In general, FSL designs have a greater stitch density and extra underlay stitches to continue stabilizing the design after the stabilizer is gone.  If the design is not digitized properly for FSL, the threads will unravel once the stabilizer is washed away.  Then it’s not very, well, free-standing.  Free-standing lace designs will have a designation telling you what they are to make sure you don’t waste precious time or supplies on an inappropriate design!

If you’re looking for a free free-standing lace embroidery design to try this skill out on, this is the one I used here.  You can also check out some of my favorite places to find free embroidery designs to see if those sits have any offerings.  Most FSL designs, if you purchase, are inexpensive at around $5 or less usually.  So go gather some fun designs to stitch!

Best Stabilizer for Free-Standing Lace

I always used to use two layers of wash-away stabilizer when embroidering FSL.  This meant doubling up on the paper, fibrousy type of wash-away stabilizer.  But, because I’m an engineer/scientist by training, I like to experiment.  This latest round of FSL Christmas ornaments I made, I changed things up and instead used a layer of wash-away stabilizer on the bottom and a layer of water-soluble topping above that.  It worked better!  Whereas the wash-away sometimes separated from areas of really dense stitching, the water-soluble topping provided more support oddly enough and seemed to prevent the deterioration of the stabilizer.

It might be worth doing some experiments with your machine to find what works best.  Combos to consider are two layers of wash-away, one layer of wash-away and one layer of water-soluble topping, and two layers of wash-away and one layer of water-soluble topping.

FSL Embroidery Supplies

How to Embroider Free-Standing Lace: Tutorial

Now, for the fun part!  Here’s how to set up your machine to embroider FSL.

First, place your layer of water-soluble topping on top of the wash-away stabilizer.  Then, hoop the two layers tautly inside the smallest hoop that will fit your design.  Smaller hoops work better with dense FSL designs, in my experience.  (If you’re new to embroidery and hooping, check out some of my embroidery hooping tips and tricks.)  It’s very important that the stabilizer be tight enough that it doesn’t move when your machine is stitching.

layer two layers of stabilizer in the hoop

Download your embroidery design to your embroidery machine, and get it set up and ready to stitch.  One great thing about stitching FSL is you don’t have to worry about centering your design since there’s no fabric!

Next, double-check that your needle and thread are compatible.  It’s important to also check your bobbin thread.  While you can get away with using white bobbin thread for most projects with unexposed backs, your FSL design will be much more professional if the bobbin color matches the color of the upper thread.  Just think, what lace accents have you ever seen with cream thread, for example, on the front and white threads on the back?

Place your embroidery hoop on the embroidery arm, place your presser foot down, and press start!  Watch your machine start to embroider the free-standing lace design.  Change colors as directed.

start stitching and wait for it to finish

When the design is done stitching, remove the hoop from the machine and open it up to release your design and stabilizer.  Gently pull away the water-soluble topping from the front of the design.  No big deal if you don’t get it all.

how to remove the topping from the free-standing lace

Then, use scissors to trim the wash-away stabilizer on the bottom close to the sides of the design.  Also, cut any easily accessible jump threads.

cut away the washaway around the fsl design

Get a small bowl of warm water and submerge your design.  The water-soluble topping and wash-away stabilizer should dissolve fairly quickly.  Once you see it mostly gone, remove the design.  By removing it before every little bit of stabilizer is gone from the base of the stitches, you’ll leave a residue behind to increase the design firmness.

soak the freestanding lace in a bowl of water

Take your FSL project out of the water carefully and lay it on a dry towel.  Make sure it is laid flat, as that is how it will dry.  If you want a more 3-D design, try laying it an an angle!

let the fsl dry on a towel

Once the lace is dry, cut any other jump threads you missed the first time around.  If the design seems warped, you can give it a good pressing to straighten in out.  (Use a pressing cloth.)  If it’s still too droopy, try adding spray starch and pressing again to give it a bit more rigidity!

FSL Embroidery – Conclusion

And that’s how you set up your embroidery machine to make free-standing lace.  Just think of all the possibilities of embellishments and gifts that you can make in the future.  I hope you enjoyed this beginner embroidery tutorial!

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