What is free standing lace (FSL)?

By on February 5th, 2020
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What is free standing lace or FSL?

If you are new to machine embroidery you may not even be aware of free standing lace, otherwise known as FSL. And, if you don’t know what it is, I’m guessing you probably don’t know how to make it. But It is actually pretty cool. Free standing lace or FSL is essentially an object made entirely out of thread that you stitch on your embroidery machine takes on the appearance of lace. This may have you wondering: why would I want an object made of thread? What would I use it for?  Perhaps once you see exactly what it is and how to make it, you will be grateful to know what is free standing lace.

To be honest, it took me a while to jump on the FSL bandwagon. Most of the  designs I had seen stitched out looked pretty fussy. But now that I looked around a bit, I’m excited about all the cool things you can make with free standing lace.

How do you make free standing lace?

The first thing you need in order to make free standing lace is an FSL design.  Digitizers make embroidery designs specifically for creating free standing lace. What makes FSL designs unique is that they are completely continuous so that they stay together in one piece and none of the thread falls out when the stitching is done.  Usually the most common sites that sell embroidery designs usually carry free standing lace designs as well.

In order to make free standing lace, your embroidery machine can not just stitch the lace in mid air. It needs to stitch the FSL onto something. So, you start by hooping some water soluble stabilizer.  This serves as the base of your free standing lace design. Once you are done stitching out the design, you dissolve the water soluble stabilizer and you are left with your free standing lace.  Now you get why it’s called “free standing?”

Free standing lace is surprisingly easy to make on your embroidery machine. But there are a few techniques to keep in mind prior to getting started.

Still not sure how to stitch out a free standing lace design?

Check out my video tutorial where I demonstrate stitching out a free standing lace design. 

What are some tips when stitching free standing lace?

  • Slow your machine down! Free standing lace designs can be quite intricate. If your machine is running to fast, it can get caught on one of the threads.
  • Use a sharp embroidery needle, size 75/11 should work fine. Learn more about needles for machine embroidery.
  • If you are stitching out a particularly dense free standing lace design, consider stitching it out on two layers of water soluble stabilizer.
  • Match your bobbin thread to the top thread. For the bobbin, you should actually use your regular embroidery thread, the same color you are using on top. This is because the free standing lace design is usually seen from the front and the back and you want it to look polished on both side.  You should NOT use embroidery bobbin thread.  
  • After you are finished stitching out the design, cut the excess stabilizer away from the design. Then rinse out the rest of the stabilizer.
  • If you want the free standing lace design to be very stiff, don’t cut away all the stabilizer around the outside edges of the object before rinsing it out. Then soak it in a bowl of water. The water will become quite gummy as the excess stabilizer dissolves in the water, especially if you are stitching out several FSL designs. But the designs will stay quite firm once they dry.
  • If you want to add some extra bling to your lace, consider sprinkling some glitter once you have rinsed away the stabilizer. The gluey surface of the dissolved stabilizer will make the glitter stick on the object.
  • Some designs aren’t made well, but the ones that are, are quite nice when done. Also, you can’t really tell by doing only a portion of a design… do a whole design.
  • If you want a crochet look to your FSL, stitch the design out using cotton embroidery thread.  Otherwise, regular embroidery thread will work just fine.

What can I make with free standing lace?

There are a lot of cool and modern FSL designs available for machine embroidery. You can make more items with FSL than I could have ever imagined. Here are some of my favorites.

FSL Santas from Kate Gallery Embroidery

Christmas ornaments are one of the most common items to make with free standing lace. And the most common of these FSL ornaments seems to be the angel – I guess because angels are light and airy, just like free standing lace. But I do love these FSL Santas from Kate Gallery Emb. The stitching is actually so dense it doesn’t even look like lace.

Santa free standing lace
Image used with permission from Kate Gallery Emb

FSL Feather Earrings by EMB Home

I could never imagine creating a pair of earrings on my embroidery machine that I would actually want to wear, but these FSL feather earrings by EMB Home are incredible. They are colorful and edgy and made entirely of embroidery thread. I would definitely stitch these out with a cotton embroidery thread. It would give them more body and look more natural.

FSL feather earrings
Image used with permission from embhome

Personalized Dog Tags by Embroidery Zone

And you thought you needed to spend big money to get a personalized tag for your dog?  Not so much.  You can make a personalized dog tag entirely out of thread. Who knew?

free standing lace personalized dog tag
Image used with permission from Embroidery Zone

FSL Crown by Christy’s Digital Files

Have a little prince or princess in your life?  Stitch the kid out a FSL crown. While there are several different styles of FSL crowns available, this is definitely my favorite.  And you can add or remove panels to make it work with different sized heads.

free standing lace crown
Image used with permission from Christy’s Digital Files

Coasters by Artistic Threadworks

I absolutely love these coasters because they really don’t look like typical free standing lace. They are simple and elegant. Try stitching them with cotton embroidery thread for an even more natural look.

As a gift to my readers, Artistic Threadworks is offering this FSL coaster design for free!  Just head over to their site to download the file.  If you would like to buy the full set of coasters, they are now on sale (for a limited time) for just $3 – that’s 40% OFF! 

free standing lace coaster
Image used with permission from Artistic Threadworks

Bookmarks from Lifelong Embroidery

These silly FSL animal bookmarks are perfect for kid and adults. Lifelong Embroidery has designed an adorable set of silly animals that is sure to make reading even more fun.  There are tons of FSL bookmark designs out there, but these animals are truly unique.

free standing lace animal bookmark
Image used with permission from Lifelong Embroidery

Masks by Poppy Embroidery

You can make the perfect accessory for your Halloween costume and all you need is THREAD. This collection of FSL superhero masks will prepare you for any dress up situation.  Amazing.

FSL masks
Image used with permission from Poppy Embroidery

Hairbows

I adore these little hair bows. They are so delicate and pretty. And, because you can stitch them out in any color you want, you can make them to match any outfit.

free standing lace hair bows
Image used with permission from JuYa Love Designs

Angel Christmas tree topper

Yep. Free standing lace can be three dimensional. This perfectly lovely angel is entirely made of thread and makes a sweet and totally unique Christmas tree topper.  Lindee G is truly a FSL angel making genius.  See all of her designs on her website or her Etsy storeNote: until the end of February 2020 – there is an active coupon code on her website: for 40% off on designs. RB2019PHX. 

free standing lace angel tree topper
Image used with permission from Lindee G Embroidery

Lace border design for curtains or apparel by Grand Slam Designs

OMG – this lace border is so pretty and delicate I want to attach it to every item of clothing I own. You can make bigger pieces of lace by stitching the smaller ones together either by hand or using a zigzag stitch on your sewing machine.

FSL trim for clothing
Image used with permission from Grand Slam Designs

Where can you find FREE FSL embroidery designs?

It’s a great idea to try out some free standing lace designs before you make your first REAL FSL project.  Many sites that offer embroidery designs offer a free FSL design from time to time.  To get started, try out the Artistic Threadworks FSL coaster freebie.

Apologies in advance for introducing you to this highly addictive new way to use your embroidery machine!

Happy Stitching!
Julie

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