What is free standing lace (FSL)?

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

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?

Choose a design

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.

Hoop your stabilizer

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.

Match your bobbin to your top thread

The back of your FSL design is just as visible as the front, so you should change your bobbin thread and use the same type of thread in the bobbin that you are using to stitch out the design.

Stitch out the design

Stitch out your design. Many FSL designs are just one color. However, some are actually multicolor (as you will see in the examples below). When you are stitching multi-color designs, be sure to change your bobbins to match the top.

Make some finishing touches

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?”

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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?

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.

  • 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 dog 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

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


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. FSL 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

Frequently asked questions regarding free standing lace

How long will my free standing lace design last?

Free standing lace designs typically last a long time if they are properly cared for. However, over time the threads may start to loosen up and the design may start to unravel.

Can I wash my free standing lace?

It is not recommended to wash free standing lace designs. The threads may loosen up and the design may unravel.

Can I dry my free standing lace?

It is not recommended to dry FSL designs. The threads may loosen up and the design may unravel.

What type of fabric should I use with my free standing lace design?

No fabric is necessary to make free standing lace

Can I iron my free standing lace?

It is not recommended to iron free standing lace designs. The threads may loosen up and the design may unravel.

Do I need a special embroidery hoop to make free standing lace?

No, you do not need a special hoop for free standing lace. You can use any embroidery hoop that you normally use with your embroidery machine.

What type of stabilizer should I use?

It is recommended to use water soluble stabilizer – not the clear type that you would use for a topper. You should use a the fibrous type of water soluble stabilizer. Two layers is sometimes necessary for very dense designs.

Can I use a metallic thread?

Yes, you can use a metallic thread with your free standing lace. However, metallic embroidery thread can be a bit tricky to work with as it is prone to breakage.

How do I finish my FSL design?

After you have finished stitching out your free standing lace design, cut away the excess stabilizer around the outside edges of the object. Then rinse out the rest of the stabilizer. If you want, you can also sprinkle some glitter on the design. Let it dry completely before framing or displaying.

Are there free FSL designs available

Oh my gosh, yes! For the time being – just start Googling but I promise to create another post re: where to find free free standing lace designs soon.

Ready to make some free standing lace?

I think you will enjoy making free standing lace. And – apologies in advance for introducing you to this highly addictive new way to use your embroidery machine!

Happy Stitching!

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what is free standing lace or FSL?

1 thought on “What is free standing lace (FSL)?

  1. Hi Julie, thank you for posting! I’m new to fsl and am wondering if you know of any way to create continuous lace trim with this technique? I’d like to make several yards of scalloped lace edging, but I don’t know how realistic that is. Thank you!

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