Tutorial: Hand-dyed lace details

How to hand dye lace and make easy accessoriesWe love lace! Not only is this fabric beautiful on its own; it’s a costumer’s best friend when it comes to adding detail and design interest. If you need the look of embroidery but don’t have an embroidery machine or the time and inclination to do it by hand, a carefully-selected lace motif can fill the gap. Or use it for trim, overlays, or cutout details on a bodice, hem, collar, anything you can think of. It can even be used alone to make delicate accessories.

Although most laces are only available in white or a handful of colors, you can dye the lace yourself to achieve any color or combination of colors you may want. And if you just need a few pieces for small details, you can spot dye them instead of making up a whole pot of dye. This also gives you more control over where the dye is placed, so you can dye specific areas in different colors, almost like painting. To make it extra easy, our Cosplay by McCall’s designer created this tutorial to take you through it step by step. And stick around for a simple, pretty accessory project at the end!

Select your lace motifs
Select your Lace Motifs

While you could technically use this technique on any amount of lace, it’s more economical  to select your motifs in advance. Choose a pretty lace trim or purchased appliqués, or cut just the amount you need from a lace fabric.

Create appliques by cutting out individual motifs from lace fabric

You can also create your own lace accents and appliqués by cutting out individual motifs from a lace fabric. Most laces will not fray when cut, so you can create the exact shapes you need by carefully cutting them out with a pair of embroidery scissors. After dyeing you can use them alone, or apply to a base fabric by hand or using a machine zigzag stitch.

supplies for hand-dyeing lace

Other Supplies

Check the fiber content of your lace to determine what dye to buy. Many laces are made of polyester, so you will need a dye designed for synthetics to get a good result. Cotton and rayon laces can be colored with all-purpose dyes, and nylon can be dyed with either. Dyeing fabrics is always a trial-and-error business, so be prepared to try a few samples and experiment with different colors and dye concentrations if you’re trying to match something specific.

  • Fabric dye in various colors, type appropriate for fabric
  • Pipettes
  • Small Bowls (not used for food)
  • Large Bowl
  • Towel (will absorb dye; don’t use something that shouldn’t be stained)
  • Plastic Bag
  • Masking Tape
  • Iron

Prep workspace for dyeing lace

Dye the Lace

Prep your work area by laying a plastic bag down flat on your table top to protect it from dye drips. Tape the edges down and repeat as needed to cover the workspace.

Lay the towel over the plastic bags. Fill a large bowl with water and mix your colors in smaller bowls around your work area. The proportions change depending on how intense you want the colors, but I found this technique needs a pretty high dye concentration (90% dye and 10% water).

Fully submerge the lace in the large bowl of water, then remove it and lay it flat on the towel without wringing.
Start dropping in color

Using a fresh pipette for each color, start dropping dye onto the lace in whatever
pattern suits you. Think about what fabrics the lace will be paired with, as well as the design of the lace itself.

Dye all the desired areas for each color before moving on to the next

For efficiency, try to dye all the desired areas for each color before moving on to the next. You can go back over the same areas several times if you want a more vibrant color.

Consider how adjoining colors will mix
As you move on to your second and subsequent colors, think about how adjoining colors will mix. Plan ahead so you can take advantage of the color bleeding at the edges; I put yellow next to blue knowing that a nice green would emerge.

Choose colors that will blend together nicely as they bleed

Be careful when mixing three or more colors as the combination may become muddy. Different shades of the same color can work well—adding a deep indigo color around the brighter blue produced a nice gradient effect.

Hang lace to dry

When you’re finished applying color, lift the lace from the towel and hang to dry. One easy way to do this is to attach binder clips to one end of the lace so you can suspend it from a hanger or clothesline. To avoid smudges and color bleeding, make sure that the lace hangs straight and doesn’t touch itself anywhere. Let the lace fully dry and then iron on as high a temperature as the lace can tolerate to seal in the color.Finished lace pieces

Use your finished lace pieces for embellishing, accessory projects, and more!

Make this easy necklace with your hand-dyed lace
Easy Lace Choker

Wondering what to do with your lace? Try this simple choker necklace, which could suit a variety of styles depending on the colors and embellishments. Choose sweet pastels for a girly design, woodsy shades for a fairy or elf, or deep purples and reds to go with a gothic ensemble.

Lace necklace supplies

The example necklace is embellished with rhinestones and beads in addition to the lace motifs. For different looks, try it with ribbon, sequins, tiny silk flowers, studs and spikes, or bits of decorative chain.

  • 12″ length of 1″ lace trim
  • Lace fabric for collar
  • Small lace appliqués for decorating
  • Ribbon crimp necklace fastener with lobster claw clasp and extender chain
  • Needle and thread in a matching color
  • Pliers
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Additional Decorations (beads, stones, etc.)
Pattern for lace collar necklace
Make the necklace

Print the above pattern or copy onto a 1″ grid and cut the collar shape from lace fabric. Pay attention to how you’re placing the motifs if you want them symmetrical; some lace designs work better for this than others. Some fabrics will also look better when you cut out complete motifs instead of cutting through the center of the design, so adjust the pattern shape as needed to fit.

Mark the center point of the 1″ trim. Pin the collar pieces behind the trim on either side of center, and join the collar pieces to the trim with hand stitches. Crimp the fastener in place on each end of the necklace. Sew or glue on additional embellishments, including smaller lace accents, beads or sequins, rhinestones, etc. Allow any glue to dry completely before moving or bending the trim. Wear and enjoy!

Finished lace necklace


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