Design Inspiration: Lace Insertion in the 20th Century

I’m working hard on the hack for this month, March’s “Flutter-by Tee.”  It’s a V-necked flutter sleeve top I will make with both lace fabric and a linen-cotton jersey with lace insertion.  (As always with Design Inspiration posts, you can click on an image to find its source.)

Edwardian high necked lace blouse. I'm sure this is smashing on the right person, but I am just as sure I'm not that person.

The pattern-making is going swimmingly but I’m still undecided about the lace insertion positioning.  I keep coming back to it as I’m working and can’t settle on how I want to approach it.  Sometimes the best way to decide is to over-fill my imagination with images, then get out my scissors and let the fabric have its way while I’m working.

Pretty, McCalls from May 1908. Click through for a great article and 1908 inspiration. Still a little fussy for my taste, but undeniably beautiful work.

The first images that pop into my mind when I think of “lace insertion” include wedding dresses, christening gowns, Easter parades and nightgowns.  Those are all lovely, but I don’t want my top to look like any of those garments.

Well, except this 1940's nightgown. I do like it, and it features a v-neck and flutter sleeves my tops will.

As I dug around for inspiration, I became fascinated with tracking images of lace insertion through the 20th century.  As far as I can tell from limited internet type searching (I’m not a scholar.. more like a magpie..) lace insertion as a design feature never left the scene in the 20th century, but morphed over time.  In fact, it seems to me that lace and its use in clothes changed as women’s place in society (and the time spent around the home) changed.

The obvious quality of the work on this blouse is gorgeous. It looks to me like the edges were hemstitched in place on a pintucked and embroidered piece of fabric. Again, too fussy for my taste but still gorgeous. Check out Susan's post about the details of this blouse at Spare Time.

My favorites made it into this post, but I couldn’t resist making a Lace Insertion pinboard with more images that didn’t make it into this post.

After I dug around in Victoriana and Edwardia long enough to satisfy myself I don’t want to go that direction with this project, I turned to the mid-century.  I always feel most at home there, but I did take a fleeting glimpse at some of the pretty and innovative ways designers used lace in the 20’s.  Again, not for this project, but I’m sure I’ll revisit use of lace in the 20’s and 30’s some time in the future.

These two, from the late 40’s and the mid-50’s, respectively, caught my eye for the same reason- back interest.  I like this enough that I’ll probably go there regardless of what I do on the front.  The late 40’s blouse reminds me strongly of the intricate heirloom sewing seen on blouses and dresses much earlier in the century, and it reflects a 40’s post war interest in that era.  We look back at those times for inspiration, yet they were looking back too…

This is my kind of lace insertion.  It’s pretty, perhaps unexpected and the lines are bold and strong- a great foil for a delicate trim.

Here’s another strong V-shape- I like the use of lace around the neck and the way it echos down the skirt (though I’m not making a dress right now).   It looks like the black version uses some kind of sequinned or perhaps metallic trim.

I have a soft spot for these “simple to make” type blouses from the 30’s onward.  Somehow they manage to distill the style of an era- maybe even just a season or a year- into a simple, easy to wear little blouse.  It’s the perfect thing to wear just about anywhere with anything.  I like the horizontal lines of lace insertion, and I think the effect of lace extending into the flutters would be lovely.

This is lace insertion for the 60’s.  I think it’s cute, especially with the gingham.  I found plenty of examples of lace insertion from the 60’s that include wide bands of what is probably guipure lace on a narrow skirt or mod shift, but that doesn’t have anything to do with my Flutter-By.  Neither do the lovely lace-inserted wedding gowns from the 70’s I found.

This 80’s treatment feels like a lace-insertion baseball bat between the eyes.  BAM- You just got laced, sucka.  It’s interesting, because the bands of lace and rows of tucks, though coarser, still obviously hearken back to the 40’s and earlier Edwardian treatments.  Just… less artfully sewn.

I have lace on my mind all this week, including posts planned on lace care, types of lace, lace insertion techniques, using a lacy patterned fabric to its best advantage and cutting lace fabric.  And there will be a lovely lace giveaway.  It’s all lace, all the time. I can’t stop thinking about lace!  In fact, I’m off to go finish the allover lace top.

Which are your favorites?  Does anything stand up and shout to you “MAKE ME!  MAKE ME!!”?  How do you feel about the wear-ability of heavy lacy treatments popular around the early part of the century?

(I responded to comments on Megan’s Vendetta, but I just want to thank you all who commented so kindly again.  It really means a lot to me, and keeps me going when some projects want to fight me to the finish.  Thank you!)

Also- check this out… Emadethis is running a 12-month t-shirt sewing challenge… Very interesting indeed.


  1. The Advance 5635 (?) is precisely what you described: standing up and shouting at me, “MAKE ME, MAKE ME!”
    I’m not sure whether the neckline would work on me, but it’s fabulous. And so is the other V-shaped one, which I think would work better for your top. But I also like the idea of the lace running into the sleeves. I think that could create a nice rippled effect.
    Also, it’s interesting to see the 30s-40s examples – because of my own lacy blouse.

    • I forgot to explain the question mark: that image links to Simplicity 2126 instead, and as he pattern envolope is torn at the number, I’m not sure whether I saw it right in the small image… Please, fix that link.

      • It sure does link wrongly. Thanks for letting me know, it’s corrected now.

        I like that one too! I’m most torn between the two treatments you mentioned. Maybe I could do something nutty and do both… A wide band that echoes the neckline, and smaller ones running across the top, broken by the V… But then, I kind of want something that’s not all kinds of frouffy-frou, but still lacy. Maybe I want too much. :)

  2. Love that Advance dress! I like all the Victorian and Edwardian stuff but it really is over the top for this day and age (unless it is a costume). If you wanted to wear them today you’d have to cut back on the lace and may be go for anything but whites and pastels! But I’m afraid it would to much like the 80s pattern you show. ick.

  3. Maybe what you need is a muslin on a dress form and you can drape lace strips where YOU want them instead of thinking only pattern envelopes have the ideas. So much depends on the width and thickness and fussiness of the lace strips and the universal availability for your customers. As per normal, I will be anxiously awaiting your results…Go Steph!

    • Well… I haven’t had one of those since I moved here. No room… Which is really why I learned to make patterns flat. I’m sure when I’m working on it the lace will all of a sudden position itself magically and my little elves will stitch the lace in place while i sleep… ;)

  4. I have just been checking out your post. There is so much to choose from! The Advance pattern certainly caught my eye, however I also like the concept you would use with Vogue 6906 in mind. I love teh gingham 1960s number – I can see this in a lovely, femininte summer top in a bright sky blue or yellow gingham with white lace. I am looking forward to your hack and hoping the lace I purchased on holidays in January may be able to be inserted in this top.

    As an aside, how much do you know about dying lace? Today I found an 87% cotton, 13% nylon all over lace fabric that I don’t mind in cream. I really want the lace in navy blue. Do you think that the high percentage of cotton would ehnahce the dye acceptance? I have never done much fabric dying except with my students on basic calico for wearable art works, so am wondering if you have ever dyed lace, as you seem to know much more then me.

    • I don’t know about lace myself, but I know it all depends on the dye you use – there are types that work for synthetics as well. I cannot recommend a brand, because I live elsewhere in the world, but I thought I’d let you know. :-)

    • I’d try some Idye, maybe on a bit of the lace to see what happens? That’s the safest route. Because it’s a blend and mostly of cotton, I should think that using a cotton dye would work. It wouldn’t get the nylon, which should result in a paler shade of the dye color. But the caveat is that sometimes when dyeing a blend you end up with streaky results. I find that’s usually not the case, but it can happen…

  5. Oh perfect! I think I’ll hold off working on my own lace insertion blouse until you do your post. I have a good idea of what I’m doing (lace yoke on the back and extending the yoke a bit on the front shoulder, and maybe an insert on the sleeve), but it’d be nice to see what you do with yours, and how you do it. I’m not even sure how to sew with this stringy stuff!

    Loved the baseball bat between the eyes blouse! You make me laugh. :D

    • Heather, sometimes I think you and I are the only ones who think I’m funny. ;)

      OOoooh your blouse sounds cute! The technique I’m showing is more for knits, but I’m making a list of my favorite techniques for wovens…

  6. Ha, I actually really like the 80s Vogue version, though I would apply the lace rather than insert it. That pattern looks fairly easy – ie, perfect for me – so I’ll remember to look for it if I eventually get around to this project, thanks!

    I think I said in an earlier comment that it is the 80s iteration of lacy Edwardian blouses that I remember, and clearly I can’t shake it!

    • I like the 80’s blouse and I don’t like it… It does seem to lack a little finesse after looking at the way other decades treated the design feature, but I still kind of like it…

  7. I wished I liked lace. I know there are some really beautiful laces, but I just bring myself to wear them. I did wear a lot of lace insertion in the 80’s and even a few ruffled front blouses in the ‘new romantic’ style. I think that may have put me off for life. I don’t even like lace undies!

  8. I love that Advance dress pattern too, albeit not for me. How could one not, it is SOOO glamorous!
    In the late 70’s early ’80s there was a big Edwardian revival going down, and lace insetting and pintucking were big. Heaps of those drop waisted dresses that are such an 80’s cliche had ‘heirloom’ style work down the front and around the hems. It all tied in with the Stevie Nicks look too. (erk). That 80’s pattern is huckery, compared to the much prettier things that were around. But then, there is virtually nothing about 80’s fashion that I miss! :)

    • Hehhe… huckery. Yes, you’re right… There are some with more elaborate work than that one… And to be fair, I think if it were a little more fitted and on an actual person it would look better… :)

  9. I love the 40s night gown shape and really like the simplicity of the vogue T with horizonal banded lace. Not sure how to get both to work…… The flutters may be more fluttery with lighter fabrics but these would need a light lace …. Lace parallel to the flutter hems?

    Love the Advance too …. wish I had the cleavage for this shape!!

    Yeah. Well no to the 80s. I grew up then so have had more than enough of it for a lifetime I suspect and now can’t get Stevie Nicks out of my mind !! Thanks MrsC!

  10. Yes… The insertions will be interesting. I’ll play with it and then hand it over to my elves. ;)

    Cleavage for the advance shape? I dunno.. Audrey Hepburn didn’t really have anything approaching cleavage, but she did quite well in 50’s fashions… Ever seen Sabrina? Maybe not the best movie in the world, but her clothes are just lovely and she wears them well.

    I need to go find out who this Stevie Nicks is that everyone’s talking about…

  11. Pingback: Technique: Lace Insertion on Knit Fabric « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  12. I really like those Vs on the Advance pattern. Man, I really really want to make something with lace now, but I don’t have any appropriate insertion lace and I am trying to shop stash for now. My only question is, what does one wear underneath, since those insertion are kind of see-through?

  13. Pingback: Finished Object: SpinalAce Tee « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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