Filet Lace

There is no specific country of origin for filet lace. Anywhere there was a fishing operation, there was likely to be an evolution into filet lace. Women wove cotton fibers into patterns on the fishing net for hair nets, clothing embellishments and household items. Over time, the nets and fibers became finer and more elegant. It progressed to the point where it was used for ecclesiastical purposes such as altar cloths.

Instructions for filet lace were included in the earliest published pattern books. A reproduction of one of the 1587 books is available through Dover Pictorial Archive Series, Renaissance Patterns for Lace, Embroidery, and Needlepoint. Mary Queen of Scots was an accomplished needle worker and enjoyed filet lace. You can read more about her in the book The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots.

Filet Lace has become known by several other names depending upon the locality and period. “Lacis" is the general heading used by museums. Here are a few other terms you may see: opus araneum (medieval term), punto ricamato a maglia (Italian), guipure lace, filet brode (French), and buratto (a fabric foundation rather than net).


The foundation fabric is actually a net. Originally, it was made by hand using a small shuttle and a rod to use as a gauge to maintain a uniform opening. You can still create the net by hand if you want to experience the entire process. The Crafts Forum website has some written instructions on how to do the net.

In 1812, the first net-making machine was invented and was in commercial use by 1820. There are pre-made nets available on the market today. Be aware that there are different types of net, some made especially for filet net. You can use any type of netting that is sturdy enough to stitch on, such as certain types of curtain netting. The netting may be made of 100% cotton or a blend. If you are working on a project that you plan to shrink a bit, you will want the 100% cotton net and cord. Here are the more popular choices:

A blunt needle is best and a tapestry needle can be used if the eye is large enough to handle the cord. There is a specialty needle available from lace suppliers called a reweaving or ballpoint needle, which has a little ball on the end of the point. A couple of other options are the Clover set of Huck Embroidery Needles (7123) and a three-piece set of flat Ribbon Weaving Needles (7084).

Traditionally a wire frame was used to hold the net. It is suggested that you use a frame to hold your net taut and keep your stitches even. The key is to keep your net as straight as you can. A good choice would be stretcher bars and the Corjac Tack Kit (6937).

It is really easy to create your own patterns from pictures of old filet lace. Use graph paper (6647) and a soft pencil to plot your designs. Another source for ideas is a coloring book. Draw your outline and then shade in squares to create the solid pattern design. Transgraph-X (6644) is a wonderful, reusable product for transferring designs on to grid paper.


Traditional filet lace was meant to be stitched, then washed to shrink the fibers and netting. It tightens the net and the woven areas to make a denser design. There will still be holes, but over time and use, the cotton will fluff out more and the woven areas will appear solid. Therefore, if this is the process you plan to use, you must do a test piece using the same mesh and fibers. Stitch a part of the design and measure it. A 3-4" square should be sufficient. Then wash it in hot water to shrink it. Bleach it if you plan to do that to your main piece. Let it dry, block if desired. Remeasure the piece and observe how the fibers and net did. Adjust your fibers and design as necessary. You can usually expect a 10% to 20% shrinkage.

Matte cotton 3/3 (LA3-EC) is a white, soft mercerized cotton suitable for net darning on Filet Net 3. An acceptable substitute is Pearl Cotton Size 3. If you are working on Filet Net 5, you can use Pearl Cotton Size 5. If you have smaller net, you can use Pearl Cotton in sizes 8 and 12. Linen, wool, and metallic threads and ribbons can be used to bring color and diversity to your designs. The size will be determined by your net.


The way you end your threads is unique with filet lace. Start with a temporary knot a couple of inches on the lower left of your starting point. Leave a 4"-6" tail on your thread and do a simple knot around one of the sides of the mesh. Don’t tighten it because you will be unknotting it later. If you are not using a specialty fiber, you want to stitch with a long length of thread – even a couple of yards at a time. This will reduce the number of knots on the back of your piece. When you get to the end of your thread, leave a 4" or longer tail hanging from the back of your piece. Generally you will not weave the tails through to finish them off, because they can be seen from the front or will cause raised stitches. Instead from the backside, position the ends over a filet net thread and tie a simple knot, pushing it close to the mesh, but not enough to pull the mesh. Then make a surgeon’s knot (wrapping your thread around twice in the loop instead of once like a simple knot). Pull that tight on top of the simple knot. Add one more simple knot on top. To finish off, put the two threads together, side by side, and make a loop, pulling the ends through, to create a final knot. Cut the threads leaving about a 1/4" tail.


One of the charms of filet lace is the designs can be accomplished using a couple of basic stitches. The easiest is the darning stitch. It is probably one of the oldest stitches. Darning is the act of repairing a hole in fabric by weaving a thread back and forth across the space. Darning can go horizontally or vertically. If the design uses darning in both directions, the stitches will appear differently in light and will give additional interest to the piece. Here is a pattern I have in my stash that is done just with the darning stitch.

Darning Stitch »

The linen stitch, or point de toile, basically fills in the grid of a netted square with threads woven from top to bottom and side to side. The resulting appearance is like a loosely woven linen fabric. Sometimes the stitcher will add a thicker thread to create a border, scroll, stems, and other linear objects. This combination is called filet Richelieu. With the addition of other filling and raised stitches, the technique is called filet guipure.

Linen Stitch »

The Edge Stitch weaves in and out of the net and the darning and linen stitch threads. You must use both to get the over and under weave correct. The example shown has the edge stitch highlighted in pink.

Edge Stitch »

There are several other stitches you can add to your design. A popular addition is a loop stitch which is done in two steps. The resulting stitch resembles the dove’s eye filling stitch in Hardanger embroidery. This small doily has all four of the stitches we have discussed so far. See if you can find each one!

Another easy stitch is a running stitch that follows a simple line to create the design. You can use the running stitched to create outlines, borders, flower stems, and lettering. This snowflake is another item from my stash and is created with a thick cord following a continuous line. We carry the frames if you want to make filet lace ornaments. Small white 2.5" frames (720-420-0002), Large white 3.75" frames (720-595-0002) and Large gold 3.75" frames (720-420-0001).

Think outside the box and try using specialty fibers, ribbons, metallic and colored threads. The addition of colors will give you an entirely different look. Here is a great example using ribbons and colored thread. This design was created using only the darning and running stitches.

There are two wonderful resources that step you through several progressive lessons.


The Buttonhole stitch is a traditional method of finishing your piece. It is best done while still on the frame. The buttonhole is done over the outside mesh thread. A general rule of thumb would be to do three buttonhole stitchers per mesh on a Filet Net 5. Adjust according to the size of your net. Remember that your piece will shrink and tighten after washing, so don’t fill the mesh square entire. When you do cut the threads, leave a 1/4" nub, which will disappear after washing. Other options for edging include doing a crocheted border or folding the edge over, hemming as you add fringe or lace.


This is a little different than most cleaning methods. If you want to shrink your piece, you will use hot water. If you want to clean it without shrinkage, use cold water. Also, some people will bleach their white-on-white or ecru-on-ecru filet net projects. One source said if your piece is made with washable thread you can place it directly into the washing machine to soak. Stir it by hand a couple of times as it soaks. Then use the spin cycle to remove excess water. Repeat in clean water to rinse. To protect your lace you can put it in a large pillowcase or laundry mesh bag letting it soak. Spin the water out and rinse twice since the piece is more confined.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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