Goth Spring: Adding Lace Details to a T-Shirt

Image of a woman with long black hair wearing a T-shirt with lace sleeves and a black skirt standing in front of a white wall

Lace Sleeves Top

We all have that favorite piece of clothing we love so much that we wear it to death. When that moment comes, you cry, fists raised to the sky, and scream, “Why? Why my beautiful top with lace details?” Or maybe you do not do that, but you get the picture. You then decide to find a replacement, a beautiful top with lace details that looks exactly like the first one, and if you find it, you say to yourself, you will buy three of them! But you do not find a replacement. You never do.

When you are a sewist, however, you can recreate that favorite top once, twice, three times. You can make it in every color of the rainbow. You can make it smaller or bigger to accommodate changes to your shape. You can add or remove details to improve the look. You are in control of all of the decisions regarding your perfect garment, making it even more perfect (if that is possible).

Image of a woman with long black hair wearing a T-shirt with a sleeve with a lave detail and a black skirt standing in front of a white wall

Lace Details Top

A few years ago, I bought two fancy knit tops from H&M. I say fancy because they had lace details, and lace makes everything fancy. One of them had lace sleeves, the other triangle-shaped cut-outs in lace on the sleeves and side seams. They were casual enough to wear during the day but could be dressed up with a cute skirt and heels. I loved them. When I put on some weight, the tops became too small for me. Unwilling to part with them, I placed them in the “I don’t know what to do with these clothes, but I cannot get rid of them” drawer. I guess I was hoping I would lose enough weight to fit into them again, but that never happened. So I forgot about the tops.

As I was re-organizing my fabrics, I came across two yards of lace and a bunch of cheap black knit, and then the thought: Why not use the cheap knit and some of the lace to recreate my beloved tops? The cheap knit was perfect for one or two muslins so that I could figure out how to attach the lace to the cut-outs. And there was enough lace that I could use the borders for the sleeves for the other top. Like a mad scientist, I was ready to clone my tops.

The Muslin

I decided to use my most trusted TNT T-shirt pattern, the Plantain, for this experiment. I have made enough Plantains to know what to expect of the pattern. I traced a copy of it because I knew I would have to cut into the pattern pieces. For the sleeves, I folded the sleeve pattern piece and drew a triangle with a 2” base and 1.5” height. Because I placed the triangle on the fold, I knew that when I opened up the pattern piece, the triangle would end up with a 4” base. These numbers are not set in stone; I selected them based on the look I was going for. For the side seam triangle, I pinned the front and back pieces and drew a triangle with a 1.5” base and 4” height. The final triangle had a 3” base (1.5” per side).

Image of the line drawing of the Plantain T-shirt pattern

Plantain Line Drawing

I had to decide how to attach the lace to the top. I had three options:

1. Layer the lace pieces under the cut outs, right side of the lace facing the wrong side of the fabric. This method leaves the raw edges of the cut outs exposed. The original top was constructed like this. This is the easiest and fastest method. I used it on the sleeves of the muslin, and it looked okay. Since knit fabric does not fray, there really isn’t much problem leaving the edges unfinished.

2. Sew the lace to the fabric with the traditional method of right sides facing, which creates a seam and hide the raw edges. This method is a bit tricky. I used it on the side seams, and it was a struggle to sew the second seam. The triangle top refused to cooperate, so the point where boths sides meet does not look nice and neat.

3. After thinking for a bit, I settle on a third method: pressing the seams towards the back then sewing the lace to the fabric like method #1. This method combines the best of both worlds: flat, finished seams with a topstitched detail.

The top with lace sleeves did not need a muslin since the only modification was cutting the sleeves out of lace. The lace had a scalloped edge, and instead of hemming the lace (not a fun activity), I cut the sleeves with the scallops as the hem (no hemming! yay!).

Top #1: Lace Sleeves

Image of a black T-shirt with lace sleeves hanging from a hanger against a white wall

Lace Sleeves Top

When I am sewing a Plantain to wear at work, I raise the neckline as I find it a bit revealing for someone with big boobs like mine. Since these tops are for recreational use, I left the original neckline. I considered not using a neckband and finishing the top like the Mandy Boat Tee, but I was afraid that doing so would make the neckline gapey. I really do not like dealing with neckbands, but I like keeping my boobs safe, so neckband it was.

I decided that the knit I used for the muslin was not going to work for my final garment. The fabric had a weird texture, kinda spongy, and it was so lint-friendly it grabbed every single spec of dust while I was sewing. I went to Michael Levine and was happy to learn that many of the knit fabrics were on sale for half off. I found a really light, almost see-through knit, very similar to the fabric of the original top. Because it was hard to determine right/wrong side of the fabric, I had to work with natural light–which is a bummer because it restricted my sewing.

Image of sleeves cut out of black lace on a green cutting mat

Lace Sleeves

I started with the the top with lace sleeves as I thought that was going to be a piece of cake… until I started sewing the super thin knit I chose for this project. I just could not attach the neckband. I cut two neckbands, adjusted each two or three times, basted the neckband to the top three times, and nothing worked. I had a complete meltdown, threw the top to the side, and sat on the couch sulking. Because I am the most stubborn person I know, I restarted on the whole project with a different fabric. What a difference the right fabric makes! The neckband went in on the first try. I sewed the lace sleeves and had another meltdown when the lace bunched up and got chewed by the serger.

By then, it was 10:00—my bedtime—but I was determined to have this done. I cut another lace sleeve, reduced the seam allowance to ¼” since the serger trimmed the original seam, and I sewed that sleeve. I sewed it good. And then I serged it. And there it was—my clone with lace sleeves. I had to wait until the next morning to hem it, but I went to bed feeling accomplished. I serged the raw edge, pressed a ½” hem, and sewed it with a longer straight stitch. I often sew hems with a straight stitch as the hems are not under a lot of stress.

Top #2: Lace Cut-Outs

Image of a black T-shirt with lace sleeves details hanging from a hanger against a white wall

Lace Details Top

After the experience I had with Top #1, I was hoping for a less challenging experience. I used the same fabric that allowed me for a successful neckband insertion, and that step happened uneventfully. I hemmed the sleeves before adding the lace. I serged the raw edge, folded twice, and used a longer zig-zag stitch to create a narrow hem.

Detail image of a woman's arm to show the detail of the triangle of lace on the sleeve

Lace Detail on Sleeve

Once the sleeves were hemmed, I added the lace. The lace triangles were finicky.  They kept moving this way and that. I pinned the triangles, basted them, and sewed them with a longer stitch length (3.0 instead of 2.4). I did not like the first attempt—the stitch line was too close to the edge—so I unpicked the lace detail, pinned and basted again, and sewed it back, now with a bit more room between the stitch line and the edge. And that was done. I sewed the sleeves and when it was time to serge them, I was SO careful. This time, the serger behaved, and it did not take a bite out of my sleeve. Just like with the sleeves, I had to hem the shirt before adding the lace. The lace details for the side seams got done without ANY issues. I thanked the Sewing Gods for being so kind and sparing me another meltdown.

Detail image of the lace triangle basted to the sleeve

Lace Detail Basted for Easy Sewing

I tried on both tops, folded them Kondo-style, and put them in my T-shirt drawer until it is time to summon them to bring some goth to the hotter months ahead. I wonder what kind of tan line I am getting myself into.

Image of a woman with long black hair wearing a T-shirt with lace sleeves and a black skirt standing in front of a wall covered in vines

Lace makes everything fancy


  1. Chris
    May 2, 2019 / 12:40 pm

    Very timely and instructive post!
    I’ve been wanting to make a fancier top for fancier occasions and was thinking about lace inserts. Just have to sew a couple of items in my queue first and also keep an eye out for some nice lace that won’t break the piggy bank.

    • SewGoth
      May 6, 2019 / 7:51 pm

      Thanks! These worked out great. Because they don’t require a lot of lace, the tops can be an affordable addition to one’s wardrobe.

  2. Sarah
    May 3, 2019 / 12:55 am

    I love that top it looks great and the lace detail, adds interesting detail.

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