A Guide to Sewing Cathedral Windows

Lace cathedral windows pictured on a tea towel.

We love sewing cathedral lace windows. They’re inexpensive and can add so much interest to your projects. Our friend Sue Stewart borrowed the technique from quilting years ago and found a way to incorporate lace insertion into the design. In this tutorial, originally featured in our March/April 2005 issue of Sew Beautiful magazine, Sue shares step-by-step instructions to help you achieve this technique.

NOTE: Use a lightweight natural fiber fabric. Cotton batiste is ideal; handkerchief linen is also suitable, but is slightly bulkier.

1. Cut two bias fabric strips 2-1/2 inches wide. Machine baste these strips right sides together, stitching down the center of the strips with a long straight stitch and loosened needle tension (Photo 1). Press seams open (Photo 2).

Photo 1

Photo 2

2. Center a strip of 5/8 inch wide lace insertion, right side down, over seam. Use water-soluble glue or glue stick very sparingly to hold insertion in place (Photo 3).

Photo 3

3. Open up fabric strips and zigzag (W and L = 1.5) over one lace heading, through one layer of fabric only (Photo 4). Repeat for other lace heading (Photo 5).

Photo 4

Photo 5

4. Again, press strips with seam open. The lace side of the strip will be the underside of the finished Cathedral Lace Windows strip.

5. On strip right side (fabric only), make marks along seamline every 2-1/4 inches.

6. Using fine thread to match fabric, stitch a tiny bartack (a button sew-on stitch, or a zigzag with feed dogs dropped) (W = 2.0) at each mark, so that both sides of seam are caught in stitching (Photo 6).

Photo 6

7. Remove basting thread from center basted seam. Gently loosen folded bias fabric between bartacks from lace; if fabric doesn’t pull away from lace easily, you have used too much glue – try using less next time. Fold back each bias fabric “lip” to expose the full width of the lace insertion. Press “lips” one at a time, and secure each “lip” with a very tiny bit of water-soluble glue (Photo 7).

Photo 7

8. Straight stitch (L = 1.5) very close to outer folded edges of “lips” using lightweight tear-away stabilizer under fabric (Photo 8). This stitching can be done with matching fine cotton thread, or it can be done with matching or contrasting rayon, cotton or silk machine embroidery thread. Stitch slowly and patiently, pivoting often – I think that, surprisingly, this step is the most difficult part of the technique, especially if a contrast color thread is used.

Photo 8

OPTIONAL: Machine stitch a little satin-stitch oval or heart on both sides of the bartack, between lace windows. For hand embroiderers, a bullion rose would be lovely.

Stitch entredeux to both long raw edges of the strip, keeping entredeux an even distance from edges of “lips.” Lift up and look under entredeux every few inches as you stitch, and use Lace Windows as a width guide, instead of relying on raw edges of strip, which are bias and may not be a consistent width (Photo 9).

An alternate to using entredeux to edge the strip is to simply seam the Lace Window strip to another piece of fabric. This fabric must be on the straight grain to stabilize the bias Lace Window strip. Stitch pieces right sides together, trim and finish seam, and press away from strip. Stitch over seam and seam allowance from right side with a decorative machine stitch (Photo 10).

Photo 9

Photo 10

NOTE: For laces of different widths, you must change the width of the bias strips and the spacing between bartacks. For example, for 3/4 inch wide lace insertion, use bias strips 3 inches wide, and stitch the bartacks 2-1/2 inches apart.

Click here for a downloadable PDF of this guide to sewing cathedral windows.


Sue Stewart worked as a primary designer for Martha Pullen Company from 1990 to 2005, during which she had dozens of featured articles in Sew Beautiful magazine. An award-winning designer of heirloom and machine-embroidered quilts, she has designed and sewn for Martha’s Sewing Room and many Martha Pullen publications. Visit her website at susanstewartdesigns.com.


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One thought on “A Guide to Sewing Cathedral Windows

  1. Vicki Rushing

    Love your video on heart/ triangle lace insertion. Would like to know how to place pintucks underneath the lace design. Vicki Rushing

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