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What is Cutwork Embroidery?

A.E. Freeman
Updated May 16, 2024
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In cutwork embroidery, part of a fabric design is cut away leaving holes. Perhaps the most recognizable type of cutwork embroidery is eyelets, called broderie anglaise. In this technique, small holes are cut out of the fabric and the edge of the hole is reinforced with stitching. Other types include renaissance embroidery and richelieu embroidery. Cutwork embroidery often resembles lace.

Cutwork embroidery is usually made by tracing a design onto a piece of cotton or linen fabric. In modern times, a crafter can buy fabric that has a pattern printed on it, or she can trace a pattern onto the fabric using a disappearing ink pen or carbon paper. The patterns for cutwork embroidery differ from other embroidery patterns in that they have two outline lines, which are parallel to each other and about 1/8 of an inch (1/3 cm) apart.

Two stitches are used for richelieu and renaissance embroidery, the running stitch and the buttonhole stitch, which is also sometimes called the blanket stitch. Broderie anglaise only uses the buttonhole stitch. After a crafter traces her embroidery pattern, she does a row of running stitches along each of the parallel lines. A running stitch is a straight stitch made by threading the needle up and down through the fabric. The crafter should strive to make the stitches as even as possible.

Bars of stitches running through the cut out areas are a key feature of renaissance and richelieu embroideries. The bars are meant to stabilize the design. Once the crafter has traced with outline with the two rows of running stitches, she draws the thread over the area where the bar will be and runs a series of buttonhole stitches over her thread. When stitching the bar, it is important that she wrap the thread only around itself and not push it through the fabric, since the fabric will be cut away.

Most cutwork embroidery requires two rows of buttonhole stitches over top of the two rows of running stitches. Buttonhole stitches are made by bringing the needle up through the fabric, then pushing it back down one stitch up and over from the first stitch, and then bringing it straight down again, looping the thread behind the needle, so that the stitch resembles an "L." The two rows of buttonhole stitches in cutwork embroidery ultimately look like small straight stitches stacked next to each other. The piece is finished by carefully cutting out areas of fabric between the stitches.

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A.E. Freeman
By A.E. Freeman
Amy Freeman, a freelance copywriter and content creator, makes engaging copy that drives customer acquisition and retention. With a background in the arts, she combines her writing prowess with best practices to deliver compelling content across various domains and effectively connect with target audiences.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahGrove — On Jun 09, 2011

@jonpurdin - Framing them sounds like a good idea to preserve them. I inherited some layette pieces that are trimmed with cutwork embroidery. It would be nice in a shadow box frame. I would love to learn this technique and have some heirloom pieces to hand down to my grandchildren. :) Do you think they would appreciate it?

By jonpurdin — On Jun 07, 2011

I have some wonderful pieces of cutwork that I inherited from my grandmother. I think they must be at least 100 years old. They are so beautiful that I don’t want to use them. I am thinking about mounting some of the smaller pieces and framing them. I have also seen some heirloom pieces like tablecloths repurposed into aprons or pillow covers. It is nice to see this handwork preserved for future generations. It seems that most decorative work is done by machine these days.

A.E. Freeman
A.E. Freeman
Amy Freeman, a freelance copywriter and content creator, makes engaging copy that drives customer acquisition and...
Learn more
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