Cutwork embroidery techniques

Cutwork embroidery exists in various forms, some of the most well known include richelieu embroidery, rennaisance and broderie anglaise.

The only difference between the first two I mentioned above lies in the fact that richelieu tends to have picots (or loops) on the buttonholed bars that cross the open areas of the cutwork embroidery designs.

How to stitch cutwork embroidery designs

Broderie anglaise is a separate needlework technique and will be covered elsewhere on the site in the near future. It involves stitching circular or oval eyelets, often in floral arrangements and is often used on baby garments.

I will use my design photographed, above, to explain the steps involved in stitching cutwork embroidery.

Cutwork is a surface embroidery technique and two main stitches are used: running and buttonhole stitch. It is worked on fine linen or cotton lawn. It is generally worked in threads that match the fabric colour, traditionally white or ecru.


Transferring your design onto the fabric

The first step is to transfer the pattern onto the fabric. If you have bought a commercial cutwork embroidery design it may be already transferred for you, or you might have an iron on transfer but if not, it is easy to do this yourself.

My preferred way is to use a disappearing ink pen designed for fabric use. In fact there are two types of pen, one that is removed by water and the other where the lines gradually disappear over time through exposure to the air. I use the latter for small designs where I will manage to complete the outlining stage before the ink vanishes.

Outlining and buttonhole bars

Richelieu and cutwork designs are outlined with a pair of parallel lines about 1/8 inch apart. These lines are traced with running stitches which will give a slight padding to the buttonhole stitches we will work over them later on. Place your fabric in an embroidery hoop and work these running stitches close together without pulling them tight and therefore puckering the fabric.

Whenever you reach a single line that represents a buttonholed bar you need to bring your needle up between the double row of running stitches and take it across what will be the cutout area to the centre of the double outline on the other side. Repeat twice to provide a framework for the bar. Then work back to your original position by buttonholing over the bar, taking care not to take the needle through the fabric. Then continue around the design working the running stitches.

The Buttonhole stitch

When all the running stitches and bars are in place it is time to work the buttonhole stitches over the top. The important thing here is to ensure that the corded edge of the buttonhole is on the side that will be cut. Take a moment to use that disappearing ink pen again and mark a cross in the centre of each area that will be cut out later.

I like to leave my work in the hoop for the buttonholing, and use a stabbing motion rather than "sewing" the stitches. You may prefer to hold your work in your hand for this stage. But again be careful not to pull too tightly in order to prevent the fabric puckering. The buttonhole stitches will lie at right angles to your running stitched lines.

Take your time and try to get both sides of your line of buttonhole stitches even. Don't panic too much over this however, after all this is hand embroidery, not perfect machine made work. Slightly uneven stitches lend character to your cutwork embroidery designs as long as they are not untidy.

Cutting away the unwanted fabric

When all the stitching is complete you need to take a fine pointed pair of embroidery scissors and carefully cut away the areas marked with the cross. Be extra careful not to cut the bars.

The easiest way to get started is to work from the reverse side of the embroidery. Fold the fabric and gently snip in the centre of the unwanted area. Then unfold and proceed to cut, slipping the blade of the scissors between the fabric and the bars underneath. Don't worry if stray fibres show after cutting, once the piece is washed they will disappear.

All that is left to do is enjoy your piece of cutwork embroidery and maybe start the next if you find yourself addicted.

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