Cutwork embroidery techniques

Cutwork embroidery exists in various forms. You may have heard of richelieu and rennaisance embroidery?

These techniques have open areas held together with buttonholed bars. The difference between them? In richelieu, loops called picots decorate the bars.

But, as with any new skill, we need to start with something simpler. I am going to use my tulip design below to teach you the basics.

How to stitch cutwork embroidery designs

Cutwork is a surface embroidery technique. It uses two main stitches: running and buttonhole stitch.

Fine linen or cotton lawn are ideal fabrics for this technique. 

Be traditional and use white or ecru threads. Or go wild with colour!


Transferring your design onto the fabric

You might have purchased fabric with a design on it. If not, there are many ways to do this yourself

My preferred way is to use a disappearing ink pen designed for fabric use. There are two types of these pens. One you can remove with water. Marks from the other will disappear over time through exposure to the air.

If you are working a large design the first is useful. For small designs you should be able to finish them before the marks vanish.

Outlining and buttonhole bars

A pair of parallel lines about 1/8 inch apart outline cutwork designs.

Place your fabric in a hoop then work close running stitches along each line. Don't pull them tight, or you risk puckering the fabric.

See those single lines that cross the wider shapes? As you reach one, bring your needle up in between the rows of running stitch. Take one long stitch across the gap and go down in between the double outline. Bring it back and repeat twice more.

You will end up on the opposite side to where you were working. To get back, buttonhole over just the threads. Don't take your needle through the fabric until you reach your running stitches. Then continue until you reach the next buttonhole bar.

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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