Cutwork Embroidery (6 ways to do this beautiful work)

Learn how to do cutwork embroidery in different ways
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cutwork embroidery designs

Cutwork is embroidery done on fabric with spaces cut out in between. Renaissance cutwork, Broderie Anglaise, Richeheu work, and Reticella cutwork are all different forms of this work and involves the same process with varying effect in the sizes of spaces when the spaces are cut out and the stitches used in between.
Beautifully done cutwork can simulate the look of beautiful lace works. In fact, Venitian cutwork looks just like lace.

In Cutwork Embroidery, double lines marking the edges of the design are worked with embroidery stitches, and then the surrounding areas are cut away. This is the simple version of it. But this has been re-invented so many times in so many variations.

In most of the cutwork techniques elaborated here, buttonhole stitches or blanket stitches are used over double design lines – this serves as the boundary for the cutting of the foundation fabric. The edges are first padded with a running stitch for the thick and stiff effect. Then they are overcast with buttonhole stitches or blanket stitches.

Types of Cutwork Embroidery

Renaissance Cutwork

In this cutwork, the large spaces are cut out from the designs and some parts of the design are embroidered with laid stitches like satin stitch. Other than the edge stitching, these Cutwork designs are joined with woven bars worked over with buttonhole stitches. It is one of the most beautiful of all cutwork variations.

Richelieu Cutwork

This is a cutwork embroidery with open areas connected with buttonhole stitch worked bars.

Reticella cutwork

In this work several lace stitches are included inside the cut areas, giving the whole work a lace-like effect. The spaces inside are very small compared to all other cutwork techniques.

You can learn more about this in this blog 

Broderie Anglaise/Eyelet embroidery

In this small round, holes are punched on the fabric and the edge is worked with buttonhole stitches. The small eyelet holes thus worked can be placed /combined to form the design and embellished with other forms of surface embroidery.

Hardanger work

This is a characteristic type of embroidery with square/rectangular-shaped cutouts (Kloster blocks ) with outlines worked in satin stitches. These small blocks are arranged to form a bigger design.

Hedebo work

This is a variation of the cutwork native to Denmark. It is worked on white or off-white Linen fabric with linen thread. The buttonhole stitch is used to do this work. The buttonhole stitch is used to make the lacy stitches which are worked along the edges as well as inside the cut spaces.

Roman Cutwork

This is a simple cutwork embroidery in which no lace effect or bars are made across as in the other work.

Ayrshire cutwork

In this work, heavily padded satin stitch is used to make the designs.

Venetian Cutwork

This is a cutwork embroidery that eliminated the whole of the foundation fabric. Everything is cut away except the padded edges of the design. First, the design outline is worked in satin stitches /buttonhole stitch and then the in-between foundation fabric is cut out.

Spanish cutwork

This is similar to Venetian cut work but the edges are treated differently – the cut edges are turned to the back and hemmed. Bars are made across the design and then the foundation fabric is cut and then turned to the back and hemmed at the back.

These are the main types of cutwork embroidery techniques that you can try.

What do you need to do cutwork embroidery?

  • A somewhat stiff fabric ( or interfaced to simulate stiffness) that does not fray much at cut edges; Usually, linen is preferred.  
  • Embroidery thread and needle or sewing machine
  • Sharp, thin-bladed scissors and/or thread snips.
  • A design with double lines. The designs usually incorporate thread bars connecting big designs to each other. I love to use stained glass designs for cutwork embroidery designs. Checkout the post on design inspirations for embroidery

You can design big shapes as well as small, decide to cut the spaces inside the designs as well as outside, or leave either the outside or inside space without cutting it out. It is your aesthetics which decide this. 

cutwork embroidery

General guidelines for cutwork embroidery

  • Always iron the fabric before hooping it on the embroidery hoop.
  • Transfer the design using any of the embroidery transfer methods outlined in this post
  • If the inside of the designs is to be filled, this is done before the outline stitches are done. Usually, french knots, bullion knots, lattice stitches, and satin stitches are used as filling stitches.
  • You can cut the spaces before working the designs or after the designs are done.
  • When the cutting is done before hand,  the work is called Broderie Anglaise. You can use Running stitches over the design lines to give definition to the design 

how to do cutwork

  • In traditional cutwork the cutting is done after the design is done; In this case the fabric has to be trimmed very close to the stitching lines, so that no thread hangs loose in between

cutwork embroidery

  • If you have large design elements or detached design elements they are conected to each other with thread bars, like in the picture above. This is made the same way that you make thread bars for hooks. You have to make 3 straight stitches across first and then work buttonhole stitch or other stitches over the threads

cutwork thread bar

You can also use overcast stitches over the thread bar Like it is done here in embroidering the paisley designs

pasiley motif

Different stitches used in Cutwork embroidery

1 Cutwork done with buttonhole stitches

This is the most commonly used method. You can work the buttonhole stitches closely over the design lines and thread bars. 

cutwork embroidery

2. Cutwork done with  double buttonhole stitches

Double buttonhole stitch involves buttonhole stitches worked on either side of the design lines. 

3. Cut work done with back stitches by hand or straight stitches by sewing machine

This is a simple cutwork done on fabric which donot fray or on fabric which you will not be washing. It involves making running stitches over the outline of the design and cutting the spaces outside. This work is mostly done on home accessories.

When using machine you can follow the design lines with a long stitch as done in the picture below

cutwork embroidery tutorial

4. Cutwork done  with zig zag stitches with sewing machine

You can use an embroidery machine or do close zig zag stitches on your regular sewing machine on the design outlines and cut out the spaces in between.

You will have to keep the fabric in an embroidery hoop when working this stitch. The fabric should be stiff enough – apply a fusible interfacing to the back of the fabric before hooping.

A trick is to do the zig zag /satin stitches in two parts. Do the basic satin stitch first, cut away the fabric inside (without cutting the interfacing) then do another round of the satin stitches again. This will ensure that the cut edges and the loose threads are all tucked neatly .

how to sew cutwork embroidery

5. Cut work done  with hand overcast stitches

Simple Overcast stitches are worked over the design lines with a hand sewing needle and 6 strands of embroidery floss. This is done for the thread loops and when the spaces are already cut out.

6. Cutwork done with buttonholes and picot stitches .

In this type of work buttonhole stitches are worked over the design lines and then picot stitches are made over this . This gives a beautiful lace like look to the cutwork. Checkout the tutorial to do picot stitches for details.

drawn thread embroidery

How to embroider flowers

embroider flowers


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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.