Cutwork Embroidery History and Tutorial

Cutwork Embroidery is a technique where specific areas of fabric are cut out along buttonhole stitches or satin stitch outlines. Cutwork is sometimes referred to as ‘Embroidered Lace’ because of its open appearance. There are different types of Cutwork. The most popular is Broderie Anglaise. It is a form of whitework embroidery in which round or oval holes are pierced in the fabric and the cut edges are then overcast. The holes or eyelets are grouped in a pattern. Traditionally, Cutwork Embroidery was used for table linens, collars and cuffs and stitched in white thread on white fabric.

This technique originated in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries in Italy. It came from drawn thread work which was originally produced by nuns for textiles for the church. Instead of removing individual threads, the nuns began to remove large areas of the background fabric. When the Roman Catholic Church expanded, the poor were employed to embroider church vestments. These workers began to embroider their own linens and thus the technique began to expand. During the Elizabethan era, cutwork was incorporated into the design and decorations of some ruffs. It migrated to other areas and nations and they developed their own names, such as, Richelieu, Broderie Anglaise, Spanish cutwork, Hedebo, and Jaali work which was prevalent in India. Cutwork was highly valued by royalty and nobility. Here is a picture of a handkerchief made in Italy about 1600.

Cutwork embroidery works best on a firm, tightly woven fabric, such as linen or cotton that is not as likely to fray. For the traditional technique, by hand, stranded cotton or silk threads were used.

Let’s take a look at how Cutwork Embroidery is created on the embroidery machine. The supplies needed are:

  • linen or cotton fabric
  • embroidery thread
  • heavy weight or mesh water soluble stabilizer
  • embroidery scissors
  • temporary spray adhesive
  • cutwork embroidery design


Check out these fabulous Cutwork Embroidery collections!

Classic Cutwork en Broderie I

30 designs
  Classic Cutwork en Broderie II

20 designs
Cutwork Bouquet

20 designs
  Petals & Posies

25 designs

The instructions for each of these collections show how to use the traditional machine embroidery method and also how to use the Bernina Cutwork Tool. The instructions that will be listed here will be for the traditional method.

  1. Lightly spray the top of a hoop-sized piece of water soluble stabilizer with temporary spray adhesive.
  2. Place the sprayed stabilizer onto the wrong side of the fabric. Hoop the stabilizer and fabric together.
  3. Place the hoop on the machine and begin stitching the design.
  4. AFTER the “cutwork guide stitch” has been stitched, remove the hoop from the machine DO NOT remove the fabric from the hoop.

  5. Use the tip of your scissors or the sharp point of a Loop & Tail Wand to gently pull the fabric apart from the stabilizer.
  6. Use a small sharp pair of scissors to clip away ONLY the fabric inside the guide stitches. Leave the stabilizer intact. Any enclosed area that is created by the first color of the design can be trimmed away to create the open work.

  7. Return the hoop to the machine. Continue stitching the remainder of the embroidery design.
  8. Follow manufacturer’s directions to remove the stabilizer.

Now that you’ve had a short introduction to Cutwork Embroidery, I hope you will give it a try for some of your upcoming projects. Your friends and family will be so impressed with your handiwork! Let us know what projects you made using the Cutwork Embroidery technique. Send your pictures to

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