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Creating beautiful cutwork

Cutwork is making a comeback in fashion but few people have the time or the skills to create a beautiful cutwork tablecloth or blouse by hand. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter, as your embroidery machine will give you perfect results in a fraction of the time.

Follow the instructions in this tutorial to create this lovely cutwork design entirely in the embroidery hoop.

Vintage Cutwork (Set 1) Hatched in Africa design. Used with permission from the designer.
What is cutwork?

This is a technique where you cut out specific areas of your material and your machine embroiders (usually a satin stitch) around the cut edges to seal them. These cut out areas are usually connected by Richelieu bars, or bridges, which help the piece keep its shape after the stabilizer is removed.

What you need for creating cutwork

The supplies you need will depend on whether or not the material to be embroidered can be hooped. See Dealing with items that cannot be hooped, see below.  

  1. An embroidery design specifically for this purpose.
  2. Water soluble or tear-away stabilizer. Water soluble is best as it leaves no ‘pokies’ (bits of tear-away stabilizer sticking out of the embroidered edge. If you choose tear-away, do not adhere the stabilizer to the material. Organza can be used instead of the stabilizer but you will need a craft soldering iron the burn away the organza base when the design is complete.
  3. Material to be embroidered. This can include tablecloths, napkins or the lapel of a blouse. You will achieve better results with less ‘pokies’ if you use a tightly woven material.
  4. Marathon rayon thread. Some designs use only the one colour thread in a similar or contrasting colour to the base material. Other designs compliment the cutwork with surrounding embroidery.
  5. A small pair of scissors with a thin, sharp point. This is required for cutting away the material close to the sewing line. Some people like to use the pointed scissors to make the initial cut the use the curved embroidery scissors to cut around the outline.
  6. A craft soldering iron. This is useful for burning away the remaining bits of tear-away stabilizer and the organza. Follow the directions and use it carefully.

Dealing with items that cannot be hooped

Some items cannot be hooped, such as the edge of a napkin. Use the hoopless embroidery technique, then follow these instructions to embroider the cutwork.

Getting ready to create cutwork
  1. Mark the placement of your design on the base material, if required.
  2. Hoop your material with the stabilizer.
  3. Download your design to your machine.
  4. Pre-wind your bobbins or buy pre-wound bobbins.
  5. Do a test run to ensure that you can cut out the material without cutting the stabilizer.

Embroidering the cutwork
  1. Embroider the first colour. This is usually the outline of the sections that are to be cut out.
  1. Remove the hoop from the machine but NOT THE MATERIAL FROM THE HOOP.
  2. Carefully cut out the material within the stitched outlines. Use your sharp pointed scissors to cut away only the material – do not cut away the stabilizer.

To make the initial cut, lightly place a finger underneath the hooped material (being careful not to stretch the material) and use it to feel if the scissors has penetrated the stabilizer. I like to slide the point of the scissors into the material at an angle almost level to the fabric as this reduces the chance of piecing the stabilizer.

  1. Repair any accidental cuts to the stabiliser. Iron on some sticky back stabilizer (using the smallest piece possible) to the back of the cut stabilizer to repair the damage.
  2. Replace the hoop and the machine will embroider the Richelieu bars then seal the cut edges – usually with satin stitch.
  1. Complete the design and remove the material from the hoop.
  2. Remove the stabilizer and use tweezers to remove any stubborn bits.
  3. Use a craft soldering iron to remove any stabilizer pokies.

Here are some of the 24 designs from theVintage Cutwork (Set 1) Hatched in Africa design.

Samples of cutwork

Beautiful cutwork designs can also be purchased from They also have a cutwork tutorial and a free cutwork design to download and try.

Written by Elaine Raahauge - business writer and home embroiderer