Embroidery Blog

On the Cutting Edge: Beautiful Cutwork In Machine Embroidery

Cutwork in machine embroidery is arguably the most elegant of all embroidery techniques. It can form a center window in fabric or a decorative scallop along the edges. As difficult as it may appear, it is actually easy to create, producing stunning effects and elegant designs.

Let’s explore the beauty of cutwork in machine embroidery.

Silk Velvet Cutwork Embroidered Wrap

Photo via Craftsy instructor Evy Hawkins

Interested in learning how to create this intricate and impressive look with your embroidery machine at home? Then you should consider taking Machine Embroidered Cutwork with Evy Hawkins, where you’ll make three lovely cutwork projects to help you master this gorgeous technique.

Elaborate bright blue and white cutwork wedding dressCutwork wedding dress photos by Karen Godfrey Meuler via Advanced Embroidery Designs

What is cutwork?

Originally created entirely by hand, cutwork, or richelieu embroidery as it is sometimes referred, was much more labor intensive than it is today. The heirloom technique was highly treasured, most often featured on decorative linens reserved for special occasions. Fortunately, modern embroidery machines and expertly digitized designs available today produce beautiful cutwork that can be easily stitched out in a fraction of the time.

advancedembroidery.com square rose lace rose lace III

Images via Advanced Embroidery Designs

Get the Square Rose Lace design here

Get the Rose Lace III design here

Cutwork is one part freestanding lace and the other part appliqué in reverse. Where appliqué adds fabric to the design, cutwork takes it away. Often, that is where the freestanding lace component comes in.

In an original cutwork piece, areas of the fabric to be cut away are outlined in running stitches. Then each open area is cut away and painstakingly hand-stitched. Raw edges are finished with buttonhole stitches. Richelieu bars, thin connecting button stitched thread bands, help secure open areas to the fabric.

Cutwork Our Lady Lace via Advanced EmbroideryDesigns.comOur Lady Lace photos via Advanced Embroidery Designs

Traditional cutwork

Modern embroidery treats the negative area as you would when creating freestanding lace. Preliminary stitches outline areas of fabric to cut away. The embroidery design covers open areas with intricate windows and connecting bars using freestanding stitches. Raw edges are enclosed with satin stitching.

When complete, the piece has elegant windows where the base fabric once was. The Our Lady Lace cutwork design above is beautiful but would be extremely tedious and time consuming if created entirely by hand.

white embroidered cutwork butterflies (Left to Right): Butterfly Cutwork LaceButterfly Cutwork Lace 7 via S-Embroidery

Traditional cutwork was primarily stitched as whitework, matching the thread colors to the linen or using a natural cream or taupe colored thread to frame the design and fabric windows. Eyelets are often featured and some cutwork resembles Battenburg lace.

Cutwork designs

Not just any embroidery design can be used to create cutwork. Designs must have color stops built in for trimming, underlay to support satin stitched edging and connecting richelieu bars to support the delicate windows.

One and two color cutwork designsRoses Cutwork Lace photos via S-Embroidery

Designs created for cutwork are similar to those created for appliqué. Although the thread color does not necessarily change, the stitch sequence provides color stops for removing the hoop and trimming fabric where needed. Roses Cutwork Lace is digitized as a medallion design to be surrounded by fabric, just like an appliqué.

Multiple color cutwork of butterfly, hummingbird & flower

Image via Kreative Kiwi

When color stops are used, as in these three and four color cutwork designs, the impact is even more evident. If you like the design but want it more traditional, stitch all color stops in white.

Get the Large Cutwork designs here

blue and yellow rose cutwork lace doily

Three Rose Doily photo via Advanced Embroidery Designs

Similar in design to Roses Cutwork Lace, the Three Rose Doily in blue is digitized to stitch out like freestanding lace. Although the tone-on-tone look is true to heirloom style, adding color to cutwork creates more interest and contrast in the design.

Get the Three Rose Doily design here

Advanced embroidery rose lace in gold and pink

Emma Bowhan table cover photo via Advanced Embroidery

Because the edges are finished in satin stitches, cutwork designs are ideal for edging linens.

Get the Rose Lace II design here.

White cutwork overlay in white and pink for pillows and decor

Photos via S-Embroidery

Placing contrasting fabric behind whitework makes the designs pop.

Get the Tulips cutwork lace corner design here.
Get the Cutwork Lace Rose Basket design here.

Black, white & gray cutwork embroidered pillows

Photo via Advanced Embroidery Designs

Using complementary thread colors when stitching cutwork designs without cutting fabric away gives the appearance of toile to these pillows.

Get the Basket of Roses Design here.
Get the Square Rose Lace design here. 

What have you created with cutwork? Are your inspired to try it if you haven’t yet?


Amala Babu

I like it very much.I would like to do some cut work in my table cloth bed spread etc.simple pattern i prefer because i thing it is easy for the beginner

Debbie Henry

I agree, Amala! Cutwork makes everything better!


Please show cutwork with 3 d

Debbie Henry

Nimmy, 3D design software?

audrey roberts

cutwork embroidery are very nice, i have done a course on it many years ago but i did not work on it i would like to catch up to do some pillowcases and cushions

Debbie Henry

You should try it again Audrey!

Anne Jambunathan

Thank you. Hope to do some cutwork embroidery now. Always wanted to try it out.

Debbie Henry

You will love it, Anne! It is much easier than it looks.


I was wondering if the cutwork class gives instructions for digitizing cutwork? Something like, “the satin stitch width should be (x) and the cut line stitch should be a distance of (y) away from the satin stitch.” I’d like to try digitizing cutwork, but I don’t know what the designs need structurally, if that makes sense.

Lindiwe Theresah Mabunda

This is totally stunning, I need a machine to do cut work embroidery and a book as a guide that will assist me in doing this. I need to create jobs for those people who are not working by starting a project that will generate some income for them in our church. I hope someone will be of help. I need to buy the machine but I do not know where are this machuines sold. Please help. Thanks

Jacque (jack E)

I’m new to cut work. Just got a Husqvarna Topaz Designer 25 am trying to find out if a special needle is necessary as my instructions say push ‘cut’ now. I know that the machine cuts the thread but not sure if it also cuts out the fabric leaving the stabilizer.

Debbie Henry

Some machines use special needles that actually do cut material. Check with your dealer if you can’t confirm this in your manual. The design must be digitized to use cutwork needles as not all designs are compatible.


I made a beautiful Christmas hardanger design and would like to frame it. Do you frame it on color fabric to be able to see the cutwork? The piece is made on ivory linen, but needs something when framed to show it off, do you have any suggestions?

Thank you!

debbie henry

Great idea, Debbie. You could put fabric or cardstock behind it to show it off. Otherwise, you could place it behind glass in the frame without a backing (be sure to secure the glass to the frame so it doesn’t pop out!) and place it in a window so the light shines through.


Thank you Debbie, I love the idea of letting light shine through! Thank you!

debbie henry

I’d love to see it when it’s done, Debbie. Please post it to our projects page!


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