Cutwork is a type of embroidery in which pieces of the foundation fabric are cut away, creating a network of holes and eyelets that are accented by the embroidery pattern. At a glance, the result might look like lace, but it is actually embroidery, because it is worked on a foundation fabric, not from scratch. Numerous fine examples can be seen in museums, and the style continues to be popular today, with many new garments featuring cutwork accents done in various styles. This type is often accomplished by machine, rather than by hand, since handmade versions are quite time consuming to create.
The tradition of cutwork appears to have emerged in 14th century Italy, although the basic form may have been done in eras prior to this. The trend spread, with numerous nations developing their own schools and styles of the embroidery. Many techniques have specific names, such as Richelieu, Broderie Anglaise, Spanish cutwork, and Hedebo. These techniques are characterized with certain stylistic trends that make them easy to identify.
The holes in the fabric are reinforced with buttonhole stitching to ensure that they do not unravel. Large holes may be bridged with bars, and some styles, such as Italian cutwork, are characterized by an abundance of such bars. The embroidery may also use lacework techniques; Venetian cutwork, for example, is made much fancier with the addition of elegant stitches commonly used in the production of needlelace.
This school of embroidery may be done with multicolored threads, including gold and silver, or it may be accomplished in plain white thread for a more austere look. It was often used to ornament the edges of formal shirts and gowns, and it can also be seen on sheets, pillowcases, placemats, tablecloths, and other household goods. The openwork design can be a bit itchy and stiff, but is often made softer and more smooth with the use of soft, sturdy threads in the embroidery.
People who want to learn cutwork may want to try seeking out a local sewing group that works on embroidery projects. It is possible to learn the technique from books, but mentors or classes are extremely helpful for learning the tricks of the trade. Crafters can try asking around at the local sewing or craft store, especially if examples are on display or if the store stocks classic embroidery supplies including thread, hoops, and needles.