Italian cutwork is a historical whitework embroidery. Italian cutwork is similar to broderie anglaise only with larger cut-out areas connected with bars.
‘Italian cutwork consists of long narrow spaces buttonholed on the sides, with buttonhole bars across and the material cut away beneath.’ (Priscilla Embroidery Patterns, 1915)
The Basics Of Italian Cutwork
What Is Italian Cutwork?
‘White embroidery is having a great vogue. This is true, not alone of the eyelet embroidery of everyday use, but the more elaborate style, known as ancient cut embroidery or art embroidery, is coming into more frequent use.’ (The Home Art Book Of Fancy Stitchery, 1912, pp. 51ff.)
Italian cutwork aka Italian embroidery – not to be confused with Italian needle lace – is a kind of cutwork and whitework embroidery. Italian cutwork consists of large cut-out areas connected with bars. In the Edwardian era, Italian cutwork was also called old-fashioned embroidery, ancient cutwork, art embroidery or Italian ladder-work.
Difference Between Italian Cutwork, Richelieu Embroidery & Broderie Anglaise
Today, Italian cutwork is often incorrectly classified as broderie anglaise. But broderie anglaise consists of small and large eyelets without bars. Whereas the cut-out areas of Italian cutwork are larger and connected with bars.
‘Ancient cut-work’ consists of ‘cut-out outlines or odd-shaped open spaces and eyelets filled with fine bars.’ (The Home Art Book Of Fancy Stitchery, 1912, pp. 51ff.)
And Italian cutwork is also often incorrectly called Richelieu embroidery. However, the difference between Italian cutwork and Richelieu embroidery is that Richelieu embroidery is more lace-like with little fabric remaining. While Italian cutwork consists of cut-out scrolls and ladder-like ornaments with most of the fabric remaining.
‘Panels of [Richelieu] cutwork could alternate with panels of eyelet embroidery or Italian ladder-work’ (Priscilla Hedebo And Cutwork Book, 1916, p. 39)
Embroidery Stitches Of Italian Cutwork
The basic embroidery stitches of Italian cutwork are buttonhole stitches or overcast stitches. And also running stitches to outline the motifs.
‘The cross-bars may be overcast, making them round or buttonholed. The buttonhole method is a distinctive style of the work […]
The overcast edges and bars in eyelet style, however, must be given the preference if one desires to obtain the real ancient Roman embroidery effect […] so much admired in antique specimens of the work.
The buttonhole or Richelieu stitch was seldom if ever used in the olden times, and its use gives the work a more modern appearance. The execution is very simple, its chief quality consisting in the symmetry of the stitches; this point is essential.’ (The Home Art Book Of Fancy Stitchery, 1912, pp. 51ff.)
The Bars Of Italian Cutwork
‘The bars are put in before the edges are buttonholed.’ (Priscilla Embroidery Patterns, 1915)
The bars of Italian cutwork can be overcast, woven or buttonholed. And unlike bars of other types of cutwork, the bars of Italian cutwork are made without picots.
The woven bar is ‘seldom used now, but frequently seen in specimens of old embroidery. This bar, known as the flat bar, is worked on two threads stretched […] from one side of the outline to the other. The working thread is then passed alternately over and under each thread’ (The Home Art Book Of Fancy Stitchery, 1912, pp. 51ff.).
What Fabric & Embroidery Thread For Italian Cutwork?
Traditionally, linen fabric and linen thread were used for Italian cutwork. But since the Edwardian era, cotton thread was usually used instead of linen thread.
‘In olden times linen thread was used exclusively for this work, but modern needlewomen prefer cotton, as it is more easily worked than linen thread.’ (The Home Art Book Of Fancy Stitchery, 1912, pp. 51ff.)
‘For old fashioned embroidery use a rather coarse cotton [thread].’ (How To Work Embroidery Stitches, 1909)
‘Linen [fabric] of rather heavy quality is used for most of this work, but for squares and inserts for curtains finer fabric is sometimes used. The working thread should correspond.’ (The Home Art Book Of Fancy Stitchery, 1912, pp. 51ff.)
Uses Of Italian Cutwork
In the Edwardian era, Italian cutwork was used for household items, such as doilies, pillow covers, curtains, lamp shades, but also for dress trimmings and accessories.
Italian Cutwork For Beginners?
If you’re new to cutwork embroidery, I’d recommend you start with broderie anglaise or hedebo embroidery. Italian cutwork isn’t too difficult but you have to be careful not to cut the bars when snipping the fabric. Also, overcast stitches are easier for an embroidery beginner than buttonhole stitches.
Related: How To Make Hedebo Embroidery
How To Make Italian Cutwork
Outline The Motif
Mark the pattern on the fabric. Then outline the motif to be cut out with running stitches. And work the bars as they appear in the running stitch outline. Then continue to outline the motif with running stitches.
‘Begin by outlining the design on one side; following the outline on the second side work the bars and finish them right away.’ (How To Work Embroidery Stitches, 1909)
Make The Bars
To make the bars, stretch the thread three-times from one side of the outline to the other. Be careful, that you don’t pierce the fabric behind the bars. Then stitch buttonhole stitches or overcast stitches over the three threads. It’s easier if you reverse the needle and push it eye first through.
‘Three threads are sent between the edges and come back over them to form a cord without taking the material under them. This brings you back to where you started from, and then continue the outline.’ (How To Work Embroidery Stitches, 1909)
Cut The Fabric
After outlining the motif and making the bars, turn the fabric to the wrong side and carefully snip the fabric crosswise behind the bars. Be careful not to cut the bars!
‘Cut the material […] as for eyelet work.’ (How To Work Embroidery Stitches, 1909)
Stitch Around The Motif
Fold the cut fabric back like in broderie anglaise and stitch along the outline. Cover the running stitch outline either with buttonhole stitches or overcast stitches.