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Machine Cutwork Embroidery basics

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A cutwork embroidery involves making embroidery stitches over design outlines and after the embroidery is done, parts of the foundation fabric are cut away, leaving the embroidery stitches intact, resulting in projecting outlines of the design. Cutwork is usually done by hand using various hand embroidery stitches but mainly with buttonhole stitches. But almost the same effect can be acquired by using your sewing machine.

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This is a tutorial on how to get (almost) the same effect as the exquisite hand embroidery work with the sewing machine. 

Sewing Machine Cutwork Embroidery

Cutwork done  with zig zag stitches with sewing machine

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You can use an embroidery machine or do close zig zag stitches on your regular sewing machine on the design outlines and cut out the spaces in between.

You will have to keep the fabric in an embroidery hoop when working this stitch. The fabric should be stiff enough – apply a fusible interfacing to the back of the fabric before hooping.

A trick is to do the zig zag /satin stitches in two parts. Do the basic satin stitch first, cut away the fabric inside (without cutting the interfacing) then do another round of the satin stitches again. This will ensure that the cut edges and the loose threads are all tucked neatly .

What do you need to do cutwork sewing machine embroidery?

You will need small sharp scissors to cut the foundation fabric.

As for the thread to embroider – I love cutwork done with white thread. A cotton thread can be used but the best is to use a shiny rayon thread. But if you are the impatient kind rayon thread can test your patience as it will break every 5 minutes – maybe it is the quality of my thread.

You also need a zig-zag presser foot or a darning foot.

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If you are using the darning foot you need to have a lever to lower the feed dogs of your sewing machine (if you do not know where the lever is, consult your sewing machine manual) or a plastic cover to cover the feed dogs. Wind your bobbin with the same thread as the top one. 

Fine linen is the preferred cloth for cutwork but you can use any closely woven fabric with a plain weave. Wash the fabric to remove any unnecessary sizing etc. Press it neatly.

The best design for your cutwork embroidery is any design with double lines; You can copy from a design book or take a print out from online and transfer to the fabric using a carbon sheet.

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There are two ways to do the work depending on when and how you will cut the foundation fabric

Method 1. Cutting and then embroidering

This method is suitable for designs with a comparatively large cut area. Mark your design on the fabric.

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Mark a parallel line inside the design. Cut out this portion in the middle.

Clip the extra fabric till the design line at short intervals.

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Fold this extra allowance to the back.

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You may want to use a glue stick to keep it in place there. Just a dab is enough near the fold.

Attach a zig-zag foot for working here – and no need to lower the feed dogs when using the zig zag foot.

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Use a close zig-zag stitch along the folded edge.

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The fabric is folded to the back so after the work is finished you may want to add a facing or lining to hide the back if the fabric is visible. Or you can cut the extra fabric close to the stitch and leave it at that.

Also be careful not to stretch the fabric as you sew – or else, your design will be as wonky as mine is.

Method 2. Embroidering and then cutting

Adjust your machine settings to a zig-zag stitch – you need a narrow zigzag that is 2mm wide for this (depends on what width would cover your design lines). Adjust the stitch length to just over 0.

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Put the free motion stitch presser foot (darning foot) on your sewing machine. Drop or cover the feed dogs – you would get a plastic thing for this.  Loosen the tension of the sewing machine a little bit.  And lower the presser foot. (All of these steps are important)

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Adjust the stitch width and length to zero as you start and as you finish. 

Fill the design outlines with satin stitch.

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After the work is finished cut the fabric inside your design with a steady hand using small sharp scissors.

When sewing near corners, remember that you need to be very careful. When you have finished one side of the design and you are about to enter the other side, take one or two stitches into that line. Then stop with the needle down and presser foot up; pivot the fabric. Adjust the stitch to a short straight stitch and start. Do one or two stitches and then go back one or two stitches and then adjust again to the earlier setting of the satin stitch and start again.

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Method 3. Making grids using the cutwork technique

In cutwork embroidery other than the big designs, fine lines can be seen going between the various elements. These fine lines, as well as the outlines of the big motifs, can be worked with a close satin stitch done over a thread.

Using a disappearing pen meant for fabric mark the design – you have to mark the outline of each cell on the fabric’s right side.

Make short straight stitch  1.5mm to 2mm long over the design outlines. This will anchor the thread and prevent fraying when you remove the threads in the next step.

Tighten the fabric on a hoop – this will make it easier for drawing out the threads and also when stitching.

Carefully take out the threads from the inside of your design, leaving the needed threads intact in the fabric.

As you start, stitch in place on the fabric and then continue stitching over the thread you have left with a tight satin stitch. Go slowly. You will have to move the hoop from side to side, ever so lightly. Remember, you move the hoop only when the needle is up.

Do not forget to stitch slowly – the needle will be going over the threads from this side to that side covering the undrawn threads completely.

When you reach the intersection of threads, remember to go very slowly (all the time)and make a cross-stitch at the point.

How to press a Cutwork embroidered fabric

Take a towel or a flannel piece, keep it on your iron box table. Keep your cutwork face down on the towel. Dampen your work slightly. Press carefully (do not drag) but firmly.

Related posts : How to do cutwork – 6 methods ; Drawn thread embroidery ; Pulled thread embroidery

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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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