Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Pristine Cutwork Embroidery


Amazon Books

Remember a few weeks ago, when we chatted about Haft Richelieu, a magazine from Poland devoted to all kinds of cutwork embroidery designs?

Well, to emphasize the point that these are smaller, manageable cutwork embroidery projects, I’d like to share some photos of some beautiful Richelieu projects with you. Joanna Jakuszewska, who designs most of the projects in the Haft publications, sent me two beautiful pieces of her cutwork, along with several issues of the magazine. (Thank you, Joanna!)

Richelieu / Cutwork Embroidery

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? This pretty lily worked in cutwork techniques on using linen and one size of thread is about 6″ long and about 3.5″ wide.

The medallion is adorned with a little hanging loop at the top and a small tassel at the base, making it a perfect little hanging decoration for the house.

One of the reasons that many stitchers steer away from cutwork is that so many designs seem large. And working a large cutwork design – like a full tablecloth! – can be daunting. This is why I really love the Haft Richelieu magazines. They make cutwork manageable!

Richelieu / Cutwork Embroidery

Joanna’s stitching is exquisite. Her stitches are so even, so perfect. And those picots (the little bumps on the bars)? I am green with envy at the perfection of her picots! I’ve always found perfect picots on buttonhole bars somewhat difficult to achieve! They take a lot of practice.

Richelieu / Cutwork Embroidery

The very striking detail about Joanna’s work is that her cut-away areas are absolutely fray-free. There is no lingering fabric fuzz here, no fabric threads poking through. The cutwork is pristine.

Sloppy cutwork, where the fabric pokes through the edging stitches, can be a real turn-off to cutwork. I have some examples on vintage linens, where the cutwork was not particularly well done, and on showing them to others, that’s the first thing they notice. They don’t like it, because it looks fuzzy and sloppy.

Good cutwork is not fuzzy. Good cutwork has sharp, well-defined edges and even, close stitching all around, just like this.

That’s one point to keep in mind, for example, when you’re looking at vintage linens through places like eBay or in antique shops. If the cutwork looks shaggy and frayed along the edges, are you getting a good piece of cutwork, something worked by inexperienced or careless hands, or maybe a made-in-China knock-off? The latter two, especially, can result in table cloths that hang crooked, in cutwork that doesn’t hold up to laundering. Look at the edges closely, to determine the quality of the embroidery and the overall quality of the piece.

Richelieu / Cutwork Embroidery

This piece is a little letter or mail pouch that can hang on your door or wall. It features two cutwork areas, one on the back of the piece, and one on the front of the letter pocket.

Another reason I like the Haft publications: there are plenty of finishing ideas for small pieces of cutwork!

Richelieu / Cutwork Embroidery

Worked on a natural color linen ground, with a natural color thread, and hemstitched all around, this is another beautiful example of Joanna’s work.

These two cutwork pieces comprise two of only four pieces of surface embroidery in my household decor. I seem to give most of my embroidery away! I only have one of my own pieces, one piece by Trish Burr, and these two cutwork pieces in my house right now. I think I’m going to have to rectify that, and start decorating with more embroidered items!

So a big thanks to Joanna at Haft Richelieu for the lovely gift – the pieces will certainly be treasured, and the booklets will be put to good use.

You can probably tell that I’ve been mulling over different types of whitework lately – from cutwork, to Schwalm, to various filling patterns and the like used in all kinds of whitework embroidery. There’s a reason for that – and I promise we’ll discuss it later!


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(18) Comments

  1. I remember when you first began the Secret Garden project that you mentioned the possibility of creating it using whitework techniques. This will be a big help for me lately – I have been putting together some liturgical linens and I can’t quite decide how I want to do it. There will be an ongoing replacement this summer of tired and worn out linens, so I need to come up with an easy, quick yet elegant pattern suitable for corporals, purificators and hand towels. I’ll watch your upcoming whitework and see how I can gleen ideas from you!

  2. I’ve done a lot of needlelace, so the embroidering side of cutwork isn’t too hard, but the cutting? I’m hopeless. Is there a tutorial out there somewhere? (Hopeful look at Mrs. Corbet…)

    There’s probably a reason that on Madeira embroidering and cutting are done by different people. Washing and ironing also seem to require specialists.

  3. G’day Mary,
    Oooohh, luverly, luverly. Joanna knows who deserves such precious pieces. Am so pleased you have them for your very own. They’re very beautiful, and wonderfully worked Joanna.
    Thanks for the tips on ‘2nd hand’ pieces Mary. I’ve never tried cutwork but is one of my favourites of old pieces. Even beyond normal use articles usually have some salvageable areas to overlay on crazy patchwork etc.
    Cheers, Kath

  4. Oh Mary, how you tease us! I’m looking forward to hearing more on your whitework musings in time. 🙂 These cutwork embroideries are so beautiful; thank you for sharing them with us.

  5. I was wondering if vintage pieces that have been used/laundered would ever show fraying. But looking at Joanna’s work in the 2nd photo, it’s hard to see how they ever would. At least not if done as nicely as hers is.

  6. Hi Mary,

    I was in awe of Joanna’s beautiful cut work. I have tried just a little of this type of needlework. How does she not have those fuzzy ends? Is there a secret to this or just lots of practice?

    Barbara La Belle

    1. Hi Barbara,as her daughter I can say that the lack of these jagged edges are well over twenty years of practice, many hours embroidering a day! I know that she is amazing in embroidery, and your beautiful comments makes her very happy and appreciated after so many years of work.

  7. Marie thank you to let us know this talented artist. The execution point is perfect, I am really jealous because I can not have a cross as frank despite good scissors, models are beautiful and fresh, they seem to come from a cabinet in 1900. C It’s really magical. Thank you to Joanna for this renewal.

  8. Ive been fiddling with cutwork lately, in both traditional materials and with overdyed threads and flosses.

    Where can i find instruction on the nitty gritty details of doing the cutting so that it doesnt have little shaggy threads of linen in the cut spaces? None of my many whitework books give any detail. I use my best and sharpest scissors and ive tried holding the scissors both perfectly perpendicular and at a slight angle.

    Does anyone have any advice or experience? Id be very appreciative.

    1. Wash and slightly starch the embroidered model. Next iron the wet fabric on the back side on a soft ground. The main problem is to cut out the unecessary material. We cut the edge of the napkin out on the right-hand side, whereas unnecessary material under little spans on the left side. One should cut out very cautiously in order not to cut little spans and not to damage threads in knitted places, since it will be hard to fix embroidery.
      After having cut out the unecessary fabric it is necessary to iron the finished embroidery on the back side once more again.
      Keep the ironed Richelieu embroidery napkins rolled up. Do not fold them up!

  9. Dear Mary

    What beautiful pieces of cutwork and what lovely gifts and well deserved. I haven’t attempted cutwork but it looks a difficult process but the results are well worth the effort, lovely work Joanna. I would like to try cutwork or whitework but need some tutoring I do have some books the A to Z of whitework and Portuguese whitework so I will have to get them out and read up on this beautiful embroidery. Thanks for sharing this with us Mary and what a lovely gift.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  10. I have bought some of Haft Richelieu booklets and I love the work in them ,I was wondering Mary if you could tell me the best linen to use and thread I can,t wait to start thank you

  11. Closely related to this type cutwork is Craotain “shlingeh”-they also call the cutwork part “rishelyeh” or richelieu- the main difference is that the bars are not stiched with blanket/buttonhole stitch ,but wrapped. If you’re interested I can send you photos of many examples.
    A few years ago I received an EGA grant to study this technique. A friend’s Mom made numerous linens, plus her Nat’l costume featuring this style cutwork. We traveled to Croatia in time for a festival featuring a parade of innumerable costumes many featuring shlingeh.

  12. Remind me to NEVER to ask about colored thread on white work. No, no, don’t remind me, I got it…what I would like to know however is why an add for tires is on your site? I thought it was a question which deserved consideration. No thread, no cut work and no color of any hue just tires. Other than that I enjoy your site, your comments and your ability with a needle is super.

    I’ll keep reading and embroidering.

    Faithful follower. DB

  13. I have a piece of embroidery cutwork from late 19th or early 20th century. The history given from my ancestors was that this piece was done by an order of Carmelite nuns I believe in France brought to the U S. by my great nonna as an immigrant thru Ellis island in 1906-07. She was devoutly religious (Catholic)& served as a “wet nurse”in France before immigrating to U S. However, because these nuns were not allowed to claim their works of art, there is no signatory to this magnificent piece of work. I have attempted for years to figure out what order of nuns or the monastery it might have originated,in vain. It was handed down generations & one of very few items so cherished to be removed from the residence during major fire evacuations here in California. No relatives remain living to tell anymore of the story but my curiosity remains. I am 66 years old & had hoped to learn more about it’s history to leave my daughter before my demise..If your organization knows any of this history or can refer me elsewhere, I would greatly appreciate it.
    Karen in California

    1. Hi, Karen – It would probably be pretty difficult to trace the provenance of a piece like the one you describe, especially for someone who is not an expert in that specific type of textile from that area of the world.

      As far as nuns being “not allowed” to claim their works of art, I think this is a misconception of how things work in convents and monasteries that have or had as part of their particular charism the embroidering or manufacturing of church goods. Most of this type of embroidery would have been worked by several or many people. Chances are, no one person would have created it alone, so an “artist’s” claim wouldn’t really work. They also didn’t consider this type of work “art” the way we use the word “art” today, so the idea of an artist’s signature wouldn’t really occur, I don’t think. And cutwork and similar linens don’t really lend themselves to signatures, anyway.

      They also don’t lend themselves stylistically to any given order or convent, unless there is a particular type of lace typical of a particular region involved, and even then, it would most likely be pretty difficult to track down, as there was probably more than one convent – or other embroidery houses or cottage industries – involved in the production of such goods in any given region. What you would need is a lace or textile historian, or expert in antique textiles, or someone similar, to help you out.

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