Goldwork Explored Part 5: Cutwork Techniques Explained

Natasha Searls-Punter

Natasha Searls-Punter

Cutwork is a technique that adds depth and texture to goldwork embroidery. Possibly the best know of the goldwork techniques, this one involves cutting precise lengths of purl to fit a space. Whilst this makes it sound like a very simple technique, the execution can be quite challenging for beginners as there are many ways in which a piece of purl can be wrong for the space and only experience and study will reveal which is the best way to correct it.

Rough Purl cutwork over string bump with sequin edges by Hawthorne & Heaney

As the process is theoretically simple, extra interest is often added by using interesting combinations of purls to build up patterns as is seen in the monogram example where 3 smooth purls and used followed by 2 bright checks.

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Goldwork Letter 3 Online Class– String Padding & Cutwork in smooth purl and bright check with pearle purl edge

Hawthorne & Heaney mixed purls and crystals sample


Looping: In the example  above, we can also see cutwork used in a variety of different ways, including as loops around the flat backed crystals as a sort of petal motif. This can be taken to the extremes with looped effect as we played with in the Intermediate Goldwork Jungle Online Class sample below which you can see the loops stitched flat in the pink or built up with height in the orange.

pink and orange bright check cutwork fruit loops details

Intermediate Goldwork Jungle Online Class


Chipping: Chipping however is another style of cutwork that is often considered to be a bit more beginner friendly as you do not need to be quite so precise with the length of your cuts and it can be done straight onto the fabric without raisings for an interesting glittery fill effect. As each chip is placed individually and ideally as randomly as possible, it is a nice way to bring in blended effects to an area as you subtly change the proportion of the colours mixing.

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Introduction to Goldwork Online Class Chipping in red bright check for fruit
Monogramming, Monogram, Lettering, Letter, chipping, embellishments, product development, deign progress, Goldwork, Gold work
Goldwork Letter 1 Online Class– Chipping ombre effect and Pearle Purl edge

Angles: Using different angles of the cutwork is important to add interest and create definition of different areas when using cutwork. This is also where the artist may choose to combine cutwork with couching techniques in a variety of materials to create the differences between areas of embroidery for definition. Which for us, is where the goldwork really come into its own.


Hawthorne & Heaney cutwork and couching sample

London Embroidery School Goldwork Christmas Star kit Design Beginners A

In the red based sample a flat angle has been chosen for the cutwork which is maintained as parallel throughout the shape. In the silver star example, a 45 degree angle has been chosen as the direction for the purl is is also filled parallel throughout. The example below uses a 45 degree angle that turns with the curves of the monogram making a pretty ‘S’ shaped effect.

gold cutwork monogram on a leopard printed fabric
Cutwork monogram of rough purl and pearle purl over string onto a slipper upper (fabric to become a shoe) by Hawthorne & Heaney


Basket weave: Basket weave can also be achieved with cutwork purls as well as couched threads (see previous blog for more on basket weave). These purls are mostly cut to one length which will span at least two bars of the string raising underneath to build up the pattern and create the under and over effect. In the example below this is combined with plate for further interest though this is not essential to the basket weaves success.

Basket weave sample for coatee by Hawthorne & Heaney


Essing: Cutwork as a family of skills is mostly used for created filled areas, however when combined with a modified approach to stem/outline stitch it can be used to create line effects. These are often employed for vein details on leaves etc as they compliment curving lines well as is often seen in natural shapes. This is frequently combined with the use of spangles for contrast as can be seen in the oak leaves and star samples below.

Hawthorne & Heaney oak leaf Epaulettes sample

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London Embroidery School Christmas Goldwork Star Kits Advance Hand


Raisings: To achieve the raised effect that characterizes goldwork embroidery, padding comes into play for cutwork embroidery. Layers of materials, such as felt, string, carpet or cardboard, are strategically stitched beneath the golden threads. This technique elevates certain areas of the design, creating dimension and tactile interest whilst supporting the goldwork wire. The manipulation of padding materials adds a sculptural element to the piece, making it not only visually captivating but also inviting to touch. To find out more about raising materials see our previous blog on goldwork materials.

Cutwork rough purl over string bump work in progress from the Intermediate Goldwork Jungle Online Class

Hawthorne & Heaney sample showing string and layered carpet padding.

If you haven’t already done so, do check out the other blogs in this series for more info and pictures of lovely goldwork examples , and keep an eye out for the next in the series coming soon.


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