Whitework, Cutwork, Drawn Thread, Pulled Thread and everything in between!

Over on one of the blogs I follow Love Those Hands at Home there was a recent post called A Tale of Two Towels.  It was a lovely post on the difference between two towels, both hand crafted but on the opposite ends of the spectrum.   One towel was obviously crafted by someone who was highly skilled and was the epitome of perfection and very beautiful and as such, it wasn’t hard to imagine it gracing an elegant home of someone from the upper echelons of society or indeed someone from the aristocracy itself.  The other towel was so obviously homespun, it had a rustic beauty and I imagined a young woman, wanting to own just a little of the beauty that was generally the exclusive purview of said upper echelons.  I could see her working on her towel, a little frown of concentration on her forehead,  trying to recreate what she had seen.  I imagine that she was very proud of her towel and it being kept ‘for good’ considering how little the towel has deteriorated.  I imagine she loved that towel ‘warts and all’ and as from the comments on the post we now know it’s the little quirks and imperfections that bring a beauty to it that could never be replicated in artisan crafted towels.  The towel is unique, more than likely it has a story behind it. It has been loved.  It has been passed down.  Maybe it was part of their culture.  The girls of Oryal-Bryansk region of South Russia mastered embroidery by the time they were eight years of age!  They used to embroider towels from an early age and these became part of their dowry and by the time she was married she had hundreds of towels, every day towels with just a little embroidery through to the highly ornate ceremonial towels used for marriage ceremonies, births etc*.


Vintage Reticella Embroidery

Anyway as usual I digress, the reason for the background information is that after a ‘conversation’ in the comments section, everyone preferred the more rustic towel, (everyone love’s an underdog, right?) and we really liked the pulled thread work and wanted to find out more about it and to try it for ourselves.  This is a form of needlework I’d never seen before and I think it is really beautiful.  When researching it I realised that it is a vast area within counted embroidery and there are so, so many variations,  I think numerous books would just about cover the subject, never mind a long, rambling blog post!  It seems to fall under the Whitework umbrella as it is normally done white on white so as to make the open areas the main area of interest, though modern pieces do include colour, especially subtle,  variegated colours.  It’s also referred to as Cutwork Embroidery and there seems to be two forms; Pulled Thread, were the threads are moved, under tension, by embroidery stitches, mostly buttonhole stitch to create open areas and Drawn Thread, were buttonhole stitch or Kloster blocks are embroidered and then the threads of the warp or weft are cut away leaving open areas.  There are many forms of cutwork that use one or both forms.  Hardanger uses both forms.  Another form is known as Reticella, which is a form of needlelace and it is simply stunning!  It simply blows my mind!  It looks incredibly complex.  Here in Ireland we also have our own form of cutwork needlelace called Mountmellick Lace.  There are so many more forms, some more commonly known forms such as Broderie Anglaise to the lesser known Reticella.


Hardanger Embroidery

The more I have been researching,  the more entranced I have become, and I seem to find more and more forms.  There are some exquisite examples of all of them.  Some expertly made, grand pieces, others naive and charming.  


Drawn Threadwork

I am so captivated by this, not only am I going to continue to find out more, I am going to have a go, very soon!  If you are interested in having a try as well, here are a few free patterns:
Hardanger Needlecase
Pulled Thread Sampler – a full tutorial,  not just a pattern
Drawn Thread Tutorial – Not a pattern but part of a sample (this is a great website for needlework!)

Further Reading:
Project Gutenberg – Good source for vintage needlework books, out of copyright,  I would suggest Theresé De Dillmont’s Encyclopaedia of Needlework (ensure you pick a copy with images, it is also found as a free ebook from the Kindle store, but that cooy doesn’t include images, whilst the pictures are rudimentary, they help)
LynxLace – Tutorials, patterns, information and further links, needlework tutors (in North America only, I think) and bibliography
Needlework Tios and Techniques – this is a great website, easy to navigate,  concise and informative.   Has tutorials, patterns,  equipment lists etc
Embroidery About.com – Basic information but helpful

I hope you go and have a look at these beautiful forms of needlework, maybe you already know them, maybe you already do them, if so please excuse any mistakes I have made in trying to explain it! 😉

*From The Fiery Sun, The Glorious Light, Embroidery Traditions of Southern Russia, Irina Stepanova, Piecework Magazine,  March/April 2014, The Red Issue

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. KerryCan
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 21:47:47

    This has really captured your fancy! I will be so fascinated to see how you do with your first go at this–have you decided what to make? It’s great, too, that you’re providing resources for others–maybe there will be a world-wide renaissance of whitework!


  2. jenknitfer
    Mar 24, 2014 @ 18:13:24

    Have you tried this kind of embroidery yet? I’d love to see pictures if you have. 🙂


    • Áine
      Mar 24, 2014 @ 19:31:17

      No I’m doing my usual, research, research and more research! I never try anything until I feel like I know a little groundwork. I’ve ended up falling in love with the look of needlework lace. It’s amazing how KerryCan’s blog post led on a wonderful voyage of discovery. Also why I haven’t started yet is I’m working on a colourwork shawl as part of a KAL that’s been run by my LYS. Fear not I will be trying this embroidery/lacework very soon! 🙂


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