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Buttonhole bars (cutwork) icon
Buttonhole bars (cutwork)

Cutwork buttonhole bars are buttonhole bars showcased by cutting away the fabric behind them.

Buttonhole bars have been used for centuries within the various European cutwork traditions: Richelieu work (popular during the 14th to 16th centuries); Renaissance work (dating from the 15th century, gaining popularity with royalty and nobility in the 16th and 17th centuries); and Reticella dating from the 16th century onwards which was popular for decorating Elizabethan ruffs.

More recently, Baldyring embroidery, a 19th century Danish development of Reticella (part of the Hedebo tradition) also features buttonhole bars.

Buttonhole bars also feature on 17th century European whitework samplers as shown by several in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection.

Buttonhole bars (cutwork) is generously sponsored by Miranda Bowles


Consider whether you need buttonhole bars for support, and if they will add to the look of your design.
Buttonhole bars should be stitched before you undertake any cutting.

Buttonhole bars (cutwork) method stage 1 photograph

Bring the needle up on the right, just outside the double running stitch, and down on the left. Make two more stitches: left to right, then right to left. The three threads across the gap should be taut, even a little too tight.

Buttonhole bars (cutwork) method stage 2 photograph

Bring the needle up on the left and begin to work buttonhole stitch across the three long stitches. Pass the needle eye-first under the threads from top to bottom, leaving a loop. Pass the needle over the loop.

Buttonhole bars (cutwork) method stage 3 photograph

Pull the thread tight to complete the stitch.

Buttonhole bars (cutwork) method stage 4 photograph

Repeat steps 2 and 3 across the bar, keeping the stitches close together and trying to keep an even tension. To finish the bar take the needle down outside the running stitch line.

Buttonhole bars (cutwork) method stage 5 photograph

Repeat buttonhole stitch around the edges of the square.

Buttonhole bars (cutwork) method stage 6 photograph

Begin to trim the fabric away by first cutting from the middle to each end, and then from the middle to each side. Insert the scissors to that the flat of the blade rests against the stitches; this way the stitches will not be cut. Use small snipping movements to gradually trim away the fabric. Sometimes it is useful to turn to the back.

Buttonhole bars (cutwork) method stage 7 photograph

The finished sample of buttonhole bars.

Structure of stitch

Common uses

Buttonhole bars allow you to cut away larger shapes by creating a network of supports.

Embroidery Techniques