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Cordonnet icon

  • Foundation thread
  • Foundation cord
Cordonnet main image

A cordonnet is the foundation outline formed by a couched thread used as the basis for a needlelace slip.  It is worked onto a temporary piece of fabric, and once the needlelace has been completed, the couching stitches of the cordonnet are cut and the needlelace is then applied to a design.
Some authors use the slight variation in spelling of cordonnette to describe a decorative (often raised) outline to distinguish from the cordonnet (foundation cord). 

However, other authors use the term cordonnet for the decorative outline, and the term ‘foundation cord’ or ‘foundation threads’ for the functional one.  It seems likely that the confusion has arisen from the use of ‘cordonnet(te)’ to describe the outline of a lace motif, and the differing perspectives of embroiderers and lace-makers.  Pat Earnshaw indicates that the term cordonnet has been in use at least since the 18th century, but the technique is considerably older.

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Draw the desired shape of your needlelace onto tracing paper.  If the needlelace slip is going to be applied over padding, draw the outline at least 2mm larger than the actual design outline.

The spacing of your couching stitches will dictate the placement of your needlelace stitches, so consider the density of your needlelace before starting your cordonnet.  You may want to match both the colour of your laid threads and your couching stitches to the colour of your needlelace, or you could use a different colour for the couching stitches so they are easier to remove at the end. 

When detaching the completed needlelace slip, cut the temporary couching stitches from the back (to avoid snipping the needlelace) and remove them.

Some authors leave the thread ends long and slide them under the couching thread around the cordonnet rather than couching and cutting them off.


Attach the tracing paper to the fabric with large running stitches.


Knot the end of the couching thread and insert the needle outside the tracing paper, bringing it back up on the outline. Prepare a length of cordonnet thread and lay the folded end along the outline.


Make the first couching stitch to secure the folded end, leaving a small loop.


Continue couching around the outline until you reach the starting point.


Thread the tail end of the cordonnet through the loop.


Separate the cordonnet into two and lay along the outline in opposite directions.


Couch the both ends of the cordonnet about 1cm each and cut off the excess.


Bring up the couching thread outside the tracing paper. Use the finishing stitch to secure the couching thread. Now you are ready to make a needlelace slip.


Structure of stitch

Embroidery Techniques


  • Barbara Hirst, Roy Hirst, Raised Embroidery: A Practical Guide to Decorative Stumpwork (1993) , p.22
  • Helen Richman, Stumpwork Embroidery: Techniques and projects (2017) , p.116-117
  • Pat Earnshaw, Needlelace (1991) , p.16-17

Examples of Cordonnet

Needlelace slip sample by Barbara and Roy Hirst

This example of a cordonnet clearly shows how the ends have been folded back and couched.

RSN Collection: RSN1585