Design elements outlined with buttonhole stitch Fabric is cut away leaving open spaces Large open spaces connected with bars or brides, whipped or buttonholed ROMAN-small cut out areas with no brides or bars RENAISSANCE-larger cut out shapes, supported by worked bars or brides RICHELIEU-similar to Renaissance, but bars decorated with picots VENETIAN-padding of threads under the buttonhole stitches.


In England, cutwork was expensive and so prized that Mary Tudor passed Sumptuary Laws which forbade it being worn by anyone below the rank of baron.

In France, Cardinal Richelieu, Minister to Louis XIII in the 17th C, deplored the sumptuous dress of the French court, including the elaborate Venetian lace which was much in demand by the French aristocracy, the importation of which resulted in poor trade balances. In spite of heavy taxes, the lace trade continued.

Richelieu then brought skilled Venetian lace makers to France, set up schools and workshops, encouraged the application of new techniques and helped to establish a lace industry in France. Cutwork remained in vogue in the 17th C with designs of large flower sprays and surrounds in high relief.

In the 19th C, popular study of this particular embroidery inspired bold cutwork with buttonhole edges and picots. The term ‘Richelieu’ seems to have been used to describe this work.


The Anchor Manual of Needlework, Batsford 1990
Cave, O. Cutwork Embroidery and How To Do It,Dover Publications, NY, 1982
Wark, E. Drawn Fabric Embroidery, Batsford, London, 1979
McNeill, M. Drawn Thread Embroidery, Batsford, London 1989
Weldon's Encyclopedia of Needlework London
Dawson, B. Whitework Embroidery, Batsford, London, 1987
A-Z of Whitework Book 1 Surface Embroidery, Inspirations Books, 2007

Valerie Cavill, May 2000