Heirloom Combination: Shadow Work and Cutwork

Heirloom techniques are so beautiful and very easy when embroidered by machine.

A love of vintage heirloom techniques was why I purchased an embroidery machine. This project combined the The Grace Font Lower from Graceful Embroidery with Heirloom Cutwork 2 from Ace Points Embroidery.  

Shadow Work

Creating shadow work by hand meant using a herringbone stitch on the back of a very sheer fabric. The stitches created the “shadows” which were then outlined with backstitching to frame the design.

By machine, shadow stitching is tacked in place on stabilizer behind the main fabric, softening the color that shows through. The more sheer the fabric on top, the more color that will be evident in the shadow area of embroidery.

Text is stitched on a sheer mesh cutaway stabilizer, marked with vertical and horizontal centering lines. I eliminated the floral accents, leaving just the shadow stitching and outline stitching. Use a thread color several shades darker than desired.

Mark dots along the horizontal and vertical centers of your fabric. Position it over the hooped shadow stitching, lining up the dots over the centering lines of the stabilizer. Smooth flat and use temporary spray adhesive to secure the fabric to the stabilizer.

Reattach the hoop and baste the fabric in place. Run the outline stitches of the font. By machine, this shadow work design takes less than 20 minutes to stitch. By hand, the same effect would be quite labor intensive.


Cutwork by hand involves stitching parallel running stitches around the cutwork shape, then enclosing them with buttonhole stitches. Open areas are cut out of the fabric but not before adding richelieu bars, support connectors encased in buttonhole stitches. Fabric is cut away, close to the stitching.

Cutwork by machine is a combination of reverse applique and freestanding lace. An outline is stitched where the fabric is to be cut away.

After embroidery is finished, wash away the remaining water soluble stabilizer in the cutwork, air dry, and press.