Thanksgiving Cutwork Tea Towel With Hemstitching

Photo of finished cutwork tea towel

by Cathy Ellsaesser, posted on

In my last blog, Pillow Talk: Cording and Invisible Zippers, I used a piece of linen that had been embroidered with reverse cutwork. I usually use cutwork to make linen tea towels, so I thought I’d show you how I make those. With the holidays coming up, you can decorate your kitchen or bath with a beautiful cutwork tea towel. Then add even more elegance by hemstitching the towel to give it a vintage look.


The design

Anita Goodesign has some beautiful cutwork designs, such as Autumn Cutwork Medallions, Butterfly Cutwork, and Cutwork Corners, just to name a few.  Click here to see some of their other cutwork collections.  Check with your local Rocky Mountain Sewing and Vacuum store to see what they have on hand or can order for you. You can order online from our affiliate OESD who also has dozens of cutwork designs to choose from.  Just search for cutwork from the home page.

I used the Anita Goodesign’s Christmas Cutwork collection in the past to make these hemstitched cutwork tea towels.

For this cutwork tea towel, I used a design from the Anita Goodesign’s Autumn Cutwork collection.

Prep Work

  1. Cut a piece of linen for the cutwork tea towel that is 20″ wide and 32″ long.
  2. The bottom of the design should be about 6″ from the bottom of the fabric. This will allow a 2″ hem below the design.
  3. Determine the height of your design. In this case, the pumpkin design was 6″ high.
  4. Divide the height of your design by two and add that number (okay to round off) to 6. This is where you want the center of your design.  In my case, the center of the design should be 9″ (3″ + 6″) above the bottom of the fabric.
  5. Mark where the center of the design should be as appropriate for your machine. (I’m using the Brother snowman)
  6. Hoop your fabric with  fibrous wash-away stabilizer. Both Floriani (Wet N Gone)and OESD (Aquamesh Washaway) make great fibrous wash-away stabilizer that are perfect for this application. Since this is a relatively light design, one piece of stabilizer is sufficient.

Brown linen hooped with snowman marking center of design

Embroider Design

I am using my PR1000e to sew out the design, but Anita Goodesign provides all machine formats with their designs. So, no matter what embroidery machine you have, you can sew out this design, provided you have a big enough hoop. (This design is approximately 6″ x 9″.)

I used the snowman (that I placed on the fabric before I hooped it)  to align the design on the hooped fabric.  I’m in love with the snowman! It makes it so easy to get your designs centered and straight.


Photo of Brother PR1000e embroidery machine with hoop loaded with brown linen and design set on screen  Photo of screen on PR1000e showing design after snowman positioning 

The first thread sewn is the outline for the cutwork. (This may vary by design.)

Once this outline is sewn, remove the hoop from your machine and cut out the fabric inside of the stitched leaves. Be careful NOT to cut the stabilizer or the outline threads

Some of the areas to be cut out are quite small. So I use my small hoop applique scissors from OESD. They are perfect for this job!4" hoop applique scissors from OESD

Sometimes it helps to get close to the stitching by pulling up a little on the fabric as you cut it out.Photo of hand holding up piece of fabric to make trimming away inside fabric easier

Once you have removed all the the fabric from inside the stitching lines, return the hoop to your machine and finish the embroidery.Photo of hooped linen for cutwork tea towel with finished embroideryAfter you remove the fabric from the hoop, trim the excess stabilizer away from around the design.

Place your fabric in the sink with cold water to dissolve the stabilizer. Change the water as needed if it gets “gummy”. If you leave too much dissolved stabilizer in the water, it acts as a starch on your towel and makes it stiff.

Once your towel is dry, press it, and you are ready to hem it.

Hemming the Towel

I like a 1″ hem at the top of the towel, a 2″ hem at the bottom (below the embroidery design)and ½” hems on the sides. All hems are double folded.  For this towel, I must have miscalculated where to place my design, as I could only do a 1½ ” hem on the bottom.  Otherwise, the hem hid some of the cutwork. Oops!

Folding the Hems

I found a “Fold and Press Hem Guide Set” from Nancy’s Notions.  This little jewel makes it easy to fold up an even hem from ¼” to 3″. Although the set is billed as a “single fold” set, you can easily use it to create a double fold. Check to see if your local Rocky Mountain Sewng And Vacuum can order this for you.

Photo of Nancy's Notions Single Fold and Press Hem Guide Set

To use these guides for a double fold, first, use the guide for twice the total width of hem you want. Thus for my 1″ top hem, I use the 2″ guide.

  1. Position guide along fabric edge to be hemmed, wrong side up.
  2. Align fabric edge with the top of guide.
  3. Press up the right side of the fabric with an iron creating the hem.
  4. Grasp guide handle and slide to un-hemmed area and repeat the process pressing until you press the entire fabric length.
  5. Unfold the 2″ hem and use the 1″ guide and position it along the fabric edge as above. Repeat steps 2-4.
  6. Fold at the original 2″ hem line over the 1 hem you just ironed.
  7. Press
  8. You how have a 1″ double-fold hem.
Photo of two inch hem guide placed on fabric
Two inch guide placed along bottom edge of fabric. Fabric will be folded along the top edge of the guide
Photo of one inch hem guide placed on fabric with fabric being folded up over the guide
One inch hem guide. The top of the hem guide is positioned along the fold created with the 2″ guide.










If you have a 2″ bottom hem, you will have to just use the 2″ guide to create a 2″ fold, then just fold that over on itself for a 2″ double fold hem. There is no 4″ guide.

You can also stitch a line at the fold lines to help guide you where to fold.

Sewing the Hems

Iron the top and bottom seams, and then stitch the hems down with your sewing machine. Use thread as closely matched as possible to the fabric.  I stitch my hem line about 1/8″ from the edge of the fold.

Photo of sewing hem on cutwork tea towel, keeping sewing line 1/8" from edge


Once you have sewn the top and bottom hems, repeat step 1-7 above to create the ½” side seams, using the 1″ and ½” guides.

Fold a corner of the ends of the first fold of the hems so that they do not poke out below the top or bottom hem.

Photo of corner of towel, folding back small triangle of fabric Photo of finished hem at corner of cutwork tea towel

Press well, then stitch the hem as above.

Hemstitching the Cutwork Tea Towel

Photo of Floriani Chrome Hemstitch Needle

Historically, hemstitching was an involved process of pulling out threads parallel to the hemline, and then hand-sewing the hem in a manner that grouped the remaining vertical threads to create perforations in the fabric.

Now, however, hemstitching is easy to do by machine using a wing needle. A wing or hemstitch needle has two finlike projections along its shaft. Then the sewing machine stitches a border around the hole the needle creates when it pierces the fabric.

Most sewing machines will have several stitches installed that will create beautiful hemstitching.

Photo of different stitches that can be used for hemstitching along with a wing needle Photo of different stitches that can be used for hemstitching

I used the box stitch on my Bernina to hemstitch the cutwork tea towel.

Screen shot of Bernina with stitch 702 , box stitch, circled in red

Note: It is best to practice your hemstitch on a similarly folded piece of fabric before starting on your towel!

With the towel right side up, line up the center line of your presser foot with the hem line you stitched on the bottom hem.

You do not want to push or pull the fabric through the machine. Let the feed dogs do their work. However, you might need to give the fabric a little help at the start and finish as it sews over the side hems.  In general, though, just guide the fabric so that the hem line stays centered beneath the presser foot as shown by the red arrow below.

Photo of cutwork tea towel being hemstitched. Red arrow indicated center line

I only hemstitch the bottom of the towel.

So here you have it, an elegant hemstitched cutwork tea towel all set to decorate my guest bath at Thanksgiving.

Photo of finished cutwork tea towel


Ready to try your had at cutwork and hemstiching? Let us help! Click on the coupon below to get 30% off a wing (hemstitch) needle and/or OESD 4″ hoop applique hoop scissors.

Let’s see you “wing” it. Share your creations by clicking on the Choose File button in the comments below.

Coupon for 30% off Wing Needle and/or OESD applique scissors