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Historical Sampler - Cordonnetes

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9 October 2008

Historical Sampler - Cordonnetes

A cordonnete is a laid thread support frame that supports a piece of fully detached or semi detached needlelace piece in it’s making, such as the petals I’m doing for my dusty pink rose. (They are fully detached)

It is couched with sewing thread on top of a needlelace pad. A needlelace pad consists of 2 layers of muslim, tracing paper with the design traced upon it, then (usually described) a layer of contact.

Only the cordonnete is sewn *through* the needlelace pad.

The filling stitch thread is wrapped around the cordonette at the beginning and end of each line (and started and finished by running it through the cordonnete thread), rather than piercing the needlelace pad.

The needlelace is cut free from the needlelace pad when finished and the couching stitches that attached the cordonnete to the needlelace pad picked out.

I have 4 different authors describe the process in books that I own. I’ve compared and contrasted their descriptions below.


I found “Stumpwork Figures” by Kay and Michael Dennis to have the simplest instructions for the beginner.

They show each of the steps i.e.:

  • how to make the needlelace pad,
  • how to make a cordonnete,
  • two filling stitches (brussels/buttonhole stitch and brussels/buttonhole stitch with return), and
  • finishing the needlelace piece – which consists of top stitching the piece in buttonhole stitch and releasing it from the needlelace pad.

in step by step photographs.

They also show a rather complicated cordonnete as ones of their projects – a pair of fairy wings.

Notes : They say to place the stitches to secure the cordonette 3mm apart.

They also say to use crochet thread for the cordonette.


The Art of Elizabethan Embroidery by Jane Zimmerman is much wordier and initially more difficult to understand. Looking at diagrams from another of the authors’ books would help explain the process

Notes : Ms Zimmerman says to use a thread of equal weight to that used for the filling stitches for the cordonnete.

: says to use “a sturdy, utilitarian fabric in a seperate hoop” for the needlelace pad. (Contact is used by other authors to help the needle slide)

: to space the couching stitches that lay the cordonette at the width of the filling stitches (not 3mm, like the Dennis’ book). I think this is a good idea, since otherwise you are doing your first (and last) rows of filling stitches onto a plain line of thread. (normally you have some kind of loop in the outline to ‘hook onto’ when using the buttonhole etc stitches)

: uses an extra step (the cordonette is overcast with stitches to stabilise it before the filling stitches are started – something I think is a good idea since I’ve been working on the Dusty Pink Petals and had the cordonnete deform in shape somewhat as tension is placed upon it by the stitches).

: doesn’t say to top stitch the edges of the needlelace (done in buttonhole stitch in the Dennis’ book to produce a ‘neat and tidy edge’. There’s another reason to do it, but I’ll get into that in a minute)

: describes the technique of semi-detached needlelace.

New Designs in Raised Embroidery – Ray and Barbara Hirst

I found these instructions to be very similar to the Dennis instructions, although briefer and far fewer photos.

As a stumpwork book in general I’d choose Hirst, but in beginning needlelace I’d look at Dennis.

The Hirsts do introduce another concept here though – flying needlelace.

This is where wire is either initially couched down with the cordonnete thread, or is buttonholed over the edges before removing the piece from the needlelace pad.

Notes : They don’t say what weight of thread to use as the cordonnete thread, nor how far apart to place the couching stitches.

They recommend pvc/oil cloth products, rather than contact as the top layer of the needlelace pad.

Raised Embroidery – A Practical Guide to Decorative Stumpwork – Ray and Barbara Hirst

This contains the basic instructions again, but then takes the reader onto some more advanced forms.

It describes making semi-detached needlelace pieces but calls it “lace mounted on wire” or “wire stitched to the edge of the lace”. I think the description in Zimmerman is more thorough.

It provides some additional basic hints, not provided in “New Designs” that are helpful.

It shows (substitute “detached buttonhole”, that’s the description I’m used to), corded, single, double and treble brussels stitch (these stitches are also described in Zimmerman in the general stitch descriptions, as well as many other filling stitch variations)

It also describes the addition of pin and loop picots to the edge of the neeedlelace, and using a spiral cordonette


Notes : Again, a thread suitable for use as the cordonnete nor couching stitch distance aren’t mentioned. Weird. Or perhaps I’m blind.

Choosing between the two Hirst books for this purpose, I’d choose the second. It has more information.

Elizabethan Needlework Accessories – Sheila Marshall

describes the making of exactly what I’m making – a multiple layer flower with fully detached petals.

The description of how to go through the process is clear (clearer than the Hirsts’ or Zimmerman)

The cordonnete patterns for a flower with separated and non-separated flowers are provided.

Interestingly, this is the only book that describes how to turn sharp corners when making the cordonnete

Notes : Wiring isn’t mentioned, but oversewing with buttonhole stitch is. The author suggests oversewing the edges with a metallic thread to add stiffness but I think (IMHO) this is a modern innovation.

The suggested cordonnete thread is Coton A Broder.

Jane Nichols also describes making fully detached needlelace pieces in her books – but they are all done simply on a foundation of wire, and the long ends of the wire are inserted through the ground of larger piece – a bit of a different process.

So – in conclusion IMHO

  • Dennis for the rank beginner who is a bit scared (like I was)
  • A Practical Guide by the Hirsts *and* Zimmerman for general use and reference
  • Elizabethan Accessories to see how to make a multi-layered flower.

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Blogger Jeanne said...

Thanks for the comparison research! It's always fun to learn different ways of doing things, so you can pick and choose what works for you.

One question: what is "contact"? I suspect it's what we call "contact paper" here in the US - an adhesive flexible plastic (that is also used to line shelves and drawers). Since you're using it over the tracing, I'd guess you're using a clear version rather than one that has some printed design on it. (Just another one of those oddities of English used in different countries!)

Thursday, October 09, 2008  
Blogger Plays with Needles said...

I enjoyed reading about the different methods. I have only used the Jane Nicholas method since I was lucky to take a few classes from her years back. We used a paper covered wire and we did cover the wire with buttonhole stitch before stitching the interior. This made the edge very clean. I have never tried cordonnet but I'm thinking I would try to use something with some stiffness to it but that probably enters the realm of personal preference. I love the colors. Can't wait to see what's next...

Thursday, October 09, 2008  
Blogger Elmsley Rose said...


The books just called it 'contact', but yes - the stuff you use to cover schoolbooks, or in a thicker version, as a drawer liner.

It wouldn't matter if it were patterned, as long as you could see your cordonnete!

I've seen a suggestion on Stitchin' Fingers for leatherette -

Friday, October 10, 2008  
Blogger Elmsley Rose said...


The books just called it 'contact', but yes - the stuff you use to cover schoolbooks, or in a thicker version, as a drawer liner.

It wouldn't matter if it were patterned, as long as you could see your cordonnete!

I've seen a suggestion on Stitchin' Fingers for leatherette -

Friday, October 10, 2008  

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