Stitch a Drawn-Thread Handkerchief

Although precise information is unknown, many pinpoint Italy and the sixteenth century as the birthplace of needle lace. What is known is that one of the precursors to needle lace was drawn-thread work. For this project, threads are withdrawn from the fabric and a wrapping technique is used to secure the open work.

by Donna LaVallee

Donna LaVallee’s drawn-thread handkerchief. Photograph by Joe Coca.


• Zweigart Cashel, 28-count 100% linen fabric, #3281/100/55, White, 13 x 13 inches (33.0 x 33.0 cm), 1 piece
• DMC Embroidery Floss (Article 117 ), 100% cotton 6-strand thread, 8.7 yards (8 m)/skein, 1 skein each of Blanc and #3779 Ultra Very Light Terra Cotta
• John James Needle, tapestry size 26
• Embroidery hoop, 6 inches (15.2 cm) in diameter
• Sewing thread, light blue

Materials are available at needlework and fabric stores or from mail-order or online resources.

Finished Size: Design, 2 5/16 x 2 5/16 inches (5.9 x 5.9 cm); handkerchief, 9 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches (24.8 x 24.8 cm)

Figure 1

Figure 2 (294 KB)


Measure a 58-thread square that is 2 1/2 inches (6.4 cm) from one corner of the fabric; baste the outline using the blue thread. Center the marked square in the hoop. Using two strands of #3779, satin stitch over four threads around the outside edges of the marked square to create a border. Miter the stitches at each corner (Figure 1). Remove the basting threads.

Starting inside the top left corner of the border, use embroidery scissors to carefully cut the first and second vertical linen threads of the fabric, one at a time, as close to the border as possible. Using the needle, unweave the two linen threads for about 1 inch (2 cm), cut, and remove (Figure 1). Leave the third and fourth linen threads intact. Cut, unweave, and remove the fifth and sixth linen threads in the same m ann er as for the first and second threads. Leave the seventh and eighth threads intact. Repeat four more times for every other pair of linen threads in both the horizontal and vertical direction.

Working with one strand of #3779 and referring to Figure 2, begin at Start on the pattern by securing the thread on the back of the border under the satin stitches and overcast the linen threads: Keeping the tension even and tight, and preventing the thread from crossing over itself, wrap the thread around the linen threads four times (Figure 2, 1). After the fourth wrap, bring the thread diagonally behind the intersection of the vertical and horizontal linen threads and start wrapping the first two horizontal threads four times (2). Slide the thread under the border on the back. Bring the thread out above the second pair of horizontal linen threads and begin wrapping (3). Continue wrapping linen-thread pairs in the stair-step pattern (4, 5, and 6), cutting and removing threads as needed. When complete, remove the fabric from the hoop.

Hemstitch the edge of the handkerchief using one strand of Blanc. Rinse the handkerchief twice in cool water. Press while damp.

About the Designer

Donna LaVallee was taught embroidery, knitting, and sewing by her grandmothers while still in elementary school. After twenty-five years as a nutritionist, she returned to school and earned a master’s degree in textile conservation from the University of Rhode Island in May 2005. She recently completed an internship at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design.