Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Hand Embroidery on a Christmas Towel: How to Successfully Frustrate Myself for No Good Reason


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Yes, well. This Christmas Towel. Satin stitching. Long and short stitch. Sometimes, I could just kick myself!

Originally, I was supposed to be embroidering regular cotton towels with regular cotton thread in regular outline stitches for regular easy embroidered gifts. But darnit, if I didn’t start filling in on this one, and now, it’s taking me ten forevers to get it done!

Remember the embroidered towel I finished last week? That piece took me less than three hours of stitching. I figured at that rate, I could do (easily) two towels a week and still have time for finish work on other little projects.

But no. I had to start filling in on this one! Did you ever realize what a difference it makes, time-wise, when you start to fill in areas of stitching?

I have duly frustrated myself, but I don’t want to give the project up!

So let me show you how far along I am, and then I’ll tell you what really frustrates me about the whole endeavor.

Hand Embroidery on Flour Sack Towel, Christmas design, 2008

The satin stitching on the berries is done – at least, on this clump of berries (there’s one more further down the design) – and all the little green satin stitch things are finished, and I’ve managed only one pine cone so far.

Hand Embroidery on Flour Sack Towel, Christmas design, 2008

Now, the pine cone was an interesting dilemma. It’s worked in long and short stitch. Originally, I was just planning on outlining it, but once I started filling in the berries with satin stitch, it was silly to have an only-outlined pine cone! So I started experimenting with filling. I was going to work a stem stitch filling. Then I thought about a split stitch or even chain stitch filling – something that could be worked fast and somewhat loose, so it wasn’t a “full” filling.

Ugh. None of those looked right.

So I resorted to long and short stitch. Then the colors became a problem. If you’re just outlining something, shading isn’t that important, really. But once you move into long and short stitch, colors become important, and the shading achieved by the stitching and color choices together is what makes long and short stitch look ok.

When I started, I thought I better take a look at some pine cones. What I noticed on larger, older, opened pine cones was that the tips were almost a white-ish grey, curved up, and the rest of the cone was a darker brown, and some almost blackish-brown. But on the small, closed pine cones, they’re really brown – a nice brown. Not a lot of color difference in them. Just a nice woody-looking brown.

So I stuck with three shades of brown, to give the cone a bit of depth. I don’t like the connection area – I guess it’s the stem – up top, but that’s the way the pattern was, so I ended up stitching it with two small areas of satin stitch for highlights, surrounded by a split-stitch filling in dark brown.

And that’s the pine cone. Two more pine cones, one more bunch of berries!!! Remind me never to FILL IN on a TOWEL. Yes, as I mentioned yesterday when I was talking about the obvious merits of machine embroidery thread for paper embroidery, sometimes, I’m a bit slow lately!

But this is what really frustrates me – and perhaps it’s just a problem with the way I’m looking at the stituation. You can tell me what YOU think:

I’m putting all this embroidery time and effort into a cotton flour sack towel.

It’s not a linen table runner.

It’s not a linen table cloth.

It’s not even a pretty little crisp, white cotton Christmas apron.


๐Ÿ™‚ Ah, well. I’m in. So I may as well finish it! But, sheesh. Really. What was I thinking?


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(16) Comments

  1. Tee hee hee hee, Sorry to laugh at you Mary, but I did the same thing once before (notice, I say ONCE). I thought, ‘its Christmas, I’ll put a little more into this project. After all, it is a gift!’ 2/3 of the way through, I was asking my self the same thing, ‘What was I thinking? It is ONLY a freakin’ flour sack towel, not even all that nicely finished to begin with….. ‘ You know the rest….

    Holiday blessings and your heart is in the right place!

    Heidi in MN

  2. This post really made me laugh – apologies ahead of time if this sounds unsympathetic – it is exactly my feeling of sympathy for your dilemma that made me laugh. I so identify with this story. The question I would ask is, “What is this embroidery trying to tell me?” or, “What am I trying to tell myself through this embroidery?” Good luck.

  3. I am thinking it is beautiful.

    Knitters are famous for giving gifts still on the needles. That could be an option. lol


  4. Mary, never FILL IN on a TOWEL!

    Now, get back to work, um, filling in that towel.

    I share your pain. ๐Ÿ™ I think you should tell the recipient that they can’t actually use the towel. They can just look admiringly at all that filled in stitching.

  5. Wellโ€ฆwow! I guess the thoughts above expressed what I would have said. Again, this is a gift made with effort filled with love. Even if the effort is driving you crazy and even if it might be used to wipe up a spill. I always admire the precision of your stitches.

    I have done the same and I usually feel so happy when it is noticed, even if it is unnoticed, it is done and gone and out of my hair. Who knows maybe they will frame it.

    This is really amazing work for something that may get tossed into the bleach laundry load. Your work is so beautiful, even on a 10 for a dollar flour sack towel. ๐Ÿ™‚

    If I were in this situation, I would only continue if I had an opportunity work into the design a way to outline the rest. Like maybe hazy snows type image or a distance image or a mirror image. I have done that before when I did not want to finish something I worked in a pond (not the full thing but you could tell it was a reflection and the mirror image was outlined). I can’t tell if that is an option, but it is a thought if a set is what you had in mind but you donโ€™t want to go to this extreme.

    Good luck, and I totally sympathize with you.


  6. Mary! Don’t beat yourself up!you are being creative…..and it shows!
    I couldn’t understand why you were sounding off about this design…couldn’t wait for yr next mail, so I went on site….and, along with no doubt countless other readers, I love this piece!what on earth does it matter if it’s ‘just’ a towel…it will be a loved towel! It’s the daring,and the exploring,and the pure love of the journey that marks out artists from craftspeople…however….we don’t HAVE to make individual treasures for absolutely everyone we know!!Charlie x

  7. This cracks me up! You just couldn’t help yourself — I would never want to use this towel after you did all that work — doesn’t that put you in a pretty pickle…totally cracks me up though because I might do the same thing except I really don’t have the time…your embroidery IS absolutely beautiful, if that’s a consolation??

  8. LOL Mary, welcome to my world. I seem to inevitably make things more complicated and fussy than they need, or even ought to be! I’ve filled in my share of flower sack towels… yes. Multiples. I am sheer stupidity incarnate sometimes!

    It is a lovely towel, though. ๐Ÿ˜›

  9. Finish them as trapunto appliques (with slight stuffing) cut them out and arrange them onto a Christmas winter background.

  10. OMG – another triumph in the kitchen – or it will be soon! I wish you had my name! But then I’d feel obliged to make bread daily just to display the towel!

    beeautiful work!

  11. I’m working on a set, 7 weekdays of towels. Yes flour sack towels. It has grabbed my creative tendencies with bullion knots, satin stitch, filling in with continuous stem stitch, etc. I’m so glad I’m not the only one to find themselves in the throes of the project. Ok they really are 99 cent towels.

  12. But, Hey, it’s fun, isn’t it, Julie? I never finished this one in time for Christmas, but I’ve packed it neatly away to take out next fall.

    I don’t mind stitching on towels – it’s easy, fun stitching, free of the worry of messing up on expensive supplies!

  13. Hello Mary:

    How do you achieve the layered look on the pine cone? I would like to embroider an own one day and that is the way I would like the feathers to look.

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