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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Rather Rare Needlework Pursuits…


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Oh, that title is SO misleading! I should clarify! “Rather Rare Needlework Pursuits…. for ME.” There are types of needlework that I really get into (and I’m always game to try anything), there are types of embroidery that I love. You’ve probably noticed that most everything I do falls in the realm of surface embroidery of some sort – and often into what’s called “free style” surface embroidery. But, lately, I’ve taken up a project that doesn’t.

This project belongs to a category of needlework that is not so rare – in fact, I’d venture to say it is the most commonly worked type of needlework, as far as volume goes! Yes, it’s true. I’ve taken up a counted cross stitch project.

I’ll admit – and I mean no offense to any needleworker out there – that I’m a bit of an embroidery “snob.” I am not a huge fan of counted cross stitch. In fact, if I were to nail down my feelings about counted cross stitch, I’d go so far to say this about it: I do not like counted cross stitch. Period. It is simply not my “thing.”

My first ventures into any needlework as a kid in the 1980’s began with counted cross stitch, and because of that, I do owe a certain debt to this type of needlework. Still, it wasn’t long before I branched out into regular surface embroidery and got away from The Grid. I prefer – vastly – the variety offered by other surface embroidery techniques, and I find counted cross stitch rather boring!

Still, admittedly, counted cross stitch has changed quite a bit since the ’80’s – styles, types, looks, materials, etc., for counted cross stitch have become much more varied since those earlier years of Aida Cloth and DMC. And the resurgence of interest in “antique” needlework sampler styles adapted for counted cross stitch has a certain amount of appeal for me. Still… I’m not a counted cross stitch fan.

Oh, boy. Then why, you might ask, have I taken up a counted cross stitch project – and not just any counted cross stitch project, but a rather large and time-consuming one? Well, it’s like this:

My niece is taking a home economics-type course in high school (9th grade) that has a needlework component. In the first semester, they focused on surface embroidery, and in the second they are focusing on counted cross stitch. And she was disliking the experience greatly! The 14-ct Aida cloth, the rather mundane ’80’s style pattern and colors were just not her. Also, it seems they were not instructed well on gridding up the design, centering things, and forming their cross stitches in consistently the same direction. She was frustrated! At first, I was inclined to smuggly think, “That’s ok – I don’t like counted cross stitch either!” but then I thought this was not a fair approach! Besides, knowing the ins and outs of working a charted design is helpful, so the knowledge would be good for her.

And so, the whole situation put me in mind to instruct her correctly on counted cross stitch techniques, and to show her the vast world of patterns and materials available so that she would not be left with a bad taste in her mouth over the experience. We started looking at samplers and so forth, and she got more and more interested in historical samplers and recreations. Eventually, we fell across a Long Dog sampler that she tought would be “really fun” to work. It is called “Angel Pavement,” and it looks like this:

Long Dog Sampler: Angel Pavement

She liked all the little squares with different designs in them, the variety of motifs, and the colors.

Having piqued her interest in this type of design, even though it is a bit of a daunting undertaking for a beginner, I asked her if she wanted to work it. She was darned eager. I suggested that we both work through the sampler at the same time, to keep each other on track. She agreed enthusiastically, so I ordered the sampler charts, linen (28 count Cashel from Zweigart), and the threads (regular DMC – silk would be too expensive for something this large, and, to tell you the truth, I can’t bring myself to use silk on counted cross stitch…)

Long Dog Sampler: Angel Pavement

We began by gridding out our fabric. With any counted cross stitch design, it is always desirable to at least mark the center of your fabric so that the design lines up properly in relation to the center point. In more complex designs, it is a good idea – and saves a lot of time and frustration later on – to mark off even intervals on the fabric as well. So we worked lines of running stitches over every ten threads on the fabric, to give us a graph on the fabric that would make referencing the chart a lot easier.

Long Dog Sampler: Angel Pavement

Often, 28-count linen is worked over two threads, but we’re working over one, which will make the design small, but which also reduces a bit the “pixelized” look of counted cross stitch. The little individual squares are less than an inch square, which is small. However, their size doesn’t really reduce the time it takes to work each square. The stitching is small and… well…. monotonous. Cross stitch. What can I say?

Long Dog Sampler: Angel Pavement

This is about as far as we’ve both gotten. But don’t think this was only a few minutes of stitching! There are 729 of those tiny X’s in each of those squares. It does take time!

We mounted our fabric on Evertite frames, and are using magnets to hold the part of the chart onto the fabric next to our stitching. To make the stitching go as quickly as possible, I use two hands – one above the work and one below.

Unfortunately, to be able to mount both samplers on frames, I had to dismantle my whitework project! Ugh! I gave up whitework for counted cross stitch? It almost seems sacrilegious! (Kidding, kidding!) But, I have another project I must start (a commissioned ecclesiastical piece), so I wouldn’t be able to devote time to the whitework right now, anyway.

So that’s what I’m up to! Don’t worry – Needle ‘n Thread is not changing into a counted cross stitch website! Aaaaack! But to be fair, counted thread techniques are certainly legitimate forms of needlework, and there are some aspects about this project that I really do like. I like working with colors, for example, and this project has plenty of color in it! And I like to see things develop. And I like the fact that it’s giving my niece something to work on with enthusiasm.

There you have it, then! Any comments? Do you think I’m totally nuts?

I’m beginning to wonder, personally….


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(38) Comments

  1. I think that’s a gorgeous sampler, and though I’ve not done counted cross stitch since I was in middle school, and am only now just picking up surface embroidery it makes me want to find a sampler project and try it over linen like that.

    How lovely!

  2. I realize this one would be A LOT of work, but I think with it being in small squares it would be a bit simpler. I know I always miscount when I am doing them.

    Wow… amazing work really.

  3. I’m impressed by the dedication and patience required to grid the cloth. I’m pretty patient about some things, but I guess that’s not one of them…..good for you stretching your comfort zone. I really like the counted stitches other than simple cross; queen stitch is my absolute fave, and the eyelets, but I think a whole big counted cross stitch only project is in my past as well.
    Thanks for the thoughts about the stuffed eggs; I’m going to have to try it.

  4. I think that you’re a wonderful aunt.

    I’m dying to see what her original ’80’s type’ project was.

  5. PS I hate counted cross stitch with a vengeance. How can you relax if you are counting all the time?

    And I don’t want to talk about ‘going off count and into strange directions of my own’. Been there.

  6. Wow. Good luck with your projects; you seem to keep a lot going at one time. Do you have to use a magnifier? I have done a small 2″x3″ piece on 25 ct over one and am currently working on 40ct worked over two. Good light is a must for me. I’ve never done that much gridding – just the center lines or a corner – because I’d surely mess up more than two grid lines!

    Counted cross stitch pet peeve – colored charts.

  7. Yes, you get my vote too, I think that’s “aunting” beyond the call of duty!

    But I think counted cross stitch can be very beautiful, but, hey, it’s not snobbery that I don’t do it – I don’t do it because it’s too demanding on my eyes and patience!

  8. I think that your post is hilarious! You’ve said some things that I’d never be game to say in public for fear of alienating too many people! Good on you! ๐Ÿ˜€


  9. Wow – what a huge project to throw yourself into when you don’t even like cross stitch! LOL I’m very impressed too with the amount of gridding you’ve done too! I never grid my cross stitch these days (although at the moment I’m working on smaller projects), but even on larger projects, it’s never a problem. I wouldn’t recommend gridding to a beginner or such a large project. I think you and your niece should do a bit more internet research on the variety of cross stitch designs available.

  10. I agree with you completely about CCS. I did a “cheap” kit for my first piece which didn’t help either. But the real clincher was when I worked all day on a little angel that someone had given me knowing I liked crafts. I finished it, mounted it on a greeting card and sent it to a friend for her birthday. She looked at it and promptly threw it in the trash with the rest of her cards. I LOVE Mirabella (?) mermaid patterns but I just can’t bring myself to doing another piece. I do appreciate the finished pieces and I admire people who do it. I realize that the pieces are a labor of love.


  11. Hi, All! Thanks for your comments!

    Gosh, I hope I didn’t insult anyone or alienate anyone! Preferences in embroidery are really such a personal thing. I certainly don’t mean any kind of insult to those who like ccs, when I say I don’t like it or that I find it boring! That’s just me! I know and love plenty of people who like it!

    Thanks for the link, Pam! Wow, those are incredibly intricate pieces, aren’t they? I imagine that working on them must be quite challenging! But I’m afraid that, for me, they’re just the type of ccs product I don’t like. They would drive me nuts! But I do admire anyone with the stamina and perseverence to work such projects! WOW!

    As for the gridding and the larger project, one thing I should’ve made clear – I didn’t realize I wrote the whole post without mentioning it! – is that my niece is actually proficient at surface embroidery, more so than most adults I know. I’ve taught her every summer for the past four years, and she’s worked on more projects than I can count in between times. Right now, she’s into heirloom sewing and does heirloom work on baby clothes, smocking, and whitework. So she’s not new to embroidery.

    We sure did look at all kinds of cross stitch designs available – yikes – it’s a huge market with lots of different styles. The appeal to this sampler for her, I think (besides the multiple colors and motifs) is the “Here be Angels” line – she wants to make it for her little sister’s nursury.

    I just realized, when I re-read the post to make sure I didn’t say anything blatantly insulting to cross stitchers, that I didn’t clarify that she’s not new to the needlework world! Sorry for the misconception!

    Anyway, I hope people really aren’t insulted by my own personal preferences in embroidery! I mean no offense, nor do I think “less” of people who prefer counted cross stitch, or anything like that!

    And, heck – I’m having fun with the project! I admit it!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I had to think about this a bit before I answered…my knee jerk reaction, I admit, was not good to your hating counted cross stitch. But upon reflection, I guess I can see why some would hate it. I get a bit bored myself if I do a project that is all cross stitch…most of the samplers I do have a wide variety of sitiches…queen, eyelets, double running…I am also practicing trellis and spiral trellis….detatched buttonhole, etc for a future repro sampler. I admire your gridding…I never grid like that…sometimes I do the center lines and the left border edge, but only for really complex samplers usually.

    There is just something about counted thread that is comforting. You are bringing order to a small corner of your life (or in my case, a large corner as I am somewhat obsessed with stitching). Seeing the pattern of the stitches emerge…and as all stitches(at least in some areas) are the same, a soothing rhythm develops. The sampler emerges on the cloth as if by magic…the thread and fabric bring comfort. I am fascinated by freehand embroidery though…it seems so brave to venture out with the thread not knowing exactly where your stitches will lead you. I have not been brave enough to attempt much along those lines yet, although your goldwork is really tempting me!

    Anyway, i`ve blathered on long enough. I am looking forward to seeing your progress on the sampler…and stitching with your niece is a wonderful thing to do. Passing on love of needlework, no matter what kind we do, is very important.

  13. I think its beautiful ! Can you share the pattern ?? I probably just over looked where ya got it but just in case, I’ll ask. I don’t think I’d think its gonna get done this year though….GRIN Eileene

  14. Hi, MJ! Well, I’ve always thought “hate” was a strong word! I’d not say I “hate” counted cross stitch – I just don’t like it, as in, I don’t prefer it. I like other people’s work. I don’t prefer it for myself!

    I can see exackitackily what you mean about it being “comforting” and about the pleasure of watching the work take shape on the fabric! I’m enjoying that very thing right now, while working through this little project!

    Thanks for your thoughtful and considerate comment!


  15. I have cross stitched for over 25 years and have made some very gorgeous pieces. I am game to trying anything once, that’s why I frequent your website, I like surface embroidery and really like T. Burr’s creations. You hit the nail on the head when YOU said YOU were an embroidery SNOB. I expected better from you and your “cutting comments” weren’t appreciated at all by this cross stitcher. I hope while your teaching your niece to cross stitch you can refrain from showing her how biased you can be and let her explorer the different fields of needlework without your put downs. By the way, I have been reading your column for almost two years now and have always enjoyed your stories and comments and have found your visual stitch directions a great help in my attempts in surface embroidery. I always enjoy your comments and usually have a good laugh or two. Today wasn’t funny at all. ๐Ÿ™

  16. Whoops. I’m sorry I offended you! Honestly, I’m not disparaging those who do counted cross stitch – I sincerely appreciate the time and beauty and skill in counted cross stitch work. I just personally don’t like it. I am honestly working to overcome this dislike – otherwise, I wouldn’t be working on the project, and I would have allowed my niece to develop a dislike for it, as she was doing rather vehemently before I stepped in and we took up this project. I want her to like it! The post is meant more as an exploration of overcoming my personal dislike for the technique, and finding what I do like about it.

    And I am finding that I do like many aspects of counted cross stitch – and as we have explored the possibility of different projects, I have grown in appreciation for the technique and all its variables.

    Please accept my sincere apologies for offending you – I did not realize anything in the post was particularly offensive, but in re-reading the post, I suppose I may have emphasized too much my aversion.

  17. Yes, I think you’re nuts. Why didn’t you start off with 18 or 16 count Aida Cloth? That way, you don’t have to count the linen stitches. For a beginner, I would think that this would be easier to learn all of the fundamentals. Then, later try your hand at linen cross stitch. Well sorry to be negative but I hope you two are using magnifiers.

  18. Oops Mary…I see you didn`t use the word hate, you did say disliked…I apologize. I also see you are getting some flack for your post. I was afraid of that! To look on the bright side, it`s nice to see stitchers so passionate about their art! *grin and wink*

    Just remember…you can`t please all of the people all of the time…You certainly didn`t put me off reading your blog…yours is my favorite, it`s become my daily ‘must read’ with my morning coffee. Ta my dear!

  19. Oops Mary…I see you didn`t use the word hate, you did say disliked…I apologize. I also see you are getting some flack for your post. I was afraid of that! To look on the bright side, it`s nice to see stitchers so passionate about their art! *grin and wink*

    Just remember…you can`t please all of the people all of the time…You certainly didn`t put me off reading your blog…yours is my favorite, it`s become my daily ‘must read’ with my morning coffee. Ta my dear!

  20. Oh – yes, I meant to answer the magnification question! No, neither of us are using magnification. She’s small-detail oriented – no eyesight problems there; she’s used to working tiny on other sewing (heirloom stitching). I’m not quite as young, but I enjoy working small and haven’t yet had a need for magnification. I think some day, I probably will! In the meantime, I find it easy to see the 28-ct fabric. I use good lighting – an ultralux lamp is ideal! After working on 40 count for the miniature piece I did a couple months ago, 28-ct is a breeze – it almost seems big. Also, the drawn thread sampler I’ve been playing around on was 32-ct. So 28 didn’t strike me as too small – and I do like the tiny results!

  21. Thanks, MJ!

    Stitching techniques are certainly a matter of personal preference, and I am glad that people are passionate about what they love to do! I wouldn’t want that to be any other way!


  22. Although cross stitch is not my cup of tea I do think that the piece you and your niece have chosen is a lovely design. I’m sorry to see people taking your stitching preference as a personal affront. Isn’t the most important thing that we all love to put thread to fabric and create beauty?

    This is Mary’s blog, her personal needlework journey and, in my opinion, she’s entitled to hers. If we all agreed about everything this would be a boring world indeed.

  23. Mary,

    I still consider myself new to the world of stitching although I’ve done it off and on all my life. I also am not a big fan of cross stitch or needlepoint but on the other hand have learned from those enormously talented dear souls who have taken cross stitch to a higher level. With the variety of threads available and the ability to work with form and texture, a lot of cross stitch type projects I’ve done have in no way resembled the ones I did in the (gulp) 70s and 80s.

    That being said, I love what’s being said in terms of the bigger picture here. At times, for the greater good we take on something that we really don’t want to do and learn in the process. Bless you for being a loving and engaged auntie. Your niece is a lucky girl. I love the sampler that was chosen.

    Good luck with the ecclesiastical project. As an ecclesiastical type myself ๐Ÿ™‚ I love that someone is taking on these sorts of projects.

  24. Hi, Mary,
    Just want to tell you that I am very enjoy reading your blog even so far I only know how to do count cross stitch ( I love to do the pattern from French cross stitch magazine โ€œDe fil en aiguillesโ€)! I never do an embroidery (kind of afraid though), but after read a lot of your articles, now I would like to try to do my first embroidery piece in Monogram stitching, your every article about monogram is like a Bible to me (especially the article of Monogram on Guest towel, and really wish you live here at L.A, so I have chance to take one of your embroidery class), again, thank you so much to have this wonderful blog for beginner like me to learn from.
    B. Rgds/Judy H.

  25. Hey Mary, that is a lovely cross stitch pattern. I quite lke the coloured charts as it helps me to keep my place.

    I am off to my first Embroiderers Guild meeting tomorrow night. I feel excited, but I would be more excited if I didnt feel so Yukky from a cold!!

  26. Hi Mary,
    I must say that though I dont do a lot of CCS, I simply love the piece that you and your niece have picked. I am waiting for you to post the finished piece. Also, I really commend the patience with which you have marked out your grid.

  27. I have a similar story. My first needlework pattern was a goose on aida handed to me by my mother who didn’t know what to do with it and didn’t want it. I quickly branched into other counted work (esp. hardanger) and now I do just about everything…except cross stitch. I have a few cross stitch patterns that I really liked, but most of the time I can’t be bothered to work on them. I just don’t like cross stitch.

    I’m SO glad you’re showing her how fun needlework can be though! I wish I’d had someone get me to evenweave fabrics so quickly!

  28. Well this turned out to be a very interesting post and comments to read!

    I do enjoy needlepoint and cross stitch, but I’ve never gridded out a piece like you have. I want to ask, did you use regular thread? Do you remove the grid stitches as you stitch over that section? I can see how using a grid might make the work go faster.

    That project is gorgeous, but it would take me forever. I have too many projects going at once. Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  29. The gridding may seem like a bit of overkill – and at the time you’re doing it, it seems like a waste, cuz really – think about it! You just want to get on with stitching! BUT – now that I’m stitching, it’s great, because there’s very little counting, or uncertainty about the location of stitches. And it makes stitching that much faster. Yes, it’s just regular thread, and I snip it as I go….



  30. Hi Mary, as a keen observer of your site I was sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy counted work. I have a shop of my own just outside of Melbourne in Australia, and I love my counted cross stitch work! I also do surface work, gold work and stumpwork. I love teaching and as you can imagine always have serveral pieces on the go, but when I want to relax I pick up my cross stitch, something about the rhythm of it soothes my soul! I
    change colours add beads and generally make the design my own.. The piece you are doing is a major project, I hope you and your niece end up enjoying it a little.
    Happy sewing Marguerite

  31. Mary, i don’t know if you read comments on old posts but I didn’t realise about stitching a grid on my counted cross stitch! My mother always used to do little cross stitch pictures on Aida in the 80s – I thought the pictures were naff and the fabric unattractive. Fast forward to January 2015, when I go into a lovely shop here in New Zealand called Broomfields and fall completely in love with a quaker sampler (the Mary Peacock sampler produced by Needleprint) and buy the pattern, threads and antique ivory 28-count linen. This is my first time doing cross stitch and I had no idea how ambitious I was being!
    I am now going to start stitching a grid on it tonight because that will be sooo helpful. It is going to be wonderfully beautiful but I have spent a lot of time unpicking my mis-placed work…I’ve done about a fifth of it and am determined to finish this year.

  32. Your post made me chuckle. I grew up in the 70/80’s and remember my first attempt at needlepoint, didn’t like doing it and it was a mess in the back. Then tried CCS and didn’t like doing it, wasn’t as relaxing as crocheting. Never attempted any type of needle art until I found your blog.

    Like you, while I don’t enjoy DOING CCS or needlepoint, I do admire many pieces and the amount of time and attention needed in order to do this form of art. Some pieces and those doing the craft are truly inspiring and produce amazing pieces. It’s just not for me!

  33. Ooh, I’m about to stitch a design on 28 count Cashel! It’s a Swedish dala horse in counted cross stitch.

    May I ask, do you just stitch over the running stitches and then draw them out at the end, or do you need to be a bit more careful so that they don’t get spliced by the real stitches?


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