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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Crewel Embroidery: Wool Threads – What Colors?


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Oh, golly. Picking out threads for an embroidery project is Hard Work! ‘Course, as work goes, it’s the kind of Hard Work I can really get into. It isn’t quite the same as cleaning bathrooms, is it? Here’s my thread-sifting adventures for the Crewel Rooster project.

I’m going to be working this crewel embroidery project much like a sampler – a kind of off-the-cuff sampler. There’s a dual purpose behind this project. The first point is to play with different wool threads that are available on the market and see what they’re like, and especially, what they’re like in comparison to each other. The second point is to play with stitches that are typical of crewel embroidery.

All of my threads for this project are coming from my stash. So, unlike the designer who designs a project, works out the colors on paper, then picks out suitable threads to carry out the project, I’m sort of winging it on the color choices. For the sake of this particular project, it’s the type of thread more than the color choice that is moving me in my selection. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m going to try to coordinate things so that the poor rooster doesn’t end up looking like a blob of discombobulated colors. But my choices are limited entirely to what’s in my stash.

Selecting wool threads for crewel embroidery project

Ok. Admittedly, there’s no dearth of Appleton crewel wool here. I have some hundreds of skeins. I’ve never counted them. I really don’t want to know how many are there. They stuff into a medium sized plastic garbage bag. I haven’t taken very good care of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day, they just up and decided to felt themselves.

Selecting wool threads for crewel embroidery project

Besides the Appleton, I’ve got the leftovers from a couple of the crewel smalls kits I’ve been working lately. These are Heathway wool threads and Gumnut poppies – mostly Heathway. And not a lot of either.

Selecting wool threads for crewel embroidery project

I have these skeins of Fine D’Aubusson, made for Au Ver a Soie and distributed by Access Commodities. These threads will be available in the States this month, I think.

Selecting wool threads for crewel embroidery project

Then I have this kind of odd-ball collection of threads. The hank in the back, I think, is crewel-weight Paternayan wool. It’s only marked with a color number and price tag, but I’m pretty sure I bought this off the wall at a needlepoint shop under the Paternayan wool sign. But I could be wrong. Oh, the disadvantages of not writing things down!! Then there’s a Bright Red skein of Bella Lusso, which is 100% merino wool from Italy, and then three cards of Gentle Art Simply Wool, which is a rather fine wool embroidery thread that comes in a very limited range of colors.

Selecting wool threads for crewel embroidery project

These are the colors I chose out of the Appleton pile.

In addition to the above threads, I’ll also be using some Renaissance Dying crewel weight wool, if the colors work out. I need to dig those out – I think I have at least a couple colors of these threads. These are wools made from vegetable dyes, by the way. Kind of neat process and interesting website, if you want to visit Renaissance Dying and read a bit about what they do.

Selecting wool threads for crewel embroidery project

So I picked out all my threads, and assembled the framed fabric ready to embroider, the threads, my tool box, and a little “doodle hoop” into a smallish basket to house the whole project while I make my way through it.

Selecting wool threads for crewel embroidery project

What’s a doodle hoop? It’s a very handy item to have in your work basket when you’re making your way through a project. I’ve hooped up a small scrap of the linen twill, so that I can test out different threads or stitches before I use them. When you’re working with a thread that’s unfamiliar, it’s nice to have an idea of how it’s going to work before you use it on your project!

Selecting wool threads for crewel embroidery project

And, finally, yes – I started. And boy, do I regret this! I wanted to get blue into the piece, but I thought that it might be difficult working blue into the tail of the rooster (Does it really matter? Probably not…) So I decided to do the flowers in blue. Not just any blue – I wanted a deep, bright blue, like a crisp Autumn sky on a chilly day. I used buttonhole stitch on the flowers, with the darker of the two blues I selected. And then I went through stitching-and-picking-out-hell, trying to figure out what to fill the rest of the petals with.

But more on that later!

That’s my color-choosing adventure.

Any comments? Suggestions? Advice? Any ideas for filling those petals?


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(30) Comments

  1. I don't think that he will look discombobulated with all of those colours to chose from 🙂

    I saw a cockeral at the weekend and he had a very fine petrol blue tail. I didn't catch up with you posts until after I saw him, otherwise I would have taken a photograph for you.

    I love the blue flower and personally would not fill the petals, I like them just as they are.

  2. Actually, I don't have a comment, but I do have a question. I am severely allergic to wool of any sort. What fiber would you recommend to replace wool when doing crewel?


  3. Wow! Mary, That stash of yours is beautiful and now I am going to cajole my sister and brother to go yarn hunting for me and send me the wool for embroidery asap. But I will still use the stranded cotton to stitch along.

  4. Mary- It's interesting to me that you still go through so much "anxiety" (for lack of a better word) over decisions, even with all of your amazing experience.
    I guess that helps me accept that process for myself.
    Thanks for all you share here on this blog.

  5. Hi, All – Thanks for your comments!

    Carol-Anne – I was thinking about leaving the flower as it is, too. It reminds me a bit of Japanese embroidery (if you squint, and look at it from far away!) We'll see… still musing…

    Yes, it's a lot of wool! But for those of you haven't stitched with wool, do understand that it isn't the same as stitching with cotton or silk. Some people just Can't Stand stitching with wool. It does have its little troubles, which I'll be discussing as we go along with this project.

    Diane – the allergy question is a serious one. They do make some synthetics, but they are a pill to stitch with, and pretty awful in general, in my opinion. I'd stick with cotton – if you want the thicker look of crewel embroidery, use pearl cottons, size 5 and 8, I think. You can also use cotton floche.

    Hope that helps!


  6. Hi Mary,

    I love the blue. Have you considered something like a red or perhaps something in that color family to fill? Does it have to be another blue color?

    This is so inspiring to watch and I can wait for the next installment.

  7. G'day Mary,
    Cynthia Nicole has written my thoughts. Thank you Cynthia.
    And thank you Mary for being honest about your problem solving. A great confidence booster, that's for sure. Like, I'ts ok to make mistakes AND ok to talk about them.

    I seem to have spent a lot of my life stubornly not acknowledging my mishaps in life. I have a little more courage now and find it helps me and others appreciate it. A sense of humour helps too!

    Also, I really love that blue. Does it have a shade name or number Mary?

    I try not to be too exacting now (that's another story!) but… I feel I NEED that blue. (no, want doesn,t come into it, ha!).

    This whole exercise is so very interesting.

    Bye for now, Kath

  8. Great crewel stash … 🙂 ! Your flowers are looking great… I love that blue !
    I sometimes get anxious about my projects, specially when I want to start a particular one and have not been able to do so or I need some supplies for it … yeap…. it can even take my sleep away.

    I'm pretty sure you must have blogged about where can we find wool thread suitable for crewel work online… May you please direct me to the
    right post ? Thanks in advance ! 😉
    I do have some Medici and 2 skeins of Appleton but will like to try something else (the "thinner" the better).
    I went to local needlework shops but they only had needlepoint wool… so thick !

  9. Thank you, Mary, for your help with the type of thread to use. It will help me save time trying different things.

  10. Hi, All –

    I haven't blogged yet about resources for threads, actually… I'm not sure where the Fine D'Aubusson will be stocked. I think it's coming onto the market just this month in the US (Jan 2010). You can buy Appleton wool through The Wooly Thread. Thistle Needleworks sells Gumnuts. For Simply Wool by Gentle Arts, you can find those at Needle in a Haystack – but they're about 25 – 35 cents more per skein there. 1-2-3 Stitch! carries them for $3 / skein, but I've never ordered from there, so I'm not sure about their service. Bella Lusso is also available at Needle in a Haystack.

    I'll be blogging a bit about the threads – which I like best, what the differences are, etc. – soon. I wanted to get a good feel for stitching with all of them first!

    Hope that helps!


  11. Hi Mary, funny (in an ironic way)that Diane mentioned not being able to use wool for crewel, as I visted my favourite Threads shop yesterday to discuss which threads to use for my rooster project and the lovely Sue & I decided that Coton Perle, probably 3 or 5, along with stranded cotton used in 2 & 3 strands widths, would be better for my project on the quilters cotton.

    I'm off to town tomorrow to use my $20 voucher & start marking out my colours.

    Thank you also for the tip about using a doddle hoop as I will definitely need one.

  12. Love the rooster! Thanks for the hint about using perle cotton instead of wool. I have a bunch of perle (sadly bought when a local needlework shop shut down due to the owner retireing), but very few wool leftovers.

    Question on ripping out – do you do it such that the yarn is re-usable, or "rip-and-toss"? I have a beard trimmer I bought for ripping seams for sewing (works great!), and wonder if it's false economy picking out stitches one-by-one. Sometimes after that work, the re-stitching with the same yarn looks like $#%% and I end up ripping and tossing anyway. Maybe I should just reach for the trimmer and not even think about saving the yarn?

  13. Mary: I second Carol-Anne's suggestion – leave the inner petals unworked. I was going to suggest either using purple, then a white 'center' and calling it a bluebonnet (but I live in TX and see bluebonnets a lot, and that's not the kind of petals they have!) or else using a grid-type fill in gold/orange – but on reflection, I like her idea better! And roosters (like tom-turkeys, peacocks, and other males of the species) frequently have AMAZINGLY colorful tailfeathers – use any color you like there!
    – Sandy

  14. Hi there,

    Thank you so much for this series of posts. I have just decided to try my hand at jacobean crewel work while i am at uni.

    your website has been such a help. From stitches to patterns i can find anything here.
    Just a shame that we can’t always get the right equipment in brisbane, Australia. The largest fabric store in the city sometimes doesn’t even have linen. *snorks*

    I have chosen to play with the Renaissance dyeing threads for a bit. So hopefully it will be productive (and not end in a corner)

    Thank you again,


  15. More like a question. I am very new at thhis. Would it be possible for you to give me the type and color list for your Rooster Project. I tired to search the step by step but was unable to find the numbers for each color you used. Thank You

  16. Now I know where to get crewel yarn.I have been looking for this beautiful crewel yarn and you have given me lots of places to look . I do a lot of crewel embroidery work and use a lot of my cats and other animals in my work. And I have found no one who carries such fine wool yarns. I am also going to be doing this Rooster stitch project soon.

  17. do you have a list of the threads and color for the rooster project. i am setting up the project, and would like to have everything in place when i start

  18. Hi Mary,
    I would love to do this rooster. I want to frame it to hang in my kitchen.

    Would it be just as nice if I use DMC as opposed to wool?


  19. hi your as bad as me jumping into a project but your more sane than me at least youve done a few kits first wear im juming in at the deep end lol.
    ok petals why not try blend stich then hightlight the outer edge with a few wide gaped short n long stitch so u can see the other stiching . or do a mix some in blend stich some in the weave and so on . as for the colours if i was doing a rooster i would use appletons peacock colours for the tail hope it helps gd luck tcand have fun

  20. Have you ever come across wool embroidery thread that is not soft but rather very scratchy? I want to reproduce a piece that comes from eastern europe.

  21. a few years ago a lady who was moving gave me several spools of embroidery thread .I put these into a a ziploc bag this was zipped.I found it today and some of the spools looked like someone took the scissors too it…all the thread comes off in pieces have you ever heard of this. I don’t know the thread content but I suspect wool. I have not done crewel work but it looks like the that type of thread

  22. I havve the perfect solution for your extra bag of Appleton wool yarn – sell it to me! I am having a terrible time trying to find crewel yarn. What I can find is so expensive I cannot afford it any more! I had two plastic containers in the medium to large size stuffed full when we lived in WY. We moved to IN, but the two boxes did not. I figure i lost a few hundred (maybe thousand) in merchandise in floss and crewel yarn alone. The containers were about 20″ X 25″ X 16″ each., and when I say stuffed they really were. Also another plastic container of linen, some stitched and some not, also quite a few complete new crewel kits snd pattern books. Some finished projects about 18 or 20 (not framed) were also stored in the third container – now that was where my soul was truly hurt.
    I made the mistake of hiring a couple who were down on their luck to load the majority of boxes for us into the moving van without constant, minute supervision. Needless to say it was one of the biggest regrets concerning the move I still have. So cherish and enjoy those lovely crewel yarns!

    1. If you want to use Appleton, I recommend Wooly Thread in Washington (state). They have all the Appleton colors. If you are looking for other types of crewel wool, check out Needle in a Haystack (www.needlestack.com). Most specialty needlework shops that stock needlepoint and / or crewel embroidery supplies will have options for wool thread.

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