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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Did you See Twixt Art and Nature?


Amazon Books

Were you one of the lucky ones that made it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art before the end of April, 2009, to see the exhibit “Twixt Art and Nature”? I am still kicking myself that I didn’t make more of an effort to go, though in reality, I couldn’t have. The exhibit was well-covered in the news, more so than any other needlework exhibit I’ve ever heard about, anyway. And sprouting from the exhibit came a book….

English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580 – 1700: ‘Twixt Art and Nature is the name of the book. Despite the heavy title and the hefty size of the book, keep in mind that the era studied by the book is just slightly over 100 years of needlework! But what a fascinating era!

TEnglish Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580 - 1700: 'Twixt Art and Nature

The book has been reviewed online on a number of needlework blogs and websites, so I’m not out to do a review here. I haven’t actually finished reading it yet, and I always like to read the books I review from cover-to-cover. (It’s a whole lot easier with stitch dictionaries and picture technique books – there isn’t as much reading involved!)

From what I’ve read so far, the book is fascinating – those interested in historical embroidery who like to read in-depth scholarly work will enjoy it. Those who are more interested in technique specifics and instruction might not enjoy it as well. Anyone interested in pictures of historical embroidery from this era will love it. The photos are beautiful.

I was reading the book the other day, and came upon part of a passage that brought to mind a good friend of mine, and made me think (with overwhelming enthusiasm!) that he would really enjoy this book. The passage was an insightful comment on history and art and I wish I had written it down. Anyway – a great wave of generosity swept over me, and I thought, “I am going to buy this book for him. He will like it.”

Last year, I sent copies of this book out to a couple friends as gifts. For me, I bought mine used, for about $35. And heck, it’s been six months, right? Used ones will probably be less expensive now, right? But I was willing to spend $35.

I checked Amazon and ABE books, only to find that sellers on both sites are listing the book with prices over $500!

Needless to say, those momentary warm fuzzy feelings of generosity sapped right out of me!

Though I didn’t make it to the exhibit, I’m happy I have my book.

And I’m happy I got it used.

For $35.

Available Online – For Freeeeee!

Now you can download the book from the Bard Graduate Center for free. It’s a great way to be able to read the book – and you can zoom in on photos!


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(19) Comments

  1. Hi Mary,

    I live in New York and did see this exhibit and loved it. I wish I bought the catalog after seeing the show. About 2 weeks ago, I searched for the book and also found the prices way too high. Some sites claim that the book is out of stock and some of the used prices were well over $100.

    Thanks for highlighting this wonderful exhibit. I hope that Bard and the Met will do more collaborations on embroidery from the Met collection and exhibit them.

    Enjoy the weekend.

  2. Hi, Tania –

    You're a lucky duck! I second your vote on more collaborations on embroidery exhibits! It would have been worth the plane trip from the Midwest to see this one! But…. I suppose I'll just have to stick with the book.

    Seeing the pieces makes me want to start a stumpwork project. I'd love to recreate one of those cabinets, actually. Wow. That would be a REAL project!


  3. Hi Mary – Thanks so much for bringing this beautiful book to our attention. I can't wait to get a peek at a copy. May I offer a little suggestion?

    While most of us can't afford to add this to our library, (but how I wish I could!), your readers may want to check their local public and university libraries. A quick look at WorldCat online shows there are many copies available that way. If your local library doesn't own it, do as I do, and ask the librarian to consider purchasing it for their collection. It's not the same as owning the book, but you can still have hours of pleasure pouring over it. ~Betsy

  4. Thank you for the clip link. I really enjoyed the show! You can clearly see the raised & padded fruit of the tree of Adam & Eve piece. I'll probably keep re-watching this video.

  5. Absolutely, Betsy!

    The library is a great place to savor books! I generally use the city library to browse through certain books I "think" I might want, but am not sure I would make the investment. It's nice to see the books first. I've also found fantastic older books at the library, and books on needlework that I never knew existed and wouldn't come across online. As far as technique books go, though, (and especially current technique books) our library – which houses even a copy of Christie's English Medieval Embroidery – is deplorably lacking. But I do love browsing through the more obscure books that they have, as well as the scholarly books. Libraries are great!

    Very good suggestion – thank you!


  6. Although I prefer to buy used books, I'm finding that the safest approach to buying well-illustrated needlework books in particular is to purchase them new: the price seems to skyrocket for these books later on.

    To those recommending the library, sometimes it's better to own needlework "reference" books with techniques, stitches, and patterns because you'll want to refer back to them periodically. Because of this I've spent hours feeding money in library photocopiers because, for example, I can't afford to buy a needlework book that was published at $25 but now costs over $200. And photocopies, to me, are a less than satisfactory substitute for owning the book.

    Also regarding libraries, I would add that some needlework books cannot be obtained even through interlibrary loan – especially if they are self-published, very specialized, published in other countries, old, or more obscure. And I'm speaking here not just as a patron but as a reference librarian who used to oversee interlibrary loan. As a result, there are needlework books that none of us will have access to unless we're willing to, in some cases, pay many times what the book originally cost.

    Sorry for using your Comment section as a soapbox. Grossly inflated costs for needlework books is (obviously) a sore subject with me.

  7. Ha, I flew from Colorado to NYC just for that exhibit (although I also went to the Met for a couple days). The book is great, although I confess to being a little disappointed about some aspects of it.

    For example, one of the caskets (I hope I wrote down which one) had original embroidery tools in it, I think…an ivory or bone laying tool? and flat filament silk wrapped on squares cut from playing cards. And there are no photos of that in the book and I haven't found descriptions either, although I've only skimmed so far.

    The exhibit was mind-boggling, though, especially the scale of embroidery. Like, not only is the jacket they displayed tiny (as in, it would only fit a child or a very small-boned adult–no amount of weight-loss will make most modern women's shoulders or ribcage narrow enough), but the embroidery is small, the thread is fine, the stitches are minuscule, the weave of the linen was so fine I almost couldn't find the godets on the skirt. And there was an incredibly variety of embroidery styles on display, and the video was fantastic (I'm still hoping they'll get permission to release it on DVD). It really was an absolutely stunning exhibit.

  8. The prices for books are just going through the roof and one can't help but wonder if they are shooting themselves in the foot. More and more people are relying on the internet for information and, with the advent of on-line downloadable books, I would think the demand for hard copy must be dwindling somewhat. I think they're defeating the purpose when they raise the prices so high – it will just force more people to resort to cyberspace.

  9. I live on the West Coast. While th weather is better, the availability of cetain things, such as this exhibit, are not (better). However, I did buy the book on Amazon when it came out for $45. I like my new book at $45!
    I actally love this book and try to read it when I can. It always amazes me how these types of things were made before calculators and computers. I think it is ok to slow down and enjoy the process; the feel of the cloth in your hands, the feel of the silk as it slides through the needle and the fabric, watching your project unfold. And create something beautiful and lasting. Now I want to go work on my pieces!

  10. I just checked the web site for The Strand-used bookstore in New York City. They still have brand new copies of 'Twixt Art and Nature' for $39.

    Pat R.

  11. I am VERY lucky to have a used book store down the street from my home that is very well stocked with all types of art/craft/skill books. But on the rare occasion that I have not found the book there, I have gone to half.com (they are connected to Ebay) and been pretty lucky to find them at REALLY good prices 🙂 BTW, I just looked and this book is out of stock at the moment. Hope this helps….

  12. Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen such exquisite examples of 16th and 18th century needlework all in one place. I’m flabbergast and wish I could have seen this exhibit. It’s wonderful to see items such as these on display where you can explore every nook and cranny of the work.

    I’m so glad a book was produced of the exhibit with historical text.

    Uh oh! It’s worth about the plane ticket to NY! Well, I’ll keep looking. It’s bound to turn up within my budget….

  13. I wish I could find a more complete word than thank you. It doesn’t really do justice to the daily opportunities to grow that you put forth. You have broadened my knowledge and interests in this age old art form and have given me confidence to pursue my dreams.

    Our libraries have lost a great deal of funding in recent years and lack the community interest in carrying much in the line of history of arts let alone embroidery. When I ask to have a book borrowed from the larger libraries it is still quite sparce in what they offer.

    I just finished reading the book you recommended by Margaret B Freeman, The St.Martin Embroideries. The dimensions history gives to our spirit are invaluable. In fact my little needles seemed to be more reverent after I finished this book.

    I love the history you offer us. Studying the history of the culture as well as the embroidery of each generation clears the webs of ignorance, refines our thinking and renews our appreciation in our own pursuits.
    I hope for future generations there will always be a Mary Corbet.

  14. Marion,
    Would love to win a copy of this book, it looks fantastic, but the price is out of my range. I didn’t see the exhibition as I’m in Australia, we’re not that far so why can’t more exhibitions come down our way?

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