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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Rooster Breast and Scallops: A Crewel Recipe


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It’s tempting to be horribly punny this morning. Crewel embroidery – cruel. Fowl? Truly foul! But I will refrain, and focus on the breast of the rooster, which I’ve embroidered in buttonhole scallops primarily with Appleton wools. This is going to be one of those journeys that may drive you nuts before you finish reading. It’s ok. You’ll be in good company. I’ve already arrived.

Last time we visited my rooster crewel work project, I was debating how to embroider the rooster’s body. I knew I would use wool thread (it’s crewel embroidery – wool is somewhat required!) and I knew I wanted it filled completely. That’s about all I knew. Having gone at the beast with a permanent pen, drawing scallops all over him, I felt obliged to continue with the scallop motif. Here’s my trial-and-error process.

Crewel Work Embroidery: Rooster

Scalloped buttonhole stitch is a truncated version of the buttonhole wheel, so if you’re unfamiliar with the stitch but interested in working scallops all over the breast of a bird (or anything else), you can check out the buttonhole wheel stitch video. It’ll show you enough to learn the scalloped buttonhole.

I began scalloping (it’s a word, really!) at the base of the rooster’s legs, using a medium soft brown. This wool, in fact, is Paternayan crewel wool. The color name is “amber” but it’s more brown than amber. The rest of the body is worked in Appleton crewel wool, in two colors of gold. Working up the legs, I layered each row of scallops on top of the previous row, with the hopes of creating a feathered and layered look.

Crewel Work Embroidery: Rooster

The layered look worked out fine. As for feathers, think of it as “stylized” feathers. Before I finished the rooster’s body, I went back to the forefront leg and stitched some very dark brown around it. I did this for two reasons: first, I was curious what the dark outline would look like; second, I didn’t want to forget where the leg line (now covered with stitches) was.

I wasn’t sure if I liked this. But this is part of the journey, so I won’t tell you the outcome just yet.

Crewel Work Embroidery: Rooster

I finished stitching the scallops up the breast of the rooster, working darker gold scallops in areas that I thought should be a bit shaded. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with my attempt at shading – but that’s all part of the journey, too, so I won’t tell you the outcome yet, either.

Crewel Work Embroidery: Rooster

Compare the photo above with the one directly above it. Do you see a difference? Probably not. But I was hoping for a subtly noticeable difference.

Crewel Work Embroidery: Rooster

Close up, there you have my attempt at shading under the scallops. Taking that medium soft brown (the Paternayan wool), I stitched little upside-down V’s underneath some of the scallops, to try to create a little shadow underneath them and lift them up a bit more off the feathers below.

Crewel Work Embroidery: Rooster

And then I picked out that dark brown line, and replaced it with the Paternayan wool in the medium soft brown.

Crewel Work Embroidery: Rooster

But it didn’t seem bold enough to me – the line seemed to get lost in that mess of scalloped feathers. So I stitched back in the very dark brown, and then I went around the body of the bird in the dark brown. You see, I had this notion that I wanted a bold rooster. I wanted him to stand out. I tried to achieve this with the dark brown.

And I hated it.

Crewel Work Embroidery: Rooster

So I picked out the line around the body, And stitched back in the line around the foremost leg in the medium brown. It’s always fun to do the same thing twice.

The rest of the body needed something around it, to finish off the edges and to cover the transfer line. Brown? No. Contrast wasn’t working. It just looked wrong.

Crewel Work Embroidery: Rooster

So I took the darker of the golds used for the scallops, and worked a stem stitch line down the left side of the rooster’s body.

And I saw that it was good.

Good enough, anyway!

To tell you the truth, I’m now debating the use of the two tones of gold on the majority of the body. It looks as if they poor guy is sweating. And he probably is – he’s figured out what’s coming.

Now, step back from your computer monitor, and squint. From far away, he’s not so bad.

If you think the body process here was wearisome, just wait until we get to the tail!

As always, I’m open to suggestions, comments, questions! What would you have done differently? What do you like or not like? Any ideas for (reasonable) adjustments? I’m all ears…. (as long as you don’t tell me to pick him out — again!)

Back to the needle and thread…. See you tomorrow!


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(18) Comments

  1. Hey Mary,
    I love what your doing with Rooster's belly. I agree the dark brown was too dark. My two cents is to really add deminsion and boldness with his wings and back. Beautiful!

  2. Okay, Mary you missed your SECOND true calling in life- Comedy writing! You can Pun like there's "no tomorrow!"
    The fowl looks really nice with the layered coin looking breast. Very nice color selection, too.
    You seem to accomplish much in such little 15-minute slots! I prefer my method of stabbing at a project, walking away, losing it for 2 weeks, starting 2 new ones at the same time while shopping for materials that I will probably never use! It seems to get me by! Oh, well, "to each his own"!

  3. Mary,
    This has been a great experience in needlework with you. I am learning so much by following your thought processes in changing your plans and the photos that go with them. I like the rooster with gold line and light brown lines in the last photo. I think the button hole scallops convey the perfect look of the breast.

  4. I'm really enjoying the rooster project and plan to follow along with you when I get some wools. I was looking at the Hedgehog Handworks site where they have their Renaissance Wul on sale. Would this type wool be the kind I could use for this project? What is your opinion of this wool vs any other wool. Since I'm buying, I would want to buy the right kind.

    I love what you are doing with the rooster and can't wait to see the rest of your colors and designs for him. It's also great having you do the putting in and pulling out for us…..so we just have to do it once (hopefully)!!!

    Thanks for any help you can give.

  5. Phewie! What a journey…and you made me smile throughout.

    I think your journey ended in success.
    Don't forget, you're sitting with your eyes pretty darn close to the bird…..no one is going to do that when admiring the finished hung-on-the-wall piece.

    I like the way he is coming out and even if you change him, I am going to do the two-toned scallops.

    I'm looking forward to seeing those colors in the tail.

    keep on stitching girl.


  6. Mary,
    I love the way you have done the scallops they are beautiful and look like feathers. I hope I grow up to stitch like you do.

  7. Because I work with birds all the time in my job, I really like what you've done with the different colors of scallops. You think he looks like he's sweating but once you get the wings stitched in, those subtle shades will give him depth. I like the darker scallops across the chest that make his crop area pop out just like a strutting rooster would do. I would recommend leaving the chest as is for now. I predict it will all come together quite well when the wings arrive.

  8. I think he's looking good.

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Seeing that you also do a fair amount of "reverse stitching" means there may be hope for me after all.

  9. Hi, All –

    Thanks very much for your comments!

    To answer a few question: yes, you can use regular embroidery floss and stitch the design the same way (or different).

    Yes, Renaissance Wool is suitable for crewel work. Joady (who owns Hedgehog) has great taste in needlework supplies, so, although I'm not using Renaissance wool on this fellow, I'm sure it's good thread. I think I may have already mentioned that I have a hank of Ren. Wool somewhere, but I haven't been able to put my hands on it, which is too bad, as I would have liked to incorporate it in this project. But I may still be able to before all is said and done, because I ordered some from Hedgehog this past week. We'll see if it gets here before I finish.

    I'm so happy I can do all the "reverse" stitching for you all, so you don't have to! Oh boy! That's just such fun. Actually, it's not that bad – it's a good way to feel things out. And this is a completely "Feel Things Out" sort of project!

    Tomorrow, I'll be posting a bit on the tail. If you thought today's episode was frustrating, wait until you see my tail adventures. *Sigh*

    Thanks again!


  10. PS – concerning Renaissance wool – for embroidery, you want to use the crewel weight (which is what they carry at Hedgehog). The company makes two different weights – one is suitable for canvas work, the other is meant for surface embroidery…


  11. G'day Mary,

    It all looks just right. So very, very right. I certainly think my 'thinkings' on outlining the scallops in part is obsolete now. At this stage anyway. Good on you.

    Lovely morning here at 25C and breezy but heading for another 40C+, and very humid. No stitching weather. I'm still out west with family incl THE grand daughter. Many distractions from stitching anyway. Makes your emails all the more anticipated and enjoyed.
    Hope all is ok with the snow etc there.

    Thank you, Kath

  12. HI, Kath – Thanks very much! Glad you like the outcome with the scallops! Oh, hot humid weather is not stitching weather! We're still below freezing here, and we have about a foot of snow on the ground still, but it's warming up and I'm sure the snow'll be gone by mid-week. I've got my fingers crossed for more, though! I just love the stuff!

    Take care –

  13. I've always wondered how designers come up with the colors and stitches. Now I see how it's done, you "wing" it. I thought more of it was planned out, but I guess the process is more "Loosey goosey". I hope you don't think I'm a dumb cluck, but I can't quite see how you did the stitch that give the feathers definition.
    I'll keep following along, as I'm sure that when you're done you'll really have something to crow about!
    P.S. Reading through the comments and your answers, I wonder if when you refer to using the wool for canvas work, are you talking about needlepoint? I've never done that either….

  14. I think you were absolutely right to get rid of the darker brown – it seemed like there was just too much contrast. I'm not sure I would have had enough patience to unpick that many times though!

  15. ooooh… Wendy, you're worse than I am!!! Punny, very punny. Actually, I don't think most designers wing it – I'm pretty sure most designers plan things out carefully before they launch. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't change things as they go, if they discover a problem.

    Yep, Magpie, I found it rather too dark. Someone mentioned "cartoony" up above – and that's exactly it. I'm glad I picked it out!

  16. Today's recipe for Rooster Breast with Scallops turned out quite tasty. I agree with others that is is great to hear your thought processes regarding stitches and colors, as it makes me feel less like a quack when I decide to frog some stitching.
    Can't wait for tomorrow's foul tale.

  17. Have you considered making just one or two of the scallops on the top front of his breast (below where there are already some darker ones) slightly darker as well – in the interests of shading.
    I love the "V"s adding dimension. I think they work very well.
    Over 110F (43C) here today.

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