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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Blackwork Threads Lost & Found and Something Fishy


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Desperately, I hunted through my studio for a collection of blackwork threads that I knew were there somewhere! Like a woman possessed, I emptied every cabinet – took out every bin, bag, and basket that could harbor the elusive collection of black silk threads that I have been hoarding for several years, in anticipation of just the Right Embroidery Project. All to no avail! My studio is now a mess awaiting re-organization! And hours and hours were spent – wasted in seeking That Which Could Not Be Found.

When it comes to finding things, my mother always says, “You’ll find it in the last place you look,” and you know – Mom is always right. On Monday afternoon, after digging through and unpacking everything in my studio, I returned to the house, resigned to foregoing this Blackwork Idea bouncing around in my head!

And as I stepped into the living room, I took a look at a box sitting on my sofa. While setting up the goldwork and glove projects, I had brought in my box of silk threads. Keep in mind, I had already been through the box looking for the blackwork threads! It was the first place I looked!

But a nagging little voice inside my head said, “You better look through it one more time.” I opened the box. I picked up a package of colorful silks, and what to my wondering eye should appear?

Blackwork Embroidery Project: Fish

The whole package of threads – just sitting there!

Aaaargh! If you could see the MESS in my studio, you would understand my frustration! Though happy to have the threads in my hand at last, I can’t seem to overcome the trepidation of facing the clean-up job! Especially when the threads weren’t out there in the first place!

C’est la vie. And Mom was right – they were in the last place I looked.

Blackwork Embroidery Project: Fish

This is a collection of 8 different weights of black silk thread, assembled by Leon Conrad specifically for blackwork. I don’t know if the collection is still on the market; I acquired these about three years ago.

Blackwork Embroidery Project: Fish

Once I had the threads in hand, I was super-enthused to go forward with the preparation of what I’m afraid may turn out to be a really zany project.

I started by selecting a piece of linen – Alba Maxima, by Legacy. This is a white linen, around 40 threads per inch. When I cut linen for a project, I always square it up by removing threads on all four sides, until I have perfectly straight lines. I then trim off the shaggy edges left from removing the threads. This way, I can be certain that the fabric is perfectly square and it gives me a straight edge to line up when tracing the pattern and when mounting the piece on a frame.

Blackwork Embroidery Project: Fish

Once the fabric was ready, I traced my design. Oh. Yes. It is a FISH. I don’t know why the fish – it is something that I sketched up when doodling, and my plan is to reproduce the doodling in embroidery. I will eventually show you the pen and ink drawing – but not quite yet! First, I want to see how my idea works out. (I don’t want you to have any preconceived notions – that way, maybe we won’t be disappointed if the whole thing flops!)

Blackwork Embroidery Project: Fish

The next step – mounting the linen on stretcher bar frames. I use Evertite frames, because they can be tightened and loosened as you work. They’re positively wonderful frames, worth the investment! I’ll never go back to regular stretcher bar frames again.

The framing done, I’m ready to stitch!

Blackwork Embroidery Project: Fish

So far, I haven’t had that much time for stitching. I managed some really ugly lips!

This is not going to be a traditional blackwork project. Instead, I’ll be using a variety of surface and filling stitches to work the project, in a variety of weights of black thread. I think I’m going to like this project – it’s spontaneous and unplanned, in a sense. I’m not marking off filling areas or designs for filling. Still, though I’ll be stitching randomly, I do plan for there to be some sense of organization and design to the piece. We’ll see if it turns out anywhere remotely close to the idea in my mind!

I’ll keep you posted!



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(15) Comments

  1. Mary,
    Congratulations on finding your thread! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who does this.

    Oh – you're also not alone when it comes to squaring up linen before stitching on it. Before trimming the shaggy bits, though, I'll often lay a piece of tape over them, then cut between the edge of the tape and the remaining solid fabri. This way I don't have lots of little pieces of fabric dandruff that may get caught in the project.

    Looking forward to seeing your progress with the fish!

  2. Hi Mary.
    Something different, than this post.
    Re Embriodered flowers for Elizabeth.
    I recieved mine this morning,it's brilliant,layed out well and beautiful colours,even a complete novice like me can understand it.
    Thanks for mentioning it on here.

  3. I am really excited about this fish!!!! I have a fish theme going on in one of the rooms at my house. I am waiting with "Baited" breath…hahahahah.

    Annie in Michigan

  4. Hullo there Mary,

    Pheeeeww, we can breath again. Have been holding my breath while the search was on.

    Never heard of those threads for blackwork. I am intrigued. And really interested.
    And facinated by that lovely fish. It is beautifull. Gracefull. You have a special touch.

    Thank you Mary, Cheers, Kath.

  5. Glad you found your threads! I had to laugh when I read what your mother used to say…my mother always said, when I was complaining about having misplaced something "Shut your mouth and open your eyes and you're bound to find it". Yep, she was right too!

  6. Once again you've been a wonderful source of information. I didn't know Leon Conrad had put a thread collection out. I met him a few years ago and bought his book, but didn't hear of his threads… and now I must hunt them down and get some.

    Just how do you keep abreast of all these products? (not to mention budget for them) I am in total awe of your stash and awash with jealousy.

  7. Mary, when people say "it was in the last place I looked", I counter with "of course it was, because after you find it, you stop looking." Ha Ha! But in your case, it was true! The threads look rich and beautiful. I love monochromatic pieces; they really make you look at the stitches and not just the colors. This one will be fun to watch.

  8. But aren't things always in the last place we look because, once we've found them, we don't look anywhere else for them???=)LOL!

    Ooof, you just think yourself lucky to *have* a study to get in a mess! I dream of having one…..

    Love all the yummy threads, blackwork, goldwork, you name it work!=)

  9. Now I'm a post behind, so yet to find out if you got rid of quote "those really ugly lips".
    And I also don't have your vision for the project in my own head, of course.

    But as a visitor to the Farmers' Market every fortnight (I'm going there in an hour) I can assume you that fish DO HAVE really ugly lips! It's an Asian market, so you get all sorts of creatures, and the ones that are big enough for you to notice the lips – yep, they are ugly.

    (If you want any off the cuff comments about pigs' heads, I'm also good for that. Ew)

  10. I wanted to order a book from Leon some time ado (less than a year). Sent an email (or 2) and neveer heard back. Thought maybe he wasn't doing that anymore?

  11. Really lovely, I love the design of the fish (already saw the final result of it); You are sooo talented!
    I am wondering if you have the fish pattern for sale? I really want to make one !!

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