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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Revisiting Crewel Embroidery: Supplies and Resources


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After finishing up the Crewel Rooster project, I had a few loose ends I wanted to tie up regarding crewel work, but I just haven’t gotten around to it!

For one thing, I wanted to stitch up some small samples of the different threads I used, side-by-side, to give you a better idea of what these threads are like. Have I done it yet? No! But since I am still receiving e-mail about the rooster project and a few readers have clamored for a list of recommendations and resources, I thought I’d put together the following list.

The two most obvious needs when undertaking a crewel embroidery project are fabrics and threads, so that’s really all I’m going to talk about here: fabric and thread.


For fabric, I’ve probably over-mentioned the linen twill from Legacy linen that I am quite besotted with right now. It’s not a fabric limited to just crewel work, either – I’m working my current goldwork project on a linen twill ground, and it’s working magnificently.

And when I set up one of the flower motifs from Embroidered Flowers for Elizabeth, I’ll be using linen twill for that, too. So this is a versatile fabric, and worth the investment a half a yard or so to have on hand for all kinds of embroidery projects.

It’s not inexpensive stuff, though, at $84 / yard. But if you can afford to have a half yard or so on hand, you’ll find it useful and beautiful fabric.

You can find it through local and online needlework shops that carry goods from Access Commodities.

Tristan Brooks Designs carries it online, as does Needle in a Haystack.

You aren’t limited to twill, though, for crewel embroidery. You can use a sturdy linen, too. Strathaven linen works well. It is a plain-weave linen, very sturdy, and pretty much an all-around useful linen for crewel work or historical needlework projects. It’s a more economical choice, when compared to the linen twill above, at around $46 / yard.


For threads, here’s my take on what I Really Like, what I Sort of Like, and what (ahem) I don’t really like much.

I Really Like the following threads, in no particular order of Really-Like:

Renaissance Dyeing wool, crewel weight – I found this a pleasure to stitch with, soft, with good coverage, and oh-so-easy to work. No pilling or annoying knotting or anything that comes with rougher threads. It’s dreamy. It’s pretty. I like it!

Fine D’Aubusson – this is a finer sized crewel wool, great for detail. It is easy to stitch with, it retains the traditional look of crewel wool without being scratchy or pill-proned. It comes in a nice color range, it has a nice woolly sheen to it (most wool does have a sheen to it – and in some cases, a kind of sparkle, because the fibers catch the light as they fray about in their wool-like way. True, it isn’t silk, but it isn’t matte cotton, either!).

Heathway – this is a soft, beautiful wool. It feels smooth and silky, and it has a very nice sheen. It makes a gorgeous satin stitch. And it is not troublesome to stitch with at all! It comes in 20 color families, with 9 shades in each color family. It’s certainly more expensive than the other wools above – $2.75 per hank of only 10 yards. But it is nice thread. There’s just a wonderful feel to it. I would dearly love to see a whole color card with thread samples on it! You can find Heathway at Tristan Brooks Designs.

Bella Lusso wool – This is an Italian wool that’s very fine, indeed. It’s another one that’s a complete pleasure to stitch with – it’s like working with coton a broder or floche, it’s so smooth. It makes another beautiful satin stitch! It comes in a range of colors – about 78 from what I can tell – and runs about $2.50 for a 45 yard skein. You can find it at Nordic Needle.

I also did some stitching on the rooster with Gumnuts Poppies, which isn’t 100% wool, so I’m not going to cover that here, beyond saying that it is a beautiful wool / silk blend, and I’ll talk more about it soon, when I take a close look at the range of Gumnuts threads.

The thread I Sort of Like – there’s really only one that falls in this category – is Appleton wool. Yes, I like it. I wouldn’t say I love it. And if someone laid a skein of Appleton in front of me, and a skein of any of the others in front of me, and told me to pick one to stitch with, I’d pick any of the ones above. Still, I like Appleton. There’s something about it that’s “real wool” feeling, that’s a bit on the rough and rugged side, but that, despite the occasional pills in stitching, it always comes out looking pretty darned nice.

(The body and wing of the rooster were done with Appleton.) I can’t really complain about this thread! And it is super-economical compared to the others above. It’s about $1.40 for a 27-yard skein. And it comes in over 400 colors.

The trick to working easily with Appleton wool is to work with short lengths and the right sized needle. I’m sure I’ll use Appleton again. You can find the range at Wooly Thread, where the folks are very nice and helpful.

I don’t like Paternayan crewel wool. I only had one skein to play around with, and maybe it was the skein, but oh. I have a feeling it’ll never be a go-to thread for me! Everyone’s tastes are different, though – you might like it, so don’t let me turn you off it!

Now, what I would love to see would be a color conversion chart among all the threads listed above! Wouldn’t that be something? But what a job! And of course, you’d have to have the actual threads or real thread cards…. so I won’t be doing that – though I think it would be quite a fun and challenging project!


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(19) Comments

  1. Dear Mary,
    I want to say thank you for your blog! It is so interesting and exciting! I really enjoy it a lot.
    I have a question. And I am not sure in what part of your blog to post it. So, please, excuse me, if I am doing it wrong. I want to ask you about beetle wing embroidery. I read your posts about it which are dated 2007. But I did not find the info where did you get the wings? Can you tell me, please, where did you buy them?


  2. Hi, Larissa –

    I got mine on eBay. Look up "beetle wings" or "elytra wings" and they'll come up.

    Hope that helps!


  3. Your post today is so timely as I am about to launch into one of the Flowers for Elizabeth projects.

    Unfortunately (?) I just ordered some 20-odd skeins of Paternayan wool to use. The funny coincidence is that I just this morning asked another stitcher if a conversion chart of the different types of wools existed as I wanted to use Appleton.

    The answer is, I guess, that I use my Appleton swatch colors and try to get the "best match" to the color photographs in the book.

    Thanks for all the good information, Mary.

  4. G'day Mary,

    Thanks for all the info. Appreciated.

    Been thro all the links you listed from Rocks to the decorator's site to whatever. The embroidered fabrics in the decorator's site are special and the rocks appealing. Would make nice pin cushions – minus the rocks of course!

    Bye for now, Kath

  5. $84 / yard.
    EIGHTY FOUR DOLLARS A YARD. Seriously?? Holy god that's insane. Even $46 is quite steep for only ONE yard of fabric.

    I usually buy plain-old 'linen' from Joann Fabric which is about $15/yd. Do you find this too poor a quality product to bother working with?

    Also, with this shocking reaction to the cost of the fabric you recommended in mind, can you suggest some recession-priced fabric that you find tolerable?



  6. What a fantastic resource post! The rating of threads alone is a tremendous help for me. I had quite a stash of thrifted threads to use but have run low and just got a set of Floralia on ebay. I will definitely check out the veggie dyed ones you mentioned.

    Thank you so much for linking to my Crewel Stones so that I could find your site. They're a lot of fun to do. And I use them as pin cushions, too!

  7. Hi, all –

    Thanks for the comments!

    Sharon – you may like the Paternayan – do try it first! Some folks really like it a lot… like I said, it's just my personal preference!

    Kath – I think the rocks are great! But yeah, they probably wouldn't make the best pin cushions. BUT – you could make a felted "rock" – that is, the same shape as a rock, but without the rock. Or, if you wanted some weight in it, you could use a much smaller rock and felt deeply all over it, to give enough room for pins….

    skh – yep, it's not inexpensive. Given the price and the quality, it's something I would only use for special projects. Also, a yard goes a long way when talking about needlework projects. You can find linen at fabric stores, like you said, or you can use blends, or cotton. There was a beautiful Belgian linen I used to order up two years ago, that's 72" wide (so you're getting a lot in a yard) and ran about $32/ yard. It's nice linen for surface work, but too fine for crewel work. I use it for whitework, usually. I don't have the source for it anymore, as the supplier no longer supplies it. 🙁


  8. As Mary said "some people like Paternayan". I used them for a project published in Inspiration Magazine, and I really like it very much. Here is the picture of it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brodanni/1576686329/in/set-72157594351574006/

    And I also like Appleton wools. I'm not so much convinced by Aubusson wool, they are fantastic for tapestry but I find they do not have the fluffy aspect of wool.
    By the way, there is a new Aubusson wool which is make by http://www.laroutedelalaine.fr/ in collaboration with Au ver à Soie.
    Thank you for your post.

  9. Hi, All!

    Thanks for your comments!

    Ann – Thanks for the link to the photo on flickr – absolutely beautiful! The Aubusson wool I'm reviewing is the wool from Au Ver a Soie – I like it a lot, but you're right, it is not as full or 'fluffy' as most wool for crewel work. It is nice, though, for detail work and finer crewel. And it feels good to stitch with. I've seen some beautiful work with Paternayan – your photo, the work by Susan O'Connor, etc. So thanks very much for sending that link and adding your recommendation for it!


  10. Hello Mary –

    In my quest to find a conversion chart, I found the following link to an Appleton to Paternayan Wool Conversion Chart that others may also find to be helpful.

    It is: http://www.florilegium.com/appleton_to_paternayan.htm

    A note on the chart page states that the conversions are approximate and that the individual should verify the colors "to be sure they suit your eye".

    P.S. Am 50% finished with one of the "small" motifs – the Gillyflower – in Susan O'Connors' "Flowers for Elizabeth" book, and I did my own "conversion" from Pat. to App. before finding the conversion chart!


  11. Thanks for that link, Sharon! That's good to know.

    How do you like the motif so far? I can't wait to set one up and get started on it – but right now, still stuck in goldwork, and enjoying that, too!

  12. Mary,
    I've finished the small and I am "delighted" with it. I would have preferred to have the exact colors as given in the book, but used what I had in my stash of Appleton, that came pretty close.
    But I just enjoyed the pleasure of stitching it – made me smile.

    The more I look thru this book the more I am "enamored" of it – by the lovely designs, that are easy enough for a novice embroiderer to achieve – and for the choice of colors.

    I have plans to start a large motif soon – on linen twill and using Paternayan – that will be used as a cushion. (It probably won't be the last!) 😉

  13. Dear Mary, On occasion I have purchased crewel work kits when I found them and I have tried upgrading the yards/threads to establish new looks, etc. I have a couple now that I have been holding to do this very thing. I have enjoyed your website since I just found it recently. Love the rooster and I just purchased a book on gold work and am really enjoying yours. Can't wait to see it done.

  14. Hello, Mary,
    Hallelujah- someone else who doesn’t care for Paternayan wools! I just started doing needlepoint a couple of years ago and am somewhat addicted to it; unfortunately, the local store doesn’t carry Appleton, so I practiced with Paternayan. Then I found a kit with Appleton. I MUCH prefer that wool. Now to find a decent supplier. And to add your site to my list.
    Thank you, Terry

    1. Hi, Terry – Heh heh. I really can’t be too hard on Paternayan. I suppose there are lots of folks out there who really love the stuff and swear by it. I just haven’t had the greatest experiences with it! :-/ The best supplier of Appleton in the States, in my experience, is Wooly Thread (http://www.woolythread.com/yarn.html). They carry the whole range, and their service is really great! I don’t know if you can find it less expensive elsewhere – as with everything else in the world, the price has gone up considerably over the past five or so years… Enjoy your stitching!! ~MC

  15. I want to complete the backfill on a crewel project my stepmother did several years ago. What info do I need to supply you to further discuss what black crewel yarn I need (and where on earth to get such!)?

  16. Doesn’t anyone carry yarn and floss holders? I have a couple 0f 0ld crewel embroidery kits and there hanks of yarn and floss that needs to be separated before I can start stitching. But where do I put it when it’s separated?

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