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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15 Minutes: Snatching Time for Needlework


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When the school year starts and life gets hectic, it’s time for me to kick into “15 Minute Mode” with needlework, or I’d never get anything done. If I want to make any progress on needlework, I have to snatch time here and there. And, believe it or not, snatching 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there makes all the difference in progress! I’ll show you what I mean…

Monogram on Sampler

In trying to get ahead and keep ahead in my Needle Arts Class, I’ve been stitching like a mad woman, trying to get two initials onto the spot sampler. I was a bit ambitious and selected larger initials that are somewhat intricate. (I mean, really – whatever happened to the four-stroke M?!!) To get this thing finished before I assigned the students to finish their initials, I had to work it in lots of very short sittings, squeezing in 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there.

When I finished the M, I was surprised that suddenly, it was finished! And I wondered just how many short sessions it had taken to complete it. But of course, I hadn’t kept track!

Monogram on Sampler

So when I set out on the second initial, I decided to keep track on the chart where I stopped and started, just to see how many short sessions it would take to complete the C.

Monogram on Sampler

So far, I’m up to 10.

They’re not all 15-minute sessions – some are longer, some shorter. It’s just a matter of snatching time during the day where I could make a little progress.

For me, the 15-minute mentality when life is busy has several advantages:

1. I actually do make progress on needlework. Instead of setting needlework aside completely and saying to myself, “No time for this these days,” I keep it available so that I do make time for it.

2. It acts as a carrot. I get other things done first and quickly so that I can have that 15 minute reward.

3. It is a source of relaxation in the middle of busy days. When I sit down to stitch for just a small block of time, I know that during this block of time, all I have to do is stitch, and I don’t let other things bother me. I don’t even let the clock bother me. I try to control that feeling of wanting to Rush-Stitch so that I get as much done as possible. Instead, I don’t think about the clock (I set a timer for as much time as I have), and I just relax and stitch. When the timer goes off, I move on.

4. Believe it or not, once I start thinking with that 15-minute mentality, other areas of my life become much more organized. I know that if I don’t let my organization slip on other things, I will enjoy those 15 minutes a whole lot more!

So what do you do when life gets busy – and seemingly too busy to embroider? How do you make sure you fit in your needlework? Or do you? Do you feel there are just some times in your life that you have to put your stitching aside until the phase passes? Or are you adamant about finding time to stitch? I’d love to hear your feedback on the topic!! Feel free to leave a comment below.

Up this week on Needle ‘n Thread: a book review of a book I’ve been waiting for, and a Give-Away of the Very Same Book! I can’t wait! That’ll be towards the end of the week. This week, I’ll also show you (up close) one of my favorite out-of-print books that I refer to a lot. And at some point, I’ll be talking about how we’re going to be incorporating surface embroidery stitches on the spot samplers. There’ll be some other little tidbits in there, too! Enjoy your Monday, and I hope it’s a great week for you!


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(32) Comments

  1. I love the idea of 15 minute time slots – this could be used for all sorts of things – I am inspired! Timed reading of the book you really want to read cover to cover NOW – ironing (!). It works both as a timed GOOD thing to do or a time limit on the not so interesting tasks – yes ironing being the top one!
    Thank you.

  2. I snatch time to stitch when I need a break. I call it the chipping method. I divide a room into 4 as well as have a list of 4 tasks I want done on a stitching for the day. I work a fourth then sit down to my stitching to take a break. When break is over, I got back to the other fourths. Before I know it I am done with both. Then continue with another room and four more want done things in stitching. I am calm and the house gets clean and I still get in my times.

  3. I used to pick up my needlework only when I had at least an hour but after you posted that you tried to stitch even if it was only for 15 minutes, I tried it and liked the idea. Now I just pick up my work and try to get something done whenever possible. I have even tried to get my students adopt the idea so that they get into the habit of stitching everyday. My needlework is my stress buster.

  4. Great idea – something I really should do. I think what stops me is lack of space. My needlework room is also the dining room so everything has to be carefully put away when I stop working on it (to stop cat attack!) and then it’s such a hassle sometimes getting everything out again (depending of course on project size) that sometimes things don’t see daylight for weeks!

    I’m going to try to put the 15-minute thing in to practice from now on though and see how I go, as I have BIG deadlines looming for a course I’m doing!

  5. Great article. I find I never complete my projects, well, not all of them, or most of them. As of this date I will rely on the 15 or so time to put into a project and be satisfied. The part that will be hardest for me is to be satisfied with what I’ve done in the day. Thanks for the tip and I am trying it as of now…

  6. Mary, as usual, there is more to your website than meets the embroidery eye. This is not only great information concerning getting a little done on an Embroidery project when you can, but this mentality can serve us all so well in all areas of our life…. It is hard to think of picking up a project unless you think you have at least an hour to devote, but 15 minutes towards the project is 15 minutes of progress that you wouldn’t have had. I can see more work getting done in all areas using this philosophy.
    Thanks for all you do for us. You are so inspiring

  7. Great article! A long time ago — actually when I was a “new mom” and juggling babies — someone pointed out that if you only had time for 1 or 2 stitches, DO them and that they would be there when you were able to return and add more. No matter how small, it was ALWAYS progress (unlike cleaning the house or doing dishes, which I gave up long ago!!) that could build upon itself.

  8. I work on projects for 15-20 minutes first thing in the morning (well, just about the first thing), since once my contacts are in I can’t see close work well enough. I’m a professor, and between classes and research I’m often working late into the evening–so morning it is, or not at all. I find that after 20 minutes or so I am ready to get on with the rest of the things I need to do, and don’t have a problem putting the embroidery away. I also try to take photos often to document progress (unless the day’s work has been to undo what I did the day before!).

    Last spring I met a retired lady who does needlework 6-8 hours a day. That’s amazing.

  9. I appreciate your suggestion for short intervals during the day. I used to knit during television viewing at night, but arthritis has curtailed that. Embroidery requires a stronger light, which annoys my husband–a very kind person whom I do not want to annoy. My day is filled with a million things, but certainly 20 minutes at lunchtime can go to needlework!

  10. I totally agree with the 15 minute principle – I first heard about it on the Flylady site many years ago and used it for doing my housework. I found it spread over into other areas of my life too, including needlework. Having a piece sitting ready to work on at a moment’s notice means you can grab those short periods of time that are sometimes unexpected and use them for something worthwhile.

  11. Yes, I agree. 15 minutes make a difference. For me, it is 15 minutes of painting sometimes (same carot effect). Sometimes I find that after doing my daily duties, I sit down to stitch just 10 minutes before my husband comes home. Yet, I go ahead and tell myself it is worth it.

  12. Hi Mary,

    The monograms may be larger and more complicated than you bargained for, but should provide great inspiration for your students! Is this alphabet available anywhere; it’s very pretty. Your 15 minute philosophy is a fantastic discipline for every part of life!!!



    1. Hi, all! Thanks for your response. It’s nice to know we are all more or less faced with the same dilemma when it comes to lack of time! I’m glad to hear the 15-minute bouts of stitching (or anything else) work for others, too! Wow! That means we’re all getting a lot done, right? Heh heh. And yet, here I am, fiddling about on the computer!

      Cathy, the alphabet is an old Sajou alphabet, and you’ll find it on Pattern Maker somewhere. I’m pretty sure it’s the Sajou 604. If you click on the number 604 in the chart at the top of the website, it’ll take you to that page. Then you scroll down to the end to find it. I don’t think it’s available as a PDF, but you can probably just print the JPG image. Hope that helps!


  13. I tend to be an ‘all or nothing’ type of gal but lately have been trying this chipping away at it technique. In regards to stitching, housework, etc. I have been taking small embroidery projects, putting everything I need in zippered plastic and carrying it from room to room or grabbing to take with in car for visiting, etc. (Those thick plastic bags things like sheets and blankets come in are great.)

    Now if I could just apply this to exercise regime!

  14. Sometimes a project takes a life of its own and everything else has to wait (like the bag I finished this morning). but generally I try to get all the chores done before sitting down and enjoying my time (with needle or paintbrushes). Have to try the 15 min approach. Because of our particular lifestyle I am used to pack and unpack anyway. 🙂

  15. As well as doing embroidery I have also made dresses with the 15 minutes here and there method. Cut at the weekend, and then go home on my lunch hour and do one seam each day. A simple dress can be finished by the end of the week! There is a good book called ’10-20-30 Minutes to Sew’ by Nancy Zieman, primarily on dressmaking, but the principles still apply.

  16. Mary, every word you say about these 15-minute- sessions is absolutely true. I know it because I did it.The only problem is that I sometimes forget about it. But I try to remind myself of the “rhythm” – that’s what I call it. This and my “morning stitching” (for half an hour right after I got up and had my morning coffee)are very important to me.

  17. Hi Mary,
    I like the 15 min approach. I need to apply it to other things – like exercising because I don’t like to do it! I agree it makes like much more organized and keeps a “routine” in an unpredictable world!

  18. I find that I MUST stitch daily. It is like my coffee break, afternoon nap etc. It refreshes me so much. Before I retired I found that if I got up 20 minutes earlier I could stitch before going to work. What a way to start the day!
    Now I definitely take the time to stitch daily.

  19. I’ve tried the 15 min approach and sometimes it works. I have several projects on the go at any given time that I can pick up and put down easily. But a deadline on a special project often means ignoring the housework in favour of stitching or machine sewing till the wee small hours. Then I scramble to make amends for neglecting the house, VBG. Wish I’d realised the health benefits of stitching time when I was a young mum and my fervent wish is for the current generation to be a bit more “switched on to stitching” instead of electronic gadgets.
    Thanks for the interesting discussion,
    Christine in sunny Sydney Australia

  20. The 15 minutes of sanity works wonders for me. With school back in session and life picking up pace as it does in the fall, I have my grab it and go bag. I made a small muslin drawstring bag with a small pocket on the side. It measures about 12 inches by 8 inches. In it I stash a small project (like a dish towel or pillow case), an inexpensive pair of small scissors, several needles and the floss for the project. When I wait for piano lessons to finish or cross country practice to wrap up or coffee to brew in the wee hours, I can pull out the project and get a few minutes of stitching in. Before you know it some little item is prettier than it was when I started.

  21. Mary,
    I feel your pain of pressure to finish a project. I am working on a TEDIOUS Christmas stocking for our youngest granddaughter. Sometimes 15 minutes before I go to work is all I get for the day, but I always try to do a little and look forward the days I can spend more time. Those small bits of time do pay off in the long run!

  22. What a great idea … especially that it works for you!!!

    Now … if you could figure out a way for it to work for me in MY head, you could publish it and make a fortune!

    I love the M . . . mmmmmmmmmmm, gives me hope.

    Gentle as you go,

  23. Mary,
    I have to say even being in the military your site is pretty cool and the “15 minute” thing is generally what I use while deployed (which I am right now) or when I am stateside. I just keep my most recent project in a pocket on my uniform and whip it out whenever i have the chance!

  24. I just read your newsletter about taking a 15 minute or 20 minute break and I loved the idea. I am a house wife and some times I get so bogged down with all of these little jobs that I don’t get to any stitching until evening and then I’m tired. I think I will put your suggestions and advice to use this week and see if I can’t do some work on some smaller pieces. Thanks so much for this help.

  25. I really like your 15 minute idea. That is about all I get sometimes. I have been frustrated that that is all I can get, but your note makes me realize I need to just relax into that mode – not only in my stitching! Thanks for your ideas. I love your blog!

  26. You know, I enjoy the same. Thing is that progress, however slow it may seem, is still progress. Also, I find it a mindful exercise as well as relaxing. It gets me out of my “head” and forces me to focus on something else besides my favorite topic, “me.” 🙂 Those 15-20 minutes are special to me as I love this hobby.

  27. I work all day, so I’m one who snags time wherever I can to stitch. I plan ahead on my day off for the week’s sewing. I make sure I have plenty of things that are “needle ready” for the week. That way I don’t get burned out on any one particular piece. I set aside weekday evenings from around 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM to work on projects. That gives me about 1.5 hours after work to get myself fed and ready for the next day. I live alone, so this is possible for me. I recently lost my husband, so I need something to soak myself into. When my husband was alive there would be no way I’d get this much time for stitching.

    Of course, phone calls, pets and life in general interrupt me constantly. I realize that I use your 15 minute plan without really planning it sometimes.

    I find I’m a much more contented, pleasant person when I am allowed to sew. It’s my creative outlet and my passion. Whenever my life gets too busy to sew, I realize I’ve made too many commitments. I rearrange it to accomodate time for stitching.

    I really like your 15 minute concept. I am one who puts stitching sometimes too high on my list. I constantly have to discipline myself to keep from staying up too late or puting off chores in favor of stitching. The idea of using it as a reward for getting things done quicker apeals to me.

    Thanks, Mary.

  28. I do like the idea of getting a bit done at a time. I have a school board meeting to attend once a month that sometimes runs till midnight 🙁 I’ve started bringing along projects that don’t require lots of concentration to detail and now I look forward to the meetings.

  29. I completely agree with this wonderful method! To me, stitching is a way to destress, reground, and refocus. I carry a project with me to work everyday in one of those poly string-tied envelopes. I normally get a few minutes at lunch and perhaps up to a half-hour on my train home. It doesn’t seem like that much per day, but then I add it up over the week – and it starts to be hours of completed stitching time that I never would have completed had I waited for that elusive hour of free time.

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