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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You have to Know When to Stop


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Would you like to see my latest stitching nightmare? I wasn’t going to show you. I was just going to slink slowly away, droopy-eared, droopy-tailed, and hope that no one ever asked! But hey, we’re all friends, right?

Picking out embroidery stitches

This is attempt #4 at Proserpina’s face. Granted, I’m not working with all the right threads. I was trying to get the technique down, while making some decisions on shades and colors.

Picking out embroidery stitches

(Couldn’t resist – lovely shot, eh?)

Of course, I’d like to blame it all on the threads, but the fact is, I’m not up to this right now. Working under time constraints is bad enough. Working under time constraints, when you have to do Ye Olde Trial-and-Error approach is a Whole Nuther Problem.

This is what it boils down to, though: you have to know when to stop. After a whole day – early morning to night – working on Proserpina, trying to work out colors, shades for skin, and stitching techniques for the face, I finally admitted that the scope of the project is too big for now. When you start to feel backed into a corner and a bit desperate, it’s time to assess priorities and make decisions. So I’ve made one: Proserpina has been shelved. I will go back to her some day – some day when I can work slowly, carefully, thoughtfully, and without pressure. For now, I will stick with things I know I can do!

So, say bye-bye to Proserpina. You’ll see her again some day! And in the meantime, I have two other projects on the burner, and I’ll show you the fits and starts on those two in the near future.

This weekend, a pre-Christmas give-away! It’s been a rotten sort of week, and the best way to shake out of it this time of year is to spread some Christmas cheer. I’ll be giving away a book of your choice, from a list of selections, so look for that this weekend, ok?!

Have a terrific Friday and an equally pleasant weekend!



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(26) Comments

  1. I’m not entirely sure what sort of time constraint you are under …. unless it’s ‘just’ that Christmas is around the corner?

    However, I think it is very good of you to share your mishaps as much as your triumphs. It gives me hope that, even if I make mistakes, if I learn from them, one day my work just might inch towards your fantastic standard 🙂

    And you are very generous to think about a Christmas give-away to cheer us up. It is very cold here in the UK and, as I type at 12 noon in London, it is starting to snow heavily. Could do with some cheer!!

  2. There is always a point where you hit the wall, so to speak. You keep trying and it is one mistake after another. What started as a fun project has become a chore. That is when it is time to simply walk away.

  3. Oh dear – so sorry that you’re struggling and you’ve had a rough week! I hope you have a lovely, relaxing Christmas break and things improve for you in the New Year (or before!)

    What a shame about Proserpina, but I’ll look forward to seeing her again some time in the future!

  4. Mary, I am so proud that you are ‘ normal ‘. We all hit a point in life when we blog about something we are doing and feel compelled to actually show some visible signs of progress, and then ‘ boom ‘ we start making mistakes. It is a serious and dedicated stitcher who knows when to stop and then pick it up again.

    I have some serious works in progress that did not appeal to me a year ago, but they look real good for relaxing with now.

    You are so talented and special. You share so freely of your time and talent, you are God’s gift to stitchers.

  5. Good choice, Mary. Sometime you just have to set a project aside for when you are in a better frame of mind and can devote the time and mental power to the task. I know I’ve done this before and it does work out well. Maybe that’s why I have all those unfinished projects lying about.

    It’s so nice of you to have a Christmas give-away. I’m looking forward to it!

  6. I’m just learning to embroider by hand and found your blog – such a useful resource. Thanks for sharing so much! It’s also nice to see the reality, that things don’t always work out and you might have to start over… 🙂

  7. Maybe that is why in the “old days” you would often see embroideries where the faces and hands were painted and pasted onto the fabric! Especially those old mourning pictures. It was wise of you to start with the most significant part of the design — too bad it is the most difficult! My fingers get itchy to embroidery all those lovely leaves! But if one does the 20+ hours of leaves, and then ends up with an alien from Neptune in the center, how disappointing would THAT be! Happy Holidays, Mary!

  8. I like it when people show projects that didn’t work out, or need to be put in timeout or marinate for a while. It helps me remember that I’m not the only one who has those projects. And when the solution to a problem is shared, I learn even more. Even when the lesson is “just because you started it, doesn’t mean you have to finish it”.

    No need to add to the stress level at Christmas! Proserpina will let you know when it’s time to finish her.

  9. Mary – thank you so much for sharing. I’m so sorry you spent so long. I’m sure you have some insights on what not to do next time but that is cold comfort. You inspire me when you share your setbacks because I realize first of all that even a stitching genius isn’t always perfect. I also pick out a lot more threads than I used to because I think “Mary wouldn’t let this go” 🙂

    I understand time constraints this time of year. I am a teacher too and am off to inscribe 24 books to finish my crowd’s Christmas packets, then bake for my room mother, and run to school

  10. Hoo boy! Oh, I feel your pain. I want to send you a picture of the face I *tried* to do. I’m not even close to your level of ability, but I’ve made my new years resolution that mastering the face thing is my very next project I’ll be tackling. May I (how do I) email you a photo, Mary?

    And just for the record, thank you so much for sharing this, especially. It feels like a gift to see your attempt, and know, this is a HARD embroidery subject to make it look right.

    The other faces you’ve shown look so beautiful and expressive. And they look *easy*, which means you know it’s reallllly, realllllly complicated.

    Since I’m way more impatient than you are to tackle picking out the things I don’t like, I have a small 4″ embroidery hoop that I’ve started small experiments on, so that I can toss the whole thing, instead of having to pick out. I suspect there will be about 20 of the darn attempts before I get to one I like.

    All this to say, ooooooh, pleeeaaaase don’t put Prosperina away for too long. (Please?)

    But do have a wonderful holiday! Sending you best wishes, and a very heartfelt thank you for all you’ve shared with us out in embroidery land. May your generosity be returned to you a thousand-fold and your spirit of sharing and inspiration be multiplied.

  11. Dear Marymentor:
    After scrolling down just far enough to get your first photo on to the bottom of my screen….. I just sat there…..dumbfounded…..and said out loud, “What IS it ?”…then I scrolled down a little further and read…”a FACE ?…Get outa here! 🙂 Thank God you can laugh at yourself as we all have to ! It’s very encouraging to know that “even YOU”….screw up from time to time ! 🙂 Thanks for the reality check ! Hope your holidays are not becoming overwhelming….I think that’s the real secret to having a Merry Christmas. Also hope you safely survived that midwest storm…
    Fondly…….Judy in Pittsburgh

  12. I’m sorry Proserpina didn’t work out this time, but I’m glad you showed us, and didn’t keep banging your head against a wall.

  13. Oh Mary, I opened the website up at work and burst out laughing at the bearded, fuzzy face lady and her stringy nostril. We have all set out on a project only to find out (after hours of effort)that this is just not going to happen. I learn from your truimphs and disappoints and also get a chuckle to boot.

  14. Hi Mary–Good for you for realizing your limits and putting the project on the shelf for a while. That is something that I haven’t yet learned to do. Not sure why–frugalness (I hate to have wasted all that thread, and my time)? masochism? stubbornness (I will finish this piece even if it kills me!)? Who knows.

    I wish I could let go like you have, it would probably be so much better for me as a stitcher.

    I’m looking forward to seeing Proserpina at some point in the future. Now go stitch something that gives you pleasure!


  15. The first thing I thought was, “Thank you for showing us this mistake.” I really thought that you could rectify anything immediately. I would have liked to have seen it before it was picked out. What are you going to do with this project?

  16. I am willing to bet the right idea will pop into your head when you least expect it and then you’ll know exactly how to stitch her face. When I get stumped on a stitching project, I like to leave it and mull on it during odd moments until I suddenly see how to either do it or work around it. Don’t push it – it will come in its own good time. One idea I had for this: trace the face onto 40-count silk gauze, use one strand of floss (either cotton or silk – to stitch her face in tent stitch, then applique it onto your main piece. Janet.

  17. Well, Mary, unlike Sisyphus, you were able to stop pushing Proserpina uphill to try and make the embroidery work. (I know I’m mixing metaphors here, but I feel sure the Proserpina project had started to weigh on you at least as much as Sisyphus’ stone)!

    Thank you for your generous giveaway offer to us. Have a wonderful weekend.

  18. It’s reassuring and encouraging to know that even the most talented goof up sometimes and I appreciate your willingness to share that with your admiring readers.

  19. How fortunate that you were able to unstitch poor Proserpina’s face without wrecking your fabric.
    She’d look beautiful done in mixed media.

  20. I just wanted to echo the comments that have already been left. I really appreciate your willingness to share the fact that things don’t always go smoothly for you. Your work and your willingness to share it have inspired me to pick up my needle and start working with embroidery again after a long hiatus. Thank you for your tutorials and all the other ways you share your craft.

  21. I’m sorry you had a frustrating day of embroidery, but I’ll echo everyone else in that you made a wise choice in stepping away for a while. Here’s hoping that your subconcious will work on the problem for you, and one day soon you’ll have the “Aha” moment and know just what to do.

  22. Hi, Everyone! Thanks so much for your nice comments, and your encouragement!

    After re-reading the post, I suppose I came across as a bit more negative than I actually intended. I am laughing at the mess I made of her face – FOUR TIMES! I mean, it’s one thing to make a mess once and pick it out. Twice even. Threeee times, ok. But wow. I managed it four times. That should be some sort of record.

    And yes, the fabric held up well. I only picked out twice on that piece, twice on another.

    Oh, and to clarify – the mess in the first picture is after I cut all the threads to pick them out. It’s not actually the stitched face! 🙂

    I’ve stepped back a bit from feeling as if I’m making panicky decisions and I’m ready to launch peacefully into the two projects I know I’m doing, both of which I’m pretty excited about!

    Thanks again for your comments!! Now, back to needle & thread…..


  23. siempre pasa”se marcha por un momento la inspiracion”’luego llega porque viene el desafio ‘me da gusto no es solo mi problema¡¡
    a no dejarlo muy lejos

  24. “I just love it when a plan comes together!”…and “hate it when it doesn’t”. Love looking at your work…even the trials and tribulations! Gives us “mortal stitchers” hope!!

  25. Quilters call projects that are put aside (for whatever reasons) UFO’s (Un Finished Objects). Sometimes when we return to those projects, we have better focus, a clearer heda, less pressure etc. and we finish them up lickety split. Other times, the UFO still doesn’t come together, in which case it becomes a learning experience of what not to do, or better still what to do if one wants a difficult challenge. Thanks for sharing your humanity. I’ve been thinking of you as the goddess of embroidery–perhaps Proserpina was jealous!
    p.s. if my comments came up twice in the giveaway, it’s because I can’t seem to find my comment in the updated comment list. I’m not sure what to write in the Website blank, since I don’t have a website. Have wonderful holidays.

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