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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Spring Bright!


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Spring is coming on in bits and spurts here in Kansas, and that means a couple things for me: one, my thoughts turn to bright spring colors and things I can stitch with them; and two, the school year is careening to a close.

For those of you who have been putting up with me for a while, you know that I’ve been teaching a high school Needle Arts class this year. I haven’t mentioned it much lately, because I don’t want to bore you with the nitty gritty details, but since it’s been a while since I’ve mentioned it, I figure you’ll indulge me!

On the school front, I’ve been working on adjusting my Needle Arts curriculum a little bit, to accommodate the onslaught of Spring and all the attitudes and accomplishments that go with it. By accomplishments, I mean the knowledge and skills gained through the school year, which, towards the end of the year, should be reinforced and put to the test. By attitudes, I mean the almost-jubilant antsy-ness that comes with warmer weather. Kids tend to think summer vacation is here long before it ever gets here, because suddenly the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it’s a lot warmer out. The arrival of spring is energizing in that regard, but it also presents a few difficulties in the classroom – like keeping students focused and encouraging them to persevere to the end.

Embroidery for Spring

According to my original plan for my Needle Arts class, the second semester of the school year was to begin with a whitework project, followed by a small crewel embroidery project.

After forging through whitework, I realized that too much structure and too much what I call “formal” embroidery can be a bit disheartening for youth who are just getting into embroidery. What they seemed to enjoy most about their spot samplers from the first semester is that they had a lot of leeway in color choice, design choice, and layout of their “spots” of needlework on their samplers.

The whitework projects were different: color choice didn’t come into the picture, and design choice was limited to picking one of two designs. While the students persevered in their whitework projects and did a really nice job on them, I don’t have the sense that they actually enjoyed the projects as much. Part of this may be the lack of color, which understandably is a big draw for the teenager learning to stitch. Never underestimate the power of color!

To break up the formality of planned embroidery projects that require following meticulous instructions, getting familiar with unfamiliar threads, and selecting between a couple pre-determined designs, I’ve decided on an adjustment to the plan for second semester.

Embroidery for Spring

I’m resorting to the K-I-S-S plan: Keep It Simple, Stupi… er, Sweetie.

Embroidery for Spring

Moving away from “formal” stitching, we’ll be doing what I call “relaxing” embroidery. The humble flour sack towel is the ground fabric, and for threads, we’re using stranded cotton floss, which works out well on three accounts: the students are familiar with it, the color selection is vast, and it’s within the budget!

Embroidery for Spring

When I told the students we’d be going back to regular stranded cotton for the next project, stitching a “Spring” project in color, one of the students asked enthusiastically, “In Spring brights?!”

Yes, I thought. Spring Bright is going to be wonderful!

Embroidery for Spring

So now we’re stitching corner designs in spring colors on flour sack towels.

I had several towels left over from my summer embroidery classes, so there was little expenditure there (which is good – the budget gets tight as the school year approaches its end). The students have a wide choice of designs, and they can even draw their own designs if they wish. To keep the whole process even simpler (yet still within budget), I dug out of my stash every sheet of Transfer-Eze I could get my paws on, plus a sample packet of Sulky’s Sticky Fabri-Solvy, which is the same thing as Transfer-Eze. Between the two packages, printing two designs per page, we were good to go!

Embroidery for Spring

And even if it isn’t the little crewel design I had planned for them to do at this point, the flour sack towels are still an excellent exercise in basic stitchery. To embroider the towels, they get to choose out of their repertoire of 40 stitches that they learned first semester and execute their designs however they wish.

Embroidery for Spring

And while it’s true that they’re not experiencing wool threads, and it’s true that they aren’t practicing traditional transfer methods for their project (they’ve already had to transfer designs twice, using different methods, so I’m ok with that), they are experiencing something else that I’m afraid would have been a bit stifled otherwise: they’re having fun. They’re working mostly with bright colors – Spring Bright! – on designs of their own choosing, enjoying relaxing embroidery, using the stitches they like best.

Yep. It’s a good break. And a perfect way to welcome Spring!


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(32) Comments

  1. How lucky those students are to have you as their teacher. Wish I could take an adult class with you in Kansas but the commute across the Atlantic might be a bit difficult!

  2. I’m always impressed at how much stitching your students get through. They really must be inspired and enjoying themselves. I love the ‘Spring Bright’ colours.

  3. 1) I love it!!!!!
    2)I love that you care about them
    3) I love it that their are HS students who care about needle arts
    4) I’m jealous and wish I could teach needle arts

  4. Wow, a high school needle arts class? I can’t tell you how much I wish my high school would have offered one. The closest thing I could take was Fiber Arts and I made things like a hooked rug, macrame handbag (yes, that dates me) and a small quilt. Well, the beauty of the internet is that I feel like I’m in your class electronically. Thank you so much for your hard work in keeping this up to date, it’s what I look forward to when I open my email!

  5. I wish we’d have been offered that class in school. I took four years of sewing, but my teacher had zero interest in needlearts. Those are some very lucky kids and bravo to you for teaching this to them!

  6. However did you manage to convince a school board to let you teach embroidery? Congratulations. How many students signed up for the class?

  7. Mary, After reading the earlier posts, I hesitated adding my own because they are covered what I wanted to say (especially Tami’s), but here goes anyway. As a former teacher (although of seventh graders), I know exactly what this warmer weather means to rhe classroom. Brava to you for being aware of your students as people, attuned to their interests and needs, and for putting those permutations first in your planning! You must be high on their list of favorite teachers; you certainly would be on mine!!! Noel

  8. This sounds wonderful! While I agree that it’s a shame that your students won’t get to experience something like wool thread perhaps it’s more important that they associate embroidery with having ‘fun’. If they end the class with the idea that doing embroidery is an enjoyable way to spend one’s time maybe a few of them will want to explore on their own and try other things.

    Your students are so lucky to have even been exposed to hand embroidery with the added bonus of a fabulous teacher.

    Happy Spring!

  9. I really like the pattern, Mary. And love the colors. I too suffered a bit of spring “I don’t wanna go!” as I walked into work during the warm spell we had a couple of weeks ago.

    I do wonder though, how many signed up thinking “easy A” and ended up loving needlework, and how many signed up to learn needlework or improve what they already knew.

  10. I loved this post, Mary. I really enjoy hearing how the class is progressing and seeing examples of your students’ work. These designs and the Spring Bright colours are delightful.

    Ok, so your students did not work with wool or learn another traditional technique this term but they learnt the most import thing … the joy of stitching.

  11. Hi Mary,
    Good for you for being flexible enough to change the plan! I think you’ve done this group of students a very big favor in letting them experience the relaxation factor of embroidery and the euphoria of having sole control over something in their lives. I’ve long been familiar with the wonder of having undisputed control over at least one area of life; creating. So little else is really within our control, no matter what we think. Especially when life’s problems or health problems are weighing on us, being able to create from the heart and head and hands is beneficial to the soul.
    And you thought you were just teaching embroidery!

  12. I love your approach Mary. Your kids are very lucky. It’s so much fun to watch these new generations embrace the handmade, the non-electronic, the simpler pleasures, even as they are plugged in to myriad devices. I read an article in the NY Times today about the rise in popularity of manual typewriters among teenagers and 20-somethings. It tickled my heart and brought a smile to my face. Just like your post. Thanks!

  13. I’m gearing up to dive into teaching a 10-year-old who has shown a keen interest in my stitching projects and has finished a couple little cross-stitch and needlepoint kits I bought her. This post confirms what I was thinking of doing next — giving her some simple designs, teaching her some basic stitches, and letting her have at it.

    Could you give me any more tips on teaching kids? What are the best stitched to start with? Should I have her practice each stitch exclusively for a while before giving her a pattern to work? Any other things I should keep in mind?

  14. I love the fact you are letting them have fun. Those are the classes and teachers I remember the most. The ones who allowed a little fun and gave us some room for creativity. You are teaching them a skill that they may use later on in life as a hobby or stress reliever. The towels they create will be a treasure for many years to come. Well done! Teacher!

  15. I wish I’d had you as a teacher in high school, Mary.. in ANY subject! But I also wish that I’d had the opportunity to expand my stitching at the time in the way you’re doing with your students.

    Thank you so much for introducing a new generation to the fun of this art form! 🙂

  16. Mary, I love the whole idea of you teaching NeedleArts in the school setting. Kids love color and your teaching them to paint with thread! Hooray!

  17. Hi Mary-Hope you will add the Spring Bright you are currently embroidering to your pattern library. It’s really pretty. I would have loved to have been in your High School embroidery class. Funnest class ever!

  18. Thanks for sharing this update on your class. As a former teacher, I agree wholeheartedly with Noel’s comment. I think you would also be one of my favorite teachers. And thank you for jogging my memory! As a teen I spent many happy hours learning to stitch on flour sack towels – and then I was able to share that pleasure with my own children. I still have some of their work tucked away in a drawer.

  19. Mary,
    I am so envious of your high school students! I would have absolutely LOVED to have had this option in school! Heck, I’d love to have the opportunity now! 🙂

    The design you show is lovely! Very springy and make me itchy to do something simular.

    Are you going to offer this as a downloadable pattern? Please!

  20. Hello Mary. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have you put this pattern up on the patterns section of your website. I’m working on gathering different floral motifs for a quilt I want to embroider. This would make a lovely pattern for one of the blocks, or perhaps some of the sashings throughtout the quilt.

    I’m like your other readers….oooh to be in your high school class (but not as a high school student) – boy howdy I don’t want to go back to that time….:-)

    Enjoy your spring. It was snowing here yesterday….blech!

    Brenda Day

    1. Hi, Brenda! Yeah, that’s not a time of my life I’d like to relive either! 🙂 I’ll look into the restrictions on that pattern, and if I can post it, I will, I promise. If not… hm. I won’t! 🙁 But I’ll definitely check into it. Sorry to hear about the snow. OHHHH. NOOOO. Please no more snow! We had about 64 today, and the glorious sun came out for the first time in days and days and days and days! Woohhhooo….

  21. And since they are having fun, they may continue to enjoy embroidery as a creative hobby for the rest of their lives! What a fantastic achievement for you.

    Plus, they’ll remember you as the inspirational teacher that you are 🙂

  22. I LOVE this project and everything about it! Love how you used the different shades in the flowers and love the whole design.

    So glad you went with your creative instinct and changed the plans for the class. I am sure that your ideas,projects and love of needlework will leave a lasting mark in your students … lucky ducks!

    As Helen said, it is pure joy to watch the new generation finding fun in all types of needle adventures and lots of simple pleasures.

    Question: I was trying to figure out from the photos how many strands of floss you worked with?

    Thank you for sharing …

  23. Great work Mary – I deeply admire anyone who actively works to encourage students to embroider. You have done a marvelous job, and I’m sure your students really appreciate the hard work you undertake to teach them! Just wish I could do your class (you are coming to ‘beat around the bush’ next year though, right?!)

    1. Hi, All! Thanks for your many comments, and sorry I couldn’t get around to replying to some of them sooner. I’ll try to answer all your questions!

      SewnbySaliba – Actually, no, I won’t be going to BATB in 2012. I did mention this a bit earlier, but it was within a longer post, so you might have missed it (I can’t even remember what post it was in! That’s how easy it is to miss!) In fact, I had to decline the invitation, finally, because I could not meet CB’s marketing deadlines, due to my regular work schedule. 🙁

      Regarding the number of threads in the piece above, I’m stitching with two strands. You could stitch with three, but there are lots of little scrollies that get pretty tight, so I figured going a little bit lighter would be better.

      Concerning the pattern itself, I’m not exactly sure if I can share this one. It is a vector drawing that I bought (for web work actually, but I abstracted some elements and repeated them, to make up the design). It is “royalty free” once purchased, but it does have some restrictions on it. I need to be certain of the restrictions before I turn it into a needlework pattern to publish here.

      Concerning the Needle Arts class itself, it’s in a private school, not a public school. Yes, as far as my experience goes, it’s impossible to get this kind of class into the curriculum at a public school these days – well, I wouldn’t say “impossible,” but perhaps nigh on impossible! But in the private sector, curricula tends to be more arts-oriented.

      Well, I hope that answers some questions! Now I’m off to do some stitching myself. I’m working on an interesting little piece that may be done before this weekend is over. We shall see!

      Thanks again for your comments!


  24. The best thing to do is keep your student excited about stitching and reinforce all that they have learned. Sounds like you doing just that!! They are, indeed, lucky students.

  25. Wow, I am so jealous that I’m not in that class, wish you lived close to me…oh well I guess I’ll have to settle for reading your blog and watching your videos.

  26. Hi Mary,
    Thank you so much for your website and for your fabulous instruction. I love doing embroidery but don’t have time to actually join the local embroidery group which meet at night. I am working on some doilies that have no instruction sheets so your ideas are very helpful. Once again, thanks for your willingness to share…
    Cheers, Carolyn (from Sydney, Australia)

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