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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Embroidery Kits for Learning Lots


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Recently, I’ve gotten a slew of e-mail asking for recommendations for “good” embroidery kits for stitchers interested in learning surface embroidery.

Well, there are embroidery kits, and then there are Embroidery Kits. And to tell you the truth, I prefer the latter. The difference? Let’s see…

Berlin Embroidery Modern Jacobean Embroidery Kit

This is a project I’m currently working through, called “Bird of Paradise.” It’s one of Tanja Berlin’s Modern Jacobean embroidery kits. Oh, wait…. that’s Embroidery Kits. Tanja’s kits definitely belong to the latter category. They are not commercially prepared kits with generic supplies and less than satisfactory instruction. No, no!! These are top quality embroidery kits, with excellent instructions, materials, and design – and perfect for learning lots of surface embroidery techniques.

Berlin Embroidery Modern Jacobean Embroidery Kit

This particular kit covers a myriad of stitches! Off the top of my head, in this one, there’s herringbone stitch, stem stitch, Vandyke stitch, coral stitch, chain stitch, French knots, satin stitch (used in different ways for different effects), lattice work, couching, bullions, raised spider web, chain stitch, seeding, stem stitch filling, needle lace, raised stem stitch…. and probably more that I’ve missed!

Berlin Embroidery Modern Jacobean Embroidery Kit

The stitches are all used in interesting ways – no humdrum stuff here! The satin stitching on the tail feathers, for example, helps teach how to space satin stitch correctly to achieve tail feathers that would turn Gertrude McFuzz green with envy.

Berlin Embroidery Modern Jacobean Embroidery Kit

The kits are packaged with a colored photo of the finished project on the outside….

Berlin Embroidery Modern Jacobean Embroidery Kit

… and clear step-by-step instructions on the inside. The instructions take the stitcher (even the beginner) from start to finish, detail by detail, in the order the project should be worked. They include all the nitty-gritty details – even how to start and end your threads correctly. Diagrams assist to clarify the text throughout, to assure that the stitcher “gets it.” The fabric in the kit (this one is silk dupioni) has the design pre-drawn on it, and all the necessary threads are separated onto color cards. In this kit, organza for appliqué and kid leather are also included, as well as metallic braid for the sparkly bits.

That’s an Embroidery Kit. It combines everything the stitcher wants, especially quality materials and good instruction. (Incidentally, Tanja also offers ongoing free critique via e-mail for those who purchase her kits. Nothing like having a professional instructor at your beck and call…)

Now, as for embroidery kits (with lower case letters)… well. There’s not much to say. It’s true that Embroidery Kits sold by individual designers are often slightly more expensive, but I always figure you get what you pay for. Most commercial kits don’t supply you with concise and thorough instruction, let alone decent materials. If you want good results, start with good materials. And in supporting individual designers, you help ensure the continuation of quality needlework.

So that’s the way I see it.

If you’re looking for a needlework kit that will really teach you something, feel free to take a look at Berlin Embroidery – she’s got something for everyone: whitework, goldwork, needlepainting, Jacobean crewel, and all kinds of books and supplies. Definitely worth visiting!

And that’s my soap box report on embroidery kits! What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let the rest of us know!


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(43) Comments

  1. I have some lovely embroidery kits that I inherited. They are clearly “home made” and come with the promise of extra supplies or advice if needed. The instructions are minimal (literally on the back of the envelope) but they’re enough. I did run short of one colour of thread, but I expect the promise has expired.

    I don’t buy any kits, though I would like too, because even the commercial ones are prohibitively expensive. Alas.

  2. I thoroughly agree with you. I love Tania’s work and at this precise moment I am doing an on-line Blackwork course with her. I am struggling with it because I don’t have much free time but I’m sure I will get there in the end.

    Keep up the good work.



  3. I like Trish Burr’s needle painting kits.
    they are with or without cottons and packaged with very easy to read guide try her kits books and ideas at http://www.trishburr.co.za she is from South Africa and the costs is very reasonable in Rands

    also thank you Mary for all the work you do for us and the information
    regards Lorna

  4. Hi Mary,

    Personally I don’t use kits at all these days, as I like to do my own designs and I’m REALLY bad at doing what I’m told anyway! If I were going to use kits though, or recommend them to anyone else, I would definitely agree with everything you say! And I do look at kits sometimes and feel a BIT tempted … especially those by Alison Cole: http://www.alisoncoleembroidery.com.au

  5. Good morning Mary,
    You are absolutly right, I wanted to learn how to do needle painting and bought her little mouse kit and the instructions are precise and I am nearly done. As a matter of fact, you mentionned Tanja way before and this is how I went to her site. I also would like to purchase something from Trish Burr…. we will see. Thanks for all the great advices.

  6. Finding embroidery kits IS really difficult. Most of them are really boring. I am working on a kit from Paint-By-Threads. It has craftsman style patterns which I am addicted to. The stitches are not complicated but for me it gave me the opportunity to get better at satin and long-short stitches plus the opportunity to work on linen. Ok you caught me, I’m only a year into embroidery and totally enthralled. Having Needlenthread feels like having a “Professional instructor at my beck and call. ” Thank you Mary.

  7. What a temptation!!! Again Mary! And times are so bad for these tempations… at least here…
    You are right about a good Embroidery Kit and that you are doing is a temptation. Really!
    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Thank you for the recommendations. I think we often think as beginners we should purchase an inexpensive “easy” kit. Often the difficulties encountered in working with these kits quench any interest we started with.

  9. Hi Mary

    I can wholeheartedly recommend Roseworks kits from South Africa. See roseworks.co.za. Colleen Goy has a lovely variety of kits suitable for all levels of embroiderers, including smaller ones suitable for beginners. I have used them to help beginners develop their embroidery skills with great success. She has a wonderful eye for colour.

    Best wishes

  10. I am so glad you reviewed embroidery kits. Thanks for the link. I also look forward to reading your email every day..I am learning a lot.

  11. So true on the differences! After reading here on how to do satin stitch, that’s my biggest beef with kits – sketchy or incorrect instuctions. I’d think by now, if they can’t be bothered to put good ones in the kit, why not at least put them on the internet with the location in the kit. It wouldn’t help those with no/little internet access though. And the fabrics – the pillowcase kits are nasty polyester blends, and the kits for pictures or pillows freqently seem to be some coarse fabric that’s hard to stitch on.

    I will say though, only one time I ran out of threads so far. And thanks to the internet, someone in Canada had what I needed to finish that tiger.

    It looks like I have some po$$ibly dangerou$ brow$ing to do, thanks to all the pointers to really nice Embroidery Kits.

  12. Beautiful. I’ve never done a “real” kit. But it’s really lovely. And I love Gertrude McFuzz! LOL

  13. I so agree with you.

    I have done a few of her projects and the kits and instructions are just perfect.

    Have sent her digital photos and received critique from her very quickly too.

    I am a firm believer that you get what you pay for in most cases.

    Pierrette =^..^=

  14. Mmm, yes. There are some great products out there and also some so-so ones. I recently saw Cynthia’s post on Trish Burr’s correspondence course and the very high quality of the materials and presentation. That was impressive. I was pleased with the, sadly no longer on the market, ‘Strawberry and Rose Pincushion’ kit that I worked from the RSN (can be seen on my blog (click on name), and on the ‘Masterpieces’ page). There were a plethora of new stitches to learn, but everything was so well illustrated and explained that it was really easy to produce a relatively advanced level item.

    On the other hand, some kits and charts are naff. They’re just plain naff. Instructions are garbled, digrams are too generalised and the design itself is ill printed etc. I can manage to work my way out of these jumbles well enough, but I prefer not to have to!!

  15. Hi Mary! Tanja Berlin is AMAZING. As a teacher, designer, kit-maker, etc. We are so lucky to have access to such talent — and to LEARN from her!

  16. Mary, thanks for the information about the beautiful embroidery kits. I have been stitching since I was a child but want to work with more of a variety of stitches. I have found that the embroidery kits available on the “market” don’t challenge with a variety of stitches like EMBROIDERY kits do. Also I have found that the quality of the wool threads is better in EMBROIDERY kits than in embroidery kits. Have you found this as well?

  17. I attended 3 of Tanja’s classes in 2009 … thread painting, blackwork and double sided … thoroughly enjoyed them all, and YES, her instructions are the best I’ve seen. She’s a great teacher and her designs are wonderful. Well worth buying her kits.

  18. My mother still has the owl crewel I gave her. It was the very first thing I’d every stitched, and wow! is it awful! But it got me hooked. Now, 40 years later, I enjoy cross-stitch, hardanger and needlepoint. I’ve got to say that looking at the Berlin Embroidery site, I really want to try my hand at blackwork (specifically, the peacock) and some of the needlepainting. They look wonderful. Of course, there’s so much in my stash that it will have to follow me into heaven in order for me to complete it all. Do you think they allow floss beyond the pearly gates? I really want to finish some of my pieces (especially this one: http://www.twdesignworks.com/Designs/pt_l.html)*sigh*

  19. I have a few of Tanya’s needle painting kits and they are good actually they are Great..Her instructions are really well written and if you have a problem she will help you every step of the way..Her kits are the only ones that I will buy…

  20. This is a lovely kit. May I also recommend Roseworks kits by Colleen Goy? Besides being a superb artist, Colleen is a sweetheart in person. Another South African embroiderer who produces wonderful kits is Lesley Turpin-Delport. Given its small size, South Africa has a lively embroidery culture and a number of firms producing very beautiful threads.

  21. Mary, I must agree with you that Tanya’s kits are wonderful. Her kits are also labeled on the website as to “beginner”, “intermediate” or “advanced” which for me is a huge plus. One of the worst things that can happen to a beginner is to be working on a kit that will have no use when finished even if you do a fantastic job. At least with the “designer” kits you still have something that looks good enough to use.

    Cheers, Linda A

  22. Thank you for this valuable info, I will go to her site and check out the Jacobean embroidery I’ve always wanted to learn how to do.

  23. I just read the comment from Gail Welhelm question for Gail where does one fine the designs for Turpin-Delport…

  24. Thanks Mary for another informative article, I will check out her site straightaway and I,m sure I’ll be in trouble as I can’t resist beautiful patterns even though I really should do the ones I’ve stashed away!

  25. I just received one of her “beginner kits” and was gald to read your comments. I am looking forward to embroidering it. It is a very COMPLETE kit that show she takes care in preparing it.

  26. Ooooo…I’ve eyed off that Bird kit a few times now. It looks so much more colourful in your photos. It’s a bit subdued on the on-line photo. All those magnificent jewel colours in the tail don’t come across.

    I do think ….”sold!” (when I get to it 🙂


  27. Many, many years ago yarn and fabric was available in department stores. One day my mom had bought some yarn in the department store and while we were waiting for the bus in front of Woolworth’s (remember them?) I saw yarn in the window for a lot less than my mom paid for her yarn. I innocently advised her in all my 8yo wisdom that she could have bought so much more at Woolworth’s. She nicely explained that basically you get what you pay for and to spend all that time making something you should use the best supplies you can afford. I’ve carried that thought whether it’s quilting, knitting/crocheting, or embroidery be it hand or machine.

    Helen in SW FL

  28. Thank you so much – I was just looking for something really fine in the Jacobean style – one of these will be perfect for a workshop I’ll be doing in May!

    Mary Ann – the Nacient Needle

  29. Depending on your aesthetic tastes, Jenny Hart’s kits at sublimestitching.com are pretty good–at least if by “learning surface embroidery” you mean “overcoming a fear of doing anything other than cross-stitch” rather than “mastering the sorts of beautiful things often displayed on this blog.” So more for the absolute beginner in terms of instruction at least . . . Which is what I first thought of, as someone who rarely satin stitches and is more of an embroidery dabbler. I’m mostly here for the visual inspiration, people that are here for the philosophy of embroidery might still enjoy the materials and patterns that Sublime Stitching sells but would do well to eschew her directions.

  30. Your work is beautiful and the kit has so many nice details. A work of art when completed.

    I agree, kits are not all the same. Not only is the quality of the threads but the quantity is important. Who wants to be 10″ short of a piece of thread when working on a crucial detail! And instructions can make or break any project.

    Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  31. For LaRaine: You can find Lesley Turpin-Delaport’s kits on her website, http://www.les-designs.com/products/kits.html. She and her daughter (also on website) have also put out a great book, which I just got as a rather late Christmas present! It’s called Embroidered Flora & Fauna, and although it’s project-based, which is not normally my kind of book, this one has such great ideas in it that it’s just wonderful to browse.

  32. Kits and kits indeed – I have worked with some wonderful kits, and then again some which were almost incomprehensible. I think it’s a particularly bad sign if the kit is black and white and then offers you a bundle of unsorted thread containing four shades of ‘golden brown’ and three of ‘gold’.
    I would love to know if there’s any universal difference between ‘medium golden brown’ and ‘dark gold’ that I’m just missing here.

  33. I am learning about kits. I know many years ago I bought a produced kit for my sons room and found the materials wanting although I did do it. Now that I have been learnigng and doing some of the free tutorials. I buy better materials to do them. I will be buying some KITS soon.

  34. For Anne at Norfolk
    Thank you Anne for the website I will go there and I’m always looking for good books Thanks for the recommendation will certainly go to the book store and see if I can find it…Thanks again Have a good stitching day…

  35. Dear Mary,
    Happy Birthday! !

    Thanks for your generosity and humor. Also thanks for giving us a standard to approach which is made
    possible by the exacting precision of your teaching.

    My ultimate birthday gift would be to make it
    to my next(82nd) birthday.

    All my best from New York City where it is slooooowly warming up.

  36. Happy birthday. Many thanks for your informative website; I am just learning and the videos are invaluable. It may sound trite and cliche but I would wish for world peace. I would also wish for instant knowledge of all the beautiful stitches and loads of time to do them.

  37. I have bought kits from Tania. I really appreciated the quality of the materials and the instructions. I felt like I was in a classroom. Being new to embroidery, I wasn’t at all intimidated because of her great instructions and presentation. Its like having a personal instructor and kit all in one. 🙂

  38. I agree full heartedly with Mary Tanya Berlins Kits are the best. Even for beginners the instructions are great and if you have a problem she is there for you with all your questions. She has a great web site and her kits are great.
    Also Trish Burr has some really great kits also her stuff is beautiful and very reasonably priced.

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