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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Hand Embroidery, with Chopsticks


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No, no. I’m not embroidering with chopsticks. But I am embroidering in the company of chopsticks. And I don’t mean that annoying piano piece we all learned as kids – you know, the one that can effectively drive even the most resilient person nuts in a matter of seconds?

I really do mean chopsticks, as in Asian eating instruments.

You may remember that a couple weeks ago, I showed you my slate frame set-up for the commissioned embroidery piece I’m presently working on. And you might remember I was worried about the close quarters of the piece within the slate frame, because it didn’t leave me any room for tensioning the piece further if I needed to.

Enter: the best part of Needle ‘n Thread. You.

Using chopsticks to tighten a slate frame

A reader (thanks, Cecelia!) suggested a solution that’s often used in Japanese embroidery – inserting a stick or a chopstick where needed, to add extra tension.

And it just so happens that I have a glorious set of matching chopsticks that I appropriated from my mother, who picked them up in Hong Kong some 50 years ago. Thanks, Mom! I bet you never noticed.

Using chopsticks to tighten a slate frame

By inserting the chopsticks between the lacing and the side slats on the slate frame, I was able to get just that tiny bit of tension that I needed, and that I couldn’t get from adjusting the lacing because there was no room to pull the fabric closer to the slats. It worked really well!

And I discovered something else. When you just need a touch more tension, it’s much easier to insert a chopstick than it is to untie and tighten up the laces on the frame. It almost feels like cheating.

And I bet if I had to, I could insert two chopsticks. Or three! Or the whole set! And Mom will probably still never notice. Thanks, Mom!

Now you know: I’m a cheatin’ thief!

Next time you need a tad of tension on your slate frame – try a chopstick!

If you’d like access to all the tips and techniques discussed in the Medallion Project, including complete step-by-step coverage of the Tudor-Style Rose, conveniently collected in one document, interlinked, referenced, and indexed, why not add the Marian Medallion Project e-book to your library? It’s packed full of all kinds of embroidery tips for undertaking a project like this, all in a convenient electronic format for easy searching.


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(7) Comments

  1. Hi Mary,
    Thanks for reminding me of this little gem. You can use the same trick for stretcher bars (regular ons and not Evertights) with fabric (linen, silk, etc.). We used unsharpened pencils for an EGA General Correspondence Course in Goldwork. They worked like a charm – similar to your chopstick method.

  2. Hi Mary,
    Now we can be really creative with little things to tighten up the frame. If the chopsticks are too big, you know those little bamboo kabob skewers? Those might be another option. There’s always the back side that can be tightened too!

    Can’t wait to see more progress on the stitching!

  3. You said it almost felt like cheating. Well, years ago my Jap. emb. teacher told me about a saying her Jap. emb. teacher (who actually was Japanese and the son-in-law of Master Saito) told her when she took a short-cut. He said, “Sneaky tech-a-nique. Master not see.” I’ve always loved it.

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