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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Stem Stitch Filling in Silk – and Decision Making!


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Making decisions about the next step in a needlework project is sometimes tough, and if you aren’t careful, that whole decision-making process can bog you down and bring your productivity to a halt. I decided to face a decision about the stitching on the Medallion Project pretty much the way I face decisions in life: if you spend too much time in deciding, you lose a lot of time when you could be doing. It seems that once I make a decision, I’m always happier, so why prolong the anxiety created by that middle ground of uneasy deliberation?

Today, I’ll show you my hang-up on the Medallion Project, tell you about my decision-making process on this particular part of the project, and then … well, hopefully, I won’t disappoint you with the decision I ultimately made!

Church Embroidery in Silk and Gold - Marian Design

When last we visited the Medallion Project, the center was finished! I filled the background with flat silk and stitched over it in gold thread “vermicelli”, I padded the monogram and stitched it in long and short stitch with silk, and then I outlined the monogram with gold Lizardine, with a dark blue silk twisted through it.

It doesn’t seem like a whole lot of work, when listed like this, does it?

The next step was to add the dark blue in the little triangles behind the roses. This area was stitched in the darkest of the four shades of blue silk, in a combination of long & short stitch and satin stitch. The dark blue pulls these little parts of the design backwards, to make them look deep, so that the gold that will eventually outline the different parts of the design will sit on top, giving a sense of dimension to the piece.

So far, so good!

Church Embroidery in Silk and Gold - Marian Design

My intention from the very beginning of this project was that the outside wide edge with the dots in it would be blue, and would be relatively dark, with the dots filled with gold. When I sketched up the project, I shaded this wider outer ring with dark edges, but a little lighter in the middle behind the dots. My plan was to use stem stitch as a filling, working in rows, using the three darkest shades of blue (out of the four), with the darkest on the edge and the lightest in the center behind the dots.

So this is what I set out to do, and in the photo above, you can see the first two shades of stem stitch filling in the wide ring. The little dots of blue outside the stitching are anchor stitches – those will be covered up as the area is filled.

Church Embroidery in Silk and Gold - Marian Design

After working the two darkest shades of blue on the outside edges of the ring, I started to tackle the “medium” blue, stitching two rows of it. And this is where anxiety began to creep in…

Church Embroidery in Silk and Gold - Marian Design

But I kept going and stitched in a couple more rows. In the photo above, you can see how the medium blue stands out against the darker blue – it does not present a subtle gradation of shade, which is what I originally had in mind. I began to waiver. Was this the right thing to do? Should I change my approach? Should I switch to long & short stitch shading here, working from the inside out around the ring, which would present a much softer gradation of the shades of blue?

Church Embroidery in Silk and Gold - Marian Design

But, as you can see, I continued forward, albeit now, I was working much slower, and with a bit of trepidation the whole time.

Every time I sat down to the project, I spent the first ten minutes or more just staring at it. Then I’d stitch a bit, and walk away again. This is no way to get things done! Nagging at me the whole time was the fact that I have a deadline. The pressure was building, and I found myself unable to face the project enthusiastically. I knew I had to make a decision either way and live with it.

So – I made a decision!

In fact, I made two.

The first decision I made was made at the end of the day when I was irritated, more with myself than with the project. I decided to pick the whole area out and start over! I walked away from the project, planning to do exactly that the next day.

But I forgot the golden rule of decision making: in times of desolation, never make a change!

The next day, I walked out to my workroom. In my head, the task I was facing – picking all that stitching out – was mountainous. But I was determined. I wasn’t irked, and my mind was fresh (more or less – as fresh as it ever gets, anyway!).

I saw the piece from afar.

And then I remembered! The piece is meant to be seen from a distance, not up close! And looking at it from a distance, with a clearer head and with the clouds of irritation that had hovered the day before dispelled, I made the second and final decision.

Go forward!

Ahhh… relief and happiness abound!

I’ll show you the results next time!

If you’d like to follow this project from its tentative beginnings to now, feel free to visit the Index for the Medallion Project. There, you’ll find the back story and all the nitty-gritty details of getting to this point in the project.

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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(23) Comments

  1. To quote Leonardo da Vinci…”Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgement will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgement…Go some distance away, because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and a lack of harmony or proportaion is more readily seen.”

    I agree with your decision.

    Doreen from Maine

    1. I love that quote! Thanks!
      Mary, can’t wait to see the next step. You are right. Or, as G K Chesterton said, “sometimes things are seen more clearly when seen from upside down.”

  2. I suppose, if you continue to have a few nagging doubts about the blending of the colours, you can take a few tiny seed-like stitches with the lighter blue in the darker blue and vice versa, just to blend the shading a bit, but I think I’ll like the look with discrete bands of colour up close (and the long-distance view–as you point out–will be perfectly fine).

  3. Oh, thank God! The whole time I was reading this post I was thinking “Don’t pick it out! From a distance it will be great! You NEED a distinct contrast for it to be seen from a distance.” So glad you agree.

  4. I agree, we can take too much time making decisions. If a decision is made we can move forward. If the decision was wrong, we will probably recognise that fairly quickly, and we will at least have gained from that knowledge.

    The project seems to coming along very nicely, I’m looking forward to the next update.

  5. G’day Mary,
    Mmm, I can see what the iffy problem was all right, but when you mentioned about seeing it from a distance I squinted, or looked through my eyelashes if you like, and hey, presto, it’s ‘like a bought one’!
    Was pleased to read your interview with Trish in her newsletter today.
    Rest easy Mary,
    Cheers, Kath

  6. It is looking wonderful, Mary! I’m so glad you
    stepped back to get perspective on the stitching & saved yourself all that ripping.
    When I moved back from the monitor & looked at your closeup again, the color progression seemed natural to me as well. Sometimes we just need a little distance on our work. Here’s to lots of happy stitching going forward!

  7. I’m very happy you didn’t pick it all out!

    If you had been still unhappy with it after seeing in from a distance, would it work to combine the 2 shades of blues on the needle for a couple of rows? Just wondering if that would have been an option rather than ripping everything and starting over with long and short stitch. Or is that part being done with 1 strand of silk at a time?

  8. now the rest of the story….lol. i’m glad you were able to make your decision and be happy with it. i’m also very happy for you that you didn’t need to pick it all out. from what frogging i’ve done in the past it’s a horrible process and demoralizing….so i’m glad you escaped it! the reds and golds in the tudor roses against the dark blue silks will be stunning! i can’t wait to see them develope.

  9. Oh!I’m so glad you didn’t pick out the stitches.I was worried when I read your post about that…

  10. It was amusing to read your thought process on this. While I was reading I was thinking to myself, “Isn’t thing supposed to be viewed from far away? I think it would look good the way she’s done it from far away.” Your instincts finally kicked in and I think you made the right choice! Love watching your progress on this.

  11. Mary: What if you took a single strand of the lighter blue and carefully inserted random straight stitches in the darker blue near the border between the two colors, and then did the reverse (i.e., inserted straight stitches of the darker color inside the darker area near the border)? I believe this would fool the eye into thinking the two shades blended smoothly. Then you’d be as happy up close as you are from a distance. Janet.

  12. Mary – you are indeed a ‘stitcher’s stitcher’! By this I mean that we speak the same language, I could understand precisely your thought processes. You are such a dear to put them to words – and I am so glad that you didn’t pull out your stitches. Sometimes it’s the right choice, but you are so correct about this decision. Stitch on!

    Such a treat to learn more about you from Trish’s interview. Two of my stitching idols, complete with lovely senses of humor – you both are the best!

    Tomi Jane in Minnesota

  13. Mary,
    Oh sooooo happy for you! I love the decision. I just finished stitching a little stem stitch sampler in gradated colors, and “From a Distance” it is nice.

    Yours will be a masterpiece!

  14. Ooh, I can breathe again. Coincidentally I have just been talking to my daughter about the costumes she is making for her daughters to wear in their callisthenics competitions. She was anxious that her stitch-in-the-ditch isn’t very good, but at my urging remembered what they call ‘the 50 metre rule’, which is much the same as your ultimate conclusion – it will not be seen up close.
    I am so pleased you didn’t undo all that lovely stitching, I think it looks fantastic already and once those roses go in who is even going to notice blue stemstitching at all?

  15. How timely this post for me. Last night I was struggling with color choices on a pilot piece I’m working on. I didn’t like the original color scheme and wanted to do something of my own while keeping with the intent of the design. I’ve changed things three times and been satisfied with each change. But the process is almost debilitating. I’m still debating whether the last change was right, but decided to take the next step and see how things fit, to trust my sense of color.

    I like how your medallion is coming along. The change in gradation is not as obvious in photo. I like to sometimes take a photo and print it in black and white to give me an idea if my gradations are what I’m hoping for.

    I’m also learning so much about design, threads, and technique as I watch this project of yours progress. It is truly beautiful!

  16. Ya que ha tomado su trabajo con calma los resultados no podrian ser mas perfectos.es algo muy bonito ala vista y espero que el difrute sera igual.

  17. I log on every morning with my first cup of tea, just to follow your processes. I feel that I am becoming a stalker. LOL.
    So very pleased you didn’t unpick.

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