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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There Ain’t Nothin’ Like Linen!


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It’s true. There is no fabric quite like linen. When it comes to hand embroidery, linen is, in my mind, the ideal fabric. And there are many, many reasons why it is the ideal fabric. But there is one reason that shines beyond all the others: one Grand Reason that linen is the bee’s knees when it comes to hand embroidery.

And that reason? I’ll call it Flexibility. That sounds so very positive, doesn’t it? Linen is flexible. It can be used for a host of applications in embroidery. It can be used for counted work. It can be used for free style, surface embroidery. It can be used for goldwork. It can be used for needlepainting, for whitework, for blackwork – you name it! When it comes to practically any kind of hand embroidery, linen steps up to the plate! (With a few minor exceptions.)

But that’s not the Flexibility I’m talking about. Flexibility in embroidery can mean a lot of things. It can, for example, be the flexibility that the embroiderer has when it comes to changing her mind.

Some people may call this Fickleness. I prefer Flexibility.

Goldwork and Silk Embroidery on Linen

With linen, you can be perfectly flexible. You can change your mind without any worry of ruining your ground fabric. Of course, you might ruin stuff that’s already on your ground fabric, but with linen, you can rest assured that, if it is good, quality linen, it will withstand the rigors of Un-Stitching. Frogging. Ripping Out. Demolition, as it were.

Goldwork and Silk Embroidery on Linen

The toughest threads, the stiffest metals, the waxed silks – these can be pulled and tugged and coerced out of a piece of linen fabric with nary a bad effect on the linen.

Goldwork and Silk Embroidery on Linen

Prying, yanking, prodding, snipping, picking – you can have at it on linen, and your linen won’t mind a bit. Even if you feel rather torn apart over the experience, your linen won’t.

Goldwork and Silk Embroidery on Linen

Despite the mess you make with your threads…

Goldwork and Silk Embroidery on Linen

… (after all, many threads will not withstand destructive force… they will melt into Thread Carnage…)

Goldwork and Silk Embroidery on Linen

…your linen will come through like a champ!

Go, Linen!

I love you!

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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(64) Comments

  1. Ouch, Poor Penelope! Hope you saved your metal orts for a future project–maybe avant garde stamens? Waiting for the next installment…

  2. I have to admit, when I saw the “carnage” my heart skipped a beat. I have been watching your progress on this and have been rooting for you to obtain your time goal. So, to saw I was stunned would not describe the emotion I was feeling.

    My husband even commented, “What’s wrong with her! Why is she tinking?” This is a word he uses when I am undoing my knitting, embroidery, sewing… anything that causes carnage such as yours.

    So you see, you have shocked us all! Who would have thunk it! I am sure you have an amazing plan, you always do!

    1. Ah, you’re husband’s not the only one who’s asked that question before! Sorry for the shock effect, Ren! Never fear – things are actually going really well with the medallion! I’ll update you soon!

  3. Wow Mary! What ever are you going to put in those ‘dots’? I must admit I too, was not particularly charmed with the checkwork gold circles…but now I am intrigued with the possibilities of what comes next. Color? Gloss? Some other golden coin like effect? I’m on shpilkes for this one…and you are so right about linen being one of the toughest and lovliest grounds around.

  4. Nooo, Mary, what are you doing?!!!! The circles looked so beautiful! OK, I’ll just have to trust that you know what you’re doing, I look forward to discovering the reason for all this 🙂

  5. OMG! What ever are you doing? All that work and you are tearing it out! I just about flipped when I saw that. I’m sure you do have a good explanation for this, but it is heartbreaking to see all that lovely work being torn out.

    1. LOL! Well, Cynthia, once in a while, it’s nice to just rip things out like a maniac. You’d be surprised how good it can make you feel!! Actually, it was a challenge to get it all out, but there was a good reason – more soon!

  6. OMG!! Has this project finally pushed you over the edge??? What have you done? I loved those circles. Please don’t make us wait to hear and see what is going on. We want to see it every day!

  7. Good Grief , I mean G’day Mary.
    I scrolled up to your photo and you’re still grinnin’ and don’t look any less sane than usual.
    So, cheers Mary, and like it says on the Country Bumpkin tea towel souvenir
    “EMBROIDER and Keep Calm”! Kath

  8. My first thought “OH NO!! What did she do!?!?” and “wow, that’s a lot of work to be ripping!”. My second thought “Mary knows what she’s doing, chill. She’ll fill us in on why and how soon enough.”

  9. Yikes!! Please let us know quickly what you have done to the circles!!! We are all on pins and needles!!

  10. OMG! My heart skipped a couple of beats as soon as I saw this.I can’t believe my eyes.On a second thought,am sure you must have come up with a better idea 🙂

  11. Uuuhhhh – I was sooo afraid you would do it. You mentioned it a while back – and now?!!?!! You really did it, when I had hoped you had got over the thought, and were moving to a finish.

    OK, it’s over. It’s always more glorious when you make such a drastic move. Waiting with great anticipation for the next step!

  12. Wow! I didn’t know linen was that durable. Let me tell you I could use a durable material since I’m fairly new to embroidery I can mess up quite a bit, thanks Mary!

    1. Linen is a lovely fabric, Mattie!! And whenever you take the time to embroider something beautiful, it is always worthwhile to embroider it on good linen. The outcome will be better and the embroidery will last. There’s just nothing like linen! Ahhhh…. I could go on, and on, and on. But I’ll spare you! 🙂

  13. OMG Mary! what left field did the idea of ripping out your work come out of? have you gone into deadline shock? however, knowing you, i’m sure that whatever you decide to do with the space, it will be beauthiful and you will be happy with it!

    i can certainly empathize because I worked with some trebizond silk the other night. what a disaster! to begin with it caught on every patch of rough skin i didn’t know i had on my hands. i used it on a line drawing of a beauthiful rose. using the trebizond in it’s normal state it was too heavy for the rose, so i frogged and then separated the plies and used one strand…..OMG i can’t even describe the mess and frogging the trebizond was horrible. i had a hard time getting the silk out of the fabric (i didn’t even try to salvage any of it, every little ort shredded and clung to my fingers, palms and fabric. it was i don’t even know what to compare it with, it was so fine and wispy…slippery cotton ball wisp maybe…. i think until i can somehow get the rough patches on my hands under control, i’ll have to stick to either floss or floche.

    i’m disappointed as i really liked the look and feel of it….sigh.

    1. Ahhh – There’s a trick to working with filament silk, Sharyn. It’s hard to explain in pictures, or I would have shown it on the website before now – it’s practically impossible for me to take photos to demonstrate! But the trick is all in how you hold your needle and enter and exit the fabric. Even with rough fingers (mine are callused to death at this point), filament silk can still be managed, if you hold your needle up near the eye by the shaft (not on the eye, holding the thread), and always enter the fabric vertically. Sounds weird… but it does work! Also, with Trebizond, you really have to make sure your needle is large enough – so, from whatever size you think you need, go one or two sizes larger! Another trick with Trebizond, because it’s a twisted filament silk (and prone to twisting up on itself as you stitch with it), either drop it often and let it untwist, or don’t turn your needle as you stitch. The latter can be tricky – most people do turn their needle when they stitch (just like turning a pencil when you write), but if you face the eye towards you and always think in terms of keeping that side of the eye facing you, whether going up or down in the fabric, it will help. Takes some getting used to, but if you take it slowly and keep at it, it becomes easier and easier. Anyway, just some pointers – I know how frustrating that can be, so maybe this will help a bit!

      As for the dots, they were hovering on the rip-out stage for a while! 🙂


  14. Oh NOooooooooo! Those little circles were my favorite part of this design! And I just watched them being ripped right out of the fabric! Oh my heart is just aching at the thought of that awful carnage! You should have put some kind of warning before showing those pictures! Such violence! What in the world are you thinking? What could be more beautiful than those tiny little gold circles? I get that the point of this post is the flexibility of linen, but who cares about linen when all that tiny gold round beauty was just ripped apart? I think I need some chocolate to get over this. And I’m not going to read this blog until there’s evidence of some sort of fabulous recovery for those gold circles! 🙂 Now where’s my chocolate?


  15. So… was that ALL 50 dots that you removed? Or “just” the 10 originals? I remember you saying something about those first 10. I hope it’s only them that are causing you angst. If it were all 50, I think I’d take to my bed and whimper for a week!

  16. Yay! Ever since you mentioned you’d be doing this weeks ago, I have been waiting and waiting to see the new and improved dots. I have been trying to think what I would do differently, as I agree that the gold filling in them had to go. I have been imaginging the dots in the same color as the various shades of red and pink in the roses, but am not sure you would be so bold.
    Am a bit shocked that you took the golden rings out, though, as those seemed perfect. But maybe you had to, and they will be back. Your post about 50 golden rings the other day gives me hope.
    Hanging on the edge of my seat with bated (baited?) breath… Post an update quick before I pass out, please!

  17. That answers a question that’s been lurking way in the back of my mind, each time you pull out threads. I hope you have a good explanation for the photos above because it downright heartbreaking to see the frogging. On the bright side, I did learn a new verb today. Guess I need to learn the wisdom of frogging, too. This is like a soap opera. Cliff hanger… Tune in tomorrow…

  18. Mary –

    Your posts are a very bright spot in your reader’s days! Your wonderful sense of humor, along with your extreme knowledge are a fabulous combination.

    Bless you 🙂

    Tomi Jane

  19. Oh my, what kind of crazy are you? I liked those pretty gold dots so it will be very interesting to see what it is that made you go through ripping them out and what will replace them… but you are right about Linen… I love it too!

  20. Dear Mary,
    All that work taken out. Linen has fortitude ….. and so do you! I’m impressed … really impressed! I can hardly wait for the explanation.

  21. The pictures made me cry. Carnage is right! But I have a lot of faith in you, so I’ll just be patient and dry my tears.

  22. I am sad to see the little circles go….. but, anxious to see what replaces them. As strange as this sounds – I am somewhat comforted to see that little “pile of fluff” and threads on someone else’s work table. I thought I was the only one that did such tings when so close to finishing a project. I know how hard it is to make that mental leap to pick up the scissors and go for it! But, when it’s finished I am always glad I did!

  23. Mary,


    What is the world coming too??? Are cats and dogs living in hysteria??? Is the world coming to an end??? Oh wait, it’s not 12/21/2012 yet… So it just must be that you have decided to go a different route with the gold dots… 😛

    I could live with that – but I did like the other way too. Whichever way you choose, it will be lovely I am sure as your work is just beautiful. Now of course, I am anxious to see what you come up with! 😀

    Hugs and Love,

  24. Aloha Mary,
    Another cliff hanger! Looking at the horizon from the beach I sometimes wonder, just what is after that line where sky meets water. Anticipation!!

  25. hello Mary,

    Since I know your blog, I dismantled more often my embroideries when I feel they are not good.
    And I love linen too! But perhaps not for the same reasons. I like the feel of this material and and its behavior when I embroider it. (sorry for my bad english)

  26. Yikes!! I can’t even understand what you’ve written because I’m overwhelmed by the photos. All those gold dots destroyed. I think my teeth are falling out from the shock. What happened?

  27. You sure got my attention! I was counting down with you on those pesky little circles. I couldn’t imagine how you managed to have them all look alike. An now——-. I can hardly wait to hear this one!

  28. Thread carnage! I love it. Might as well relish the process.

    And it makes me feel so much better to know that a world class stitcher like you sometimes has to resort to such destruction.

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