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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Shadow Work Linen vs. Linen Cambric


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Sometimes, when choosing ground fabrics for different types of embroidery, working up small samples to compare results is a good way to discern better from good. Often, once I work up a sample, choosing the better ground fabric for an intended project is much easier. But sometimes, I found out that either fabric will do fine – which is the case here.

To decide between two different types of linen for embroidering monograms, and especially for shadow work monograms, I worked up two samples, one of which (monogram M in shadow work) I’ve already shown you.

Today, let’s look at a different monogram worked on a different linen, but with the same threads and stitches.

Shadow Work Monogram A

This monogram A worked in an embroidery technique called shadow work is worked on Legacy’s shadow work linen, which is essentially a handkerchief-weight linen.

Shadow Work Monogram A

This is the previous monogram M worked in shadow work on Legacy’s linen cambric.

They pretty much look the same, don’t they? But in fact, they aren’t.

I’ve backed both pieces for the above photos with blue fabric on purpose. Because the fabric behind the linen is blue and the stitching is blue, the shadow work does not stand out as clearly. But the two different fabrics stand out a little more clearly. At a glance, they may look the same.

But if you look closely at the A compared to the M, you can definitely see more “texture” in the fabric. The weave of the shadow work linen (monogram A) is not as close or as fine as the weave of the linen cambric (monogram M).

Shadow Work Monogram A

Here, you can see the shadow work much better, because the embroidered fabric is backed with white.

Shadow Work Monogram A

Ahhhh – the back! I still love the herringbone stitching on the back!

Shadow Work Monogram A

Here’s the shadow work linen in the hoop. Here, you get a sense of a little more open weave.

Shadow Work Monogram A

Though the weave on the cambric (the M monogram underway in the photo above) is not quite as open, the cambric is such a fine linen that the shadow from the herringbone stitch on the back shows through well.

So, two linen fabrics made for embroidery, both by Legacy: shadow work linen and linen cambric.

Both fabrics work well for shadow work. The cambric has a finer, closer weave and a much smoother hand. It has a softer drape.

The shadow work linen is slightly more transparent, as the weave is not as close. Because the weave is not as close, it’s much easier to prepare, compared to the linen cambric. It’s much easier to see the weave when cutting, and it would be much easier for drawing threads out for hem stitching and the like.

Both fabrics are super easy to transfer designs on by tracing because they are both fairly transparent.

This is one of those situations where I can’t say, “I like this fabric better,” because both are really good linens! I think it depends on what I plan to do with the finished piece. If I want to work up some kind of linen with a hemstitched edge, for example, I would probably go with Legacy’s shadow work linen. If I were working up a pretty, delicate handkerchief with rolled hem (or maybe a scalloped hem, in buttonhole stitch), I would probably choose the cambric.

In either case, they’re both nice fabrics. I’m going to be working with both of them a bit over the next couple months, so you’ll see them resurface in the near future!


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(15) Comments

  1. Hi Mary, I was interested to see the comparison between these two fabrics. I’m wondering if you know of any UK suppliers? I’ve had a look online, but not found any so far. The finest linens I’ve come across here, seem to be Newcastle (40ct) and Kingston (55ct). How would you compare these with the Legacy linens featured above? The cambric and shadow linens look like they would be perfect for fine whitework embroidery. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with them in the future projects you mentioned.

    1. Hi, Kathryn – Kingston linen and Newcastle are both heavy for this type of work. I’m not sure if Legacy has any suppliers in the UK, but what you want to look for is a fine Belgian or French or Italian linen classified as handkerchief weight or cambric. Ferguson’s in Ireland may have a linen cambric or a handkerchief linen, but I’m not sure. The samples I have from them are rather heavy in comparison, but to my knowledge, they are the only Irish linen mill still making Irish linen. – MC

    2. Thank you, Mary. I’ll have a better idea of what to look for now. I’ll check out the Mill you mentioned. Much appreciated.

  2. I live in USA and would like to know where can I find Shadow work linen or cambric linen. I go to Jo Ann’s fabric they do have such materials. Please help me.

    1. Hi, Almas – this type of linen is made specifically for hand embroidery and heirloom sewing, and it’s not available through chain stores – it’s available through specialty needlework stores, like Hedgehog Handworks, Needle in a Haystack, and other needlework shops. They have online stores, too. – MC

  3. Dear Mary

    The monogram is lovely. Thanks for the article on Legacy Cambric and Shadow work linen. I can’t really tell the difference between the two fabrics both are very similar. I certainly will use this fabric when I embroider a monogram as I have some Legacy sheer fabric which is very similar to the fabric you are using. I love the Herringbone stitch on the back, in fact I think I prefer this to the backstitch on the front, but then it wouldn’t be shadow work would it? Thanks for this very informative.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  4. Mary, Your shadow embroidery is amazingly beautiful! I loved this article and especially hearing you comment on the drape of the fabric and what they might be used for.

    Can you share where you purchase these linens? And which thread did you use? What an interesting article…thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi, Linda – Sorry about that. I gave the details on the threads in the first shadow work article. I’m using cotton floche for this. You can find the whole range of cotton floche in two convenient sized skeins at Hedgehog Handworks, where they also carry Legacy’s shadow work linen. -MC

  5. Shadow work linen is also quite wide, I believe. I find it very adaptable to heirloom (historic garment) sewing. It has that “look” to it!

  6. Can’t wait to see what you do with each of these fabrics Mary. I’d also love to see you do a rolled edge & maybe a hemstitched edge … so that I can practice doing monograms on handkerchief corners.
    Do you have any suggestions for a gift for a granddaughter … but for someone who is only a basic stitcher?? Thanks Mary … 🙂

  7. I love the A and the M font/stencils used in the examples. Can you tell me where I could download it? I would love to use it for a project I have coming up. Thanks you.
    Laura Fleming

  8. Looking for a good linen to use to make Carolyn Pearce’s Home Sweet Home project. Would linen fabric be a good choice, or is it too fine? Would Shadow Work linen be a better choice? Thanks!

    1. Hi, Beth – the linen cambric and the shadow work linen would both be too light (and too sheer) for the home sweet home project. Also, if you want to keep the color scheme of the whole project, the background should be natural in color, I think. A very good substitute available in the US is Strathaven linen which is available in natural. You can find it online through Needle in a Haystack in Alameda California, or at any needlework shop that carries goods from Access Commodities, where they can special order it if they don’t normally carry it in stock. Hope that helps! – Mary

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