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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Needlework Inspiration from a Pile of Scraps


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I have a little collection of scraps of silk wrapped purl.

Silk wrapped purl is a unique thread. It is a coiled metal thread wrapped completely with silk. You can read about silk wrapped purl here. And you can see stitched samples involving silk wrapped purl here, in the last two photos.

I’d call it a cool thread – totally unique, versatile, and smacking of possibilities.

Silk Wrapped Purl

And here I have a little heap of little pieces, or scraps, if you will. They look very pretty and warm in their little box. And when I look at them all together, I wonder how I could put them to use in one little piece of embroidery.

Silk Wrapped Purl

These are the colors that entice me the most – the rosy pinks and deep burgundy, and the warm browns.

My mind is whirring. I’m in a state of expectation, waiting for an idea to strike. So far, though, nothing solid has hit home with me.

When you see my little pile of scraps, does any idea light up your mind? Do you see any particular type of embroidered element or design beckoning for embellishment with these?

Silk wrapped purl can be couched as is. It can be stretched into a wavy, open coil and couched. It can be cut and bent and sewn on into petal-like shapes (like the leaf near the end of this article). It does not pass through the fabric – it’s worked entirely on the surface. With all that in mind, what can you see my little scrap heap developing into?

I was discussing this predicament with 5-year-old Adele. She pondered the heap and said, “You can make pink and brown worms.” She picked up one of the precious scraps and stretch it to its full extent before I could stop her. Perplexed, she added, “But worms don’t stretch this far without breaking.”

And yes, I’m sure she’s tried it.

Aside from worms, any ideas? What would you do? Have your say below!


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(68) Comments

  1. Hello Mary
    I think that you can use them as “indépendant” bullions, and do with them everything you can do with bullion embroidery , as in a sort of stumpwork (in A to Z bullions)!
    enjoy a good day.

  2. I would embroider some vases. Use the texture and colors to create a group of vases on a tabletop.

    The other option is to embroider a knit scarf draped over a chair or table. Or what about a basket with a bunch of yarn in it, with an unfinished project draped over it.

    1. I would use the silk purl as part of mytexture for archeticture quilts, perhaps on roofs, and a pathway, Also could use this silk purl as hair on people in a quilt. Also as some kind of a fruit or veggie appliqued onto a quilt. I frequently make archet, landscapes, such as underwater sea amonies, and these silk purls would be so texturizing. Pat Miodonski

  3. Hi, Mary,
    I have to agree with Adele; my first impression of this pile of scraps is worms. My second impression is puppies. You know, like the Poky Little Puppy from the Little Golden Books, white with brown spots, pink ears and tongue, blue collar, frolicking happily along the fabric. I can’t wait to see what you decide to do! 🙂

  4. what fun! Since it is so dimensional, I’m imagining it as part of a hat or bag, in smaller scale. Maybe worked around another bit of special embroidery as framing. Looking forward to your choice.

  5. Salut Mary!
    How about a whole hillside village of tiny tiled-rooftops…

    Your blog is always inspiring – thank you.

  6. First I would do a happy dance If I had those scraps. I quilt, and have begun to do couching and embroidery on pieces. Do you know how hard it is to find unique items for couching? You work is lovely and I’ll bet you come up with a great plan.

  7. I see a birds nest. The colors are slightly earthy. But with the bits of color it’s just like spring when the birds pick up everything to put in there nest. Looking forward to seeing your project!

  8. I would make coiled flower faces nestled in silk chiffon beds of “foliage” greens (sheer) and turn them into brooches Tiny clusters of crystal “stamens” and double-faced silk satin streamers.

  9. Those colors always remind me of the sea shells and sand that I found on the beach when I lived in Asia. They would make beautiful embellishments of the lines of clam shells or the seaweed and driftwood pieces of a sea scape. Mixed with a touch of dark blue they would even look like the glistening edges of waves all mixed with the sand and flora that comes in with the tide. We normally think of the waves as blue, but the water as it washes ashore is a mix of all of these colors. Think mother-of-pearl and just thread play with it to your hearts delight!

  10. a tiny cup of tea! you can couch as is for the liquid, stretch some a bit for the wisps of steam, and use the rest to decorate the teacup!

  11. I think pink would look beautiful as roses spiraled around. The brown/tan could be stems, logs, fall grass sticking up in the landscape. There should be some laying on the ground overlapping or lining a path to a garden.

  12. Looks like hair/fur. Yep, definitely. 🙂 Valentine squirrels or jellyfish/squid/octopi tentacles… Yep, that too. Want an idea to “strike”? How about lightning!? 🙂 Happy thinking!

  13. I see branches, lots of trees! I CAN see the forest for the trees… And with all those lovely leaves you’ve been showing us, and with it being fall, oh the possibilities!!

    Do show us what you come with!

  14. Hmm, makes me think of an aerial view of Los Angeles. I sort of like the blue with the other colors, actually. Nothing specific in mind except it doesn’t look to me like it wants to be totally tamed. I like the sense of motion.

  15. Ideas include:

    Hair – I’ve seen every color and hair on humans. How about the mane on a horse (a horse of a different color)? How about something that is naturally metal – robot, tractor, train engine? We stitch things mostly that women want but what about the guys?

    How about a magician’s cape? or something magical – fairies, wizards, etc.


  16. I think Adele had the right idea! for some reason I see caterpillar’s (friendly)on flowers,or maybe some little moths? How I don’t know but would be fun to try.I sthere a shop where one can purchase some?

  17. I love embroidery thread too and I saved all my little snippets knowing thatI can’t bear to throw them away and glued them down on a piece of pretty paper and put it in my Art journal. I just enjoy looking at the conglonmeration of all the pretty colors all mixed together. Glue a feather or shell on there too and you have a unique tiny work of art on paper. I know…sounds crazy, but I enjoy looking at them this way and they were all too short to do anything else with…

  18. What about a non-traditional (brown or intertwined brown/tan) twirling vine with (burgundy)leaves and (pink)petals or flowers?

  19. Dear Mary

    I’ve had a think and you could cut and use them as a filling like check purl or as a decorative border or lattice work, other then that I still thinking. I hope you find a use for them as they are lovely. Good luck

    Regards Anita Simmance

  20. I think of wild curls on a little girl’s head when I see the colors. She has dimples and a huge smile, maybe a streak of dirt or paint on her cheek because she just came home from playing outside. Now she is sitting on the floor next to her granny in a rocking chair. Her grandma’s hair is as curly but of course white-blue-ish and at least is supposed to be tamed into some kind of bun. What do you think, maybe the two ladies with the crazy hair have a little dog with a fur as crazy?

  21. Hi Mary,

    A little house, with nice curtains and climbing flowers and a cat.
    I see it in my head and would love to show it to you.

    Have a good day,

  22. The browns are saying tree trunk & branches or small animal like bunny or squirrel to me. Pinks always suggest flowers to me. The blues maybe a bird or butterfly. But I’d definitely be reaching for some of that green gimp to go with it. In terms of technique and designs, I’d be opening the books on stumpwork for some ideas.

  23. Silk purl will be perfect for the branches on my current crewel/embroidery project, Cardinals in Dogwood. So glad your newsletter reminded me of it!

  24. lol….out of the mouth of babes….bet she has tried to stretch worms that far too!

    i have no inspiration to suggest. i’m bone dry these days.

  25. Your anecdote about little Adele made me laugh! Gorgeous. I think you should embroider Adele some worms. I also love Jacqueline’s idea about treating them as bullions – genius!

  26. Hi Mary: I would use it to make a small scene with a beautiful Victorian doll, or even a rag doll. Wouldn’t it make perfect Shirley Temple curls or cute mop-top curls?

  27. Those aren’t scraps. Silk wrapped pearl scraps are less than 1/4 inch. That pile is a tulip,poplar or japanese magnolia (whichever it is that has pink blossoms) in the spring. With a couple of blue birds….

  28. I have thought about this a bit today. If I could add no other colors and had to use the colors at hand. I would make all sizes of paisley shapes on the darkest shade of brown linen I could find. Then I would fill in the shapes with with some sort of raised embroidery and beads. Not that I do much bead work – but, it would be a chance to expand myself a bit. Then, what to do with the finished piece? Perhaps a notebook cover, or the front of a picture album.

  29. New embrioderer here, so…

    Jackson Pollock freestyle embroidery
    Mondrian, Vasarely, many similar geometric figures creating a larger image.

  30. Because I am thinking about doing a freehand cottage with massed flowers in the best English tradition, I am thinking about flower shapes. I only have a rough idea of how much you have there — could you do a piece couching flower shapes? How about the cover of a box with flowers made from couched shapes and leaf shapes. The other idea, because of the color coordination would be couching in bargello to show off the shading.

  31. Wow! So many great sounding ideas for using the silk wrapped purl have been submitted here. I’d like to see all of them come to fruition.

  32. Well, some of the things I thought of have nothing to do with embroidery. I think they would be wonderful used on a quilt, and I think they would be wonderful used as jewelry and I think given enough time–I could think of lots of other things to use them on. They look like they are beautiful and would be fun to play with.

  33. Hi Mary,
    You mentioned figure embroidery a while back. could any of these be used as accents for shading garments or creating some interesting banding on the bottoms/edges of garments for figures?

    I have a nativity scene in mind for a future ecclesiastical piece. The brown would possibly work for the look for the wood of a manger or stable…..

    Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  34. I see a birds nest of your pieces sort of woven together.
    But then, maybe that’s because I have a bird name.
    I loved the worm story.
    In the land of Enchantment

  35. I keep thinking that it looks like very cool dyed dreadlocks. Maybe do the profile of a face and then add in the different colours to make hair. when I was a teenager that would have been so cool on my bedroom wall.

  36. I traveled through New Mexico in the late 1990’s and remember vividly a field of wildflowers as far as the eye could see, and beyond the field were snow-capped mountains. The silk wrapped purl would be perfect for the flowers. I have no idea at the moment the type of flowers that grow in New Mexico, but I’m thinking the purl would make perfects allium, buckwheat, sage and lavender.

  37. I could think of flowers,tree trunks or may be something abstract which will incorporate all the threads or maybe geometrical patterns.You can also use them to embroider a portrait where you use these threads as wind blown hair -a modern portrait where don’t have stick the regular colour of hair and some of them could be used for jewellery or ribbons or a part of the dress of person!

  38. What a great, friendly & inspiring site this is. If I had such a bundle I can see myself doing lots of stump work, floral somethings with the purl stretched and couched. It gives such a good, tidy & pretty finish. This, plus other ideas that are also yours. Spring has sprung in Australia and it’s beautiful. Blessings to you, Jen

  39. I too was thinking of perhaps something abstract. Your blackwork fish took me by surprise, but I love how it turned out. Maybe work outside the box again with these pieces, and a few other fiber types, on something Completely Different.

  40. Hi Mary, This stuff is gorgeous!! I can see it in Klimpt ‘Tree of Life’ type design – you could use several pieces as the trunk and as they curl away they could stretch out a little … and then a lot. Mind you, I’m not sure how long your pieces/scraps are – could be a very small tree of life! 🙂

  41. Yesterday I read this post and couldn’t come up with any thoughts on how to use these pieces. Today I’m reading and wow! what a creative group of readers you have. Everything from trees, bugs and rooftops to beach scenes and baskets. I love them all. But now you have a problem. I don’t think you have enough pieces to make them all. 🙂

  42. I think a fall tree would be glorious in those. as either the bark of a really knarly weathered no leaves tree. or as the happy fall colored leaves ready to fall. I envy you your scrap pile. Cant wait to see what you do with them.

  43. I think you could do a little log cabin and then buillion or French knot flowers all around the door. A little cobblestone path would be cute. You could make a pillow or throw it in as a crazy patch pillow

  44. I’m working with this beautiful stuff right now! I’ve done hair, tree bark, shrubs (stretched out and couched down) and am about to start the wool on a ram. I can’t wait to see what you make of it. It’s fantastic!

  45. I think I saw one other similar suggestion on my way through all the comments, but mine would be for a freestyle type of embroidery, something contemporary and fun. All the ideas so far are for ‘pictures’ whereas I’d love to see you try something completely abstract. I felt really encouraged when you did that crewel stitch piece a while back. (Can you tell I am a freestyler, by name and nature?)

    Best of luck, whatever you decide.

  46. Hi. Love your site. An embroidery just expressing waves or simple curving shapes that are more about movement (wind,waves,water over rocks)than a literal interpretation of a flower or leaf etc. could be made with these left-overs (Hell of a term for silk, the Queen of fibres.)

  47. Mary – I follow a blog from the UK The Unbroken Thread and she recently posted a project making a leaf brooch from small sections of gold purl. Couldn’t the same technique be done with your silk pieces to make a heart pin or a Christmas ornament pin?

  48. Oh Mary, how about clusters of flower petals, or wild hair on a doll, or inch worms (to make Adele laugh) or fireworks (sprinkle them with fine glitter)…..what fun you could have!

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