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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This is Not an Embroidery Book … Or is It?


Amazon Books

One of my favorite gifts for giving this year and for receiving (I received two copies of it myself, both of which I’ll put to good use) is not an embroidery book.

Or is it?

It depends on how you look at it.

Secret Garden by Johanna Basford

Secret Garden: an Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford is a fun gift to give to the creative people in your life.

This Christmas, for me, it proved to be a popular gift for the nieces who are no longer “little kids,” who like to color, doodle and draw. A copy of the book each, and a package of decent markers with a small collection of different sized drawing pens to share – the perfect gift to incite creativity and to promote a little bit of quiet and calm.

Secret Garden by Johanna Basford

The principle of the book is this: it is filled with an abundance of pen and ink garden-related doodles and drawings, with little garden creatures & things (think: animals, bugs, butterflies, acorns and the like) speckled throughout the drawings.

The drawings are meant to be colored, but on many of the pages, white space is left to finish the doodles your own way, or to “grow” the drawings. As you color or draw in the book, you come across little hidden, not-so-obvious creatures nestled here and there among the leaves.

Secret Garden by Johanna Basford

But let’s talk embroidery here!

When I first saw Johanna’s clever, charming book, I admit that coloring with ink was not really on my mind. A different type of coloring occurred to me – coloring with thread. The possibilities for embroidery in the book are myriad and wonderful! Oh yes, oh yes! That’s what caught my eye first!

And so, I did what any embroiderer-gone-blogger would do: I contacted the author.

Johanna Basford is a Scottish artist whose background is (not surprisingly) textile-related, and you can see the influence of this background in her drawings in the book. Maybe that’s why they immediately grabbed me as perfect for interpretation in embroidery?

Johanna (and her publisher) graciously gave me permission to tackle a particular design in the book as an embroidery project that I’ll work through step-by-step here on Needle ‘n Thread in the upcoming year.

For those who requested more beginner tips, where-to-start information on embroidery, and even for those who are more advanced in embroidery, this will be a fun project! I’m so excited about it!

The only catch is – of course – that I won’t be providing a pattern. If you want to follow along with the project in 2014, you’ll have to purchase the book yourself, which is only fair.

Besides the design I’ll be using in the book, you’ll find so many other drawings that you could translate into your own embroideries as well – you aren’t limited to just the design I’m going to work on. You don’t need the permission of the author & publisher to create a personal piece of embroidery from the book. If you are going to do it publicly, though, it is always best to get permission as a courtesy, if nothing else.

It will be a while before I actually get into the project – must tie up loose ends first. But I couldn’t help sharing the book with you now, in case you like it, too. And even if you never stitch a thing from it, it’s just a fun little book!

Besides, who ever said coloring is just for kids?

Where to Find Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt & Coloring Book

You can find Secret Garden through the following book affiliates:

In the US, Secret Garden is available here through Amazon.

Worldwide with free shipping, Secret Garden is available here through Book Depository.


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(71) Comments

  1. Oh yeah I can definitely see myself using this book for all kinds of ideas. Embroidery, card making, coloring, etc. Thanks for sharing.

  2. G’day there Mary,
    I bought myself the very book some time through this year. I can’t remember where I came across it but It was online, and is so full of secret, delights I was enchanted. I originally thought to give it to my granddaughter but upon opening it it was instantly and irrevocably mine! She is only 4 yet and I hope to get hold of another one for her sometime.
    I’m delighted about the project you’re going to do from the book and eagerly look forward to when you are able to start.
    Cheers, Kath

  3. Mary, some of the AZ customer reviews for this said that the paper wasn’t suitable for markers. Can you tell if there will be bleed-thru to the other side of the page (without ruining a book)?

    1. Hi, Janet –

      The paper the book is printed on is a nice thickness and has a nice “hand” – but it is somewhat porous. Having said that, it depends on the markers you use and the approach you take with coloring. Sharpies are not going to do it! But markers like these Staedtler markers work great, as long as you’re coloring with a relatively light-to-normal hand. They’re the marker’s the artist recommends as well. What I like about the Staedtler markers (which I use all the time, anyway) is that they are very fine tipped. I’ve used them in the book and they work fine. You have to avoid coloring in the same spot over and over, or coloring very heavily. With younger kids (pre-teens), or with adults who tend to have a heavier hand, I think colored pencils would be a better routes. Prismacolors (the pencils) and the like can achieve a much more intense layering of color than cheaper colored pencils. You can also blend and shade with prismacolors, but you have to keep them really sharp for the finer details. Regular colored pencils with harder leads are easier to keep sharp longer – and they aren’t as expensive as prismacolors. So there are choices. Key, though, is that you can’t use sharpies or heavy markers on the paper in the book.

      What you’re looking for in markers, really, are markers that don’t exude a lot of ink immediately on contact with the paper.

      I think the professional artist’s markers like Copic markers would probably not be the way to go with this book, either, though I haven’t tried them (I’ve always wanted a set – they’re just a little too pricey!) I don’t think the tips, even on the fine side, are fine enough, though with a light hand, they might work.

      Hope that helps a bit!


    2. In reply to Mary:
      Prismacolor makes Verithin colored pencils that are harder and keep a point better. They are good for, you guessed it, thin lines. Not so great for filling in, but a nice compliment to regular Prismacolors. They also don’t come in the color range the regular pencils do, more like the range their smaller packs have. Also, because of their hardness tend to be lighter (less saturation) no matter what “hand” pressure you’re applying.

  4. LOVE! Two day shipping and I’ll have it ready and waiting for your project. I have been looking online at coloring books to get ideas and now this….so excited.

    ***SO….question…..if a drawing from a source like a painting/water color etc., would permission have to be granted to use it for creating an embroidery piece? OR just in the case of selling it?

    1. Hi Patsy,
      I just finished a college course that covered copy right issues… Basically, if your only making one copy for personal use it’s ok. Somewhere on the piece you should provide credit, such as “after Secret Garden, Johanna Basford”. If you give the piece as a gift it should be with the stipulation that it can’t be sold or given away by the recipient. It’s ok if the piece is shown in a craft show as long as full credit is given in the description of the piece and it isn’t for sale. Any other uses require permission from the creator-artist and holder of the copyright. Hope that helps…

  5. i have this book. purchased it last year when hearing about it in an online embroidery class…and that is exactly what i planned on doing with some of the illustrations. can’t wait to see yours.

  6. I wonder if Amazon notices a spike in orders when Mary recommends something lol! Mine is on the way, mainly because I love the designs and it’ll make a great source book.

  7. Oh, yeah!!! Can’t wait. So glad you’re going to walk us thru a project and hold our hands. Merry Christmas and happy new year!

  8. Hope that you had a WONDERFUL Christmas, Mrs. Corbet!
    Did you happen to finish the Mission Rose? Or are you now trying to finish it for New Year’s? Either way I hope it turns (or turned) out just the way you anticipated. 🙂
    Also, I got a nice amount of compliments on Holly and Joy, that I have hanging on a wall in our living room. Thanks again for the wonderful patterns!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I hope you did, too! No, I didn’t finish the Mission Rose yet – too much activity all around to be able to concentrate on it. Hope to get back to it today for a bit, and pushing now for a pre-new-year finish! ~MC

  9. My husband got this for me for Christmas! I love it. It’s so beautiful. Really looking forward to your embroidery project from it.

    1. Hi, Valerie – I won’t be posting a picture of the complete design itself, straight on, as a design. Obviously, it’ll be visible in the embroidery process and so forth. There are several designs in there suitable for embroidery – I love in particular several of the bird-related designs, and the tree designs. They’re all perfect for interpretation in embroidery. So you can always approach it different ways: you can do exactly the same thing I do, or you can work a design from the book that you like better, using the same concepts. I have to narrow down some things first, before I dive into any set particulars on the project. ~MC

  10. Hello Mary,

    Today when I read this review I was thinking about the depiction of nature and design and what I will be teaching in my Art Concepts I class this spring– and then as I read on I was once again wowed by yet again another connection to Scotland with the designer and artist Johanna Basford. I saw her work featured in Dundee: http://www.dca.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/johanna-basford.html

    I ordered the book pronto and can’t wait to see it! Thank you for showing me this! Cheers!

    All best, Jan

  11. Hi, Mary, and Happy New Year! I’m in the Cabinet of Curiosities class, and am just finishing up my FIRST casket. I think this book would be wonderful to base the next casket on, but I would like to show off my work and don’t know if it would be allowed if I used this. I don’t plan on ever making money off it, but don’t want to step on toes after all the work involved-could I use it?

  12. Hi Mary,
    Thanks for sharing this book with us. I wasn’t familiar with it but have an adult-daughter who will love it! The idea of adapting line drawings from books is great; I’ve adapted a few illustrations from the ‘adult’ Dover coloring books for embroidery purposes over the years. Since I’ve been wanting to work a step-by-step project w you via online, I’ll definitely be buying the book.
    Are you planning to provide a ‘supply’ list in advance of the project? I’d like to make certain I have all the threads and linen in advance.

    Thanks again, I’m really looking forward to seeing this!

  13. This is so fantastic! I just finished my order for the book from Amazon.com. I can’t wait for your class to start! I’m so excited! Thank you!

  14. Have the book in my cart and will be ready to go! What a fun first of the year journey to embark on; looking forward to it.

  15. Mary, I had never heard of this book so I appreciate your bringing it to our attention. When I looked it up on Amazon I got a whole raft of similar books. My word! A whole new world has just opened up. I am moving to AZ in a few days — away from easy access to Lacis and Needle in a Haystack. Any recommendations for the Phoenix AZ area? Best to you and yours in the coming year, Charlotte

    1. Charlotte, I live in the middle of nowhere, and both those businesses and Hedgehog Handworks (and a lot of others) are online. My FAVORITE shops!

  16. Merry christmas Mary!!!

    I am stoked about this upcoming follow along! Can we have a specific thread in the forum for this project? Itd be really nice to share and talk with everyone : ). Its neat that we get to use social media yo connect with others about something we love! As a 20 something adult I know of no one who enjoys embroidering. My grandma was wonderfully craftsy and this holiday I handmade a bunch of presents. As a kid I would go to grandma/granddaughter michaels craft classes with her : ). Even tho she isnt here in person, if her spirit is watching on I bet she has the biggest smile. What better way to feel close to someone past than by continuing their hobbies?
    As a side note, I actually have a pic saved from a goggle search of a piece of embroidery that I liked – lo and behold its the peacock bird design posted above! Love these coincidencies.
    Hope youre having a wonderful family filled and good eats holiday!

  17. Hi Mary!
    I saw this book online some days ago and I put it in the wish list of my account in amazon waiting for the best opportunity to buy it. I was so excited about this book! Beautifull to paint, to embroidery, to get ideas to draw in my daughter clothes! Yesterday I ordered it. Today when I open the mail I saw your post about the book and I was so happy because you like it and say so well about it!! I hope it arrives soon! Have a nice 2014!

  18. I love this book! I bought it for several people this Christmas – all grown women who love to relax with a bit of quiet creativity 🙂 I do recommend pencils rather than felt pens for this one though, as the felt pens can show through sometimes.

  19. I recently got interested in colored pencils (to assist with thread painting) and got quite a collection of them. This book is not my style for coloring. Yet, I am considering buying it for your embroidery project. What kind of design is it going to be? Can you describe it, Mary?

  20. You’ve done it again, Mary. I am a bibliophile and collector so of course this one must join all the others. I recently bought a ‘grown-up’s colouring book’ with just the same intention in mind. Of course I will colour it too. Many years ago I bought a fabulous book called ‘The Anatomy Colouring Book’. You can guess what the content was and yes, I coloured it all in very carefully using the traditional colours used in Gray’s Anatomy. Sorry I have meandered off the track again …. OK, back on. May I ask a huge favour please? When you are deciding on which motif to embroider please leave out the birds. I would love to follow along on this, but as I am ornithophobic I am not sure I could manage if you used one of those images.

  21. Thanks for this Mary and all the inspiration from you daily! I indulged and ordered mine, colored pens and the book, and look forward to the project in the coming year! A question about the black pens – since I am in India the same set in Staedtler are easier to find, so will those do fine or was there a specific reason for ordering the Sakura ones? I hope your Christmas was great and all the best for the New Year! 🙂

  22. Oh Yes… i’ve order this book..
    and I come with you for this project..
    Thank you very mutch for all you learn us…
    Have a nice day, MIP

  23. I have had this book for several months now and just love looking through it but haven’t decided to colour, embroider – or both. Looking forward to seeing what you do with it.

  24. I am so excited! I bought this book awhile ago with the thought of using it for embroidery. Can’t wait to see your next project!

  25. Mary, I received my copy of Secret Garden today and I am so excited to get started. I am basically a beginner but hoping to increase my skills with this project. I am curious though as to how these intricate designs will be transferred to fabric. Will I need any special equipment?
    I love your work, it is excuisite. I have learned a lot from your blog and website. Thanks, Carol

  26. Mary, thank you for such a wonderful review! Your kind words and enthusiasm for the inky pages are so lovely, they’ve made my day!

    For those of you considering pens and pencils over needles and thread, there are some tips on my blog here: http://www.johannabasford.com/blog-article/382

    My Grandmother (the only other Creative person in my family!) was an embroiderer too, so it’s heartwarming to see the textile community pick up on the book, it feels like it’s come full circle! I’m so looking forward to seeing how Mary (and all of you!) translate my hand drawn lines into thread, be sure to post plenty of pictures!

    With very warmest wishes from Scotland,
    Johanna x

  27. Ooo…, I just can’t wait! I’ve bought this beautiful book when visiting London and enjoy it every time I get the chance!

  28. WOW!WOW!WOW!….Just received Secret Garden. Outstanding! Looking forward to your step-by-step this coming year. The one that intrigues me most, is the two fish in water. This one will definitely be one I’ll tackle eventually.
    Also got another similar called Garden Party…also some good ideas.

  29. Happy New Year Mary!! Just spent some “free” time reading Johanna Basford’s web pages. Fabulously fluid, hand-drawn and inked works!! Now I can’t wait to see what you have lined up for the New Year.

  30. I have never done embroidery, but I want to learn. Would this project be an appropriate place to start? Or should I get some beginner basics first? I love following your blog, everything is so pretty.

  31. My grandaughter (age 11) loves to color intricate designs with her markers and watercolors and when I saw this book I knew I’d found the perfect birthday gift for her! January is a hard month for a birthday, although this made it easy!

    I’m eager to do this with you Mary! So far, I’ve only followed you here in ‘screen’ time but this time I’m going to jump in! Eager for the details to be revealed!

  32. OMG! Great minds think alike! I had a copy of this book for myself to use as embroidery patterns and then I also gave a copy to my little niece for Christmas…along with markers and a paint set and a big canvas. She’s coming over for two painting sessions where I’ll show her how to transfer any of the designs onto her big canvas…then she can paint it and hang it on her wall.

    I’ll be loving following along on this one. I’ll let you know when we have our paint date…

  33. I have followed your website and emails for quite some time. I am a quilter that used to do needlepoint and now am very interested in embroidery. I have purchased “Secret Garden” and am very excited to start the project as a beginner. And, I love the book and will be giving it as a gift also! Thank you for your wonderful emails and website!

  34. I bought this book through Book Depository after reading your review – it arrived in the post today – wonderful! Definitely lends itself to embroidery 🙂

  35. Thanks so much for the review of this book. I had never heard of it but it is a perfect gift for my youngest daughter the artist and I am definitely purchasing one for myself. I agree that it looks very much like a book of embroidery possibilities.

  36. And I can see this translating to making applique quilts! Wonderful ideas in colouring books 🙂
    I just ordered it today!

  37. Hi, just logged onto your pages and find the information inspiring to say the least. Within five minutes I have ordered the secret garden book, and look forward to more of your ideas and advice , I am registered on the cabinet of curiosities and am sure the secret garden book is going to help in my designing.

    Thank you


  38. I just got my book so I’m late..very late, but I still want to do this project. I’ll just read and work until I’m current. I wanted to thank Mary for this project; it’s just what I’ve been needing for some time. The book is just beautiful!

    Thank you.

    ~ Dawn ~

    1. Hi, Dawn! Glad you’ll be joining in! Don’t stress yourself out over catching up – all the articles will be right here on the website, so you can work at your own pace! ~MC

  39. Venho acompanhando o seu site já há um longo tempo. Gostei muito da proposta de bordar a figura do livro sicret Garden. Comprei o livrio via Amazon, que chegou esta semana. Pretendo bordar com linha de seda. Bordo desde meus 12 anos isto é 69 já se passaram. Amo o que faço. Obrigada Mary, por ter te achado na internet.Com o seu trabalho muitas mulheres são beneficiado. Agradeço a Deus por isso.

  40. I cannot get the Secret Garden from the Book Depository, they say it is unavailable. I tried Johanna basfords website and it says Sold Out. Do you know where it would be available in New Zealand?? thanks Eunice

  41. How exciting! I happened to buy that very book and had the same thoughts! I used to embroider quite a bit but haven’t for a very long time. I will anxiously await the beginning!

  42. This might sound like a very silly question but as a beginner, I am confused. I tried some of the stitches and it did not come out so well. I am now worried that I may be using the wrong amounts of strand. How many strands do I use or does this vary for this project?

    Any sort of help will be much appreciated, thank you!!

    1. Hi, Nina – it varies from project to project. It really depends on the type of embroidery you’re doing… If you want something fine that blends together well, you’d use one strand. If you want well defined stitches that are visible but not too chunky, two or three strands would work. For chunkier, thick, heavy stitches, four, five, or six strands would do it. For regular surface embroidery, I prefer two strands, maybe three at most. For needlepainting and satin stitch, one strand. I don’t usually use 4-6 strands at a time.

  43. I do have this book and agree it is a charming book. Of course you are doing the humming birds?!

    For my birthday I was given two books in the same vein. One is another Johanna Basford called Enchanted Forest.

    Beautiful drawings and this one is a puzzle type book as well as a colouring/ embroidery ideas book. Some reminded me of your fish of many stitches as I think several of the single animals would suit that.
    It is amazing what you can do with leaves. My favourites are the Owl, squirrel and Fox. Of course there are many more but I like those little animals particularly. This book has a lot of very large animals a fabulous dragonfly a hare and a hedgehog. If you scored this book and you like Johanna’s first book this one will not go astray and it is really full of ideas. Not for the children if you want it to stay useable.

    My other kind friend gave me Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom, colour and adventure book.
    This one is a killer because it is full of African animals, US ones to . Millie gives little ideas how to colour. With the beetle she advised iridescent colours to show it is more in keeping in real life.
    Elephants and racoons,rabbits and hares,
    lovely big birds and really big bears.
    Foxes and turtles and giraffes that stare, and an elegant Rooter that could give you a scare.

    I have to say I would pick this book first as an embroiderer and colour in type it is really delightful but I would still save and get Joanne’s second book.

    Mary there are never enough books but don’t tell my husband he can only see another bookshelf going up or being bought and brought in.
    Cheers for now.

  44. I just purchased the Secret Garden coloring book through Amazon and the pictures are amazing.

    I am going to try to do the peacock using your tips. This will be the largest most complicated project I’ve ever attempted, but it is just too gorgeous to not try. I just purchased some satin floss and love the way it looks, a little tricky to work with; but I’ve learned so much from your site in the short time I’ve visited that I am filled with confidence. Thank you for sharing your talents.

  45. great minds think alike! i have a whole stack of colouring books, saw crewel twists in the bookshop the other day, borrowed it from the library, thought about where to get more designs from..bingo. it’s like that jigsaw u mentioned about the russian goldworker. one thing leads to another,,plus good ideas are always thought of? hmm have to work on that one. even though i can’t follow along i think i will do this project. ive only ever done cross stitch & beadweaving & then bead embroidery, all beads though. can’t wait to start!

  46. Well i could not help myself purchased this wonderful book now to follow and do the hummingbirds with Mary and her helpful instructions…. love hummingbirds Ruth

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