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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Secret Garden Embroidery: Can Carelessness Pay Off?


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Moving along on the Secret Garden embroidery project, today I’ll share a few more musings about transfers.

I should probably mention right now that the transfer work for this project is not what I’d call “easy.” It requires some patience.

And transferring it three times over? Well, I’ll admit by the third time around, I was careless. Fortunately, or serendipitously, my carelessness paid off.

Secret Garden Embroidery Project

First, even though I’ve mentioned it once, I want to reiterate that you don’t have to transfer every detail of the design. And this is true on any embroidery transfer, on any project. Sometimes, there are details that you don’t necessarily need. You can leave them off.

Above, you can see one of the large flowers featured in the design. Note that I didn’t transfer all the tiny circles and lines coming out of the flower. Instead, I just placed dots where the little circles are in the original drawing.

You can also see some larger leaves there. In the original design, these leaves have lines through them. It’s not necessary to transfer those. I skipped them altogether.

The design above is part of the second design I transferred. In this case, it’s on Alabaster Angel linen, using an old Martha Stewart writing pen that is no longer available (to my knowledge – I’ve searched high and low for you!).

Secret Garden Embroidery Project

Here’s transfer three – and this is where I found myself weakening under the pressure of getting it done!

I used a Sakura Micron pen on this one, tracing the design. The pen size was .20mm, or (on the cap) “005.” The black very fine line makes a nice transfer medium for embroidery that will completely cover the lines. It’s a permanent pen, and as long as your linen has been pre-rinsed (so there’s no sizing left in it) and as long as you do not starch it ahead of time, it should be permanent. I’ve never had the black Sakura Micron pens run on my fabric. But if you are in any way unsure, you can always test a tiny piece first.

I sometimes iron the back of my fabric after transferring with this pen, as an extra measure to “set” the ink. But I’ve also skipped that step before without any problem.

The Sakura pen I was using had a slightly bent tiny tip, a little worn on one side, but since it was my last pen of this type, and since it seemed to be working ok at first, I figured I’d just plow ahead with it.

As I plowed, I ended up with several areas in the transfer where the design was darker and blotchier than I wanted.

Finally, the pen started Skipping Violently on the fabric, and my lines began to wobble.

At first, I thought, “Oh golly. I’ve wasted this nice piece of fabric.” But then I realized I could use this nice piece of fabric to run some tests.

Before launching into the 101 version of the project, I wanted to try out a couple different threads with a couple different stitches, to see which thread I ultimately liked best. And this “scrap” piece will allow me to do that on all the major elements of the design, without having to do so on my actual project.

I thought about setting up a test piece from the beginning, but I didn’t want to use the fabric for that. So the decision was made for me, and I think down the road, it’s going to save me a lot of grief.

One of those rare occasions when carelessness pays off.

Note: Make sure your pen is up to par, if you’re tracing! It’s one thing for me to make this mistake – I have more fabric! – but I wouldn’t want you to make it.

Incidentally, I think I’m going to go with prick-and-pounce when I do the third complete transfer. I don’t normally like using prick and pounce with very detailed designs, but I’m re-thinking that for this one.

Secret Garden Embroidery Project

My next step is to try out some threads for Secret Garden 101, which will be worked entirely in cotton in basic stitches. I’m trying three threads: DMC 6-stranded floss, DMC floche, and DMC coton a broder 25. I’m not trying them to see if I like the thread (I already know I do!) – rather, I want to see how the thread sizes look with various stitches on the design.

Some of you have asked why I don’t incorporate other threads, like over-dyed threads, or this brand or that brand.

As surprising as it may seem, I don’t have every kind of thread available out there. And, like most, I can’t afford to buy a volume of thread right off the bat. If I’m going to buy a lot of embroidery thread at one time, I have to budget for it, and it may be some time before I purchase it.

So I’m going to use the threads that I have access to in a full range of colors. I have complete sets (and then some) of these DMC threads.

Other reasons for choosing DMC:

I trust DMC cottons. I don’t have to worry about threads that might run or pill. DMC makes an excellent cotton thread.

DMC is affordable.

DMC is widely available, so the majority of people who are interested in this project should have access to it.

DMC is also the most “cross-referenced” embroidery thread. If you need a conversion chart (for example, you’re using Anchor instead of DMC), you’re more likely to be able to find it.

But you are most welcome to use whatever threads you want to use on your own embroidery! Don’t feel obliged to use what I use. Play around. Use the project as an opportunity to try different threads if you want. There are no “Project Police” out there who are going to bonk you on the head and say you can’t! You’re completely free to try, to test, to practice, to incorporate whatever threads, whatever stitches you want.

I’m going to do the project my way, and you can use it as a guide. But you might see things that you don’t like, or that you’d do differently – please do! That’s what will make your project unique.

Next time, I’ll show you some thread tests and share some decisions with you about my final choices on cotton threads.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Have your say below!

You can follow along with the Secret Garden Hummingbirds project by visiting the project index, where you’ll find all the information and the backstory on this project, with all the articles arranged chronologically.


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(35) Comments

  1. Dear Mary

    I’m so glad you didn’t have to waste such and expensive piece of fabric and you found a use for the fabric. I love the photo of your draws of thread and I agree you certainly don’t need more thread. I once searched for Maratha Stewart after reading one of your previous blogs and I couldn’t find any available. Good luck with the tracing on the Secret Garden and thanks for sharing your tips and techniques with us.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  2. I always think transferring the design is the scariest part! I have mine all traced and hope to follow along with your whitework version. Thank you for doing this, I really enjoy reading and learning from your blog.

  3. I am wondering, are we transfering the whole design or part of it? All of it is going to be a LOT of stitching. Also when I tried to open Minn Arts Challenge I only get a blank page. Anyone else having a problem?

    1. I’m doing the whole design, Barbara. It’s up to you, if you only want to do part of it. I’ll check the link on the MN challenge page. Thanks for letting me know!

  4. I am so happy to get started on the ground floor, with the 101 project of the secret garden.
    Covet all your threads, and i have started a collection of the floche. It feels so good, and will be working with that.
    Thanks for all you do

  5. Mary
    I just to let you know that I am enjoying your Secret Garden project. Embroidery is something that I dabble in. You blog has been most useful in educating me with stitches that I can put on my felted stones and so, I thank you for that.

  6. Well , the linen I got at JoAnn fabrics is too thick and too bumpy too trace , so I have to start over. Even with having the copy store darken the design to the max, and using a great light box, I still couldn’t see the lines well enough to trace well. And the bumps on the linen made my micron pen jump.
    So I’m changing to a good quality cotton.
    The tracing is difficult work I’ll have to say.

  7. Mary,

    I’m so happy there are no “Project Police” running around. Love the projects, love the blog, keep up the good work.

  8. Mary, you are just the best. I just love how you take a frown and turn it upside down. I look forward to reading your articles every morning. Isn’t hedgehogs having their February sale this year?I’m thinking of waiting to get cotton a broder at 15% off. I do declare I am becoming a thread junky also.

    1. Hi, Therese – I’m not sure if they are running the sale this year or not. I’ll have to drop them a line and find out! I know I always look forward to it! ~MC

  9. Mary,
    I’m going to do this project, working along with you. I’m trying to decide between my DMC or my Aunt’s silk stash. Would you please mention where you are to start stitching. Thanks


  10. I use the same Micron pen on a good quality, quilting fabric (100% cotton) and never had problems with it. I did wash the fabric first and I didn’t iron the fabric until after I was finished embroidering it. It’s very fine lines are covered by the floss. I used 2 strands of dmc cotton floss and the stem stitch on my projects. I will probably use this to trace this project also. I just received my book yesterday and I’m looking forward to this as I’m sick of just one stitch. I love to “mix it up”.

  11. Secret Garden 101
    I’ve got the book, will be ordering the ground material tonight. Thankfully I have access to (most of)the threads. This is the first project that I have committed to following and am really looking forward to it. Thanks Mary.

  12. In my opinion, patterns are suggestions, one person’s suggestion of how they think things should appear.

    I have always had trouble drawing a straight lines with a ruler, so when I am tracing I use a fairly hard pencil and keep an eraser close by! I also minimize the number of lines I actually trace.

    There are also times when my stitching misses the lines on the fabric and I do not notice it right away. Rather than tear it out I will usually see how to incorporate that section into a “design enhancement”.


  14. I have traced the design onto a nice linen and it was tedious, to say the least, with all the detail. Seemed no matter what the fabric would shift from the design. I definitely messed up on a few areas, but I’m learning, so am not going to fret….surely no one else will notice.

  15. Hi Mary,

    Thanks for sharing your Secret Garden (mis)adventures. I’ve used those Pigma pens on cloth doll faces – another place where you do not want a mishap. I would test it first and use a new one when in doubt.

    I was told by a clerk in the art supply store (where I bought them) – that they ought to be stored horizontally. Often we store our pens vertical in a cup or a jar, which could affect their performance and/or longevity.

    As always – thank you for all your contributions to the needlework world!

  16. Dear Mary,
    I am in awe of you and appreciate your big heart for sharing your knowledge. Here in India we only get Anchor threads and luckily I had some linen- we have to substitute what is at hand. But getting to learn how to go about it is exciting. Thank you and love you for all this knowledge you share so freely.
    Regards Uma.

  17. I just found your blog and am starting to embroider in earnest….with the exception of some very freehand embellishment of a few art quilt-lets, I haven’t done any since I was a child (I’m now blissfully retired!). Your column is such inspiration and this post even more than most. I love your lemons-to-lemonade attitude and can definitely relate to your discussion of buying supplies. I am lucky to have inherited a huge stash from my mother! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  18. Is there something I can do to “activate” the little links that are between paragraphs (which I cannot make open) that must be a picture or visual for the discussion in your email articles that I receive daily?

    they appear small in black print with no feature…I feel they would normally be blue and if I clicked on them I would see an example for your discussion?

    1. Hi, Charlotte – if you are receiving the plain text version of the email, then the picture links are not active. Your best bet is to click on the title of the email to see the whole article, pictures and all, in a browser. If that day’s email interests you and you want to see pictures, you can also always go directly to the main home page of the website (www.needlenthread.com), where that day’s email will be featured at the top of the home page. If you change your subscriber setting to HTML, you’ll receive pictures and active links in your daily email, which makes it easier to navigate and also to print, if you want to print it. -MC

  19. Hi Mary, I thought I would try interpreting the watering can that spews all the flowers. Still deciding on linen count but have lots of ideas for the flowers and sparkly blingy things like water droplets. Maybe a stumpwork water can? not sure yet

  20. I am going to attempt to follow the Secret Garden project with you and have purchased this lovely book in readiness. However, I really don’t like the humming birds’ heads – I think they look quite ugly, almost robotic, so I am going to redraw them to make them look more elegant. I’ve splashed out on some utterly gorgeous silk thread from Mulberry Silks and can’t wait to get started.

  21. I just got the book yesterday and have to say that it’s every bit as wonderful as you said! I’ve already used one of the flowers in my stitching and have plans to use a lot more. Wonder if the author had any idea when she did the book just how much stitchers were going to love it.

  22. Hi Mary
    Re: Secret Garden Embroidery
    Is it OK to back the embroidery fabric with iron on Pellon prior to commencing any stitching? This is to stabilize the fabric.

    1. Hi, Trish – it’s difficult to do hand embroidery through iron on interfacing. Besides having to manipulate the needle through extra layer of the interfacing it self, there’s that layer of glue to consider. Working through iron on interfacing – unless it’s a very light web interfacing, like misty fuse – really tends to wear down threads, too, as they pass through. If you find your ground fabric is not hearty enough to support the stitching, it’s better to use a layer of muslin behind it. But if you’re using a fairly decent linen, you don’t need an extra layer for regular surface work. So I would definitely skip the Pellon! MC

  23. I Mary,

    It seems you have some problems to transfer your design. Have you tried “Mesh transfer canvas”. You can trace the design on the canvas with a washout marker then put it on top of your fabric and re-draw it as many times as you need. I did not try this one but it looks like one I ordered from France a few years ago and use every time I need to transfer a design it works beautifully. You can find it at anniescatalog.com. It’s not very expensive so it worth a try.
    I’m waiting for my book to work this project with you.
    Maggy, Qc Canada

  24. Hi Mary,
    I have been pouring over this project for a few days now, and I have decided to give it a whirl! I ordered the book from Amazon last night and I am going to get the linen today while I am out running errands, if I can find it. If not, I will order from Hedgehog when I get home. I am so excited and terrified all at the same time! I am a beginner’s beginner in embroidery, but love it so much! I have never chosen the colors, I have always followed patterns and color legends, but I think it is time to venture out. I am a avid knitter and I am going to take a break from knitting, and do some handwork.

    Thank you so much for your inspiration and wonderful information to help out us beginners!

    Warm Regards,

  25. Hi Mary,

    I am so looking forward to this project. I have the book and I am awaiting the linen at this point.

    I wondered if you could tell me what Martha Stewart pen it is that you cannot find? I am sure you have exhausted all avenues, but I did come across a Martha Stewart Craft Writing pen in 0.5mm in Sepia. In the review I was reading, it said that it was the finest pen she had ever used for transferring embroidery patterns. I was just wondering if there is a difference? No doubt, you are on top of it though.

    Thanks for all you share with us!

    1. Hi, Catrina – Thanks for the info! The sepia is quite a bit darker than the “moonstone” color, which is apparently not sol individually anymore. The “moonstone” color is a pale taupe-like color, while sepia is more of a deeper brown. You can use the sepia – the lines will just be quite a bit darker. ~MC

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