Mary Corbet

writer and founder


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

Contact Mary

Connect with Mary



2024 (74) 2023 (125) 2022 (136) 2021 (130) 2020 (132) 2019 (147) 2018 (146) 2017 (169) 2016 (147) 2015 (246) 2014 (294) 2013 (294) 2012 (305) 2011 (306) 2010 (316) 2009 (367) 2008 (352) 2007 (225) 2006 (139)

Testing 1-2-3: Threads for the Hummingbirds


Amazon Books

In an effort to keep you abreast of all the little details of the Secret Garden Project, I’m going to show you some doodlings with different embroidery threads.

There’s nothing lovely here. Just some stitching, to see how things pan out. You can decide what threads you like better – I’m still debating the question.

Testing Embroidery Threads for Secret Garden Hummingbirds Project

The inside line of this vine area (located between the two hummingbirds in the original drawing) is worked in stem stitch, using two strands of DMC floss. You can see that the two strands of DMC create a nice stem stitch – it’s plump and pretty, but perhaps somewhat large for outlining one side of a relatively narrow vine. Still, it’s not bad.

This isn’t necessarily the stitch I’ll use in this spot on this vine (though stem stitch is a favorite, and it will most likely play a part in the “real” stitching on this project). It’s also not necessarily the color I’ll be using.

This is a test. It is only a test.

Testing Embroidery Threads for Secret Garden Hummingbirds Project

Let’s try another thread and see what happens. The outside line on this element is stitched with cotton floche in the same color (color #470).

The floche line is slightly finer than the line stitched with two strands of DMC.

The floche, even though it is a mercerized thread like the 6-stranded floss, does not have as much of a sheen as the stranded cotton. Floche has a much looser twist to it, so the stitches on the line are not as defined, and the thread tends to look a little duller here, because the looser twist doesn’t reflect light the same way.

Testing Embroidery Threads for Secret Garden Hummingbirds Project

Onto some leaves. Can you tell which thread is which?

The larger leaf on the left, in fishbone stitch, is worked in floche. The smaller leaf on the top right (in satin stitch) is also floche. Remember that floche is a non-divisible thread, so both samples are worked with one strand of floche.

The lower leaf on the right is worked with stranded cotton (DMC floss). I used one strand of cotton floss, because satin stitch always looks better when worked with one strand (of any thread).

Again, the stranded cotton has a higher sheen.

Incidentally, the satin stitch leaf in floche (top right) is worked without any kind of outlining or padding underneath it. It still sits up off the fabric nicely, just by nature of the thread and the small size of the leaf.

The stranded cotton leaf in satin stitch (lower right) was outlined first with split stitch, and then the satin stitch was worked over the split stitch line.

Testing Embroidery Threads for Secret Garden Hummingbirds Project

Another look at the leaves, with a new addition. Leaf #1 is the satin stitch floche leaf. #2 is satin stitch in stranded cotton. #3 is fishbone stitch in floche. #4 is a smaller leaf worked in fishbone stitch with one strand of cotton floss.

Another addition here is the line of stem stitch to the far left in the photo. This is stem stitch worked with one strand of regular cotton floss (stranded cotton).

The point: even though one strand of stranded cotton is relatively fine, the stem stitch still covers the design line completely. Other stitches, though, like backstitch, might not. But the stem stitch, since each stitch overlaps the previous, covers the line well.

Testing Embroidery Threads for Secret Garden Hummingbirds Project

I also played a bit with an idea for the scalloped breast of the hummingbird. I’m still mulling over this, too. I think the hummingbird needs to be sleek, and I’m not sure this treatment, with these threads, would be as sleek as I’d want it.

Some points to consider:

1. Stranded cotton (or floss, as we call it here in the US) definitely has a more light-reflective quality than floche, even though floche does have a nice, soft sheen.

2. Two strands of stranded cotton makes a line that might be a bit too heavy when used on the vines in this project.

3. One strand of stranded cotton makes a great satin stitch leaf or fishbone stitch leaf, for the small leaves. However, with the small satin stitch leaves, a split stitch outline helps.

4. Floche in fishbone stitch looks great on the larger leaves.

5. Floche covers more, faster. It’s a soft thread, so it spreads a bit, and it is decidedly thicker than one strand of floss, though not as thick as two.

Based on the photos above, what are your thoughts about threads? I still have a few little tests I want to do before making a definite thread decision, but I’d love to hear what you’re thinking! If you’re participating with this project, have you made your thread decisions? If you’re just following along from afar, do you have any observations, thoughts, or input about the threads that you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below!

If you’d like to follow this project as it develops, you’ll find all the articles relating to it in the Secret Garden Hummingbirds Project Index. As the project progresses, each article will be added to the index for your convenience.


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


(67) Comments

  1. It’s going to be fun watching you make this one, Mary! Thanks for sharing yet another one with us. I sure wish I had the opportunity at this time to stitch along! I’m looking forward to seeing the scallops close up.

  2. I’m getting so excited1 I’m waiting for my background fabric to arrive. I have lots of dmc floss, but I’m willing to purchase something new to me for this project. I think I’ll have to play with some samples!

  3. I have to admit that I like the DMC better. It seems to have more definition and a nicer sheen to it. Question: Have you used Floriani or Aurifil floss? I wonder how the “premium” flosses work for you vs. the DMC.

    1. Hi, Kay – not sure how to respond to this one. I think there’s some confusion here between machine embroidery threads and hand embroidery threads. Aurifil, to my knowledge, is a polyester machine embroidery thread, and I think Floriani is also a machine embroidery thread. If they produce a hand embroidery thread, I’m not aware of it, and I haven’t tried it. That’s not to say machine threads can’t be used for hand embroidery, but they are usually a different structure. -MC

    2. Aurifil does make an embroidery floss now for handwork. I guess I was thinking about the Sullivan, but there was a new embroidery floss I saw, I thought it was Floriani for hand, but I could have been mistaken. Brand new, I have only seen it in one place, have to track it down. Yes, those two have traditionally had only machine.

  4. What an eye-opener for me! I have been stitching for many years in all kinds surfaces. Over the years I have gravitated towards specialty fibers: silks, sparkle threads, wool, etc. in the process, stranded floss has become a poor relation! But your post today has shown me the value of both using stranded cotton, and how important it is to do the planning exercises and test-stitching before starting a project. Thanks!

  5. For now I am just watching, but plan to get this project going. It would be nice to use floche, since I have lots. I like the sheen of the stranded floss. When you back off in the last picture, the little floche leaf, number 1, above has a much smoother look than the stranded cotton leaf #2 and the sheen doesn’t seem to be diminished, although that may must be the photo.
    I like the smoother look.

  6. Good morning!

    I was pleasently surprised to see ypu already posted sone of your stitch musings for the projects! The creative planning for the project is half the fun!! Picking out the colors, stitches, threads….

    So lets talk about this hummingbird!! I agree, while the current stitches create a very nice scallop effect, its not as smooth as one expects too see on a humming bird. The layers stand out a little too much currently, but that might change as the background fills up more. I always thought the humming bird needed a little help to stand out in the inked design. The colors are a nice starting mix. A little unexpected tho considering I think of hummingbirds in bright jewel tones. Can we please have more closeups of the stitch? Im trying to figure out if its floche in a buillon knot wrapped around reminiscent of your buillion rose flowers, or if its a large daisy loop and something else.

    As for using floche or stranded cotton… if you wanted to combine the two, would it look nice if less shiny floche was used in darker tones for “shaded” areas and brighter shinier stranded cotton was used on the top side of leaves and things in the sunlight?? Or would it be tok much if a visual disconnect between stranded and floche in a single item? If thats the case, then how about floche to show a different, contrasting plant vine mixed in with the strandred plant?

    For this project it may be hard to di, but i was hoping you could show us how to brown to highlight other colors. You had an article mentioning how all those browns in our dmc wonderland thread stash can be put to good use, but without much specifics. Im still at a loss of how one goes about that so i was hoping you could incorporate that in a small thing here and there in the design.

    Well, i hope that helps your musings!! Im off to google images of hummingbirds and scroll through your stitch index for ideas.

    1. Might combine – we’ll see. More on the hummingbird later. I think what you’re saying is pretty much what I said above – hummingbirds are generally “sleeker”, so too much texture there would probably not work as well. As far as jewel tones go, it depends on the hummingbird. They usually have some color to them – on the wings, part of the breast, or a ring on the neck, maybe on the head and neck – but their bodies are usually rather dull. On the 101 project, I’m not going very deeply into advanced shading. I’ll save that for the silk version. -MC

  7. Hi Mary,

    Why did you choose Floche over Coton a broder?
    I have not used Floche yet but I do have Coton a broder #16 that I have experimented with? Does Floche have more sheen than Coton a broder?

    Barbara La Belle

    1. I’ll be testing coton a broder, too. It’s a “firmer” thread, compared to floche – it isn’t quite as soft (made up of more plies and slightly tighter twist). But if I use coton a broder, it would be the finer 25, which has a greater color range. -MC

  8. Mary–You must have a great close-up lens on your camera. Your two strands of DMC look like a size 3 perle cotton to me.

    Could you maybe include a reference point in at least one picture so we can see the size you’re working with? Even the tip of a needle or scissors would be really useful.

    I will say, though, that the bright green is a great color to see, given the winter we’re having in Minnesota. I’m really sick of white and gray.


    Carol S.

  9. What stitch or stitch combination did you use on the hummingbird’s breast? It’s lovely. Although I do agree a sleeker stitch would look nice on this bird.

  10. Mary,

    what a wonderful project!

    I am wondering, if the floche is also available in Europe (Germany)? I have looked around but DMC seems to be selling the stranded cotton mostly, then perle and from time to time I find coton a broder but have not seen floche yet. Is it maybe called differently here, do you happen to know?

    Thank you very much – also for the inspiration!


    1. Kate, it is not easy to find floche in the U.S., either. It’s just not as popular. You have to go to a specialty embroidery store or order it online.

    2. Hi, Kate, I wondered about the same, as I’ve never come across floche here in UK either.

      Looking at the DMC website, the thread line-ups in the UK site and US site are slightly different. I am wondering whether ‘floche’ in US and ‘Broder Special’ in size 16 (there are 6 sizes apparently) in UK are possibly the same thing or not… Descriptions sound very much the same, and they look quite similar on the photos. However, different photos are used, and the colour cards are different too… As I haven’t seen either of the threads, I am none the wiser… FYI, DMC France site doesn’t have ‘floche’ either, but does have ‘Broder Spécial’.

    3. The Broder Special (Art 107) is what we call coton a broder, and the size you’d want in that is probably more the size 25, rather than the 16. Coton a Broder (DMC’s Art. 107) is very similar to floche in a lot of ways – it’s used the same way, it’s non-strandable, etc.) but it is a little “tighter” than floche, not quite as soft. One is made of 4 plies and the other of 5. But they are very much alike, and the broder special in size 25 comes in a wider array of colors. I may go with the coton a broder (broder special – art. 107) in size 25, ultimately. Or I may mix it, and floche. I haven’t finished testing them all quite yet.

    4. Actually, it is the same thread, I think, in the size 16. From what I can see on all the websites, it is a four-ply thread, like the thread that we call floche. So I’m sure it’s the Broder special in size 16, and the DMC official product number is Art. 107. I’m going to follow up a little more on the thread topic later today and next week, so you might hold off on your thread decisions until then (unless you’re just keen to add a new thread to your stash!) ~MC

    5. Thank you ever so much – everyone – for the replies! It seems to be a little clearer now. I am looking forward to the article on threads next week!



  11. Mary – I am so excited about this project, I think it has the potential to be the best ever. My personal thought would be to use a somewhat darker green, and allow the leaves to fade more to the background, which would allow the hummingbirds to be the shining glory of the piece. That said, I’m in favor of the fishbone stitch for leaves.

  12. Still waiting on the arrival of my book and haven’t ordered my background fabric yet, but excited to follow along. New to all the details of stitching and look forward to learning a great deal about it and the types of thread. I like versatility but also what looks best for the design! Thank you for all your instructional videos and teaching skills on your blog.

  13. c’est avec beaucoup d’attention que j’ai lu cette page, le choix des cotons me parait indispensable pour un plus bel effet; donc il faut faire des essais;

  14. Mary,

    I have been doing research for colors of hummingbirds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website:


    The Ruby Throated is the one that comes into my yard in the Summer. I am so happy that someone can get a photo of these little guys because I can’t really study them since they fly by so quickly! I thought I would pass on this website in case others would like to do this same kind of research.

    I have a pretty good stash of colors of DMC floss that I have collected over the years. I will be using that for my stitching. I am now having fun trying to match my floss with the hummingbird colors! I look forward to seeing what stitches and colors that Mary might use for her hummingbirds.

  15. This is the best article and pictures I’ve ever seen on showing the difference on our choice of stitches & threads and the effect it has on the end product. Please post more articles like this.

    I’ve printed & saved the article to pull out the next time I start a new project. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

  16. Hi Mary, In looking at the photograph of leaves 1-4, I personally prefer #4, the smaller leaf worked in fishbone stitch with one strand of cotton floss. It is fine and looks quite a bit more delicate than the other leaves. I think I will go with this on my project. I haven’t picked colors, and am just following along at this point. Thanks so much for sharing this with us; I know it takes a lot of extra time and effort. Much appreciated. Colleen in Canada 🙂

  17. So much detail in this design. I’m not sure about floche vs. DMC for the leaves and stems. For me, I have a difficult time telling which would look best over a large area. One leaf looks nice in shiny DMC but how will it look with loads of shiny leaves all over the fabric? See what I mean? Then again, my imagination is about as big as a pomegranate seed.

    Speaking of which. . . . the chest of the hummer is interesting but those little red beads (?) do remind me of pomegranate seeds. I don’t know of many hummers with red dots on their chest. Of course this doesn’t have to be completely realistic. I did a hummer once and used the rayon (DMC Satin) for the gorget. Gave a lovely sheen without being crunchy like metallics.

    I’m waiting to see what else you try.

  18. I too am waitng for my ground fabric to arrive. In the meantime I asked my daughter to color in the design for me based on the silk threads that I will be using. As a graphics student she kindly obliged. I was considering using browns and blacks to give it that Litany of Loreto look. But I cherish her collaborating with me and will go with her color choices.


  19. My oh my, but you do such beautiful stitching! Personally, I like the look of leaf #1 (it doesn’t shout at me!) but I like the structure of the fishbone leaves. Could they be done with #1’s thread? Also both stems seem rather coarse to me. I like the partial stem to the left of the leaves but wonder if it’s the light that makes it look like you used variegated thread? Perhaps a slightly deeper green? And I like your hummingbird so far but would like to see what else you were thinking of for it. Thanks for one of my “can’t miss reading” newsletters! Have a lovely day, Rick

  20. Hi Mary,

    I like the floche for the satin stitch leaves as it is smoother than the floss and I think the sheen is fine. Also for the stems as it is a bit less ropey and a bit thinner than the two strands of floss, the coton a broder might be good for the stems if it would cover in one strand. Now for the fishbone leaves the floss gives the leaves more texture, which I think is the whole point of using that stitch. This will be fun to watch!

    Maybe you should explain the “This is a test, it is only a test” reference to our non US readers. 🙂 It’s funny, I just heard it yesterday while out shopping.

  21. This is exciting for me, first time to attempt a project of this size . Since I’m so new to this , and don’t have many opinions, I’ll probably follow pretty closely to your recommendations. I do have some Coton a Broder 25 which I ordered from Hedgehog, though not all the colors. I’d never used it until you mentioned it , and I really do love it . How is Floche different from It? Is it finer?
    I’ve ordered myself a new embroidery hoop from Hedgehog also. The 5/8, 6 inch. I plan to wrap it with twill using your tutorial. I did that with a cheaper hoop.
    Everything you’ve done do far looks great. I was wondering what you did on the breast if the bird. What stitches .

  22. Thanks for the idea on the hummingbird. I am working on an Opus Anglicanum piece that has a medieval seahorse and I was stuck on the scales! Thank you!

  23. Oh-wow, Mary! Got the books yesterday. It looks like a HUGE project! At the same time, all those little leaves look tiny to me. What I think might be do-able would be just one flower enlarged several times — for an apron pocket! Stranded cotton is what I have on hand. Yes, one strand for all the outlines. I’m really going into overwhelm just thinking about the transfer process! Facing cataract surgery, I’m thinking can I just try that adorable hedgehog in the potting shed? At any rate, I’m following, learning and loving everything you’re doing. One strand for satin stitch, thank you! XO

  24. Mary, I look forward each day to your posts. I have ordered my background fabric and even though I am a beginner I want to work on this project. My question – when you are doing a split stitch for outlining before doing the satin stitch, how many strands of DMC floss would you use? Or would you use a different kind of thread? I have never used the floche or the cotton a broder. Should I buy some of that to try the split stitch?

  25. Dear Mary, I have the book and plenty of fabric and am so glad you are taking on this remarkable tutoring. I also have a massive piece of old, very fine linen, that I was going to work mainly with satin stitch and long and short stitch. Now I realise I need to take the time before I begin that project to test out ideas on how to develop the embroidery.
    Although I’ll work the latter in DMC stranded cotton (as it’s large enough to be the centre of a king-sized quilt) I can’t wait to see how you develop the hummingbirds with silk threads as I treated myself to the whole collection of Thistle Threads silk threads this New Year.

  26. Hmm… I’m partial to the floche. To me it has a more natural look, since leaves are usually not very shiny. Also, the shiny hummingbird would stand out more against a background with a slight sheen. Of course you could also do select leaves in floss to make them stand out more. Hard to choose! The “all shiny” look is pretty, too.

  27. I found this discussion very interesting Mary – thank you! I generally end up using DMC floss, simply because it’s what I have on hand and is readily available here. I was eye opening to see the actual differences between the threads. Thanks!

  28. I like the sheen of the stranded and i have a lot of that. I don’t have Floche, and don’t know where to get it. I like pearl cotton the most. It doesn’t tangle like stranded floss but it is thicker.

    This is fun. I do have a thought that in some places the double outline might be too fussy and it might look better without it.

    Thank you for testing for us!

    Robin in New Mexico

  29. After following your blog for a few years I have just started embroidering again after many, many years. I took one look at the Secret Garden book and bought it. It is amazing! And easily can be simplified for beginners.

    I cannot tell you how your great photos, trials- and-errors and explanations have inspired me. To paraphrase the Brits, “Keep calm and embroider on.” Thanks again.

  30. Thanks so much for this series. I’m improving my needlework skills, but I have almost no experience crafting my own projects. I’m used to using kits where everything is already planned out. I feel like this series will help me bridge the gap between my ideas and my actual sewing. Looking forward to more!

  31. Dear Mary,
    I am so amazed and impressed by your wonderful website that I discovered recently.
    I now look forward every day or so to your news, information and progress on your projects.
    How generous of you to share all this with fellow switchers.
    You have introduced me to some wonderful websites and new books.
    Thank you,
    Virginia (from Australia)

  32. What a great post; thanks once again for sharing your thought processes.

    I like the stranded cotton best, in the pictures the floche looks a bit ‘lumpy’ to me. With the stranded cotton you can vary the number of strands that you use for the various items (leaves, stems, petals, etc).

  33. Mary–when you talk about two strands of cotton floss, are you splitting the floss into strands and then using two fine pieces? Or are you actually using two full strands of floss? Typically, you seem to use two fine strands of divided floss, but that line seems pretty thick…

  34. I think I would prefer the leaves done in the fishbone stitch, and my preference would be the floche. However, once you have done more and combined different stitches, it might look totally different. Enjoy your musings and trial and error.

  35. I just want to thank you for your awesome instructions you provide us! I am getting so ready about starting my first embroidery project, a Jacobean design. I can’t believe how much your teaching is getting me excited!!! ‘

    Thank you so much!
    Lynn McIntosh

    I love your website also and have followed it got a long while.

  36. I love the puffy, less shiny leaves. That green just begs for a turquoise and maybe a coral nearby. A more shiny look for the hummingbird would be lovely. Color choice is such a Big Deal, and it’s good to remember it’s not etched in stone, even after it’s stitched.

  37. Hello Marvelous Mary!
    Very warm (it’s so hot here!) greetings from Cape Town, South Africa. I follow as much of your incredible emails as I can, with having a fairly busy schedule…just intrigued to know your opinion on variegated threads.
    I haven’t read your every word, so you may well have written about them. For so many years I have hand-dyed my own threads. Would you kike me to send you some? Kind regards and please keep up your excellent work. I do so marvel at what you do! Toody

    1. Hi, Toody – Thanks for your comment! I don’t use over-dyed threads too often in “formal” embroidery projects, though I do like to play with them for stitch samples and the like. The reason I don’t use them in long term projects is because most over-dyed threads are not absolutely color fast and, in my experience, they’re prone to fading faster than regular threads. If I’m going to put a lot of time into a project, I want to be easy in mind about the colorfastness and lightfastness and longevity of the threads I’m using. All that being said, I love the look of them, and I love playing with them – I just don’t use them for major projects. I’ve written about them now and then and used them for samples, but you’re right, I don’t write about them too often.

      Hope things cool down for your soon! We’re under a new blanket of snow here, and expecting a “major” storm (for us, anyway) in a couple days, followed by another by the end of the week, so winter’s not quite finished with us yet, apparently!


  38. I like the floche. I did notice the sheen of the floss, but think this design might look better in more subdued and delicate and matte threads and colors. Not to confuse things, but have you thought about giving broder a try before you make a final decision?

    Lovely work as always.

  39. Hi Mary! Feeling better?
    Did you notice that the Anchor floss is noticeably finer than the DMC? So if you find 2 strands of DMC are too thick but you like the sheen, you can use 2 strands of Anchor. One more option at your disposal.

  40. Hi Mary..
    I’m excited about this project. Can you please upload the whole pattern so that i can print and follow your tutorial as i am not able to trace it from the book.

    1. Hi – thanks for your comment! No, the pattern will not be made available on the website. You must purchase the book and either trace it from there or make a copy for personal use. The design is copyrighted to the artist, and cannot be reproduced for the public without violating copyright. -MC

  41. Humblest apologies Dear Mary!

    I have just found, after searching and searching…your lovely, warm and informative reply to my comments and query on hand-dyed threads, thank you! I was looking under the wrong dates…no wonder I couldn’t find it, so please ignore my last comment re not having heard from you in this regard! Later this year – last quarter – we’ll be visited by South African friends who live in the States and I’ll send some variegated threads with Bev to post to you on her return. What postal address shall I use? Please advise. Kind regards

  42. Hi,
    I am a biginner and french..English no good. Me, I prefer cotton floche for all leaves and stanted cotton for the stem, because in the nature,often the stem is “not straight”. And cotton floche give a little” jumble natural”. Thank you very much for your website, I am very happy…

    1. If you live in France, where do you buy floche thread? I can’t find any on the internet. DMC doesn’t sell it on its website.

    2. Hi brigitte,
      Je trouve du coton floche blanc n°16 sur le site web merceriedelavieilleville.com ou mariesuarez.com en 120,60,80 ou aufildulinetcoton.net ou souffle d’antan.com n°25. Bon pour les couleurs…voir ebay.fr..Cartier bresson, vieille marque.

  43. I love sparkle and shine. the more shine the better. I love your informative instructions and observations about embroidery. I love your blog

    Your Student in Stitching Cindy Keyes

  44. Thanks for this great lesson! I didn’t really know what floche looked or acted like so seeing it in comparison to the DMC Floss was great. Most of my life DMC was all I could afford and after having been out of hand embroidery for about 20 years, I’m just dipping my toes in and can’t believe what all is available — for those with healthy purses LOL!

  45. Hi, Mary. I just found this blog, although I have used your you tube instructions for a couple of years now (which I love). So I’ve been reading along (November- my mother always said I was a day late and a dollar short) and this link appear to connect to the previous link. I clicked on “Cotton Floche & more Thread & design musings” and got this – Testing Threads. Has the particular page been taken down now?
    Many thanks,

  46. I am relatively new at embroidery and mostly have stitched with size 5 an 3 perle cotton. I have cross stitched a lot with DMC. I have no experience with cloche. Overall, I like the DMC floss best for the sheen and stitch definition. I’m enjoying watching this.

More Comments