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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Embroidery Workroom & the Ironing Table


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Imagine yourself going all-out on an embroidery project, focusing all your concentration on that particular piece of needlework, getting into it, moving along on it, always having it there and ready for you when you have time to stitch…and then you run into the Brick Wall of Indecision.

Or at least, you find yourself second-guessing a previous decision and coming to a complete halt while you ponder your options.

Ever happen?

Well, it happens to me, probably at least once on every large project I work! The Hummingbird Color Kerfuffle we talked about yesterday – and to which you responded mightily with many excellent suggestions! – is exactly this kind of situation.

I always find pauses in a project like this a good opportunity to take stock of my workroom, re-organize, and clean up a bit. Doing so gives me time to think. And when I’ve finished tinkering and organizing, I’ve usually finished thinking as well.

Not only do I have a fresh perspective for my embroidery, but I end up with a moderately well-organized workspace where I can launch back into my project with an easier mind and a better sense of order about me.

Embroidery Workroom & Ironing Table

The other day when I was leaving my garage-gone-workroom/household-general-storage-room for the evening, I took this photo. My work table was pretty much a mess, with stuff stacked everywhere – not just on it, but around it, too.

Taking some time to re-organize and do some thinking, I cleaned that up and sat myself down to do some calendar work.

Embroidery Workroom & Ironing Table

And that’s when I realized I never told you about my “new” old ironing table.

An ironing table is a table whose entire surface can be used as an ironing board. It’s a great concoction, especially if you sew regularly (which I don’t) or if you iron large things (which I do). It’s fantastic for working and ironing as you go. Since I generally embroider at my work table, if I need to iron a piece of fabric, or maybe just a tiny seam in a piece of fabric, I can iron it right there on the table while I work. I don’t have to set up a separate ironing board.

This particular table is slightly higher than a normal table – think of a cutting table for sewing, where the table is about 6″ or 8″ higher than regular table height. It’s some 45-ish inches wide and not quite as deep.

It was obviously home made, and though not very “finely” or beautifully made, it is well-made and sturdy.

Embroidery Workroom & Ironing Table

The top of the table is removable (it’s very heavy). There are a couple beams on the bottom of the top that fit into four notches on the table’s base, to keep the top securely in place.

Eventually, I’m going to replace the old cover that you see on it now with some new cotton duck (in color) over new cotton batting.

My cutting mat on top of the ironing surface provides me with a hard writing surface and general work surface, so I don’t loose the whole “table-ness” of a work table.

I’ve lined up my thread cabinets (which are regular table height) on each side of the ironing table, and I’ll use the tops of the thread cabinets to hold my every-day working materials, semi-organized in baskets and trays.

I picked up the ironing table at a moving sale. I’ve always wanted one, and this one was going for a song. I would probably like it better if it were about a foot or so wider, to give me more room for my tools and such. But then, you know, more stuff would just accumulate! So it’s probably better, smaller.

Although the table is relatively tall, I can still use my embroidery table stand on top of it to hold my embroidery frame, too.

So, with the workroom a little more organized and with all your good suggestions in mind from yesterday’s discussion on color, I can spread out some threads on the surface of my ironing table and finalize some decisions on threads, moving forward again with a fresh perspective!

I’ll let you know the results soon!


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(23) Comments

  1. Mary, I thought about the birds all day yesterday. I actually remembered a painting in the Fine Arts Museum, de Young, (I am in San Francisco at the moment) and went to look. It’s Orchids and Hummingbirds by Martin Johnson Heade and was not particularly helpful. As I am finishing a large project and thinking of beginning The Secret Garden, I thought I would do mine differently and decide on the bird colors first with coordinating flowers. Thanks for sharing your thinking with us instead of flat pronouncements from the mount with floss numbers.

    Your organization of materials is great! Is there ever as much room as one wants for sewing/embroidery/knitting, etc? Best regards, Charlotte

  2. Dear Mary

    I love your workroom I wish I had a workroom separate from my living space, but as you say you would only accumulate more stuff, so I have to be careful storage wise when purchasing accessories for my needlework. I agree with you a tidy workspace helps you to think better. I love your ironing board and how convenient that it has several uses. I have a small one which I can sit on a table and I have just bought myself a wooden artists board which fits nicely on my necessaries floor stand where I do all my finishing bits, sewing and cutting it’s great. Thanks for a preview of your work room and I hope you are now able to chose your colours for the Secret Garden project.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  3. I was so astounded at the # of responses and the differences in suggestions. It proves to me that I have never ‘over’ thought a decision like this b/c I never would have had that many options in my little brain. It will indeed be fun to see what you decide as some of the suggestions are delicately intricate and interesting!

  4. What a great surface to work from! I love handmade ironing surfaces, and have one myself. It is a 2″ x 4″ piece of plywood that I covered with several layers of batting and a cotton top. I need to re-cover with some proper ironing surface fabric…but for now, it’s working just fine! My only problem is that is becomes cluttered with other things when I’m not needing it to iron something!

  5. I love the ironing table, I’ve never seen one of those before. I have the hummingbirds design traced but not started yet, I still beginner in embroidery and I want to do some more practice first before tackling it! I love your blog and have watched and learnt from so many of your tutorials, thank you for sharing so generously; can’t wait to see which colours you pick for the birds!

    1. This is completely off-topic:
      I love browsing around on your blog, Mrs. Corbet. I find so much useful information in articles of days past. 🙂

  6. I have an ironing table too. I happen to be a sheet and tablecloth nut, and I iron both, so I needed a large ironing table. We bought a flat door. My husband then attached some strips of wood to one side. These roughly outline the shape of my ironing board so that I can put it on top of my ironing board and it won’t shift. Then I covered it with batting and cotton duck fabric. Voila! I now have a large ironing table that is a huge help in ironing large flat items, and it’s good for anything flat.

  7. Hey there, Mrs. Corbet. I find reorganization always helps me put the pieces together too. I am hoping “soon” means tomorrow though, the suspense is haunting me in my dreams. Unfortunately, not kidding.

    PS. You do make me feel very guilty though. I’m a couch stitcher.

    1. I was a couch stitcher, too – nothing wrong with that! I’ve just gotten used to working at a table in my workroom, so I rarely stitch on the couch anymore. It keeps my stitching mess out of the house, too, which is good. Now, I find I can’t really stitch comfortably away from a table, because I’ve gotten so used to spreading out my stuff…

    2. Awww. That does make me feel a lot better actually. It’s strange, out of all the years I’ve been casually embroidering, I now feel this nearly overwhelming need to become a true artisan of the craft. I don’t know if I should blame this website or not, but I am so happy for its existence. Someone even asked me the other day if I sold things online! Bizarrely I don’t think I could accept money for a piece. I put so much love into them I just want to give them as gifts.

  8. I have my ironing board set up all the time in my sewing/computer/storage room. It’s handy as an extra work surface and it’s counter height. All I iron though are needlework fabrics! 🙂

  9. Hi Mary,
    Thanks so much for sharing the ironing table. Too often I get lazy and don’t pull mine out when I should. But when I have a dedicated space that remains uncluttered, I use mine often and the results show. As Claire Schaffer says, “Ironing is couture!”

    Quick question. I notice one of your file cabinets is the deeper drawers. What are you keeping in the deeper drawers – if you would not mind sharing. I have one cabinet for now with the narrow depth drawers and really love it.

  10. I love seeing other folks work rooms. I do the same thing when I am stuck.

    As for the hummingbird colors…I have a different approach. I am now working on my third start on the Secret Garden project. First one I was way too unorganized with thread colors and doing sloppy work. Second one I was very organized and worked very carefully until, gasp!!!I realized I had transferred the pattern with AIR ERASABLE ink! Much to my dismay I saw my careful tracing work disappear, literally!. So third attempt, I didn’t have the courage to retrace everything, not my favorite part of embroidery. So I cut and pasted my favorite portions of the pattern. In place of the hummingbirds I traced my initials using your latest monogram pattern. I will approach the hummingbirds at some other point. Right now I am happy with the pattern I am working on, and I have gotten quite good at stem stitch, having repeated it so many times already.

  11. I love your workroom. The idea of covering the table is very clever. There are lots of ideas going around now as to what to do with my space. Thanks for sharing your workroom with us.

  12. What a wonderful idea! I have a couple of things I need to iron at the moment and have to pull out the ironing board to do them. Not having to do that would be soooo much more convenient. (Unfortunately I don’t know where I would put one.)

  13. Your ironing table is definitely multi-function. I live in an apartment now and there’s absolutely no space to have an ironing board (not that I ever iron clothes, mind you!). I was lucky enough to find a computer desk with a swing out side table. I added a folded towel (to protect it from heat) and a purchased ironing pad and I can simply swing it out and use it as needed. It tucks away into the desk when not in use and doesn’t take up any of my valuable space.

  14. I need a fairy godperson to come and help me clear out and tidy up my studio. I know it is probably pretentious to call it that, but I don’t really care. However at the moment the whole 25 square metres (that does not mean it is 25 metres long and 25 metres wide – in fact it is about 10 metres long and only 2.5 metres wide – a bit like a railway carriage, lol) is a big mess. So Mary, it looks as though you are pretty good at this tidying lark, so how about a trip to Australia? I reckon we could give you a pretty good time in between cleaning sessions. OK?

  15. I watched the dawn come up this morning. I started by looking at the little item holding your thread. I had to research that , which led me to storage, which led me to thread comparisons, which led me to S and Z thread twists, which led me back to the Secret Garden Project, which led me to the beautiful birds. It took me most of the night to go full circle, but what a course I crammed into those hours.

    I know you hear this all the time, but you are the most inspiring educator, and artist I have hade the privilege to know.
    I hope we send as much energy back to you as you give to all of us. Your are a treasure.
    Have a wonderful weekend Mary.

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