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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First Stitches on the Hummingbirds


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It’s time to start stitching, said the Little Voice in my head.

Stop hemming and hawing about colors and just Do Something, it insisted.

Fine, I replied. I’ll start with the hummingbird’s chest.

A Very Wise Choice, my Little Voice responded.

Hummingbird Embroidery

So I pulled out some black DMC, removed one strand from the bunch, and forthwith started with the eye.

What about that chest? nagged the Voice.

Later, later. At least I’ve started.

The Little Voice quietly acquiesced and retreated.

So, the first thing on the hummingbirds – both of them – that I stitched was the eyes. I used one strand of black DMC, and worked round dots following these directions for satin stitching a dot.

Why the eyes first? This is a legitimate question. Often, when you see embroidered birds, animals, and whatnot in progress, the eyes go in last. There’s usually a blank spot of fabric staring back at you (kind of creepy…) in the midst of the embroidery, where the eye will go.

But the eyes gave me a starting point. And in the order of work, it won’t make any difference to start with the eyes. Right now, they’re solid black. We’ll bring them to life a little later with a glint.

Hummingbird Embroidery

Once the eyes were in, I had to get over my color trepidation regarding the peacocky-blues and greens. Truly, I never intended to go in this direction with color at the beginning. But the more I looked at the blues and greens, the more I doodled with markers and pencils, the more I was attracted to them.

I still don’t know if they will work. Are they the best choice? Hard to say. But I do know this: deep down, I really like them. A lot.

So, in this small swash on the cheek of the hummingbirds I used four colors, working from the outside in stem stitch with a darker, bright blue and gradually filling the swash until I ended up with the lighter blueish green.

I began at the top of the eye, stitching the tail of the swash that wraps around the eye there and outlining the whole shape, and then filled it.

Remember, with stem stitch, as you take tight curves, it helps to shorten the length of the stitch to take the curve better.

The DMC colors I used: 995, 3844, 3845, 3851 – four colors in that tiny area. I suspect I’ll add a fifth color, stitching right over the stem stitch in the center of the swash.

And so, the birds begin!

And now that they have eyes (and a cheek), I can’t wait to get back to them!

Stay tuned…

…and enjoy your weekend!

If you’d like to follow along with the Secret Garden Hummingbirds project, which features a design from “Secret Garden: an Inky Treasure Hunt & Coloring Book” by Johanna Basford, you can find all the articles relating to this project arranged in chronological order in the Secret Garden Project Index. Among the articles, you’ll find plenty of tips and techniques that will help you with your own embroidery projects.


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(21) Comments


  2. Dear Mary

    So the hemming and hawing and indecisions of thread colours has ended and now the spactacular stitching begins, go for it Mary and don’t be shy you can do it. It looks lovely I do like the chosen colours and little by little the bird will come alive and develop its own personality. Thanks for sharing the beginnings of the Secret Garden Hemming birds, lovely. I hope your having a sunny day its 84 degrees in North London enjoy your weekend stitching.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  3. Yay! Im excited you decided to go with the vivid blues and greens! And they truely make me think of the little hummingbirds we have flitting around our house right now. This color group is my absolute favorite to work with (in fact, thinking about the post you wrote a while back about color rut . . . well this is my personal color rut, but I digress). In fact my current project is using a crap load of 995, and I just love the vibrancy. Its almost an electric blue. I can’t wait to see how the hummingbirds turn out.

    1. Jessica, you and I will both drown in 995 and its siblings. I love greens, blues and purples, but many of my projects do not allow me to use those colors. I have no idea why I choose to do a lot of projects that do not allow it, I guess I am just my own worst enemy in that regard. 🙂 If I ever do a hummingbird, 995 and other blues and purples will be on it. 🙂

      Mary, perhaps your eyes and brain like the blues because it is something “different” for this project. 🙂 Just a thought.

  4. Mary, I can hardly wait to watch as your creativity comes together. Going to be beautiful, no matter what. 😉

    1. Dear, Mrs. Corbet, I am in awe of how you can work with one strand so easily. I still have problems with fraying and breaking no matter how short I cut one strand. I wish I had some way of overcoming the problem.

    2. Hi Kristina, You might try using a somewhat larger needle — that often works for me. The idea is that a larger needle would (temporarily) open up a larger hole to allow the thread to pass through more easily. All the best.

  5. I say, if you like the colours, go with them. I think they’re pretty.
    Can’t wait to see what wonderful things they’ll turn into!

    Enjoy Your Weekend Also, Mrs. Corbet.
    Sarah 🙂

  6. I know it’s early days and you’re feeling your way with the colour choices, but I have to say I love the way the peacock blues ‘pop’ against the purple and green floral motifs. I can imagine being completely daunted by the colour options and stalling for ages … so well done for taking the plunge! It’s looking good. 🙂

  7. So we’re superstitious, are we!? Not liking the creepy empty eye socket! Well, the color choices are beautiful, all very vivid yet warm. It is a real showpiece. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Interesting to put the eyeball in first! Makes sense, as most all things you do (yeah, that is scary). When I do animals and such, think to put the eye in last so they can’t watch me while I am stitching. Do I have a problem?!!!

    1. LOL! I usually put them in last, too, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a need to do that here. I think I like having eyes rather than vacant sightless holes staring at me.

  9. You have made the right choice, in my opinion! The vivid blues and greens will really make the birds the focus. The birds will flit right off of the linen just like hummingbirds fly. I have a place on my antique setee in my entry way where your design worked into a pillow would be beautiful. I better get my threads out and get busy! Thank you for sharing your talents and knowledge.

  10. Those colours really work with the bit of green leaf and purple flower visible in your photograph. The eye is the one spot of black, the one point in the whole design that is not a jewel colour and for which – even though you are not attempting realism – your choices are limited, so it makes sense to make that your starting point and to work out from there.

  11. I love your colour choice for the hummingbirds Mary. I always like to start my animals with the eye first – that way they seem to come alive and I can have a chat with them while I am completing the rest of the stitching – they seem to develop a personality for me that way!

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