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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On Embroidery, Timing, and Inner Voices


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I’m pathetic when it comes to judging timing on my embroidery projects. I am an Over-Optimist when it comes to time.

If I just crack down and do it – Really Concentrate on it – it won’t take long at all. I can have that done in a day.

I tell myself things like that all the time. I give myself the Most Amazing pep rallies. Go, Mary. You can do it!

Hungarian Redwork Embroidery

That’s always at the beginning of the day.

By noon, I’m more like, Hey, Mary. Remember that project you were going to do today? When are you planning on starting that?

Around 3:00 pm, after maybe a half an hour of actual work, my inner voice points out the obvious: Whoa, Mary. If you worked on this til midnight you still wouldn’t be done.

And by 5:00 pm, I’m telling myself, Geez, Mary, this is taking forever. You should quit for the day and start fresh first thing in the morning. If you start early, you’ll be done in no time.

To which I generally respond, Wow, Mary, that’s a brilliant idea! Let’s go do something else!

When I was in college, being one of those very mature, self-aware people that I wasn’t, I wrote a poem on procrastination. It was pro procrastination. It began, Procrastinate, procrastinate, put off all the things you hate….

I’m every grateful that I can’t remember the rest. Otherwise, it would probably be my life-long mantra.

But that’s not the pathetic part. The pathetic part is that it doesn’t really bother me, except when I have to eat humble pie. When I have to admit that I didn’t get this thing or that thing done. When I have to face facts: I’m not as good at the whole “concentrated effort thing” as I think I am.

But I’m very good at distracting myself when I really should be concentrating all my efforts to finish what I planned to finish.

Hungarian Redwork Embroidery

Case in point: The Hungarian Redwork Runner.

Oh yes, several of you asked about it this week. After all, Christmas is next week. And my goal was to have it finished by Christmas, right?

And wouldn’t you just love it if I could heroically show you the finished fruits of my concentrated effort to accomplish a goal that I enthusiastically set out to reach well over a month ago? Wouldn’t you just want to cheer with me, jump up and down in unbridled enthusiasm, clap your hands, and say, Yay, Mary, you did it!

Uh huh.

Well, guess what?

I haven’t done it. I don’t know if I will do it.

My inner cheerleader is trying to work up another pep rally, much to the chagrin of the practical, realistic side of me that knows, deep down, it just isn’t going to happen.

Or is it?

We’re having a battle right now.

Whatever the case may be, this is definitely going to happen:

Hand Embroidered Christmas Ornament

I promised that we could make a hand embroidered ornament in the less-than-two-weeks until Christmas and have it hanging on the tree, or ready to give as a gift, by Christmas.

And I said it would be fun.

And it is fun! And that’s 99 percent of the problem.

The Hungarian Redwork Runner – as much as I know I will love the finished project – is … well. It is less than fun. It is the same stitch, over and over, hour after hour, in the same color.

Stitch after stitch after stitch after stitch…

My Inner Cheerleader tries to tell me I like that kind of embroidery. She tries to tell me it’s Relaxing.

It is relaxing. Every time I sit down to work on it, I relax myself into a state of blissful, sleepy stupor.

Geez, Mary, this is taking forever. You should quit for the day… Let’s go do something else.

Hey! Maybe we should start a Christmas ornament! Wouldn’t that be fun?

You see the problem?

But it’s early yet. The day is young. And if I concentrate today and through the weekend – and I mean, really, really, concentrate – maybe I can finish the ornament AND the runner?!

What do you reckon? Oh, let’s try!

C’mon, Mary, you can do it!

Oh golly. The cheerleader’s back.


I’m outa here – I’ve got work to do! See ya Monday!


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(56) Comments

  1. Ah, the joys of procrastination. Well, there’s a lot more fun (and point) in doing ornaments before Christmas, isn’t there? While you’re in the mood. And then when you’re all Christmassed out, and can’t face another holly leaf or turkey sandwich, there’s that nice cheerful red runner which doesn’t need much thought. Just the thing when you relax in the aftermath…
    This will be my last comment on N&T until after New Year, so let me thank you for a year of fun, inspiration and information. Have a wonderful Christmas time!

  2. This is so familiar… I could get that project done if I could only get it started in the first place. Yes, I know that song well.

  3. Hahahahahahahaha!!!! Thanks for sharing that, Mary, and proving that you are just as human and fallible as the rest of us. What my inner voice is doing in YOUR head, I’ll never know!

  4. Mary, I think I hear your inner voice all too well! Maybe it would help to stitch with friends. That way you can chat and stitch at the same time. Sometimes that works for me. As long as you don’t get distracted serving your guests cups of tea or get caught up in admiring whatever they are working on it should help to make the project move along.

  5. Hi Mary,

    Did I miss a tutorial on the Christmas ornament?
    I see the picture today of the one side completed. What is the white pinwheel stitch in the center of the embroidery?


    1. Hi, Barbara! No, you didn’t miss one. I posted part 2 on Wednesday, and I’ll cover the rest of this in part 3 on Monday. The white pinwheel is ribbed spider web, around the ruched ribbon area, done in white perle cotton. I picked out the red buttonhole….

  6. Hahaha… I usually feel so all alone in my procrastination! It’s the ‘should do’ list that gets in my way. Whatever you decide, have fun with it.

  7. Hi Mary, you have some stitching sisters who know the ‘pro procrastination ‘ poem very well. Not a problem not finishing it for us. It seems to be my lifelong song. I like to believe its because of the creativeness in us that takes over and we lose that thing that keeps others organized–‘concentration.’ But nevertheless, there is room in the world for us too. Thanks for your great list of books/magazine: ‘Inspirations’ recommendations, yesterday. All are excellent choices.
    Love your pretty hand stitched ornament! Merry Christmas to everyone!

  8. I have a plan! We will all take our unfinished projects and we will go to a lovely country location (you may choose from Mountains or Oceans) and we will stitch until they are all done. There will be tasty meals and comfy beds to say nothing of great company. There will be no SOS calls from home, no laundry, no grocery shopping, no errand running. You may if you like take a walk or go for a swim. There will also be a magic needlework shop with just what you need at remarkable prices.

    Short of this I too need miracle cure for procrastination which is clearly an epidemic disease. πŸ™‚

    1. Sounds Lovely. How about a club on a remote island that has perfect weather (not too hot/cold) where all we do is finish unfinished projects, and secretly start new ones so we stay forever. Ahhhhhhh, the blessings of an imagination. πŸ™‚

  9. I would finish the runner Mary. Wouldn’t it look beautiful on your Christmas table! You would be so proud and relieved that it’s done. Let the ornament go, unless it’s a gift. Why does the back have to be needlework too? Put a beautiful piece of silk on the back and call it a day. You can’t see the back when it’s hanging anyway. That’s my “2 cents”.
    Carol b

  10. I completely understand your dilemma. How many times over the years have I bought patterns thinking I’d love to “whip it up” as a gift for so and so. The 2 biggest problems are my “whip it up” usually takes 5 times longer than I expected and I have this bad habit of being distracted by other pretty things I see and have to buy and make. I am definitely a star member of the SABLE club – stash acquired beyond life expectancy. LOL That’s OK. I am surrounded by so many beautiful designs that brighten even the most dreary rainy day.

  11. Love your work. Since you taught me the redwork Hungarian embroidery stitch i have been amazed how it builds architecturally so i never get bored doing it.Each stitch is interesting as the project grows. Guess it does not take mush to impress me. Wish i had learned it sooner i have a project i wish ihad the nerve to rip out and start over with just this stitch. can’t wait to see you finish.

  12. I, too, have been procrastinating, but on a particularly boring work project that must be completed this year. So, I dream of procrastinating on fun (or even less-fun) stitching projects! You can do it – remember your 15 minute “reward” time. You can use it in reverse – after 1 hour on the Hungarian Runner, 15 minutes on the back of the ornament??

    Merry Christmas and good luck! I am going to start with your 15 minute reward system, to try to knock out a section of my work project.


  13. You said: The Hungarian Redwork Runner – as much as I know I will love the finished project – is … well. It is less than fun.

    I have ridden on that not-so fun “cruise ship” before, only it was four colors, but most (90%) of it was one (a reddish) over and over and over. It was a boxcar (from a family photo taken in the 1920’s)I was doing as a gift (long story) at the end, I had to load five needles of boxcar red (keep them full) and just sit and do it. I have not used boxcar red since. That is why I now never do anything that is one color or mostly one color, because I would never quickly finish.

    I am with your inner cheerleader on this one, if you just sit and finish it in the next couple of days, you will no longer have to worry about it and can do as many ornaments (or whatever) as you like for next year, and you won’t feel guilty when you are having fun with ornaments. πŸ™‚ C’mon, Mary, you can do it!!

  14. Dear Mary

    Ha, Ha Ha, I know what you mean about procrastination, I’ve delayed and delayed starting a pillow project the design is from one of Trish Burr’s flowers from her book Colour, Confidence in Embroidery that I’m making for my Sister’s 60th Birthday in January but Christmas keeps getting in the way and I continually procrastinate as there are so many things to do that I can’t concentrate on starting the project. But Oh Mary there’s not much to do on the runner and I do hope you finish the project in time for Christmas, you can do it. The Christmas Ornament is nearly finished as well please finish I would love to see these on your Christmas tree/table. Thanks for sharing your dilhemma with us it’s made me determined to get started on my project sooooooooonnnnn.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  15. Hey Mary,
    Here is your other inner voice calling to you.
    Your work is beautiful and inspiring to SOOOO many!!! Hooray for you!!!! I mean it, inspiration is rare and you are valued.
    We have “earned” (?!?) the right and need to do what is fun and appeals to us at the moment. These things WILL change with time, so you’ll get back to the Hungarian Redwork when it’s time arrives once again. Don’t beat yourself up but instead have a blast with the ornament. I am. Chuckle!
    Happy Holidays and many more good times with needles, threads and beads next year! Who would believe we could so much fun with thread?!

  16. I can so relate! That’s kinda how I felt when doing a redwork project — red, red, red (my favorite color!), same stitches in all block. “When will it get done?” Now the blocks sit in my to-be-completed pile. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one to feel this way.

  17. I hope you find your mojo to finish the redwork project. I know what you mean. My Elizabeth piece needs sleeves drawn on. Don’t feel like it. Don’t want to. Maybe after Christmas…So I pulled a whole new project that had been lurking in my basement. Anyway, good luck and I will be cheering you on!

    1. Hi, Beth – yep, that’s me to a T. In fact, I’d even go so far as to make the whole new project absolutely essential and pressing, in my mind! Always thinking I’ll get back to the other one “eventually,” of course!

  18. Mary, although you have Christmas in mind for the table runner, those lovely little red heart shapes lend it to another red holiday. Just a thought, a little seed to plant in your mind, an escape hatch if you will. My husband is a Master Procrastinator so I have spent lo, these many decades helping him find *his* escape hatches!

    1. Thanks for the escape hatch, Tracy! Yes, there’s always February! (I think I said that last January…that I’d have it finished by Valentine’s Day!)

      Incidentally, I found an escape hatch. Well, while the house was quiet and clean and no one was here but me…and the Christmas music was on…and there’s snow on the ground…and the time just seemed ideal…there was that whole Christmas cooking thing calling me. And if made one recipe this morning, you know, then I could stitch this afternoon, knowing that I had that new recipe for caramels done that I wanted to give for gifts this year….and, well, I’d get more stitching done, knowing that I had something checked off my list, right? And I could make a recipe of Sringerle dough and get it in the fridge, right? And….while the kitchen is already a mess from cooking, I might as well try One More Recipe. So I’m sitting here, waiting for the timer to go off, watching the candy thermometer, and replying to comments. Of course, I could be doing the dishes…but that’ll only take a few minutes, right? Ooooooh geeeeeeee. I swear, it’s a disease this time of year! But hey, the music is good! And three recipes in an hour and half isn’t bad! πŸ™‚ talk about an escape hatch…..

  19. Mary, I don’t read all of your emails. I’m too busy procrastinating. I receive a lot of emails that I gloss over and sometimes unsubscribe. Yours, however, is always lovingly appreciated. I may gloss over some, but never do I consider unsubscribing. When I have time, I read them. I’m never disappointed! I read through to the bottom!

    So, on the note of procrastinating, you send emails daily (except for weekends?). How do you have time for anything else?! They’re so well done with fabulous pictures and engaging text full of joy and humor and a dose of reality. I really loved today’s email. We can all see ourselves in it. I’m GLAD the hungarian runner isn’t finished. I’m GLAD you vocalized the voices in your head about why it isn’t finished. You have helped me recognize aspects of myself, which is much more valuable than getting the things done that we procrastinate over!

    I’ll end here and say THANK YOU FOR SUCH A GREAT BLOG!!!

    Even if I never stitch another day in my life, I will not unsubscribe from Needle n’ Thread!

  20. I loved this post. I do so much better when I have a deadline–someone else’s deadline. Thanks for the honesty and the post that made me laugh at how it is so easy to put off things we “want” to get done.

    1. I was work well when I’m working towards someone else’s deadline, too, Valerie. In a way, writing Needle ‘n Thread helps me with that, too – it makes me feel at least partially accountable, even for the projects I just take up for enjoyment. This time of year, though, everything kind of gets muddled!

  21. Procrastinate, procrastinate, put off all the things you hate – sounds like me. A lot of times I work Better with a deadline, because I know that I have to get it done and that if I don’t get it done I won’t have it for whatever I need it for.
    All I can say is this: Go on! Try! And if you don’t get it done, there’s always New Year’s, right? But I still have faith in you πŸ˜‰


  22. How that resonates! I have just a little stitching to do on a piece that needs to go to the framer. Worse! I planned to make a sweater for my sister for Christmas — I have two inches of the back knitted. I feel better that you have the disease too. Should we start a program? PA — well, maybe not, we wouldn’t get around to the meetings. Merry Christmas, Mary!

    1. Yes, we could put off the meetings each week….we could do monthly meetings! Well, bi-monthly this time, because something came up. How about we meet twice a year? I think that’s how it would be! Unfortunately, we aren’t do much to help each other overcome the problem, are we? πŸ™‚ well – there’s always tomorrow, Charlotte!

    2. Hey, Charlotte, my friends and I started a Procrastinators Anonymous several years ago! We should be having our first meeting some time in the next couple of months.

  23. LOL, Mary!!! I know the feeling. I just finished my last ornament, the baby quilt for xmas gifts. just need to finish a sweater and then i’ll be DONE DONE DONE!!!

  24. Ah, you’re better at this sort of thing than I am, Mary. It takes a while to reach that point, but once I’m bored with a project it quickly escalates from “meh” to “I-won’t-do-it-you-can’t-make-me”. πŸ˜€

  25. Oh, thank goodness it’s not just me…

    My inner cheerleader is currently telling me “Well you’re up early, let’s get started finishing that cushion”. I do work on my projects but it’s just that I get distracted by…”Oooh sparkly”,umm sorry what was I saying?

    If the completing of UFO’s were based on my lifespan I will live to a very ripe old age.

    Thank you for a wonderful year of distractions Mary and thank you for all your hard work. Have a wonderful, blessed and safe Christmas and New Year.

  26. This is so very familiar.

    Sometimes my inner voice says “You must do 20 minutes before you do the thing you really want to do.”

    Then again, the response might be “Beh!” and I go find things that need to be done now.

  27. I admire that Hungarian Runner, because just looking at it, I know IΒ΄d only do about a quarter, be bored to tears by the repetition, and just leave it, never to be finished… but if its any consolation to you, I heard that if Christmas is a success this year, theyΒ΄d do it again next year, so youΒ΄ve still got 12months to go, and still be on time to keep your promise. πŸ˜€

  28. Mary, Mary, Mary , we all know exactly what you mean and at this moment we all feel like we can feel a little less guilty about those lovely projects we have tucked away waiting to be finished because we know they will be beautiful but they are BORING. sometimes that little voice, which sounds awfully like mine, though with a different accent, is there to save your sanity. Life’s too short to stress the little stuff and at least we have started things…lots of things. Didn’t mean to make you feel guilty. You don’t need it this Christmas anyway and the ornament is so pretty and more important at this moment. I haven’t even started that!

  29. I started crocheting a layette for the birth of my first niece. When I finished it some 18 years later, I gave it to a friend for her first child. If I’d waited only another few years it could have served my first great-nephew. Lesson: never hurry a project!

  30. I can totally relate to this! I bite off more than I can chew all the time – My cheerleader tells me the same things!! Maybe they’re related… Don’t worry, Mary – it will get done when it gets done! It’s not a gift, so don’t stress. It will still look beautiful on your table for Valentine’s Day (especially with all the little hearts in the pattern!)!

  31. Yes, I could easily have written this same post. The only difference is that I sit before I go to bed and make my plan for the next day, rather than in the morning. But the outcome is [often] the same. And my redwork project is nearing its 10th anniversary!

    I am starting to think that over-optimism is not bad, though, because it does get us started. And sometimes, we do something amazing that makes it all worthwhile!

  32. Mary, I think this beautiful red work runner would be fabulous at Valentines day! It is red, has hearts…perfect! New goal!

  33. I’m currently catching-up on blogs instead of getting down to the project I’d planned to progress this afternoon, so if you find the secret of the necessary motivation, share it, please! πŸ™‚

    As for “I said it would be done by Christmas” – the trick there is not to stipulate WHICH Christmas…

  34. I laughed throughout my read of this post, because “oh my goodness – this is so me”. Perhaps all who suffer from this syndrome do so as a result of having a creative mind (??) One can hope. And here I am reading your blog rather than working on my Christmas ornament gifts. I LOVE your website and your blog. I have only found you recently – via your Craftsy posts. I do wish you would teach a Craftsy class!! Thanks so much for all the inspiration!

    1. Thanks, Margaret! Yes, I think it definitely stems from having a creative mind. There. Now I feel better about it! πŸ™‚ Glad you found Needle ‘n Thread – we have a lot of fun on here!

  35. I must say, though the runner is spectacularly beautiful, I could never attempt it! I need the variation of colour and stitch to keep me interested. I’m doing some whitework handkerchiefs for my father’s Christmas present, and working in only one colour is starting to give me itchy fingers! Luckily I have another project to start soon which is very colourful, or I’d be much less appreciative of the beauty of white on white!

    1. Hello, Other Alice! Yep, it can be particularly trying, to stitch only in one color on one big project. I usually have two or three (oh, brother – or more like five or six… or ten…) projects going at any one time, depending on what I’m writing about on the blog, what commissions are in the works (nothing right now, thankfully, or I’d probably be completely bonkers) or what personal projects I’m doing, so it makes mono-color projects not seem so bad. But that’s probably another reason I don’t get any one thing done very quickly. Ah. It’s a vicious cycle! :-/

  36. I’m in “the club” too!!! My favorite one is the 5:00 pm “get a fresh start in the morning” mantra! Yeah, I “start fresh” — procrastinating all over again!!! In our defense, it is just that we have so many things we dream of doing, and fully intend to do them!! Hurray Us!!

  37. This text made me smile. You know, when my windows were the cleanest ones and all my rooms were in the best order? Of course, when I had to study for my exams. It was the best time for capital cleaning πŸ˜€

  38. Procrastination?! I am the master!

    I’m trying to finish a quilt. Which must be done for Christmas Eve. It’s for my nephew’s 21st Birthday which was….wait for it…..5 years ago. Now, in my defense (This is where I blame someone else for my procrastination, because that’s what I do.) it wasn’t all my fault it wasn’t done 5 years ago.

    I’ve promised he’ll have it and the only way there are enough hours left to finish it on time is if I don’t sleep until then and I machine quilt it.

    Because of my ability to rewrite history to justify my procrastination there is always a downside, a negative, a reason for me not to have procrastinate in the first place (will I never learn)…….I LOVE hand stitching anything. Even it it’s mending clothes. But, now there is no time to hand stich this quilt and I hate machine quilting. It feels more of my love goes into a quilt when I stitch by hand.

    So, I’m hoping this is the project that has broken me of the procrastination virus. Probably not but wish me luck!

  39. Mary, Your post was such an encouragement. I’m not the only one! I started 3 NEW embroidery projects this week when I NEED to be finishing Christmas gifts, but I am sick of crocheting cowls. 21 down…19 to go. Embroidery is going to have to wait. (Oh, and the remaining cowls are for people I’m actually see the first week in January so I don’t actually have to finish them by Christmas.)

  40. You wrote very well. Reading about your experience on this project will help other aspirants and motivate them. Red color designs always give a nice look to the fabrics. The combination of red and green is looking beautiful in your project.

  41. Mary,
    I am in the exact middle of the Redwork Runner. It is a bit boring but good for long EGA meetings. Gets me through while listening.

    Mine seems t be puckering a bit. Do you think that will iron out? Be horrible if it was terminally misshapen after all those stitches.

    Elaine in New Mexico

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