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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Embroidered Feathers – Up Close & a Full Shot


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I’m not sure how we arrived at Friday already. I’m pretty sure that, if Friday hadn’t arrived so soon, I would have gotten more done this week!

I’m happy to report that I have accomplished some of the things on The List for the week.

And I’m also happy to report that some things never change: I have not accomplished most of the things on The List for the week.

But Some is better than None. And I’ll tell you this – committing to a daily goal goes a long, long way in getting at least Something accomplished.

Yep – through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, come hell or high water, I have embroidered One Feather a Day on the Secret Garden Hummingbirds.

Gosh, what an accomplishment.

Or not. But at least it’s Something.

Here’s my update on the Secret Garden Hummingbirds Project, with a close-up of the latest feathers, a full shot of the project so far, and some stitch talk.

Secret Garden Hummingbirds Embroidery Project

The fishbone stitch really has worked out gloriously well for embroidering feathers. Despite working so much with this one stitch, I haven’t grown tired of it. It’s a wonderful stitch!

One thing I like about the fishbone stitch is that, despite it’s structure, you can achieve some nice shaded results with it, by switching your threads from stitch to stitch as you work down the shape.

Above, you can see the feathers fairly close up (you can click on the photo for a larger version). The colors, when you’re looking this closely at each feather, are quite distinct.

But when you step back from the embroidery, the colors blend together so that, instead of distinct color changes, you get the impression of shading.

One thing that I’ve learned while stitching all these feathers is that the key to getting a smooth transition of color and shade down the feathery shape is the spacing of the stitches. They shouldn’t be too crowded. Better to have more space between the stitches than to crowd them together until they overlap.

If the stitches overlap, the shaded effect becomes muddled.


It becomes significantly more difficult to get the right impression, if things are too crowded. With a stitch like the fishbone stitch, to keep the integrity and clarity of the feather (or any other shape you might be filling in) and the shading, the stitches shouldn’t be too crowded that they overlap.

Secret Garden Hummingbirds Embroidery Project

And there’s the whole thing so far. If you want to see it larger, click on the photo.

So, that’s the update. I should be well into the tail before we see this again. Who knows? Maybe I can put some feathers in the bank this weekend and get a little bit ahead of my goal. That would be jolly!

Hope you’re making headway on your stitching goals, too. Just remember, Something is better than Nothing. No matter how small, progress is still progress.

Enjoy the weekend!

Follow the Secret Garden Project

Interested in seeing this project develop from start to finish? In the Secret Garden Hummingbirds Project Index, you’ll find information on where to find the design (with my review of Johanna Basford’s book, Secret Garden: an Inky Treasure Hunt), detailed tips on the embroidery techniques involved so that you can stitch your own version, and lists of all the materials at each stage as the project develops. If you’re just starting out and want to embroider your own version (or any other design from Johanna’s coloring books, jump on over to the Project Index for more information.

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(27) Comments

  1. Looks beautiful! Maybe I missed this and you already discussed it, but when you’re switching colors so often in the fishbone stitches, how often are you starting and ending threads? For instance, that dark dark blue on the tips–do you start your thread for the 1st feather, then leave your thread hanging/anchored/uncut so that you can use it again in the next feather if you know that you want dark blue there, too?
    Hope my phrasing isn’t too convoluted! 🙂

    1. Yes, that’s right, Jenny – I just park the thread I’m using until I need it again (as long as the next place it’s going isn’t too far away!)

  2. I love the colors and the blending of the stitches I these birds. They just make me so happy. I also have been following your advice and working from a list and doing at least 15-20 minutes of hand stitching every day. My longstanding UFO cross stitch is finally done and framed. And now I am tying a quilt using my grandmother’s antique quilt frame. Slow and steady does win the race, but I need to take a day to clean house. Thanks for the incentive to get these projects finished. I tried to post pictures, but I couldn’t get into the Ask and Share space. There are pictures of my cross stitch UFO on my website if you want to look. Debbie

  3. Everytime you post a photo of this whole piece I just “drool”. I looove color and this piece just sings with it. I am going to miss it when you are finished!!!
    Questions: 1.Do you have any photos/video on “parking” your threads? I understand how, but when I try that sort of thing I end up with tangles and messes… Maybe it’s just me. ;(
    2.When I look up close it looks like you have a few shorter stitches between the long ones, here and there. Is that to feather it or to help not have them spaced too close?
    Thanks again Mary for everything. I continue to “get a bit done” each day” (unless like yesterday I’m gone the entire day”- blauch…)

    1. Thanks Mary. I’m going to bookmark/keep that parking post for reference. I thought I remembered something on that, but had no idea how to find it.
      As to shorter stitches, I went and looked again and I must be seeing where you made the small “knotting” stitches underneath.
      (I forgot to check the notify box, so almost forgot to go back and see your answer!)

  4. It’s a perfect time to be working on feathers — soon the birds will be nesting and then the hatchlings will start developing their feathers. Perhaps your hummingbirds will fledge with the chicks this year? It’s a most impressive piece.

  5. Hi, Mary-
    I just had to drop you a note to tell you how much I enjoy your writing and projects! I’m currently contemplating an embroidery project based on Johanna Basford’s new book “Enchanted Forest,” and I’m savoring all of these tips and real-world approaches to managing procrastination, dealing with bad stitching days, and the like. Thank you!

  6. Hi Mary,
    Did you use DMC cotton floss for the birds? I went back to previous posting on thread selection and it’s all DMC cotton floss. But the stitching doesn’t look like that–it looks twisted, like wool. How did you do that?

    1. Hi, Lois – I think you’re seeing the twist in the thread up close. DMC cotton floss is twisted – it’s just that you might not notice it so much when working with one strand. Here, the pictures are very close and quite enlarged so that you can see the detail, but it is one strand of DMC cotton floss, nonetheless. If you look at the photo of the whole piece, you’ll see that the individual threads are not nearly as discernible!

  7. Mary,

    Thank you so much for your instructions on shading. Help with details makes a big difference in needlework. Your hummingbirds are gorgeous and fine. Thanks again,


  8. Dear Mary

    I’m late today been lunching with sisters well 2 of them anyway, went to a nice pub which has been converted into an Italian restaurant in the country not far from where I live. Anyway I do like the progress on the Humming Bird and a little goes a long way, the colours blend in beautifully and the overall look is lovely. Like you I do like the Feather Stitch it’s a very therapeutic stitch and easy to sew. You made me laugh at overlappingIknowwhatyoumeanconcerningspacing, it’s hard to write like that without spacing exercise the pun, well down for achieving your daily accomplishment on the Humming Bird, I look forward to more update you will soon have this completed can’t wait. I hope you have a Springy weekend.

    Regards Anita Simmance

    1. Hi, Anita! Oh, lunch sounds fun! Glad you’re out and about with your sisters, enjoying the onset of spring! We have daffodils and crocuses blooming here – last week it was quite warm and toasty! But this week, it’s been cold again, and the flowers are showing the strain. Sunny weather is just around the corner, though!

      I can’t wait until the birds are finished, either. I still haven’t stitched my feather for today, which is unusual. Just stuck on the computer……..!!

    1. Yes, it’s just slightly different, Anna – probably not the “original” plan, but I think it is ok for the two birds to be slightly different. 🙂

  9. It’s looking glorious! Thanks for the tips on feather stitch, and for all your tips and advice throughout the project.

  10. The hummingbirds are almost ready to take flight. They look beautiful. The tip about the shading with fishbone will be helpful when I manage to be that far advanced with my birds. My challenge to stitch as much as possible has fallen in a heap this week as I have been unwell. I hope I can focus on stitching next week. Jude

  11. Lovely! I’m thankful you’re so generous to share your talent and take time away from stitching to share your thoughts. I think your color sense is spot-on. Keep those feathers coming!

  12. Hi Mary, it’ helps my resolve to read about your strategy for getting a project finished. I’m in the process of a project started March 1st. There’s nothing that says how many hours, days or months it will take to make it. It’s been a month and I’m about 60% done.
    Reading about the difficulties in staying the course I feel less lonely in my endeavor and it’s a comfort.

  13. Hi Mary,

    I always enjoy updates on your projects. Your comments in this post about spacing of stitches and about shading when using the fishbone stitch are very helpful! I have a tendency to pack stitches in WAY too tight.

    Also, I hope you saw the wonderful article on Johanna Basford and Secret Garden in yesterday’s New York Times. It was fun to read about her and see her photo.

    Thanks for being so good to us!


  14. Such a beautiful project with such precise stitching. I love the colors and the fact that it is not completely symmetrical. From what I can tell, not having read quite all of the posts, is that the drawing is symmetrical, but the colors are not. I think that varying the colors a bit makes you look at it so much more closely, and gives a lot of interest to the piece. Just lovely!

  15. OMG! I just had to leave a little message. This is amazing! I was googling for some colour inspiraction as I’d bought the book and came across a picture of your work in progress, and I thought, surely not? No one is mad enough to try and emboider this? It’s absolutely gorgeous! Now I do a tiny bit of cross stitch myself, which obviously doesn’t even come close to your work, but I do appreciate it absolute time and effort involved in this. The details. Stunning!

    1. Aw, thanks, Heidi, for your enthusiastic comment! The hummingbirds have been a fun project – I’m almost finished with the embroidery, and hope to share the finish soon!

  16. The piece is looking great,I was recently gifted the book I immediately thought of hand embroidery when I did a google search I wasn’t surprised that you would have tackled one of the pages, your work is always stunning, and I always refer to your website whenever I have need of stitch assistance or just want to be inspired. I will be coming back to these post when I decide which page to attempt. Happy Stitching.

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