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 Book Cover: The Journey to… Nowhere!


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I know I can’t be the only one in the world who has done this with an embroidery project!

I call it dead-ending.

Dead-ending is when you have a specific plan (or two) in mind for an embroidery project, you get the project underway, and then you realize it just isn’t going to happen. At least, not the way you planned it!

The backstory to this: A while ago, I mentioned this embroidered book cover design that I planned on stitching up on a prayer book cover for my niece’s First Communion. That was the first episode of transferring the design to fabric using my printer. After the printer successfully spat out the design on linen, I also printed the embroidery design on a very nice silk dupioni.

So far so good.

The next step: setting up the foundation fabric for the embroidered book cover.

Setting up an embroidered book cover project

The foundation fabric for the embroidered book cover is Alba Maxima linen, which is a very nice, medium-weight linen, great for any kind of surface embroidery. I chose it because it’s white, it’s linen, it’s sturdy, and I just love stitching on it.

To set up the cover, I measured and basted in the lines that would mark the construction folds in the book cover, marking the front, the spine, the back, the folds and seam allowances.

Remember when you were a kid and had to cover your school books with brown paper? That’s pretty much the approach I took with the layout, because I want a cover that will stay in place, but that’s easy enough to slip on and off for laundering.

After all, this is for a kid, ultimately, and it will get dirty.

The whole time I was doing all the set-up, my mind was turning over how I would approach the actual embroidery.

My idea was to use either designs (the one printed on linen or the one printed on silk) as a kind of appliqué, baste it on, embroider over it, put a nice edging around the appliqué, and call it finished.

Deep down, my Other Self (that would be my Practical Self) was sending out little nagging signals, and the whole set-up process took place under the Cloud of Inhibition.

My Other-Other Self (that would be my Impractical Self) kept going…

Setting up an embroidered book cover project

First, I ironed a light interfacing called Misty Fuse to the back of the blue silk. I cut it out, leaving about 1/16″ of fabric outside the design edge.

I used Misty Fuse for two reasons: 1. it helps prevent fraying when you’re cutting out a piece of silk or similar fabric; 2. it makes the fabric a little stiff, but it’s still easy to stitch through.

My plan was not to iron the silk onto the linen book cover, but instead, to tack it on.

I centered the cut out silk on the book cover layout on the linen, and I thought….mmmmmmmmmm……

Maybe I’ll use the design printed on the linen instead.

Setting up an embroidered book cover project

So then I took the linen piece with the design on it, and decided to tack the whole thing onto the linen ground for the book cover, without trimming it first. I could stitch the design, then stitch on a nice little edging, and then trim the linen close.

I know you’re wondering at this point why I wouldn’t just use the printed linen as the fabric for the actual book cover.

There are two reasons: 1. It wasn’t really large enough for the book cover; and 2. It’s a fine linen, compared to the Alba Maxima, and I thought it might be a bit flimsy for a kid’s book cover.

I tacked on the linen.

And then I thought….. mmmmmmmmmmmmm….noooooo

And then I removed the linen.

Setting up an embroidered book cover project

Then, I tacked on the silk. I used little tiny straight stitches around the perimeter, in blue, evenly spaced, and appliquéd the silk into place.

All of those little bits of set-up work happened over several days, between other projects.

Finally, I culled out some time and decided to attack the stitching.

An hour later, fingers sore and my Practical Self practically yelling at me, I stopped, assessed progress, and …

Setting up an embroidered book cover project

…picked it all out and removed the silk.

Several pointers from my Practical Self to my Impractical Self:

1. The design is too complex for the amount of time I can spend on it in the next two weeks. It will never get done.

2. It’s just Too Much for this type of book cover for a little kid – a book cover that’s going to get dirty, that’s going to get worn…

3. KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

And so, that project has dead-ended. Time to seek out a simpler design and start over!

Fortunately, I used Alba Maxima linen for all this, so all the set-up work is not lost. If I had used cotton, silk, or a less sturdy linen, I’d probably have to go through the set-up process all over again with a new piece of fabric. One of the many advantages of using good linen!

Please don’t tell me I’m the only one out here’s who has done this type of thing before – started a project, headed in one direction, spent valuable time on it, and finally, thanks to a good Slapping About from the Cold Dead Fish of Reality, ditched the whole thing due to its sheer impracticality? Anyone?

On the bright side, it’s a load off my mind, and I’m rather happy to turn instead to something very simple. I’ll show you what, later on!


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(28) Comments

  1. Well I did get slapped by a whale shark once or twice or is that thrice ? And it will probably happen again but I do notice that it happens with less frequency! Ouch!

  2. No you are not the only one that has done something like that Mary, mine was a conversion of an old hankie hand stitched by a friends Granny in China to cover a needle book created by an EGA chapter in California, uuuuuggggghhhh I am so afraid to pull it apart again (should have gone with the inner voice advice KISS!!!)

  3. Hi Mary, I for one can put up my hand and say ‘Yes!!’ I’ve done this too many times to count. That is why at the moment I tend to go with projects where I can see the finished product before I begin.
    I’m sure you’ll be able to use the pattern for something else when you have time to enjoy the process 🙂
    Thanks for sharing when things don’t work the way you would like along with your many incredible works of art!!

  4. I have made prayer book covers for the Episcopal Church Prayer Book using ultra-suede. Black for god children who have black prayer books and red for our deacon and newly ordained priest. I embroidered the cross in gold on the cover following the design on the prayer book.

  5. Oh yes, we have all been there and join you. We have wonderful intentions but either time or ideas run away with the stitching faeries. I am sure you will come up with a new idea for the prayer book.

  6. I am confident that there will be many comments repeating what I am going to tell you:


    If I had a nickel for every time I permanently put aside a project that my Smarter Self knew wasn’t going to work, but that my Stubborn Self was oh, so sure would…I’d be stitching beachside at my ocean-front villa in the Maldives. 😉

  7. Mary!
    Oh my! This is how we learn, right? I give you much credit for such an attempt! I myself have done this on many occasions, many of which remain in my “unfinished projects” box

  8. You could find a simpler pattern of a lamb and do that on some colored fabric with cotton so it can be washed? Just a suggestion. 🙂

  9. Dear Mary

    Although it’s a lovely design the Agnus Dei does look quite a complex pattern to tackle in 2 weeks. Alba Maxima is my favourite embroidery linen as well, it’s lovely to work with and great for those times when you have to rip the stitches out. I hope your niece won’t be to disappointed at the change and I will look forward to seeing the progress on your simpler design and the thread colours and stitches you will use. Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of embroidery projects which we all have experienced, it’s good to share those moments of indecision on projects.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  10. Yep, I’ve done it. I’m sure if one has been into stitching for any length of time they have dead-ended at least one project, if not more. And you always regret all that time you spent that didn’t amount to anything…
    When I was going to stitch my non-Crewel Rooster, my original plan was to get it done in a week in time for my grandma’s birthday in October. That plan changed after Monday, when I had successfully completed no stitching. And instead, it took me until Christmas to get it done! Sometimes we get serious SOS, and over-estimate our own abilities!

    I stitched up a cute little embroidery project on Saturday; a simple one of two sloths, done entirely in backstitch. I found the pattern on a blog I recently discovered: wildolive.blogspot.com. It felt good to be using my needles and threads again!


  11. Hi Mary,
    Been there, done that. Can feel the right side/left side of the brain fighting it out over who will dominate- good sense or wishful thinking. Honestly, it’s tiring. Then, could have, would have, should have start in. So, back off, face reality then to lessen the guilt feelings, I tell myself, I will do that project, just not at this time. Fate probably has its fat little fingers on it as a UFO.

  12. Yes, you are not alone. I’ve had too many gradiose plans for all this beautiful needlework to be used as presents for Christmas. Then that fish slapped me, I come to my senses and make one very simple design with an initial instead. Maybe next year it will be different when I remember this in the summer. LOL

  13. I had a dream of doing a really complicated border on a full set of dinner napkins for my sister, embroidered right on finished linens. It took one transfer and one edge to realize what an exercise in frustration that would be.

    I’m finishing up my test for what will be the real design: a corner motif on napkins I’ll hem myself after. Working four cocktail-sized napkins in different stitches and methods has taken awhile, but now I’m totally confident in what I’m going to make.

  14. Well, I would have embroidered the design on the linen that was printed, then tried to attach it to the cover, and found out it was too big. Been there, done that.

    I hope you decided to do just the lamb or maybe her initials.

  15. Mary, you are NOT the only one tearing out stitching to start over! I did it myself yesterday

    And your 3rd rule should be number 1. I keep forgetting it myself, but I am tempted to make up a little sign just with the word KISS.

  16. Yes, I can put my hand up as another one who is very capable of starting projects against her better judgement, Mary. I get carried away with enthusiasm until it All Goes Wrong. You stopped this one in good time, so when you have stitched your simpler solution for the book cover, you still have the two transferred motifs ready and waiting for a use on projects where fine detail and fine stitching won’t be out of place.

  17. Oh my yes, isn’t always when creative seems to get equated with complex instead of KISS! I so can relate to those who want to make special gifts for occasions as I am the only stitcher in my entire family, so it is often expected. Trouble is time and the ever present over estimation of my abilities to get it all done.
    I can’t wait to see what your cover actually does turn out to be…sure to be better than anything I would come up with.

  18. Hi Mary I’m sorry you have to change plans.
    I have a question about humming birds which is it at all related to your prayer book cover. I have managed one scalloped breast after a lot of unpicking. What I am having trouble with is the direction of the satin stitches, the shapes and did you outline in satin stitch ??? I would love to have your advice. Jude

    1. Do you mean the satin stitching on the flowers? I don’t have any satin stitching on the bird…unless I’ve somehow forgotten something! 😮 If it’s the long and short stitch on the wings, then your best bet is to sketch in directional lines with a pencil, so you have a guide to follow as you work the long & short stitch.

  19. Hi Mary,
    Of course you’re not the only one! I have a long-term project I’ve been working on for my church. It’s a cloth to wrap the Gospel book in. I chose a fabric, stitched the center cross, and started working on one of two angels which will be on it.I finished one sleeve, the head, and started the wing and realized that my original plan of stitching over one thread was not working. Even though I was using a single strand of floss, it was becoming incredibly difficult to get that thread through in certain areas. So I started picking out stitches thinking I would redo the angel working over two threads. The lugana I had purchased did not much like that and I wound up with a small hole in the fabric. I cut out the center cross and am going to use it for something else. I’m buying new fabric (not lugana this time) and I’m going to stitch the whole pattern over two threads. Clearly, I’m too stubborn! It will still be quite challenging, because I developed the cross-stitch pattern from two icons that are in our church. I’m sure there will be other challenges.

  20. I have had sort of a related problem several times.

    I start out to make something fairly simple and straight forward – say a tree with 2 large branches splitting off at the top to be chained stitched so it will go quickly with photos of sister, brother inlaw computer printed in the trunk of the tree and photo of niece in one branch, nephew in the other, with back stitched name and date info for an anniversary gift.

    Husband, a fellow craftsperson and needleworker, looks at it and says “needs some leaves”. I take out green floss and drop some quick French knots around the tree. Husband look at it and says “aren’t you filling in the top with leaves – needs them.” So months later the quick project is still going and the anniversary is long in the past.

    He has done this a number of times to me. One time, to avoid this, I stitched a piece for an exhibition our craft guild was having, only when he was at work (which he now does from home) between my work and housework and in the bathroom at night when he was home, just so he would not see it before it was done.

    Sometimes I bite off my than I can chew, but his input is more likely to be the cause of an extended project. Oh well,eventually stuff gets done.

    1. Meryl, your comment had me rolling! My husband does this ALL THE TIME. Just the other day, I was working on a “just for fun” piece about which he had twice already said the dreaded, “It needs something, how about (insert suggestion here).” One of his suggestions was spot on, but the other I ended up unstitching. A day later he says, “How about those scallop-y things on the edge of that part?” I smiled, handed him the hoop and threaded needle, and said, “That sounds great, hon! Here you go!” We both got a good laugh…and no, I did NOT add the scallop-y things on the edge or anywhere else!

  21. Oh yes, I think we’ve all done that. These days, though, most of my over-ambitious or unrealistic plans don’t even get started. The ideas stay in my mental project stash, the fabric stays in the boxes under the bed – and did I mention the cabinet of threads?

  22. One of the things my father used to say, somewhat monotonously I thought then, was “He who never made a mistake never made anything”. And it is absolutely true (unlike some other fatherly adages, lol). If we aspire to make something whether fantastic or simple we are all liable to make mistakes. It is in the admitting of said mistakes that one demonstrates maturity and skill. (I said that, not Dad.)

  23. Hi Mary! In regard to your embroidered book cover, I am sure you are frustrated, but you are not alone. This happens to me ALL THE TIME! However, I try to look at all my projects in a positive light. I start out knowing that my project may not go as planned and it’s always an adventure and a surprise as to how it turns out. I am always amazed when the recipient thinks the gift is beautiful! I am sure your book cover will come out just fine and it will be cherished because it came from your heart.

  24. This is no doubt a dumb question, but since that’s never stopped me before I’ll ask lol! Could one use a frixion pen to mark the lines stitched to mark construction (instead of hand stitching the lines)?

  25. My hand is up and waving…sadly. I’ve done this more times than I probably ought to admit. However, I’ve found that if I just walk away and ponder it for a while, a cup of tea, fresh air and maybe a piece of cake helps 😉 Then I come back with a fresh idea which tends to work out better. =)

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