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 Stitches and Samplers and Such


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One of the best ways to get really comfortable with hand embroidery is to set about making a stitch sampler.

Sometimes, we get stuck with one impression that comes to mind with any given word. If I say “sampler,” for example, what comes to your mind? For me, it’s usually something that includes an alphabet and that’s worked in cross stitch. I know this is a limited view, but I suppose it’s because that’s what I grew up with in the 80’s, when my sisters and aunts were working samplers.

A stitch sampler doesn’t have to have a pattern, necessarily. It doesn’t have to be planned. It doesn’t have to include an alphabet. And it doesn’t have to be worked solely in cross stitch. A stitch sampler can be just that – a sampler of stitches.

Today, I’ll point you to some further reading and resources, with plenty of tips for creating your own stitch sampler.

Embroidery Stitch Samplers

Here on Needle ‘n Thread, I’ve written pretty often about the benefits of working stitch samplers. When you work a sampler, you not only become familiar with specific stitches and how they work, but you grow more easy and accustomed to stitchery in general. A stitch sampler can wash away inhibitions!

Additionally, an embroidery sampler is a terrific vehicle for testing threads and other materials.

It’s also a great way to map your own progress in stitching.

Finally, and not least among the many good reasons to consider stitching a sampler of any kind… they’re just fun!

Articles with Tips for Creating your Own Stitch Sampler

I’ve got a new article out on Craftsy on stitch samplers, titled “Show Off Your Stitching with a Stunning Sampler.” The article is a round-up of tips for stitching your own embroidered sampler. If you’ve wanted to undertake a sampler and play with stitches, it’s a good place to start. I chat about fabrics, threads, tools, planning, and so forth.

A few other Needle ‘n Thread articles on the subject of samplers, with lots of tips:

Random Stitch Samplers

On Embroidery Stitches and Samplers

5 Reasons to Make & Keep a Doodle Cloth

You might also explore this Index on Developing a Spot Sampler. Unfortunately, during that whole project (which was part of a needle arts class at a local high school), I was in the throes of teaching college full time and didn’t take the time to really document progress on that project, with good photos along the way. But there are some links and resources there that are worthwhile.

Embroidery Stitch Samplers

Sampler-Type Projects

Here on Needle ‘n Thread, we’ve worked through a lot of sampler-like projects. Here are some of them, which you can explore step-by-step as they develop, and apply the concepts to your own sampler development:

Hand Embroidered Lettering & Text Sampler – where we explore different stitches for lettering and text

Long & Short Stitch Sampler – where we explore long and short stitch and get accustomed to shading

The Lattice Jumble Sampler – a super colorful Stitch Fun sampler, exploring heaps of lattice fillings

The Blackwork Fish project – really, just a sampler in the shape of a fish!

Felt Needlebook – this started as a random stitch sampler, and ended up being a rather extravagant needle and tool book.

Embroidery Stitch Samplers

Sampler Resources

Of course, working a sampler is a lot easier, when you have instructions for stitches!

The How-To Stitch Videos here on Needle ‘n Thread are a great place to start for basic embroidery stitch instruction.

The Stitch Fun index is packed with step-by-step photo tutorials of fun stitches, combinations, and composites.

Another terrific resource is Sharon Boggan’s Take a Stitch Tuesday Challenge. Sharon’s taking a break from needlework blogging right now, but you can find a jolly list of stitches with tutorial links on her TAST FAQ page.

Get a Stitch Dictionary!

For times when you’re unplugged from the computer or your tablet, there’s nothing better than a good stitch dictionary for reference. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve reviewed here on Needle ‘n Thread – you can’t go wrong with them!

Embroidery Stitch Bible – I like this one for its size, its binding, its visual index, clear instructions, samples, and variety.

The A-Z Series, including Embroidery Stitches and Embroidery Stitches 2

Stitch Sampler – I especially like the visual appeal of this book and the variety of stitches; the book is available in several different versions

If you’re a lefty, you’ll definitely appreciate Yvette Stanton’s Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion!


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(12) Comments

  1. And Sharon has also done (still doing?) a sampler that she started as a teaching aid. Not all samplers need to hang on the wall 🙂 . Here’s her FAQ about it –

    What’s really neat is it turned into not just a stitch/fiber sampler, but she also started including events happening as she stitched – sort of a journal.

  2. Samplers are supposed to provide a service. The school girl alphabet samplers proved the skill set. Stitch samplers show the stitch. I use a machine stitch sampler for my little home machine! It sits around with my factory machines and has a gazillion buttons! I stitched each option, and wrote with a marker beneath if it is a stretch stitch, or could I use double needles. Very useful.

  3. I think a stitch sampler would be great fun to make! Thank you very much for this post. I’ll definitely take some time and explore it.


  4. Hi Mary,
    One of my frustrations with doing my embroidery notebook (Mon Cahier) has been trying to get ‘ around the corner’ with various stitches. The pink and purple *border* in your first sample are beautiful. How did you work the corner?

  5. Dear Mary

    Late today I had visitors for lunch and such a lovely day here in North London we had a picnic on the green outside. Anyway stitch samplers are great ways to enhance your embroidery skills when I first started embroidery I stitched the long and short sampler and it was very helpful in leaning the basic skills of interweaving threads and I really enjoyed the experience. I keep thinking about doing more stitch samplers and I must try some. I in the throws of learning needlelace at the moment my first tries were a disaster but I found a fantastic tutorial website by Michael Dennis I’ve just recently brought the their Stumpwork Embroidery book which you reviewed not long ago and it’s also a great learning resource. Anyway thanks for sharing the samplers links above and I will look at your article on Crafsty.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  6. Mary,

    I recently subscribed to your blog and love reading your daily articles. Thank you so much for the sampler article and the Craftsy publication. I am a returning embroiderer and am enjoying getting back into this art form. I used to work near Shay Pendray’s shop in Dearborn, MI and spent many of my lunch hours in her shop. So getting back to embroidery is really great fun!
    Best, Colleen

  7. Thanks, Mary, this is one email I shall keep forever! I am supposed to be doing my income tax and all I want to do is keep reading and looking at videos of stitches. (Moan, complain, whine…………)

    Seriously, it’s great to have all those net resources in one tidy spot. Blessings to you, Charlotte

  8. Thanks Mary for point folks to the TAST list
    One thing however you did not warn people how addictive samplers are! Honestly they are great fun and sampling has kept me busy for years!

  9. Hi Mary,
    This is extremely helpful for an informal portfolio and I was just thinking that I couldn’t create enough work to highlight stitches but this could be an answer to that problem.

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