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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Hornswoggled into a Needlework Project


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Lately, I was hornswoggled into a needlework project.

Hornswoggled, for those who aren’t familiar with word, means the same thing as bamboozled or hoodwinked.

Not very helpful, I know. But you just have to love that group of words: hornswoggled, bamboozled, hoodwinked! They all mean approximately the same thing: tricked or deceived into doing something – but they say it in such a fun way.

So, yes. I was hornswoggled – pretty much by myself – into a project.

Counted Thread: Vidal's Madonna in Tent Stitch

This (above) is something I’ve been doing off and on for the last week or so, in any down time during the evenings. I’ve been gridding up a piece of 30 count linen, basting in horizontal and vertical lines every 20 threads.

Why? Let me tell you!

I came across a beautiful image that I thought might work well in embroidery. And then, with further searching, I discovered that the image (which I’ll share later) had already been converted into a chart for counted work – either cross stitch or tent stitch, depending on the fabric used.

And I thought to myself, “Why not?”

I haven’t done any counted work for a while (this miniature Cluny tapestry in tent stitch on silk gauze was the last one). I enjoyed having that Cluny piece set up, ready to throw a few stitches in now and then, 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there. It was fun!

Maybe, I said to myself, I should do this particular piece in tent stitch on a high count linen, just to see.

I teetered for a while on the brink of Yes-or-No, with a heavy leaning towards No, given the fact that it struck me as rather a large project that would consume much time.

But then, I disclosed my idea to two of my grown nieces, who both enthusiastically jumped on it with two feet (for a total of four feet!), declaring that they would both love to work on something like that.

Immediately, my imagination went into overdrive. I envisioned the three of us working together to create the piece. When I had time, I’d put some stitches in. When they wanted to relax a bit and do something with their hands, they could pop by my workroom and stitch a bit, drink some tea, enjoy a little chin wag with their favorite aunt – or they could take it home of a winter evening and do their bit. And we would all three create it together.

Or – I even went this far – if they wanted to do their own, we’d just buy three charts, and we’d all work on our own version. Together! Chummy and all that!

Oh, such happy scenes of Stitching Conviviality floated through my head!

And you know what happened, don’t you?

Without further ado, and without really discussing it in depth with the gals, I teetered to the side of Yes, purchased the chart, and forthwith told them we were in business.

And then I showed them the 79-page chart. The 200 symbols jumbled into 250,000 little squares, each representing a stitch.

Look at this, I shouted, jumping up and down. It’s HUGE! What a PROJECT!

And I chortled and chuckled and even laughed outright.

Aren’t we going to have FUN? I cried, rubbing my hands together in sick delight.

And you know what happened then, don’t you?

They just looked at me.

And then they looked at that Massive Stack of a Chart.

And then they looked back at me, like I might be a little mad or something.

Imagine that!

Counted Thread: Vidal's Madonna in Tent Stitch

As I sit here, contemplating a heap of over 200 skeins of floss, concocting various ways I might organize them for a project like this, I can’t help thinking that they






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(72) Comments

  1. Um, it might be the camera angle, or that you don’t have all the grid lines are in yet, but it looks like your grid “squares” aren’t squares?

    For my huge projects, I make a floss “Rolodex” with floss bags and binder rings. If the project requires blends, each blend gets a bag as well.

    What pattern are you doing?

    1. Hi, Monique – it’s the angle of the camera. The photo is taken from the side. Not sure why I did that – I think I was trying to get the threads of fabric into focus.

      I’ll write more about the pattern and so forth later on. Like I said in another comment, I haven’t worked with the chart yet. I want to know the snags people might run into, etc., before saying anything about the whats and wherefores.

  2. Dear Mary

    Oh Mary, you really made me laugh I haven’t laughed so much in ages, I can just imagine the scene with your nieces, you certainly Hornswoggled them, I bet they thought you were mad I can just see the shock, horror on there faces, I bet they felt bamboozled and hoodwinked. What on earth is this project with 79 pages, 200 symbols and 250, 000 stitches and 200 skeins of floss, I think I would have been stupefacted, please, please tell us it sounds intriguing and interesting and fascinating and oh so………………………………..

    Regards Anita Simmance

    1. Hi, Anita! Glad to give you chuckle. 🙂

      I will definitely share the project image and all the details a little further down the road. I haven’t worked with the chart yet, and I want to make some headway on it, before I say too much about it. I wouldn’t want to recommend the charts for this type of “extreme” stitching until I’ve actually tried them, so I know want kind of snags people might run into. But, never fear, eventually I’ll disclose all!

    2. Dear Mary

      Thanks for your reply and thanks for trying the project first before sharing with us, I hope you don’t have many difficulties.

      Regards Anita Simmance

  3. 250,000 stitches. 30-count fabric. Over 200 different colors. (At USD $0.40/skein, that’s over $80.00 in floss alone!) Roughly 17″ X 17″. (I’m assuming over 1 thread.) Roughly 280 square inches. 79 pages. Yep, you have just lost your mind! LOL!

    All kidding aside, what does this humongous project look like? Will it be in tent stitch or cross stitch?

    1. Hi, Phoebe – oh yes, you’ve summarized it well! Although it’s really about 13 or 14 x 17-ish. Yes, it’s over one, and in tent stitch. I’ll share the image a little further down the road, I promise. The thought that befuddles me the most is that, in one of those small squares that I’ve basted on the fabric, there are 400 stitches. What was I thinking??????

  4. Oh Mary! You made me laugh so hard today! I, too, am in the preparation stage of a similar project. Knowing full well how long it is going to take me to finish, I have put off starting the preparation stage until just recently. For months now, I have thought to myself, “I must be nuts, I must be nuts.” So, thank you for your post because now I know I am not alone — and if someone as talented as you can do it, then I am willing to try also!! Oh, and I am anxiously awaiting your strategy for organizing your floss. That has been an issue I have been struggling with since the idea to do this project surfaced. Good luck and I cannot wait to watch your project come together!

    1. Hi, Anita – well, the organization was a problem for me, too. I went through all the systems I know about and considered them all carefully. Then I did some research and looked at thread organizational systems I haven’t tried. I’ve found one that I’m going to use for this project, and I’ll be writing up the details soon!

  5. Ah, we all go a little mad now and then. Thinking up projects, talking ourselves into it. Seeing something and telling ourselves “I could do that!” I think we have all been there. Sounds like quite a project, but I have no doubt you will do beautiful work on it and I’m looking forward to seeing progress shots.

  6. “Hornswoggled”, a wonderful word that I grew up hearing so I know exactly what you mean although it usually applies to what someone else did to you. Well, the project is doable but I’m sure you feel like you are rapidly painting yourself into a corner. 2 choices-abandon or continue. Everyone has their own way of stitching a project like this. I normally start in the middle and work out. Above all, remember 1 step at a time–1 square at a time. With your fabric gridded, hopefully to match the lines of the graphs, you can start off with a goal of finishing 1 square. Then eventually move to the next square. It is possible that once it is started and worked in very small areas at a time, the neices will join in. Kind of like having a very large jigsaw puzzle out where people can put in a piece here and there as they go by. Projects this size are not really my cup of tea. JoyceAnne

    1. They aren’t really mine, either, JoyceAnne – but this one kind of grabbed me (I like the image) and then the whole challenge of it sort of took over. I may regret it after the first ten stitches! We shall see!

  7. The part about your rubbing your hands together in sick delight tells me we are both on the same page, chart or other. I tell you, Mary, I have received more pleasure out of reading some of your articles with the inklings of your mind fully revealed, than other activity around here, in a mighty long time. You are a bird of the same feather.

    Happy stitching on that massive project – you know we all cannot wait to see the first bits of it.

    Deb in Idaho
    Tempting Tangles Designs

    1. Thanks, Deb!

      I think there might have been a creepy chuckle along with the hand rubbing, but I didn’t want to mention that part. Might reveal a little Too Much about the state of my mind! >:-)

  8. Mary,

    Sounds like a Heaven and Earth Designs (HAED) or Scarlet Quince. I’ve read of people stitching over 1 on 25 count. 30 count should look pretty amazing.

    Most of these have a LOT of “confetti” stitches, and that drives me crazy. The results are gorgeous, but I’ll leave it to those who enjoy it. Gridding, and highlighting stitches (on a working copy) seem to help.

    My ambition seems to run along the lines of starting too many projects, and then trying to bring some to completion. With mixed success.

    I’m curious to see what design you picked.

  9. Dear Mary, I laughed quite heartily over this–any article beginning with language like ‘hornswoggled’ is too good to pass up in my book! Being a poet first (or for the first part of my life) and beginning the next part of my life as a textile artist, your anecdote was sweet, hilarious and very, very familiar. Of course, there are many of us from the Alice in Wonderland School of Adventure (at least one impossible thing before breakfast!) and imagine ourselves atop an Everest of floss, all the Sherpas sent away, planting our sharp chenille needle in triumph on our stupendous success!! It could happen! I can just imagined your nieces’ blanched faces, the SOS looks exchanged under their eyelashes, wondering who is going to be the first to ask if Aunt Mary’s meds need tweaking! But these perilous and absurd projects are the great joys of life and must be attempted at all cost, with all the courage and happiness we can bring to it, and as preposterous as it seems to those who love us! You have an entire audience of Jack Russells at your feet, quivering with delight and anticipation at what this outrageous and beautiful thing can be! This is going to be so much fun!!

  10. It’s not too late. You can still step back from this project. This summer I got involved in a charted project on 32 count linen, much of it over one thread, and I’ve spent a lot of time wondering “what was I thinking” and “is this really how I want to spend my time when there are only so many hours in the day.” With that commitment of time isn’t it better to do something that expresses your individual creativity a little more than a counted design charted on 79 pages?

  11. This was a delightful read this morning! I am sorry that your nieces did not keep their delight at the project after showing them the whole project. My husband has recently started doing counted cross stitch and is loving it; but he began a large project and every so often says what was I thinking. LOL. Well have fun with your project over the next how many months….or maybe years……

    1. I forgot the line after…
      every so often he says what was I thinking….he says oh my this is going to take me forever….shaking his head…then says what was I thinking…

  12. I just checked the Cluny Miniature tapestry and I love it! Where can I get the pattern?
    I have a project that’s been on the go for many years (it’s actually been ‘resting’ for many years)that has many many colours, not quite 200 but many, and I use the floss bags on binder rings like Monique. It works well. Although I keep raiding the bags to use the floss for other projects.
    Looking forward to seeing the design you’re going to stitch.

  13. Dear Mary,

    I’ve been looking at a complicated chart, too. I’ve been going back and forth–and, now, I think I’ll give it a try.
    Yours will be a masterpiece!


  14. Mary, such delight you bring to us with your words! I for one am very, very interested to see the photo of what you will be stitching! Methinks maybe you should get your whole town in on the stitching, it might take more than the three of you! Just teasing – I wish you well on this long-term project. Don’t worry about the finishing of it, that will put pressure on you – just enjoy the stitching 🙂

  15. *grins* I’ve got a couple of HAED (Heaven and Earth Designs) patterns lying about that I swear I’ll get to… one day. Of course, considering that I just mis-counted my gridding on a small piece that ‘someday’ might be a long time away, lol.

    Have fun with the project!

    -Monika in Mobile

    1. Only you would want to tackle this project! I may consider doing part of it if that’s possible. I can’t imagine all the time that went into the Cluny tapestry.
      Loved your post today!

  16. Mary, I’m so glad you’re doing this. I have a huge counted stitch project that I really really really want to do but I’ve been stalled by the question of organizing all the threads, beads, etc. I can’t wait to hear how you’re going to go about it.

  17. Dear Mary, good luck with this project. I have one project of similar size, but it has only 8 or 9 colors (white, black and few greys). Maybe I should try to find and continue it? I haven’t seen it for few years 😀
    But I have one question: if I am right, few year ago you and your niece together were stitching some sampler (was it in cross stitch?). Did you finish it? I do not remember if you wrote about how you were stitching it and now I cannot find this project. It had to be quite big if I remember well.

    1. Hi, Agne – yes, that was a Long Dog sampler, and my niece did finish it, or she is finishing. I saw her working on it not too long ago, so I know it hasn’t been abandoned!

    2. That was the “Angel Pavement” design. I fell so in love with just the little bit Ms. Mary had done here on her blog, I bought the pattern myself. Love the details and happy colors. Haven’t started it yet but I still enjoy looking at the picture on the pamphlet. 🙂

    3. Mary, could you post a picture of your niece’s progress or of the finished sampler (if she agrees), when it is finished? The lack of closure on that one has been slightly bugging me. I have been fighting against my OCD tendencies… but…

  18. Oh Mary, that’s a big project – even for three (initially) enthusiastic people!
    I’ve been doing a cross-stitch-over-one piece from a charted sampler for most of this year and so far it’s about 11 by 19 cm, and I still have some filling in to do on the last section. (That’s about 4 by 7 1/2 inches in old money.)I’m not contemplating doing the whole sampler (which is enormous, even at this scale) just most of the band section, and I have only got about another 5 x 11 cm to go, perhaps less. I will get there. But oh, I am getting so very tired of it by now! At least tent stitch goes at nearly twice the speed.
    You are crazy, totally crazy, but good luck!

  19. Hi Mary,
    Know the feeling well! Getting ‘talked into’ or hoping to work on projects in a group is fun thinking and imagining but the reality usually does not pan out the way we imagine it all.
    I have reached the conclusion that most of the time ‘we’ are the ones eager to start such humongous ‘side-line’ projects and are just looking for excuses to do it! Just go with the flow and work on this project anyway…seems like you ‘need’ it in some ways. Have fun…. GoldenKite projects are great… perhaps that is what you are planning ? Looking forward to seeing what you are busying yourself with.
    Arm yourself with Floss-away bags or Ziplocs, lots of needles. Pako organizers and stay organized… and slowly the project will come to life!

  20. Thanks Mary!
    Next time my mum gives me gip about doing the entire alphabet with each letter surface stitched for bunting… for my friends soon to be arriving baby, I’ll point her to your project! At least I’ve worked out that mine only takes about an hour per letter. (excluding finishing)

  21. Well Mary, there is still time in your life! And your nieces lives and extended family members and church groups and people on the street that will ‘stitch for coffee’… lol. I’m sure you (and hopefully nieces) will do well. I loved the language of today’s post… I miss the ‘slang’ of my parent’s generation (“the Greatest Generation”) and reading today’s post was pure delight! Looking forward to seeing posts about this Great Adventure in Stitching.

  22. When you said you’d share the design later, you really meant much later. I read and read hoping to hear/see what you’ve found. Aack! I have to wait till tomorrow?

    Sounds like one of those HAED patterns. Or something similar. I know people that are great fans of those 80 page charts that work up into a piece of art. But I don’t have the patience and at my age, possibly not the time, to make one.

    They do both: full crosses, 1 over 1 or tent stitch, 2 over 1. The biggest problem I’ve read about is finishing a full block of pattern then going on to the next. Sometimes you can see a line between the blocks of stitching. Perhaps a different day, different tension creates this. So you may find it better to dribble over into the next blocks if you can with any colors that cross over.

  23. I too have a few charts like that! One of them required 25+ skeins of black!! I didn’t realize that when I looked at it and fell in *love* with it and then ordered the chart! I refuse to do it over one on anything higher than 25ct. though! I like for my projects to be fun! Well, maybe I’ll see how you get along first! The pressure is on, Miss Mary!!! 🙂

  24. My first love is counted cross stitch, and although I really enjoy other embroidery, every time I go back to a cross stitch WIP, I am reminded of how I LOVE it so.

    I purchased Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night via Heaven and Earth Designs, and boy, oh boy, is it big. Yet every time I see that piece of art, my heart skips a beat, and I know it will be worth the hundreds and hundreds of hours of stitching.

    I am totally intrigued as to what you have purchased, and very pleased to be able to follow your progress on a piece of cross stitch.

    Good luck Mary!

  25. Wow! 200 different colors! That in itself will present a pretty big challenge to organize. It’s a good thing you are working this in cotton, you’d go broke with silk! I’ve never done a project like this, it sounds so huge and impressive.

  26. Hahahahahaha….oh, Mary….you were “hornswoggled” … you … the Queen of Embroidery … into a 79 (yikes!) pages of directions!!!!! I am sure that your adult nieces love you so very, very much…but if I were either of them (giggle giggle) I could not deal with “79 pages of instructions” worth of love (Hahaha!). I can’t wait to see how this all works…hahaha…and, wow, thanks for your wonderful writing skills to give all of us a really good chuckle out of what could have been a horrible, miserable, “gee wiz what happened here” or “OMG” moment!

  27. Don’t we all have to be a little mad to do any embroidery? But then – we could spend our time and a lot of money collecting little bits of coloured paper from envelopes and sticking them into books, or watching horses run around very quickly, or in any number of truly pointless activities. With embroidery we have something to show at the end, and in your case it is always something extraordinarily beautiful. And we have all the meditative fun of the stitching to get us there. Go to it! But at your own pace.

  28. Love that you are starting this project! I love the large samplers and HAED projects. I recently converted one of my photos from a trip to the Netherlands to a cross stitch design and it came out to 84 pages! Haven’t decided on that one yet! Good luck. No one says it has to be finished soon! You give me so much encouragement with your projects! Sorry about the nieces! ☺️

  29. Mary, I have a question about your basting stitches. When I’ve done basting stitches, sometimes my needle pierces through the basted thread and so taking out the basting stitches at the end becomes trickier. I have to snip them carefully to wiggle them out or my design stitches get in quite the kerfuffle. Have you encountered this problem before, and if so, how do you handle it?

  30. So I take it they are not going to stitch it with you, lol? Maybe you could do it together as a round robin with each of you working on it. Then it may not seem do daunting. :0)

  31. That sounds like a pattern from Scarlet Quince, Mary. I have a huge one too, though I’ve yet to start on it. When I bought the fabric (which I HAVE gridded), the proprietor of my local needlework shop said it looked like I was going to make a baby blanket!
    Right now I’m trying to finish a HaED pattern of Jan Delyth’s Celtic across that it seems like I’ve been stitching forever. I’m close! One big lesson I learned on this is not to do a circular design on a scroll frame – DUH!! I have some other HaED charts, but I don’t know if I’ll ever start them. Whereas the Scarlet Quince charts use symbols that “imitate” the picture, the HaED charts don’t. I resorted to a multi-color highlighter method to try to keep track. Like some of the other responders, I use floss bags on a large ring, though the cross has only 90 colors and no blended ones. I hope you’ll not be of faint heart and will jump in on the deep end here…even if you work on it only in spurts.

  32. I think this is a great idea, Mary. There’s nothing wrong starting a project that you know is going to take years to finish. This sounds like a relaxing ‘go to’ project for a break when you are working on some of those complex designs that you do and get frustrated sometimes with the decisions.

    It should be lots of fun with your nieces. Not sure what age ‘grown’ is, but if you work on one together and they come to visit often, it could be great fun. The only problem then is who gets to keep the finished product!

    If you each do your own, it’s a good opportunity for them to learn about choosing the fabric, making the grid, etc.

    Looking forward to following this project!

  33. Ha! I did laugh, having something on the go that sounds very like this. Young people today! No stamina! :-)) But as the image appears, they will find themselves drawn in, you wait and see.

  34. Ohh Mary, this looks like the classic case of all of you had eyes bigger than your stomach!!! I hope that the three of you really do work on this. I have visions of doing shared projects with my granddaughter some day. It will have to wait a while though, she is only 5 months old. Have fun! I think with your exceptional skills and by breaking it down into manageable pieces, it just might turn into a wonderful shared experience. Good Luck!

  35. A question about your gridding. I assume you are marking off 10×10 blocks of stitches, but from the photo you seem to vary the length of your basting stitches. Would it make it easier to follow the chart if you made each stitch half a grid-square long, giving you an in-between count, or isn’t it worth the extra trouble?

    1. Hi, Elaine – I marked off 20×20, because it’s 30 count fabric, and 10×10 is just too small. I don’t know that it would be worth the extra trouble, to be meticulous about the length of the basting stitches. It seemed to take an insanely long time to grid it up the way I did. I’d probably still be working on it if I had had to count the basting stitches!

  36. Oh Mary, you made me laugh! Don’t we all have those crazy embroidery dreams? I’ve got 3 or 4 HAED designs and I actually started gridding the fabric for one of them earlier in the year but got sidetracked (plus it was so *boring* just doing the grid and taking forever on a very large piece of fabric). Now an EGA friend tells me that they are now selling fabric already gridded, so I may check that out. If I can get right to the stitching then I might actually have a chance of finishing it! I’m waiting anxiously to see what chart you are doing! Whatever it is I know it will be lovely. And I’ll bet your nieces will come back around once they see it started!

  37. Oh Mary, Mary, you made my day with this post. I’d been having a lot of issues, everything from computers, to children, to health, etc., and was in a totally abysmal frame of mind when I read this post. Don’t want to hurt your feelings but I laughed until I almost cried. then I re-read it and saw that you were using 30 count fabric and then I laughed until I needed to change my jeans…don’t ever quit writing for us Mary….you may just be the next best thing guaranteed to end misery and depression.

    1. Oh Sharyn, I relate on all counts. I hope things go batter for you soon. And, Mary, did you have ANY idea of the joy you were spreading with this post? Thank you! <3

  38. Hi Mary,

    I read this post and thought I wish I was your niece :). It sounds so enchanting, those evenings spent together on tea, talk and stitching. Which is of course crazy, given the fact how few time I have on embroidery. You bought me. I’ll be looking for your progress.
    Oh, and thank you for “Hornswoggled” – English is not native language for me so learning such gems is priceless :).

  39. Dear Mary;

    Hornswoggled is my third middle name. I will not, at this time, go into the other two as they send shivers down by spine.

    Questions, Pre-cut threads.

    Is there a standard length for a pre-cut thread?
    What is the easiest way to prepare the thread for pre-cutting?

    Thank you so much.

    1. Hi, Norleen – I usually cut 18 – 20″, and I don’t really prepare them. I just put a little dot on the edge of my table, and measure to the dot and cut. I take the sleeves off and place the number one right in front of me, so that I know what color I’m working with and don’t make a color mistake.

  40. My dear Mary
    My one and only miniature silk work was 5×7. It was a Persian carpet. It must have had every darn colour ever made. I didn’t work on it all the time . But be assured as I worked I kept telling myself ….Never again will I do such work. If I see anyone who decides to do more than one. I just tell myself that they are masochists and should be on permanent medications. Having the best light, the best magnifying set, zillions of fine needles (I found that I was holding the needle too tight and they bent). Every 15 to 20 minutes I needed to get up do some eye exercises and tell myself it is worth it and as I have started, it is nearly finished. It didn’t work…!
    So Mary you may be aware by now that I will not be entering the Xmas give away.
    I can admire but I truly do not desire.

    Off tomorrow to Sydney to see the family. It is only a 3 hour drive so not too bad.

    I hope you Mary and your family have a lovely time at this time of year. I wish for all your devoted followers the same. Take care and stay safe ’til we all meet again on Mary’s fabulous site.

    Season Greeting stay happy and well.
    MM xo

  41. I’ve been lurking through your archives a year at a time… backwards! And I don’t recall any updates for this project. Did you and your nieces work on this? Is it finished? I could only use the word HORNSWOGGLED to search and only 2 posts came up. Could you reveal what the pattern was?

    1. Hi, Carmen – I handed this project off to a couple of my nieces, who work on it in fits and starts. I didn’t have the time to give it a lot of attention, which is what a project like this needs. The design is a painting of the Madonna & Child by a Spanish artist named Vidal from the late 1800’s / early 1900’s. If you google Vidal Madonna & Child it will come up – it’s got a fantastic golden hue to it and the blues on the Madonna are beautiful.

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