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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Just Doodling About with Embroidery: A Colorful Kaleidoscope


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Lately, I’ve been doodling about, playing with some designs that I call kaleidoscopes. These are repeating designs drawn on a radiating grid of spokes, which vary in number depending on the type of design.

Some of the designs are made up of many straight lines, while others are scrolly, floral, and a bit loose. Whether linear or scrolly (or a combination), they’re all fun to embroider!

Embroidered Kaleidoscope Design

What I like about these types of designs is that they provide a great platform for experimenting with stitches, colors, threads, techniques and combinations of all of the above.

Even though they are slightly repetitive, they’re small enough that the repetition is not boring. In fact, the repetition helps you get into the whole rhythm of stitching the design in a way that’s quite relaxing.

Embroidered Kaleidoscope Design

It’s been a while since I’ve played with designing and experimenting with colors and stitches, and I can’t wait to share these little bits with you! I’ll be sharing this particular design and stitching tips in the not-too-distant future.

Now, designs like this might beg the question: what do you do with it?

Well, I’ve been playing with some simple, fun finishing ideas, too. I’m discovering all kinds of things you can embellish with graphic designs like these. As the summer progresses, I’ll be testing my ideas. We’ll see how they work out.

Embroidered Kaleidoscope Design

I enjoy this kind of stitching. The stitches, once you know them, are easy. The color choices are not too hard, either. I only have to make a few basic decisions along the way, and other than that, it’s just stitching for the pure pleasure of stitching. And, since the design is relatively small, I can see quick progress as the colors bring the whole thing to life.

You might recognize the variegated thread I’m using in the sample above. It’s a skein of Coloris, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. I also chose coordinating colors from the chart I posted here along with a few shades of each of the main colors. They work well together and the shades help give a graduated swelling and diminishing effect to the whole design.

My plan is to finish this kaleidoscope up today, if all goes well. (This is me, underestimating once again how much time it takes to stitch things…)


Are you interested in a series of kaleidoscopes to embroider? Any thoughts on slightly repetitive designs like these? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to join the conversation below!


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(146) Comments

  1. Hi – looks like perfect timing to me – it reminds me of the 4th of July fireworks – “sparkly” and beautiful colors! Love it!

  2. Yes! I am interested in your current doodling embroidery project and in Coloris Dmc threads. Mary, you never cease to amaze and inspire me. Can’t wait to add the Coloris line to my thread stash, those are so exciting. I am looking for a design for a table runner for September. Any suggestions?
    Elizabeth W of Colorado

    1. Hi, Elizabeth – Oh, I love table runners! What are you looking for, in particular? Something light and fun to stitch, or something a little more intricate? Are you anticipating a quick project or something that lasts a while? Do you have a particular theme in mind? You might try browsing through my patterns page – there are lots of designs in there that can be adapted to a table runner. Sounds like a fun project!

  3. Hi Mary,
    I love the idea of stitching these. I am a quilter and sewer as well as a needle worker so I can see a few other finishes you could do with these. I am particularly intrigues by your design, will you be making it available for public use?
    Keep up your wonderful work, I enjoy reading your adventures in needlework everyday.

  4. Yes, I would love to see a series of kaleidoscope patterns, as well as ideas for which to use them. I am always looking for ideas with variegated threads, which I love to use, but struggle to find uses for!

  5. I love doodling and zentangles. Stitching kalidascopeswould be just like that. What a fun way to Plat with stitches and colour.

    1. Hi Ricky, thanks for the zentangles link. I’d heard the term before but never made the connection with stitching design. I was given a similar sort of exercise to help me learn ‘internal calm’ and I loved it. Now I can see a way to design my own unique pieces. Perfect for my PhD study into what the Corporate world can learn from the ladies who stitch. Thanks!!

  6. I would love something like this. I love the idea of “samplers” that don’t look like samplers, and of something that promotes stitching zen as opposed to the constant decision-making challenge I’ve created for myself on my crazy quilt blocks. That’s fun too, but sometimes I long for something a little simpler.

  7. OMG! This would be a perfect way to practice stitching and using awesome variegated thread! Repetitive designs don’t bother me. I’d like to have something like this to stitch and use the threads to make it stand out! I’m in line waiting for the opportunity to try this out! 🙂

  8. Very interesting Mary. It reminds me of a coloring book I was looking at recently. I would love to try this thread, also!!

  9. Hi Mary, always interested in what you design. This would be fun especially if each design had different specialty stitches in it for a slightly different look to each one.

  10. It’s a wonderful idea and I want to try it. I found some variegated perle cotton #8 the other day and picked out a number of skeins of DMC floss to coordinate and am working on some flower designs ‘in the air’ so to speak but the kaleidoscope idea never occurred to me. Have you come across Ink Circles? It’s kaleidoscope designs for cross stitch and was really fun. I am looking forward to your ‘doodles.’

  11. I would definitely be interested in these. Lately I’ve been looking at embroidering mandalas which are similar to the kaleidoscope pattern. They are so fun to embroider and really lend themselves to nice bright colors.

  12. Brilliant idea to use graphic designs -love playing with the threads in my stash. Look forward to seeing the finished project.

  13. Hi Mary,
    I would be interested in seeing these types of patterns and learning how to use them. The pattern looks simple enough to get me started embroidering after many years away from it.

    1. I very much agree!!! I have not wanted to overcommit when just starting again. This is intriguing. I can picture pillows, framed, …reminds me of temari.

  14. I would love to see the patterns. I am looking for some fun samplers for students. Teens tend to prefer crazy patterns with lots of color over the traditional samplers. I’m also looking for ways to finish projects that don’t require a lot of machine sewing in case my students don’t have that type of sewing experience and so I don’t have to finish 20 projects 🙂

  15. This looks like a fun project for the new DMC thread. I’m anxious to get started. I always enjoy seeing what you are working on. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Love this idea! I am sort of new to surface stitching and am thinking of a quilt as you go embroidered hexagon quilt. This would be perfect for that! I can size the designs to fit the hexagons. Thank you so much for all the inspiration and instructions on your site!

  17. Just returned to stitching after many years and trying to perfect my stitches. This would be perfect!

  18. Dear Mary

    What a great idea especially if you want to practice various stitches and thread combinations and you are anticipating a project and testing colours and threads or just stitch doodling and gathering project ideas or just stitch doodling for the sheer pleasure. Great. The nice thing about kaleidoscopes and repetitive designs is you can take it anywhere you want. I like your design and thread combinations. I do hope you finish today. Thanks for sharing with us your ideas on kaleidoscopes and repetitive stitching.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  19. I’d like to see your finished product. Also, I have thought of trying to embroider a mandala to practice different stitches- any suggestions?

    1. That’s what I do. I find mandalas on facebook or coloring books and print them out on fabric with freezer paper.

    2. Your mandala idea is great — I’m more interested in ethnic patterns for embroidery but aside from designing them myself, am not sure where to find them. Any ideas anyone??

  20. Count me in! Looks like something that can be use for the 3 summer holidays! Can’t wait to see what the final results will be. But I’m in.

  21. Living in Florida, so this is a good project to keep me busy indoors and out of the SUN….. It can also start a stitch book for Kaliedoscopes.

  22. I love this idea. I am primarily a crazy quilter and as such do not usually work from a pattern. I love the idea of a design that could be used as a CQ motif and that requires fewer decisions to be made. Sometimes I find that I get bogged down in the decision making process and want to stitch something that is repetitive and doesn’t require quite so much thought and effort.

  23. I have always loved doodling and am keen to try kaleidoscope. I always enjoy reading your newsletters.

  24. I think this is a wonderful idea. It could be as simple or as complicated as you make it. A good way to practice and learn, both of which I need to do more of.
    Thanks for the idea and for all of your ideas and lessons. I look forward to your email each day and I am excited when I get one. It is usually the first that I open!

  25. Mary, YES YES YES!! I love these little doodly ways of practicing–and the colors and designs are just my thing. Thank you!

  26. Think of all the time we use on planned
    patterns. This is perfect for when we
    just “itch to stitch” in a relaxing spontaneous way.

  27. Mary, I am definitely interested! And excited to start! Your work is so beautiful! Can’t wait…Thank you for all you do for us stitchers!

  28. I absolutely love these designs. I do English paper piecing so my mind goes right to a hexagon or some other shape in the design center. So. Many. Possibilities. How do I find these designs?

  29. I have the whole collection of Coloris and have want to do something to show off the threads. I think your kaleidoscope idea is perfect. Doing something like that would give me an idea of what the thread colors are like and make it easier to use the Coloris threads in other projects. Judie

  30. I can easily see this as part of the slow stitching and mark making worlds. I think that not too challenging repetitive stitching where I can just concentrate on the rhythm helps bring on a sense of relaxation and well being which is quite akin to meditation. Good for the body and the mind.

  31. Good morning Mary
    This is a good idea when one is between major works. I always suprize myself on what I learn
    – to do and not to do.

  32. I do something kind of similar with Celtic patterns. I would be very interested in seeing some of your ideas on the repeating patterns. I make them into book cloth and use them on books and box structures.

  33. I think stitching a series of Kaleidoscope patterns would be lots of fun! I love working with the variegated threads whether cotton or silk. Working various designs on different colored backgrounds would be a delight. Please YES to this. Thanks!!!!

  34. very relaxing stitching can do when watching tv. It will be ideal to go into a fabric junk journal Im pondering on

  35. Hi Mary

    Sometimes you just want to stitch without having to think too much. This would be a great project for Dr. offices, etc.1piece of fabric and

  36. Mary, I love the thought of adult coloring with stitching because stitching is much more relaxing than coloring in a book. I hope you will go public with your design, I for one would love to try it.

  37. Hi Mary

    Sometimes you just want to stitch without having to think too much. This would be a great project for Dr. offices, etc. 1 piece of fabric and 1 skein of variegated thread and you are set to go.

    Hope all is well for you Mary.


  38. This looks very interesting! Something that I can do when I have time, something that doesn’t need to be rushed, something that’s a nice change of pace. I like this idea!

  39. I agree that it would be a great way to practice new stiches. I recently found a few needles I had left in a piece of cross stitch cloth and now they have little rust spots on them. Are they throw outs or can they be saved?

    1. Not sure where the question mark came from…goofy fingers, I guess. I do love this idea, and am looking forward to sticking along.

  40. Hi Mary, Yes I love the repeat designs. My grandchild who is visiting me really is very interested in trying out these designs. Please post more of them. Thanks.

  41. Yes, yes, please continue thinking about kaleidoscope designs! I like to reduce designs down to about four inches and embroider them as ornaments. I am imagining kaleidoscope designs with pretty beads. The designs would become the motivation for experimenting with background fabrics, pretty threads, and sparkly beads…then hang them on the tree!

  42. You hit on a good idea…that is…just enough to be fun but not boring. I would like to incorporate a few of your designs into some miniatures I’m doing. No definite design as yet…you know how that goes.

  43. Great idea! When experimenting with thread and stitches these type of patterns would give me a chance to not only use my stash but expand my thinking. Keep it up Mary, you’re doing a fantastic job.

  44. That looks to cool!! What fun 🙂 I like it. Maybe the center medallion for a quilt??? Just thinkin 🙂

  45. I like the idea of a spikey design, a break from all the curves. It’s also fun to have something to play around with, I look forward to your ideas of what to do with the finished project too.

  46. Mary, LOVE this. I am awaiting to see you finished design. Would also like to see more of these type of designs.

  47. Love the variegated threads. This would be a fun way to use them. Been thinking of doing something small for making personal cards to send out. Think this would be a nice way to make it happen,and share a smile.

    1. Just an idea, I have a kaleidoscope and love it! Sometimes I hold it very still and put my phone up to the end and take a picture. Surprisingly it works very well!

  48. I would love to see more of your kaleidoscope ideas, Mary.
    In relation to your question about stitching slightly repetitive designs, I have in the past year migrated from free embroidery to counted work almost exclusively–something I never expected! I have recently realized it is *precisely* these repetitive aspects that are so alluring to me. Both the process of cross-stitching (talk about repetitive–count, make perfect x’s, count, make more) and its finished product (flat incorporation of floss with fabric, soft geometry, subtle color variation) have become pretty much all I want now, after years of more complicated stitching techniques. As in so many other aspects of my life, the older I get, the more simplicity I crave.

  49. I love finding new ways of using multi coloured threads and the kaleidascope idea is such a good way to get into the rhythm of hand stitching and trying out stitches – relaxing after my last few flowers in stumpwork!

  50. Yes, yes and yes! Mary, I would so love to have you lead us in these fun designs. I am ordering some of the Coloris threads. These designs would be fun as alternate blocks in a quilt using running stitches with size 12 perle cotton.
    Thank you.

  51. great, Mary,
    It reminds me of some of the adult coloring books I am seeing, but coloring with thread is so much more fun!!

  52. I would be very interested in working these kinds of designs. Gives enough freedom, without being overwhelming and would be a fun way to practice and perfect my stitches. Thank you for coming up with yet another creative idea for us!

  53. Sounds interesting , Cant say that the “lines” kaleidoscope was something I liked but might be interested in scroll or filled in sections. I can visualize all the different colors used, but not necessarily used for different stitches – I would want to see an example.

  54. I love love love this! I’m intrigued by variegated floss, and would love to learn to use it.
    Count me in!!

  55. I’m definately interested. Great way to practise different stitches. Just purchased. Some of the new DMC coloris threads. So am eagerly awAit what your coming up with. Will you please advise which fabric you will be using too.
    I’ve only done cross stitch on aida. And a little Hardanger. Am eager to learn new stitches

  56. This project looks to be the perfect thing! I’ve been creatively stuck and this seems just the thing to get the juices flowing! Thank you once again for your inspiration.

  57. I print out mandalas onto fabric with freezer paper. I just started a crazy-quilt class at my local senior center, so maybe that will be something to do with them. Buy you’re right, stitching just to be stitching is very relaxing!

  58. These sound like a great idea even if I can only use DMC normal 6 strand thread which is the only one available locally where I live in country Victoria, Aus.
    Would love to see more of these and how to use them.

  59. I always love what ideas you have Mary and this is a special one for me, being a very “geometric” person! I started to do some “searching and came across a website from the University of Michigan’s Health System. [http://www.med.umich.edu/goa/kaleidoscope.htm]
    I though you and your readers may be interested.
    The combinations of the variegated threads is ideal.

  60. Love this idea! Also want to try the new DMC thread. I especially like the way the color changes are spaced on it. Would be a great way to try out some new (or old) stitches. Thanks for all the wonderful instructions, new ideas and information that you provide to us, Mary.
    Best wishes, MaryE

  61. I would love this. I’m trying to learn new stitches to broaden my skills and this would be perfect and, I think, a lot of fun.

  62. Beautiful! I got to actually touch, feel and drool over the new Coloris line on Friday! What a treat! The color chart you provided will be very helpful in coordinating and designing future embroidery. I’m a thread and kit, oh and embroidery book nut! Love your insight and inspiration. Thank you!

  63. Yes, I am interested in a series of kaleidoscopes to embroider. I really like geometric shapes and your sample looks like it would be easy enough for me to do.

  64. I’d definitely like to see more kaleidoscope designs – they’re one of my favorite motifs. Ending up with finished objects is would be an added bonus!

  65. Of course I’m interested. Pattern, color, texture what’s not to love? It’s all eye candy to me. Bring it on. Woo Hoo!!!

  66. Love the idea mam. I go through your site regularly. Its a great source to learn at home in my free time. Very much interested in your current kaleidoscope idea. Thanx.


  67. This is such a fun ‘doodle’ and could be used in so many ways. Please keep doing the doodlin’ and we look forward to more of your excellent designs and creative ideas. They spur us on to new heights. Thank you.

  68. I am delighted you are doing this sort of thing Mary and read with interest your take on the subject. I buy partially completed work through 2nd hand stores which my town has oodles of. The pieces are very cheap $3.00 for a linen tablecloth sort of thing. I am currently doing a really dull piece as it is all cross stitch, but I have discovered the joy of variegated floss to enliven an otherwise very repetitive piece

  69. LOVE, love, love these radiating designs!!! You have inspired me to get out of my cross stitch box and into something much more free flowing and creative. Thank you.

  70. Being a newbie here I just read about your Journey. I want you to know I added a prayer to those I know you are already receiving.
    My Sis In Law recently was diagnosed with Leukemia. It runs heavily in the family. I am worried about my husband. SIL, Lorna, is done with all the treatments and I am happy to say, doing great. I hope you are soon the recipient Of the same good news she has!
    On to the happy things 🙂 I love your positive attitude and your adventuresome spirit. Hubby says he loves me more because I am always up for an adventure. Life is to short to cry and whine!! We just do what we need to do to get thru the bad spots and revel in the joyous ones.
    Love love love your blog/website. You do terrific and beautiful work.
    You keep on enjoying your life as God has given you and I will keep on praying for your good times to outweigh the bad.
    Hooray for you and your blessed life.
    Hugs and Kisses, Your new friend,

  71. Dear Mary, I just read your latest letter updating your health issues. I want you to know that my prayers are with you, and I really admire your positive attitude. I have been having many problems as well and your attitude gives me hope. I also want you to know how much I appreciate you and your website. I only discovered you a couple of years ago when I began teaching embroidery classes at a local craft and Folkart museum. I gleaned many useful ideas from your posts and tips. You were also very helpful to me while I was embroidering my niece’s wedding canopy last year. It was a monster of a project which took five months although it should have taken a year. Anyway, your website helped me through that project and continued to help me with current projects. Thank you for all that you do.

  72. Love the idea! I will check back often looking for those. You inspire stitching, thank you for your wonderful site.

  73. Mary, et al, I recently bought a stamped cloth design intended as a quilting design for a whole cloth quilt. Instead I used a pearl cotton #5 thread and worked the design in the outline stitch. It was so relaxing and an easy project to bring along (14×14). The results is stunning. My intention is to make it into a bordered table topper.

  74. Your work is so beautiful! I am awestruck every time I open your site. Thank you for shearing all your wonderful eye candy.

  75. Hi Mary,
    I love your kaleidoscope! This is what I have been looking for. The colors, variety of stitches is the variety I need.

    I immediately saw a place to hang your kaleidoscope too…on the inside of the front door over the peep hole!

    Sure hope you put the instructions out soon

  76. Yes, this is a great way to experiment with colors. I think this would be a great needlework guild project.

  77. Well Mary, It really paid off removing the buttonhole stitch. This is really lovely. Almost a traditional Indian design. My compliments.

  78. Hi Mary! Love the design. I can picture this using colors for the seasons and holidays, which would make up a great looking lap quilt!

  79. Just thought I would share my goldwork fish that I made from an adult coloring book. I used it to finish an EGA Individual Correspondence class in goldwork. Lots of uses for adult coloring book drawings. I don’t know how to send an attachment

  80. Hello Mary

    I like your embroidery so much. The kaleidoscope i s verry exiting. My English is not so well.
    Where can I find the desing of such things
    Many Greetings
    Justine (Belgium Antwerp)

  81. I am very interested. My EGA group gives a new stitch each month. The kisleidoscope would be an excellent to use some of the stitches.

  82. I absolutely love your kaleidoscope design. And yes, I can certainly see this design taking on beads! Can’t wait for the pattern.

  83. I am very interested. How do I find these patterns….or are you making them? I am new to embroidery work and am looking for some things to practice on. This looks perfect!

  84. I’m always looking for motifs to add to crazy quilting, especially when I’m having trouble coming up with something. This looks like a great way to fill in space, that’s interesting but doesn’t take a lot of brain effort (which is often how I am when I finally get a chance to sit and stitch).

  85. thank goodness Mary you saw the light. I am glad to see you got rid of the blanket stitch looked awful. More out of place. The item now is really bonzer and is a real treat for the eyes. Beading sounds nice.
    I am sure there are a few ideas that your pattern will lend its self to. Silver or white on navy ground with crystals.
    Once again you have set the brain into option mode.

    Well done it is terrific.


  86. Yes, I’d be interested in these kaleidoscope projects. They look relaxing, fun and even meditative. And some ideas as to what to do with them after stitching would be nice too. Thank you.

  87. Swedish Weaving (aka HUCK embroidery) is mirror imaging designs.

    That type of embroidery might be another way to use up floss and fabric that is too small for larger items.

    I have been thinking (smell wood burning?) about doing a SW sampler – straight across Aida cloth.

    Of course, the fabric has to have ‘floats’ because this method does NOT go through and across the back.

    I like the ‘mandela’ style done by you, Mary.

  88. Yes. Exactly this. I have craft-commitment issues and love a good-looking, short project that has room to embellish a bit if time permits — I’d love to do this!

  89. The Kaleidoscope design is gorgeous! DD thought it would be perfect for a pillow top. Are you going to make the design available?

    1. Hi, Amy – Yes, I am. I’m working out some kinks and then it’ll be made available. The pillow top is a great idea, especially if enlarged. This is 6″ in diameter. Or, on a larger pillow top – say, 16″ – you could sort of scatter the design asymmetrically around and do repeats, maybe in different coordinating color schemes, or mixing up the colors in different parts of the repeated designs. I’ve been fiddling with a couple throw pillow ideas with these – it’s fun!

  90. I’m very interested in stitching some of these… They look so interesting and a great to try new stitches…

  91. I love the idea of kaleidoscope designs–there are so many different ways I could use them. And I like the idea of practicing different stitches this way, and then being able to apply the embroidered medallion(s) wherever I like–or even to move them, should I wish. Thanks! Looking forward to more!

  92. I am interested in the embroider work. I belong to an embroidery guild and it looks like something interesting to all of us.

  93. Der Mary
    I am a Great Fan of you and your work. I always wonder how do you transfer so perfectly such straight lines on a fabric. I tried several methods but I never succeeded and on top of it the lines are not so visible any more. after a while of working. I have been told that professional embroiderer or kits producers have a kind of a copy machine to transfer the designs on the fabric. Any suggestion for those normal beguiner but passionate embroiderer?
    Thank you and have a nice weekend

  94. I love these pieces and would love to do some of my own. Just wondering how you transfer your design onto the fabric?

  95. I would absolutely love a set of these as a kit!!!! Even one if that’s all you can provide. Just something to think about. Thanks Mary for all the information you share. I’m new at this and want so much to do more but I have to depend on others for their creativity.

  96. Embroidered doodles are really the thing right now. I am in the process of designing my own fiber/embroidery book and frankly it is difficult to find patterns that incorporate stitches more complicated than satin stitch.

    I would like to explore the many aspects of the beautiful stitches with the stitches as doodles on the left side of my page and a design using said stitches on the right side.

    Any suggestions?

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