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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Something Bright into the Mix


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Besides working on this crewel embroidery project I’ve been sharing with you recently, I’ve got a few other hand embroidery projects on the go.

I’ve added something bright into my current project mix, to bring a little sunshine into the chilly gray days of winter. It’s Modern Crewel designed by Susan Porter and detailed in Inspirations Magazine Issue #90. I reviewed the kit for Modern Crewel here, if you’d like to read my review.

Modern Crewel - Embroidery Kit


There are many notable contrasts between Modern Crewel and the Mellerstain Firescreen crewel project I’ve been showing you recently.

The most notable contrast is that one is crewel embroidery and one isn’t.

The Mellerstain Firescreen project is crewel embroidery, in the most accurate and traditional sense. It is worked with wool threads. It’s worked on linen. It features a certain collection of stitches typical of crewel work.

Modern Crewel, despite the name, is not crewel embroidery. Crewel embroidery relies on the use of crewel wool to make it crewel embroidery. “Crewel” embroidery worked with anything besides wool is just “embroidery” – regular surface embroidery. It might feature a design style (in this case, somewhat Jacobean) typically found in crewel embroidery. But it isn’t actually crewel embroidery.

Design Style vs. Technique or Type of Embroidery

We’ve discussed this before on Needle ‘n Thread, but I think it’s worth mentioning again, as it is often a point of confusion when folks start talking about crewel embroidery.

Jacobean embroidery and crewel embroidery are not the same thing.

Jacobean embroidery (or Jacobean art, or Jacobean architecture) is a design style typical of a certain time period – the era of James I in England (“Jacobus” in Latin).

During that era, embroidery was worked not just with wool but with other mediums as well – silk, for example. But crewel embroidery enjoyed a great popularity then, and so Jacobean design is often associated with crewel embroidery.

So, crewel embroidery is a type of embroidery that often features Jacobean design, but it is always worked in wool. When it isn’t worked in wool, it is simply embroidery.

Modern Crewel, the title of this kit, is an interpretation of a design that would be typical of crewel embroidery in a Jacobean style. It’s worked with cotton threads and some beads. It employs some stitches typical of crewel work, and several stitches not typical of crewel, like certain raised or detached stitches – raised stem stitch and corded Brussels stitch, for example.

These latter stitches would not normally be a part of crewel embroidery. Their structure makes them difficult to execute with wool, and the visual structure of the stitch would pretty much be lost due to the nature of the wool thread.

Modern Crewel - Embroidery Kit

Cheatin’ on the Transfer!

I decided to forego the more complicated transfer approach in the article in Inspirations, and opted instead to make an iron-on transfer of the design, and just iron it on. All the the lines will be covered with stitching, so I’m not worried about being able to wash them out.

I particularly like Sublime Stitching’s fine-tip iron-on transfer pen for home-made iron-on transfers. I reviewed it here, if you want to read about it. It works well! You might test blue or black to see which gives you the better line for your own vision and comfort. Blue gives a lighter, purply line, black gives a darker line. Go light with the tracing and keep the lines as fine as possible. And as always, test before using on your official fabric!

The design could be traced, with a good light box (I use this one) and a dark enough printing of the line drawing. The fabric is a natural colored, fine-weave linen, so it’s harder to trace easily. Hence, the tacking method suggested in the instructions. And hence, my “cheater” method of ironing it on.

If you opt to go with an iron-on, the image given for the pattern in the magazine is mirrored, so you can trace it as is onto a new piece of paper with your iron-on pen. No need to flip. If you decide to trace the design directly onto your fabric, you need to flip it first and trace it with the design-side of the paper down on your light table.

Modern Crewel - Embroidery Kit

Organized & Ready to Go

After transferring the design and setting up the piece on an Evertite frame, I gathered everything that I need to work the piece – the threads, the frame, the magazine with the instructions in it, a pair of scissors in a leather sheath, and the needles.

I put the threads, beads, needles (tucked in a tiny needlebook from my Little Things ebook), and scissors in a separate small ziplock, and then slipped the magazine, the frame, and the zip-lock into a large mesh project bag.

Everything’s ready to go, whenever I’m ready for a bright and colorful stitching session!

Modern Crewel - Embroidery Kit

From Hearty to Delicate

And I did have one opportunity to work on Modern Crewel this week. And that’s my progress!

Perhaps the most difficult adjustment to make when rotating between different projects is getting used to the difference in thread weight, stitch size, and coverage, depending on the techniques.

And that brings me to another huge contrast between this project and the Mellerstain Firescreen project.

Going from wool to a single strand of cotton is almost disconcerting. I found myself floundering a bit with the first stitches, because they seemed, suddenly, so inordinately tiny and delicate, after stitching larger, heavier stitches with wool on the Firescreen project.

That said, gosh, I know I’m going to love this project! I can’t wait til my next session with it!

Where to Find Modern Crewel

If you want to join in and follow along with this project, you can find Modern Crewel in Inspirations #90. If you don’t subscribe to the magazine, you can buy this issue through Stitchology, here.

If you live in the US, you might also check with Wooly Thread to see if they have any copies still available.

You can also buy individual digital editions through Inspirations, here. You can view them on your iPad, tablet, computer, what-have-you, and you can download and print the pattern and stitch layout pages. If you click on “Buy Digital Subscription,” you’ll then have a choice to subscribe to the magazine, or to purchase the individual current magazine, or to purchase individual past issues. You’ll find issue #90 in the list – it’s the one with the corn on the front.

You can find the kit available here through Inspirations, or you can self-gather the supplies using the list in the magazine, and even make substitutions if you want.

If you already have the kit and instructions and you were just waiting for some motivation to start, why not join me?


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(28) Comments

  1. I am having a great time doing Susan Porter’s A Modern Crewel. I agree with you about the differences in working with wool and cotton thread, but it is fun and looks beautiful. My next project is the Mellerstein Fireplace. Merry Christmas!

  2. Dear Mary

    You certainly are busy with new embroidery kits and The Modern Crewel kit is lovely and bright and all those lovely turquoise colours would brighten any area. The 2 kits you are working on look lovely one with lovely autumn colours and one springy colour so depending on your mood you can easily go from one to the other project. I’m really looking forward to your progress on this project. Thanks for sharing your new crewel kit project with us and for your tips and techniques on pattern transfers.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  3. Every-time my newsletter comes I read it from top to bottom, I am just simply amazed at the work you produce, the detail, the color work is simply amazing graduation from color to color, exactly in the right place.
    I have always loved what I call needlepoint (covers all thread and needle techniques under one word as there are so many types). I just simply love it all.
    My dexterity does not allow me to do much needlepoint but i admire the skill and craft so much.
    Thx for sharing what you do share with us about the craft and the industry.

  4. Informative explanation of Crewel and Jacobean embroidery. I like the designs of both types, but not crazy about the muted wool colors on most genuine Crewel. I like the brighter colors you are using on this project.

    1. Hi, Rosalyn – yes, the colors on most genuine crewel of the historically accurate variety are mostly muted, and they’re usually a turn-off for me, too. The nice thing is that several wool thread producers are playing with modern palettes now. Fine d’Aubusson by Au Ver a Soie, for example, has some beautiful vivid greens, turquoises, sea greens, yellows, and pinks – among other colors. Love them!

  5. I learned somethin’!! Crewel work associated with Jacobean Crewel Embroidery, who is James 1, Jacobus in Latin!

    Now I have to type that out five more times to make it stick…..

    Thank you..I do love history!!!!

    1. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just don’t equate crewel absolutely with Jacobean. You can have Jacobean embroidery that isn’t crewel work, and crewel work that isn’t Jacobean! Just to keep things as confusing as possible…. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Hi Mary,

    Loved your comments. I did this workshop with Susan last year, she was a blast and the workshop good fun. Unfortunately my work was only half done by the end of the 2 day class and now languishes in a drawer, you have just inspired me to get it out and finish it off. I enjoyed your discussion on what constitutes Crewel and Jacobean Embroideries. Where does Berlin work fit with in these?
    I hope you health is improving and things are looking up, please do let us know.
    Cheers Judy
    SE Queensland, Australia

    1. Hi, Judy – Berlin work is like needlepoint or counted work done with wool. So it doesn’t quite fit into this type of embroidery. So glad you’re going to take the piece out and finish it. It’s a lot of fun!

  7. Mary…Thanks for the clarification of crewel work and regular surface embroidery! Your explanation was very helpful!

    And this morning I found my “Inspirations” issue 90, some wonderful fabric, plus my iron-on transfer pen and transfer paper that are both from Sublime Stitching. I would like to join you on your journey of completing this piece! I just can’t start for a week or two since I am having fun stitching and finishing up some Christmas presents! Happy Holidays!

  8. Hi Mary,

    I love your new project, it looks like a simple project. I love the colors in the kit. Your are always doing something interesting. You are very inspiring.

    Louann P

  9. Dear Mary,

    I bought the kit but had not started it yet as I’ve got so much UFO and WIP to go with ! But as you wrote being several on one project is a good way to go through, so I think I’ll join …

    Best regards,


  10. I look forward to you postings and see them through Feedly. I assume that part of your $$ comes from the hits to your website. Do you get credit for my reading your post through Feedly or should we all click through to the website?


    1. Hi, Diana –

      Thanks for asking! Clicking through from Feedly is a great way to enjoy the website (and to keep track of other blogs you follow)! But no, it doesn’t contribute to my income. But that’s ok! I’m glad you’re enjoying the website!

  11. Thank you for again mentioning and describing the difference between crewel and Jacobean embroidery and that Jacobean work done with other than crewel yarn is now being called crewel work. I wrote an article on this for “Piecework” magazine which was in either the July/August or September/October 2009 issue.

    There are also some kit companies which describe as crewel work any surface embroidery, no matter the thread used or the design.

  12. Hello Mary! As always, your work is so beautiful to see in progress! Will you have an update on your health before year end for all of us? Enjoy the snow. .

    1. Hi, Priscilla! Thanks for your comment! Incidentally, my oldest sister’s name is Priscilla – but I know it’s not you, because she doesn’t have an email address and she can’t figure out how to use a computer to save her life. I love that name! I won’t have a health update until after the first of the year. I had an appointment December 22, but they had to move it to the first week of January – which works out well, because if it’s bad news, at least I’ll get through Christmas without it, and if it’s good news, well then – what a great way to start the new year! Right now, things seem to be going well. Thanks for asking! Oh, and the snow. Yep. As usual. Kansas weather is disappointing. Not even one flake so far! But I still have hope!

  13. Hi,

    After reading your blog for several years, I’ve finally plucked up courage to stitch along with you doing the Modern Crewel project – the colours look fabulous. I’ve downloaded the instructions and have now found that the kit uses some Clarence River over-dyed threads that aren’t available in the UK. I’d be really grateful if you could show/explain the colours etc of the over-dyed threads, so that I can try and identify some substitutes. Stef Francis has some that I think may be suitable, but the choice is vast! http://www.stef-francis.co.uk/hand-dyed-yarns/hand-dyed-cotton-yarn?zenid=96159936d611661ab487eba5e16b0cbf

    Thanks so much for your help.

    1. Hi, Jane – I think your best bet would be to try to match the colors by looking at the DMC color range that comes in the kit. You’ll want over-dyed threads that work with that color range. I’d pick out the same sizes that are listed in the kit, and then try to make color choices based on the DMC range involved. Hope that helps!

  14. After looking for almost a year I found a source for the clearance river rainbow threads
    if youโ€™re interested please give me an email message back

    1. Hi, Joan – I’d love to know where you found them! Thanks! (This reply will come to your email inbox, and from there, you can just reply to that email and it will come to me.) Thanks!

  15. Trying to work the modern crewel pattern above but cannot find the Clearance River Rainbow threads or what the shades are to find the equivalent in DMC. Any information or suggestions of alternative threads to use?

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