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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Sampling Hand Embroidery on Cotton Twill


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Earlier this week, we chatted about using cotton twill and duck for embroidery projects. I started out on my twill stitching experiment, to see how well it would work out for the pocket of a tote bag.

I think it will work Just Fine.

Hand Embroidery on Cotton Twill

This isn’t the first time I’ve ever stitched on cotton twill. Many moons ago, I used twill as a ground fabric for a kids’ embroidery class that I taught, mainly because it is such a sturdy fabric and it’s relatively inexpensive.

But this is the first time I’ve used it for stitching something that I want to come out pretty nice, that has a specific purpose, and that fits a certain color scheme.

It’s easy stuff to stitch on, but it is a bit bouncier than linen and regularly woven cottons. It seems a bit “softer” because of the weave – it’s not quite as tight as a plain-weave fabric.

But the stitching experience is quite pleasant overall!

Hand Embroidery on Cotton Twill

I’m not 100% certain of my stitch choices and whatnot. To tell you the truth, I didn’t put any real planning into this – I’m just stitching whatever occurs to me as I go.

Incidentally, I find the color scheme a bit limiting. Normally, when I’m working with color, I like to work with at least three color families (or four, or more…) with lots of shade choices within those color families.

With this little doohickey, even though I have tans, golds, and reds, it feels more like stitching with just two colors – kind of a neutral / tan / gold set and the reds.

Aside from a few satin stitched dots, I’m not doing any solid filling on this design. Instead, I’m using line stitches – some more textured than others. I’ve got some stem stitch, of course! It’s my favorite stitch ever, because it’s so dang versatile. And I’ve got some chain stitch, some coral stitch, some backstitch (whipped) and I’ll probably incorporate some herringbone stitch for loose, open fillings on the leafy elements.

There won’t be any beads on this one, either. All in all, it’s pretty simple, quick stitching!

Hand Embroidery on Cotton Twill

I’ve enlarged my design slightly, so that a quarter of it fits comfortably into the six inch square that I’m planning to use as the outside pocket on the tote I’m making.

The original design is a bit smaller, and if you look at the Provence kaleidoscope in the photo above, you can see that my original interpretation (which was planned much more carefully ahead of time!) is a bit more complex, especially in the area of solid fillings. The original interpretation of the whole kaleidoscope definitely takes a lot longer to stitch!

Besides the solid fillings (the long and short stitch and shaded stem stitch), the thread weight makes a Huge Difference in how long it takes to work the design.

In the original interpretation of the whole kaleidoscope, I use one strand DMC cotton floss (from the six), whereas, in the pocket interpretation, I’m using two and three strands on most of the stitches.

The exception to this is the satin stitch dots, which require one strand of floss. Why one strand only? These satin stitch tips will explain. If you’re looking to improve your satin stitch, the satin stitch tips will help you out – and so will this article, which also covers several tips for satin stitch.

So, that’s where I am on this project! It’s coming along! We’ll see what develops with the rest of the design one of these days. In the meantime, I’ve had to shift onto a different project for a couple days. We’ll talk about that one a wee bit later!

Any questions, comments, suggestions? Feel free to join in the conversation below!

Favorite Kaleidoscopes Pattern Collection

If you’d like to stitch up your own version of Party in Provence, you’ll find the pattern available in my Favorite Kaleidoscopes collection – over 30 kaleidoscope designs for hand embroidery and other crafts.

Favorite Kaleidoscopes Collection of Hand Embroidery Patterns

You’ll also find the pattern for Birthday Bash and Tulip Festival in the same collection!

The kaleidoscope designs range from small 4″ designs to large 8″ designs, from simple to complex. You can read about the collection in detail here, or jump straight over to my shop to grab your own copy!


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(35) Comments

  1. It looks very pretty.
    I have never used cotton twill, but found embroidering on linen twill very unpleasant. Very rough on the hands.

  2. Your work is so beautiful, but I’m really struggling with the transfer process. How can mine look like yours?

  3. To widen your range of colors, you could add a small amount of embroidery to the bag fabric. Maybe add some French Knots in a yellow/gold thread. It would tie the pocket and bag together very well. I haven’t seen the fabric, so it’s hard to picture, but you are very good at color choices and can figure it out.

  4. Hello Mary,

    I am just beginning my hand embroidery journey at 76! I just want to say that you are an “awesome, amazing, inspiring, kind, generous” woman and teacher.

    Thank you so much for all you do.

    1. I have an embroidery student who is 84 years old and her embroidery is beautiful and unique. She has an artists eye.
      Keep at it !!!

  5. I would add some low-value sage green to the colors – something maybe just barely lighter in value than the red. Possibly #367 or 319. Or, a warmer green like 3346 might be a good choice. Using it as an accent will hopefully avoid any tendency toward a Christmas-y look while still providing a bit of zing to the palette.

    Just my 2 cents’ worth – but of course take it with a grain of salt. I *always* want to have all the psychological primaries (red, blue, yellow, green) present, and would probably add some navy blue as well! 🙂

  6. Looks like a bit of fun! I like the cotton twill (as in duck) for experimenting with crewel stitches and for teaching beginers as well. It has the feel of good linen twill without the cost.

  7. I’m new to your site. Could you tell me how the design is placed on the fabric? I love to copy old stitch designs but can’t figure out how to get the very fine lines transferred.

    Your work is lovely!

    1. Hi, Kim – you might look into Sublime Stitching’s fine-tipped iron on transfer pen. It works really well! On this particular piece, I did use a printed iron on, but I’ve used the Sublime Stitching pen numerous times on detailed designs, and it works great!

  8. Hi. Please forgive me if this has been answered elsewhere or if it’s too much like the question about transferring the design below. Did you transfer this design with the Sublime Stitching transfer pen, or is it an iron-on transfer? If you do it directly on the fabric with the pen, do you use drawing tools (French curve, straight edges, etc.) to get such neat and exact lines? I also struggle with transferring designs and have limited myself to pre-printed patterns or iron-ons. I’ve made a note to try the transfer pen. Thank you!

    1. Hi,Michele – on this particular piece, I used a printed iron on. But I’ve used the Sublime Stitching transfer pens for other kaleidoscope designs (the leaf one I did last year, and the tulip one – I wrote about them last autumn), and it really does work great for detailed designs! You just have to take your time tracing the back of the printed pattern, work with smooth strokes (not sketchy), and it works really well! I definitely recommend trying them!

  9. What stitch(es) did you use on the scrolls? Looks like a combination of chain and coral … is there a tutorial?

    1. Hi, Carol – that’s actually a combination that I used quite a bit in my Stitch Sampler Alphabet ebook. Chain, whipped edges, French knots… There are lots of ways you can mix up stitch combinations like this! If you like those kinds of combinations, you might check out Stitch Sampler Alphabet – it’s got a ton of them in there, and they work for all kinds of embroidery designs besides monograms. Fun stuff!

  10. I can’t find the question area…so I hope you don’t mind my asking here…I bought a crewel kit and I’m hating working with wool…can I switch to like colors with floss and what should I be aware of?

    1. Hi, Jean – one thing you’ll definitely want to be aware of is the difference between the coverage of the thread. Wool covers and fills a lot faster, so you use less. Cotton floss will usually require one strand at a time for fillings like satin stitch and long and short stitch, so it will take a lot longer – and a lot more thread – to cover areas that need to be filled. Hope that helps!

  11. Beautiful design and embroidery work as usual. I would add some dark blue or navy. Both go great with your color palette. Possibly a dark purple, but I don’t see it as a great choice with that particular red.

  12. I don’t think I like you anymore. LOL Just kidding. I’ve finally figured out just what it is that mesmerizes me about your work. It’s not the actual stitching for I do that quite well myself. It’s not color selection. It’s not the designs. It’s your imagination and ability to know just what stitches to combine to create texture, interest,….MAGIC. You take plain old lines and transform them into individual works of art which, when combined with the work on other lines, results in a masterpiece. Oh dear….I need to clean the drool off my keyboard. Smile. Thanks bunches for the great blogs and words of wisdom. Cheryl

    1. 🙂 Thanks, Cheryl! I think exploring different stitches and combinations is probably the part of embroidery I like best. And I seem to like it even better when I don’t plan in advance….even if I have to take out a line now and then and try another approach. It’s fun!

  13. It’s going to be lovely! Is there a reason why you can’t use other colors? Doesn’t matter either way, I was just curious. Even with limited colors it will still be beautiful and have impact. I love these kaleidoscope designs.

    1. Hi, Anna – it really depends on the piece. This particular piece, I’m planning on using as a pocket on a tote. Other pieces, like the kaleidoscope in the photo at the end of the post, I would probably frame and end up giving as a gift or something. Some pieces end up in a box, waiting inspiration! But most, I frame and give away.

  14. Your work is so beautiful and precise! I had tried posting when you had blogged about needing another fabric choice for the pocket, but couldn’t get the comments to work. I was going to suggest that you work in the lighter material that you like and then fuse the finished piece to a heavier fabric. Use the fused piece to make the pocket. If you don’t anticipate having to wash in the washer a lot, the two fused pieces should stay together well. If you do fuse, I would top stitch the top edge of the pocket close to the edge just to give the 4th side more stabilization and stem off any skewing. If you ever need a stabilizer for a bag, you can use car headliner. You can usually find it at JoAnn Fabrics. Fuse your cotton (or other fabric) fabric to it with fusible web and then construct the bag. It provides enough structure to allow a bag to stand, but is still easily bendable so you can work with it on your sewing machine.

  15. I use cotton twill almost exclusively as it’s the best I can afford. I always get really good results.
    I use the thinnest needle possible as it can be a little resistant once backed with fine muslin.

  16. In general I don’t buy fabrics at JoAnns for quilting or embroidery because the quality is not usually as good, but I don’t know where else to get twill. Where did you get yours?


  17. I’ve worked on Twill before, a Crewel piece, and found 2 or 3 strands best, especially on Satin stitches. Should I switch to 1 strand on my next Twill piece, as I find it easy to work on, especially for pillow tops and wall hangings.

    1. Hi, Margaret – I suppose it depends on the look you’re going for. If you’re getting the results you want with your satin stitch, then I would keep doing what you’re doing! I prefer a single strand with satin stitch, as the results are usually smoother for me.

  18. I have become a little fanatical about taking up embroidery (have never done any before!) because of my membership in the amazing Your Wardrobe Unlock’d historical costuming website under the direction of the amazing Cathy Hay. There is an annual “competition” for interested sewists/costumers/corset makers, and the 2018 “theme” to play off of is “insects” (the astonishing collection of anything equipped with 6 legs!). Hence I was led to “The Stumpwork Beetles” by the also-amazing artist Jane Nicholson. How I lust to do a few of those!! This leads me to the question – when I tried to sign up for the Wonderfully Attractive Rate advertised for Chelsea’s class, it showed $20, but I had to go grab a credit card to finish the purchase, and when I came back and reactivated the screen, the rate was $39.95. I hated it! Cheap though it may be – and I am sure a completely huge bargain even at $40, I was bitterly disappointed by the sudden switch. What’s going on with that? If I wait until Saturday, or a week from Tuesday, or September, or something, will I chance on another fleeting moment to save money (which would help finance some of the metallic threads etc. required for the class??)

    BTW, love your website, Mary – what an unexpected gift!

    1. Hi, Trisha – I’m afraid I’m a little confused. What / where is Chelsea’s class that you’re talking about? Is it the stumpwork class by Celeste Chalasani? On Craftsy? I’ve found that, with Craftsy, if you wait a bit, you’re bound to get some kind of class deal at some point. They do run sales a few times a year. Did you take the class and not like it? I thought it was pretty good, personally, but perhaps it isn’t what you were looking for. I think they have some kind of guarantee on their classes – you might be able to get a refund. To my knowledge, there aren’t any goldwork threads in that particular class, so I’m not following your last comment about affording the gold threads. In any case, I’m a bit muddled, I suppose, but if you’re dissatisfied with a class, there’s certainly nothing wrong with letting them know!

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