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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Embroidery Projects: From One Extreme to the Other


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This week, I finished an embroidery project.

Once upon a time, I disliked coming to the end of a project. As I approached the end, I’d start to feel a little sad. I called it the End-of-Project Blues. It’s that time when you realize that the enjoyment you’ve had in stitching a project and seeing it come to life is about to end.

And it’s that time when you realize that you’ve got to go through the whole process of deciding and setting up another project before you can settle into the bliss of having something fun to stitch.

These days, though, I have so many projects in the wings planned out for Needle ‘n Thread, that I don’t have a chance to feel blue at all! There’s that brief elation of finishing a project, pleased that it came out at least somewhat similar to what I envisioned, rapidly followed by The Next Thing.

There’s always a method in my project line-up when I’m stitching things in relatively quick succession, though. It’s not just a random grab-whatever-and-get-going approach. I put a little bit of thought behind the order of choosing projects, for very specific reasons.

Come along, and I’ll tell you my thought processes…

Silk Embroidery Project Sneak Peek

So, the larger project that I finished this week – you can see some sneak peeks above and below – is embroidered in a nice array of Au Ver a Soie silk threads, primarily Soie d’Alger with a bit of Soie Perlee for good measure. Besides a few little bead accents, the whole project is silk, and it’s pretty solidly stitched.

It’s worked on white linen – Alba Maxima, by Legacy Linens, which is an approximately 40-thread-count closely woven, beautiful linen suitable for any type of surface embroidery. I backed it with cotton, to give some extra support, since I knew I’d be working some dense filling areas.

This is the type of project I set up on stretcher bars (I use Evertite stretcher bars) or on a slate frame. In this case, it was on stretcher bars – they’re faster to set up and they don’t take up as much space.

Silk Embroidery Project Sneak Peek

The double layer of fabric, stretched taut, requires some intense finger work. It’s more difficult to pass a needle through a double layer of fabric stretched taut on a frame than it is to pass a needle through, say, a cotton flour sack towel.

I use a needlework stand to hold my frame while I stitch, and I work the whole thing with both hands, making use of a laying tool quite frequently.

With several shaded areas that I was working through for the first time, and with several stitch combinations that I was making decisions on as I went, it was the type of project that required me to sit up straight and pay attention. It’s not really a lounge-about-on-the-sofa sort of project.

It was also the type of project that involved unstitching quite frequently – taking out little areas that didn’t work as well as I thought they would, changing my mind on colors or shades. So, persnickety picking with tweezers and cleaning up the resulting mess then starting over in that area was just part of the journey. I don’t mind picking out, but it does add a bit to the work load!

Silk Embroidery Project Sneak Peek

When I finally finished the project and had it all cleaned up, I was more than ready to move on, with eagerness, to the next bit in my project line-up!

When planning out my stitching for the next couple months, I arranged my projects in a specific order, based on the principle that all work and no play makes anyone – and any pursuit – a bit too dull.

So my next several projects are a lot less formal. They’re definitely lounge-about-on-the-sofa or pack-in-a-bag-and-take-anywhere sort of projects.

They’re on different types of fabric, from looser or softer linen to cotton.

They’re small – they fit in 4″ – 6″ hoops.

A little sprig in embroidery - poison hemlock

They don’t require a vast amount of thread.

They don’t require any deep decisions about what stitches to use.

The needles are larger and more comfortable to hold.

The designs, though not large, are easy to see. They don’t require as much accuracy when stitching them.

And if I make a small mistake, I can usually turn it into a happy accident and incorporate it into the design.

In short, they’re pretty casual.

So, when planning my projects out, I always make sure I have a good mix of project types in my line-up. If I have “formal” projects in the plan, I always make sure that, between the heavyweight stuff, some casual projects that are less intense are awaiting my pleasure!

The Benefits of Mixing Things Up

Having a mix of project types to work on is beneficial in several ways:

1. When a more difficult project starts to drag, you can take a break and move to something light for a while. If you’re the type who must finish each project before starting a new one, then you’ll have a carrot to motivate you through the hard parts.

2. It’s nice to give your eyes, hands, shoulders, neck and back a break from intense stitching! Casual stitching projects do just that. They give you something to really unwind and relax with.

3. Mixing up the approach to projects keeps embroidery exciting and keeps the creative juices flowing!

More on Project Organization and Rotation

I wrote an article a while back on managing multiple embroidery projects at one time. If you’ve got several projects going and you’re having trouble keeping them straight or making progress, you can check it out! It might help you!

What About You?

Do you plan ahead on your stitching projects, so that you’re giving yourself a break from heavy-duty projects? Or do you generally stitch the same types of projects all the time? How do you plan out your projects, if you want to accomplish multiple projects in a certain period of time? Any time or planning tips you want to share? Feel free to have your say below! I look forward to hearing from you!

Connect with Stitchers & Get Inspired!

If you happen to be on Facebook and you want to connect with a bunch of very enthusiastic stitchers, to get inspired or even to help “pay it forward” with your own stitching knowledge and skills, by helping newbies get started with embroidery, why not join the Needle ‘n Thread Community on Facebook?

The Needle ‘n Thread community on Facebook is a closed group, where folks can share their stitching projects and progress, post photos, discuss techniques, ask questions, get good advice from other stitchers, and find plenty of inspiration!

Joining up is simple – just request to join and fill out the answers to the three questions. (The questions help me keep spammers out of the group.)

I hope to see you over there!


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(30) Comments

  1. I am very much intrigued by the first project.

    I think I recall you mentioning were exploring the process of kits for sale. Any further thoughts on it? I find them very helpful myself but I could be in the minority.

    1. Hi, Robert – yes, I’m still working slowly and steadily towards that. It’s a matter of funding, really. I don’t have the space or facilities to do that at home, so I really need to find a working studio space, where I can kit things, but also where I can hold local classes and such. It’s in the business plan, but it takes a while to get there!

    2. I’m in when you decide to kit. Maybe you should do a go fund me or the thing that Mythic just did. I can’t think of anyone who has more potential for success than you.

      As for your question I always have different projects going on at the same time so that when one starts to frustrate or bore me, I can switch to another. And I always keep a portable project. Embroidery, Crewel, hand piecing and hand and wool applique are my loves and a little EPP.

    3. Patreon?

      Any which way, you can count on support from me as long I have a job or income.

  2. Dear Mary

    Yes I feel the same when I come to the end of a project. I love the sneak view project is it one of your own designs or is it a project for something else? The silk really shines out, I love Au Ver a Soie silk threads they look so stunning in a project. I’m a one project at a time gal, once I get started on a project I find it difficult swap to something else. I can see the benefits of mixing projects as this gives you a break when you feel bored with a project. Thanks for sharing your projects with us and for the photos they are lovely. It’s snowing here in the UK so not weather to go out in but lots of time for embroidery. I do hope you have a great weekend and achieve more completed projects.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  3. I have enough projects planned ahead to satisfy my urge to stitch for probably the rest of my life ;)) however your suggestion to alternate large, ambitious projects with small ‘treats’ in between is a wonderful one. Since I usually have multiple projects going on, I try to have several that are small and easily finished among them. It helps to not get board while trying to accomplish the large ones.

  4. I agree with alternating projects. Some of my projects take a year to complete (I am still working full-time so do not have the luxury to stitch during the day). Often times I want a project I can finish in a couple of months.

    Or as an alternative to intensive, more complicated designs with lots of different stitches and switching threads alot, I like to have some projects that I can do easily without having always be reviewing the pattern. I typically stitch while listening to audio books but also when watching TV. Some TV shows, such as a comedy, I can look up from my stitching every once in awhile and mostly listening is sufficient. But for others that I really want to watch (such as Victoria on Masterpiece theater – such great costumes and settings that I love to see), I like a pattern where there are large areas of fill with one color and just cross-stitches so I can look up more often and not lose my place. I’m currently working one of a Charley Harper cardinal getting snowed on. His stylized designs mean fewer color changes.

  5. Yes, my thinking is the same, Mary. I tend to have a ‘grab and stitch anywhere’ project bag (often one of my plastic-canvas boxes); a relaxing project that needs a little more care and attention (usually counted thread) and can only go out to suitable places; and then the current ‘Big Project’ – which won’t be done until it is done, and which will need to be done here in my stitching corner. Then there is just-playing-about with threads and fabric and stitches, which tends to happen whenever it can tempt me away from whatever else I am supposed to be doing….

  6. For me, I prefer to work one project at a time. When I have too many going at once I feel overwhelmed and then the stitching does not become as fun for me then I get sloppy just so that it gets done. There is a sense of accomplishment when a project is completed and finished.

  7. Hi, Mary! My stitching projects are varied, with simple ones coming in so I don’t bog down to a halt on the more complex ones. Sometimes I work on several quick projects in a row to build up steam for the bigger one, and seeing what YOU’RE doing always inspires me! Thanks for the blog!

  8. At the moment, I’m working on a large Christmas crazy quilt using applique and embroidery. It is a learning project for me, so lots of experimenting and picking out as well as stitching in. As I’m a finish-it-before-starting-more person, that’s mostly all I’m working on at the moment. By the way, I’m loving your new FB page. Learning so much and loving the eye candy.

  9. Good morning Mary
    I tend to do one project at a time. Of course, sometimes this is not the way it goes, but generally that is the way.
    For easing off something complicated – and I tend to look at something and say to self,
    “That looks challenging, I am going to do that!” – I knit. I am not able to watch TV without knitting. I will not do needlework after 4pm in the winter – the eyes need the time off from fine needlework.

  10. This silk project looks stunning! I love the colors, the grace of the composition, the sheen, the skilful work(wo)manship. And especially the cone-like thingy on top. Would really like to see the whole piece.

    Angela from the Ore Mountains

  11. Several months ago I started to design a new Brazilian Embroidery design. I am still working on it, with 19 flowers, mostly new. I have spent more time thinking about new stitches and flowers, testing, that at this point I almost hate the design. Yesterday I decided to just pull away and do some thing some, someone else’s design that I didn’t have to think much, just enjoy stitching. WOW, what a difference – I really enjoyed just relaxing and stitching last night. I WILL finish the new design with many new flowers, but right now the break was very much needed.

  12. I am very intrigued by this project with the silk threads. The colors, the design, the stitching are all so lovely. At the mention of a possible kit my antennas went up. If it is possible, I would very much be interested in a kit of this project. I also joined your facebook group and can attest to the benefits (including falling down rabbit holes, but the experience has been worth it). I only see one drawback and that is that I can’t touch the embroidery (sigh).

  13. Bonjour Mary,

    Ahhhh yet another one finished, and it looks stunning, the colours are in my palette for sure. I also get the blues when I finish a piece. My latest was challenging, it was the Midnight Meander from Hazel Blomkamp. As you know she has a different way of stitching so lots of learnings in this one. I am now in the process of designing a Christmas ornament for my sister, much simpler this time. I am a one project at a time kind of person but I have several ones to look forward to, some simple, some more complicated and some for developing new skills.
    Thank you so much for the insight and inspirational subjects. It is always a pleasure to read your mai.
    Enjoy the weekend, here too, In Québec we are having snow!

  14. Needlework is my ‘no pressure’ hobby, so I don’t usually plan out a detailed rotation. I do have a general ‘to-do’ list that I put together where I have a couple things I’d like to do each year. But I instinctively do something similar to you – I’ll finish a large project or take a break from a large project and work on a smaller one or two for a while. Or I’ll work on a project I don’t have a plan for between SCA projects (which usually require some effort at documentation and research on my part, and of course, the nervousness of ‘getting it right’.).

    -Monika in Mobile

  15. I try to have several different projects on the go at one time, both large ones and small. I have been trying to work through the collection of kits and patterns that I have accumulated over the last several years, when I had almost no time to stitch. I find that I have almost worked through all the small projects now (which I do in between spurts of activity on the big ones), and have to try to discipline myself to complete some of the big ones. I should start to plan ahead!

  16. Hi there Mary.
    I like to plan so that I can collect thread and fabric as these are costly items…plus once I’ve learnt a new stitch them it’s time to move onto another…. lots of fun to had.

  17. You made me chuckle about the blues of ending a project. I thought I was the only one who dreaded trying to decide what to make next, setting it up, and then getting into the rhythm of it. I think that’s why I sometimes pick out a needlepoint kit—no decisions, just fine wool and a printed canvas to dive into.
    I so enjoy your postings. Thank you, Mary!

  18. Hi Mary: Looking at your thread scraps (pull-outs!) have you thought about using water-soluble stabilizer to make free-form designs? You just put the scraps, artfully arranged to your liking, between two pieces of stabilizer. Using a dry iron and a silicone press sheet, just press. After cooling, put into water until the stabilizer dissolves then you are left with an art piece! It can be used in many applications.

  19. Good day Mary,

    I have a question about the stitch you used on the gold band. It looks like spider ribbed but in a band instead of a circle? Is this correct, I have been researching through my dictionnaires but can’t find it as such.
    Thank you in advance for your answer.
    Enjoy the weekend

  20. My mental and physical rest from project-to-project comes from doing different kinds of stitchy things.

    For example, I’m currently working on a sweater, which is an improvisational design. The main part of the body is made up of lots and lots (and lots and lots) of stockinette stitch, which can become very dull after awhile. (In this particular case, the carrot dangling in front of me is the cable knitting to come.)

    So, to wake up my brain, the knitting gets set aside for an hour or a day, or whatever, while I work on embroidering a doll dress for the ever-expanding wardrobe for my niece’s favorite doll.

    And when that gets to be a bit much, there’s a whole stack of patchwork cut that I can stitch together.

    Then back to the knitting…

    I find it difficult to have several projects of the same type going at once–say, all of them knitting or all of them embroidery–but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few of them waiting in the wings!*

    *Meaning a whole lot more than I should!

  21. Mary,

    This new work looks amazing. I just love the colors and the beading. I hope we get to stitch it (pleaaaaase).


  22. Coming back to this older post from the link on yesterday’s blog. I am happy to see that you may be offering kits in the near(ish) future. I do want to learn more surface embroidery (I’m primarily a counted thread stitcher).

    I use a ‘rotation within a rotation’ if you will. I always have one or two knitting or crochet project on the needles/hook. And a quilt in progress that I’m piecing (and usually one that I’m hand quilting, but my quilting frame is empty right now so that I can put on new leaders). Then I have a current embroidery piece.

    My embroidery runs in a true rotation. I have four or five ‘project slots’ and do a minimum of ten clocked hours before I switch to the next project. Due to the fact that I work full time and have an hour commute each way on the three days I work in the ‘main’ office, it usually takes me about a month to get in the full ten hours.

    For the last several years, my rotation has had 1) an historic style or true reproduction sampler 2) a pictorial counted cross stitch project and 3) a modern piece – usually smaller projects, larger count linen, fun stitch type of design. 4) finishing or framing – I need to whittle down the pile of ‘finished stitching but not really finishing finished or framed’ projects. I really want to add a fifth slot for a surface embroidery piece – the folks on Facebook are really inspiring!

  23. Mary
    I saved this article, because I fell in love with the colours in the tantalising glimpse you teased us with. I’ve been looking out for more about this project and hoping you would release the pattern. Have I missed it? Is it still in the pipeline? It looks like just the sort of thing I would like to challenge myself with and I love the colour palette.
    Kindest regards Jenny

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