Mary Corbet

writer and founder


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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Embroidered Hollyhocks with Buttonhole Stitch


Amazon Books

Good morning, my friends! It has been a long while – the longest blogging break I’ve ever taken! – since writing something for Needle ‘n Thread. Hopefully, this streak is well and truly over!

I’m on the mend, and I can finally sit at a desk. I’ve summarized a small personal update at the end of this article, for those who want to read it. Thank you ever-so-much for the influx of well-wishes! When I returned from the hospital, there were over 1,200 emails in my inbox. I’ve read them all, and they cheered me considerably. I’m sorry I can’t respond to each individually!

While convalescing, I managed to do only a tiny bit of stitching this whole time.

I thought I’d share that with you, along with a couple tips on how to embroider your own hollyhocks.

How to Embroider Hollyhocks in a garden border

This little hollyhock floral element is part of a larger embroidery pattern that I doodled up for the kids’ classes this summer, but that we decided not to use. It’s a nice garden border and it has some fun elements in it, but we thought it too detailed for the younger kids.

Hollyhocks are pretty simple to represent in embroidery. A few misshapen blobs stacked, from larger at the base to smaller at the top, with a few leaves interspersed, and you’ve pretty much got the basic layout of a nice stem of hollyhocks.

How to Embroider Hollyhocks in a garden border

To stitch the flowers on the hollyhock stem, I used the buttonhole wheel approach, conforming the inside and outside of the “wheel” to the irregular shape of the flower. You can find a video for buttonhole wheels here, with tips on how to make them work for you.

How to Keep Your Buttonhole Wheel from Collapsing

Often, the most difficult part of a buttonhole wheel is keeping the outside border from collapsing into the wheel area.

If this is happening to you, it can be for a couple reasons:

1. When ending an individual stitch, you’re tensioning the thread by pulling the working thread into the inside area of the wheel or shape, instead of outside it and in the direction you’re filling the shape; or

2. you’re not keeping enough tension on each individual stitch, so it’s collapsing inside as you progress, due to loose stitches.

If you really struggle with getting your wheel to maintain its shape along the outer edge, here are two things worth trying:

1. Change the direction you’re stitching around the shape. You may find it much easier to tension the thread if you’re working in the other direction.

2. Try the “sewing method” for making the stitch, instead of the “stabbing method.” That is, scoop up the fabric from the front of your embroidery, without passing the needle and thread completely to the back and then bringing it back to the front. Some folks find it easier to maintain a buttonhole filling by “sewing” the stitch (or scooping) rather than stabbing.

How to Embroider Hollyhocks in a garden border

I only used two colors on my hollyhock stalk – a darker pink and a lighter pink of DMC stranded cotton.

To achieve the middle, more mottled pink, I combined one light thread and one dark thread in the needle at once.

All the flowers are stitched with two strands of floss, starting from the base with two strands of dark pink for the dark flowers, then one strand of each dark and light for the middle flowers, and two strands of light for the light flowers.

Other Supplies

I used a #7 crewel needle, and I’m stitching on one of these flower sack towels that I reviewed here and that are listed in the top spot here on my Amazon page. I really like them, and I’ve gotten heaps of positive feedback from others who have since tried them and love them, too.

The Personal Stuff

For those interested, here’s a little letter explaining my 2.5 week hiatus from Needle ‘n Thread.

I don’t normally write about these things directly on the blog, linking to a PDF letter instead. That way, you’re not obliged to rake through all the personal stuff! But for those who are concerned and who have followed along with my personal updates these last few years (since I was diagnosed with cancer), I wanted to share the current goings-on with you, to allay your concern and let you know I’m hanging in there!

I’ll be around on Friday with some tidbits for you, and then, hopefully, it’ll be smooth sailing on a regular basis and we can move forward with lots of fun embroidery projects, instruction, and inspiration!

This article contains an affiliate link to my Amazon page, which means Needle ‘n Thread receives a small kickback for any purchases made through that link on Amazon, without any extra cost to you. Every little bit helps keep Needle ‘n Thread going! Thank you!



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(79) Comments

  1. Prayers for you Mary. You have inspired me with your blog, I’ve recently started stitching again after not doing much for years. I love it and I need the relaxation it gives. You’ve been a large part of the reason I started again. I can never thank you enough.

  2. Mary, You have had quite a time of it. Please don’t rush your recovery! As irritating and daunting as taking things slow can be, abdominal surgery is a slow recovery.I am praying for your nephew’s recovery as well. He will have a hard and slow recovery as well. I hope and pray that he will be able to fully recover with minimal long term issues from this wreck.

  3. Thanks for the update. You are always a rainbow in my cloud. May you have healing, hope and recovery and rest! You are very much appreciated! ❤️❤️❤️

  4. Mary,
    So very glad to get the update on your condition. Happy you are home and sad that the complications set in on you. We have all missed you and hope you are on your way to complete recovery.
    Best of luck to your nephew and his surgeries and rehab.

  5. Dear Mary, I am so glad you are recovering and happy to see you back. I enjoy your blog so much, and it’s been an immense help in my own embroidery.
    Prayers to you and your nephew for a complete recovery.

  6. Dearest Mary,

    Although I’ve been following your blog for years, I’ve rarely commented unless you’ve requested comments or there’s a contest. But I just had to let you know how much you mean to me as well.

    I was very worried about you while you were gone. Being a cancer nurse I feared the worst :(. So while you’ve been through a LOT, I’m so thankful to hear that your cancer has not returned. But I do know the damages that radiation can cause.

    I also wanted to say how sorry I am to hear about your nephew but I give thanks for his life being spared. May he continue to heal and move forward in his recovery as well.

    I’ll be here in the background praying for both of you. Don’t overdo it! It’s a good thing to have purpose but you need to take time and heal and be gentle with yourself. Take care of yourself as you would a good friend or a child.

    All my best,


  7. All my thoughts and prayers are with you and with your nephew during these days of recoup and healing.
    Best wishes,
    Linda B.

  8. So pleased to know that you are feeling better, and hope you continue to make rapid progress to full recovery. Sorry to hear about your nephew. I read your twitter message and have been wondering about his progress. Good to know he is pulling through. A worrying time for you all. You are in my thoughts.

  9. What a horrendous chain of events! I have been thinking of you and hoping all would be well. Sending healing thoughts your way and wishing you the very best of luck on your recovery–and your nephew’s. You’ve really been through it. When you said you didn’t feel well enough to stitch, I knew it had to be serious!

    The hives might be caused by an antibiotic, if you’re on one because of surgery.

  10. Welcome back, dear Mary, and best wishes for your and your nephew’s recoveries. I hope that your community of concerned embroiderers (local and far flung) provide you with a wee bit of comfort.

  11. You have not had a pleasant few weeks, so please let me add to the good wishes of others my hope for your swift and complete recovery. And, if that’s not possible, I hope you feel much better soon. I have missed your wonderful blog, but kept you in my thoughts because you have opened a door for me into a world of creative expression that has given me so much pleasure and joy. Thank you for your inspiration and skill as a teacher and the encouragement you give all of us! Welcome back.


  12. Mary,
    It was wonderful to find your email in my inbox this morning! I’m so glad you’re feeling well enough to be back online. You were sorely missed. My thoughts and prayers continue for your full recovery and for your nephew.
    Hopefully, every day from here on will be better and better.
    Beth F
    Woodland, CA

  13. Dear Mary,

    It’s so good to have news from you today. My goodness what an ordeal. I really hope that this will the last of medical problems for a long while. Thank the Lord for keeping you with us. Take all the time you need to recover. We always overdo things to get back on our feet. We are impatient to do all the things we like and don’t like for that matter. But a time to get better is most important, so there will be no relapse.

    I wish all the best to your nephew, such a young man. To be hurt like this, he will be in terrible pain for a long time. Prayers for him are in our hearts every day.

    As for you, we pray for you every night and day that your health will be fine.
    Take good care of yourself and be blessed.

  14. Geez, Louise, Mary! When it rains it pours, huh? You have been in my thoughts and prayers, as has your nephew. I commend you for your strength and determination and will continue to pray for you, your nephew and your family.

  15. Please take extra good care of yourself, do something special for you, even if it is a small something. You are truly remarkable.

    My thoughts and prayers go to your nephew.

  16. You have been in my prayers since your first diagnosis and will stay there!! We all need extra prayers, no matter what. I’ve been NED for 7 years and will take any sent up for me too.

  17. Mary, So glad you are feeling better. I have had the hive and they are awful! That on top of everything else. I hope your nephew has a speedy recovery.


  18. Regarding hives: my doctor recommended using witch hazel on my hives. I had them for four-five days. From a spider bite. All over from top to toe. It worked. If you can get to Target, they have Thayers non alcoholic witch hazel, which is far easier on tender skin. Usually in the natural beauty section.

    My skin is dry, alcohol is bad. And it comes in scents. I’m partial to rose.

    I started rubbing it with a cotton pad all over, and they subsided. And then when they started coming back, I’d saturate another pad, and start rubbing again. Not hard, like you do with facial toner, less rubbing scrubbing, more rubbing applying. If that makes sense.

    I’m diabetic, and prednisone shoots my sugar way dangerously high.

  19. Thank goodness you’re OK and thank you for the update. I’ve been so worried about you and imagined all the worst possible things that could have happened. Best wishes for a smooth recovery from here out, and best wishes for your nephew too.

  20. Prayers for both you and your nephew. I admire the tactful way you have of sharing your news – and I admire the courage and optimism you show. Will continue to pray for both of you.


  21. Dear Mary, Good to hear that you are now feeling well again. I look forward to seeing and reading your new projects. Take it slowly I enjoy everything you post.
    Best Wishes Doreen.

  22. Thank you for the hollyhock ideas!

    Please take all the time you need to feel your best.

    Love and prayers for you and your nephew.

  23. Boy, it’s so good to hear from again, Mary! I’m so sorry for all the pain and stress that has met you and your family. I really wish and hope for an endless time of peace and health for all of you now. Get well soon!

    Angela from the Ore Mountains

  24. Question, Mary. How do we connect to Amazon for you? I don’t see a button anyplace, and I sure would like to help you out, even if it’s in just this little way.

  25. Dear Mary,
    I’m so sorry to hear of your additional medical complications. Speaking from experience, it also took me a few years to recover from the chemo problems, but nothing as severe as you’re experiencing. Things will get better!! I’m speaking from my own experience as well as friends who have gone through the same ordeal.
    You are a terribly strong person, probably even more than you realized. Cancer and it’s side affects are horrible but we seem to come out of it looking at life in an entirely new way. A better way.
    Take care of yourself and know that your friends out here are thinking about you and sending love.

  26. Mary, so grateful you are able to sit and to stitch a bit. What a dreadful and frightening ordeal…to say nothing about your nephew…and the stress for your whole clan. I will add him to my prayers and of course continue to keep you in mine in your recovery. I hope you are able to pace yourself and not feel too pressured to get back at it. That said, what a delightful return post. Hollyhocks are my favorite garden flower and my pulse quickened to see both that you were able to post and that hollyhocks were featured. Two happinesses!
    Prayers for strength and for all needed provisions,

  27. Dear Mary, take your time getting well and enjoy your stitching. You don’t need pressure around you at this stage. I am sure we all have a number of projects we can continue with, during your mending period of time.

  28. You have been through more than one person should. Please take time for yourself – we’ll all be here waiting ever so patiently.

  29. Welcome back. You have been missed. Having said that, please take care of yourself and take the time to fully recover. We will still be here.

  30. Hello Mary, you really have had a tough time of it. My goodness. I pray that your nephew improves greatly and is soon into a good rehab programme, I know these things take time. My hubby smashed his shoulder and it took months to heal. I do hope the hive ease up and that you’ll be able to get to your studio, I know you must feel very frustrated. God bless you are in my thoughts and prayers. Kind regards Mandy xx

  31. Oh you poor thing Mary, my heart goes out to you. As has been said previously abdominal surgery is b***h and slow to recover from. Just take things slowly, we can wait for your blogs.
    My thoughts are with your nephew too, what a dreadful thing to happen.

  32. I’m not sure I followed the description of how to keep the stitches from collapsing inward but I know it happens from personal experience. 🙂 I need to be brave and try more stitching and follow your directions step by step.

    As for your letter: I’ve never been fond of swiss cheese in any form and now I’m even more convinced that it’s not my favorite. 🙂 I’m thankful they put things back where they belong and that you’re on the mend. My heart goes out to you.

  33. Dear Mary,
    I am so pleased to hear that you have reached a level of healing that has energized your embroidery time. Just so you know, perhaps you already know, we think of you as a friend that lives in Kansas!

  34. Dear Mary. The little hollyhocks were a cheerful and very welcome greeting when I opened my mail this morning! Glad to hear you are on the mend at last. It has been an anxious and painful time for you. With all your other friends round the world I hope that this is definitely the last of your medical problems for years to come!

  35. so glad that things are finally looking up for you, Mary. After surgery last year, I, too, had a head to toe allergic reaction and boy, it was truly miserable. You have my sympathy. Take care of yourself and take it slow…you need to be your first priority at this time. Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

  36. Mary:

    Welcome back! First, thank you for the hollyhocks design. I’m originally a farm girl from northern Illinois and I have fond memories of playing with the hollyhocks. As a child, I made “dolls” out of the large flower, and I loved to open up the round seed pod and look at the beautiful arrangement of the seeds.

    Second, I send my very best wishes for you and your family. I remember some of my older relatives talking about “trouble coming in threes”. You have definitely met your quota. I’m hoping for only good things for you and your family in the future.

    1. Ah, yes, making the dolls and playing with them. I was brought up in Illinois although I’m now a long way from hoem.


  37. Mary, just seeing a post from you has made me so happy! Welcome back! But don’t push yourself too hard – recovery takes time.

    Your topic also made me smile. One of my first embroidery efforts was a doily with buttonhole hollyhocks. I used bright red, orange and hot pink.

  38. So glad to have you back! Keeping you and your nephew in our prayers — so so sorry to hear about the crash. Please let us know if there is any way we can help your nephew.

  39. Mary, thank you for sharing what happened to you and your family these past few weeks. I was concerned about your wellbeing.

    I pray that you and your nephew both recover completely. Please go slowly as you recuperate; no need to rush. We all want you to focus on your health. Fondly, Liz

  40. Dear Mary

    It’s difficult to put into words what I want to say but You have certainly have had a rough time lately I am praying for you and thinking of you and I do hope and Pray for your recovery and I am Praying for your Nephew as well and I do hope and Pray for a complete healing for you and your Nephew and family. Take good care of yourself and don’t rush back as you need lots of rest. God Bless and take care and wishing you a speedy recovery.

    Special regards Anita Simmance

  41. Mary, it’s so good to have you back. I wish you and your nephew speedy recoveries!

    As for the hollyhocks, I love buttonholed hollyhocks. It always seems to me to be the perfect decorative stitch for these flowers. A variegated thread like House of Embroidery would work well, too, I think.

  42. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Life has handed you some immense burdens to experience and you have done so with grace. We feel your pain, it is our pain to. Mary, you are so a part of our everyday life you are a suster to most of us. Know we are here in good times and will,also be praying that the road ahead is one of stitches, needles and thread. You are one brave lady.

  43. Welcome back Mary! It’s good to know that both you & your nephew are on the mend. Better days are ahead so hang in there!

  44. Oh, Mary, I read your personal note (I always do, you are a friend you know, even if I’m just one of many, many who follow you, I feel it personally). All I can say is WOW. What a month you’ve had (and actually several, with a whopper at the end – let’s hope the end). I’ll certainly continue to keep you in my prayers that you have a more uneventful and calmer time in the future here, with lots and lots of wonderful stitching time.
    As long as I’m at it, I hope you have plans for another stitching adventure similar to the one you did of the birds from the adult coloring book. I must say, that was my all-time favorite to follow and read. I am hoping if my life ever slows enough to just do some “fun” stitching that I can do something on the same order. That one was just soooo appealing. I love the things like the towels and such, but with limited time, I just can’t bring myself to spend it on something to wipe dishes! LOL.

  45. Dear Mary,
    Thank you for letting us know about how you are doing. Sometimes I feel just-a- little-helpless for lack of information. How is Mary? Hope Mary is doing OK. I hope Mary doesn’t push herself too much. Who is taking care of Mary? Then I think wow I better not worry so much. I bet Mary would like a prayer instead. So now, I’m glad you are past some of the most difficult parts of your recovery. Just be kind to yourself and we seem to be a patient caring group hoping for your best.
    Best wishes,

  46. G’Day Mary,
    Love the hollyhocks, tips are great, thanks.
    So sorry Mary, for you and nephew and family, but also very grateful and happy that recoveries are positive.
    With loving care
    Kath x

  47. Take care of you, Mary! Take your time slowly back.
    Thinking always of you deeply – I know very well all the troubles you have written about, even the nephew accident so many anxiety ! I’m so glad you are back only a little afraid you can abuse, please take care of you. All your readers want read you slowly but firmly.
    many many hugs
    xx meri
    ps: I buy through the Amazon UK because the shipping, nowadays the United States shippings are prohibitive! not to talk about the customs problems! sorry

  48. I am so very glad to hear your “voice”, Mary. And so glad the doctors were able to take care of your medical issues. You and your nephew will be in my prayers.

  49. Dear Mary,
    Thank you for taking the time to share the last few weeks with total strangers and friends alike.
    Please know that you, your nephew and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.
    Wishing swift recoveries to you both,
    Helen Stephens

  50. I have so enjoyed your “Needle ‘n Thread” ever since I stumbled upon it. You are so very helpful and clear in your sharing of techniques. I thank you for all your time and effort. I am so sorry for any suffering and trials that you are going through. I wish the best for you. May the Blessings Be.

  51. It was wonderful to see your posts this week after your medically induced absence. I felt like the line from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. “Once again the world was spinning in greased grooves.” Lovely to have you back. Take it easy and feel better. Love the hollyhocks and butterfly.

  52. Dear Mary,
    I do not usually write, but I do – and did – pray for your recovery. I admire the good spirit with which you go through the pain, the fear, the ins and outs of hospital. I hope that if it is ever my turn, I will be as brave and cheerful as you are.
    I will pray for your nephew too!

  53. Hi Mary. Just thinking of you as I am winding down for the night. I pray that God rains down blessings on you and your family. You are a remarkable person and I sure wish I could sit down with a cup of tea with you. Your work is inspiring and your humor works it way through your words. Many good wishes to you and yours from me!

  54. Dear Mary, so very sorry for your recent illness and tragic accident of your nephew. Will be praying for you and your family! I really do know what you’re going through, I too broke out in a rash all over after several surgeries due to malignant melanoma! Cancer free praise God, but the recovery was quite the process! Get well soon…

  55. Hello Mary,
    Sorry to hear you and your family are going through these tough days! I’m praying for healing and swift recovery for you and your precious nephew…God bless you all!

  56. Read your note, some big bumps in your road but happy to read both you and your nephew are I smoother road now!
    I so appreciate you and your site. Sadly, the two women that I talked with about your site and who embroidered too now are stitching with God. But I talk to them aloud when I visit your site and find something I’m liking or learning from you.

  57. When I saw your post about absence from your treasured site, I was selfishly relieved I wasn’t missing news as I had left home for another state for family funeral events of sister-in-law who died 8/14 of brain bleeds after lung cancer radiation begun. Gone for 9 days and only now checking on you. While you probably think that your clear instructions for embroidery, appropriate tools for supplies that can be purchased (I carry print out on the specific mechanical pencil preferred for design transfer to the art supply store, trying to persuade them to stock that merchandise), and various introductions to needle artists and techniques has been more than enough to delight us, I think that your strength and courage with more health challenges has been worthwhile too. Swiss cheese effects that result from medical procedures were unknown to me. If only all of us who have grown to love you could bind and embroider more comfort for you (and the recovery ahead for your nephew).

  58. Hi there, please can you share the pattern for the hollyhocks and the butterfly please? I love the simplicity of the pattern and how gorgeous it is. I can send you my email address if you can please share with me.

  59. Mary,
    Your voice and Grace shine thru every stitch, every word. I would like you to know that my best thoughts are with you in your trials with your cancer treatments. The beauty you project in you “ART” will and have blessed many. For that, and so much more, I send you my love and heart-felt energy to heal and comfort you every day.

    Stitching, knitting, crocheting all bring back memories of my precious Mother, now long-passed on. Her joy of life shone thru every word and deed of her too-short life. You help me to bring HER memory back with every stitch.

    Thank you, Mary. The Highest Good I wish for you. Love, Joan

  60. Thanks for the update. You are and your family are in my prayers. Don’t rush your recovery. We will be here patiently waiting.

  61. So sorry for all of your medical issues, an praying you are on your way to a full recovery.
    Also praying for your nephew, how awful! Praying God will lead him to recovery also.

    I relly enjoy your blog!

    Take care,

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