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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Making it Work: A Butterfly & Some Stitchy Bits


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Good morning, all! And a Happy Friday all around!

The last couple days, I’ve been picking up this little piece of stitching that I showed you on Wednesday (with the hollyhocks), and working a few stitches here and there, now and then, in a very laid-back sort of way.

And you know, I’m thoroughly convinced that this is the way embroidery for pleasure should be – you pick it up when the urge strikes, you stitch on it for as long as you’re enjoying the process and it gives you some pleasure or relaxation, and then you put it down until the next time. No pressure. Just enjoy it!

While I’ve been working on this little project, I’ve had to play the “make do” game. It’s a good game to play!

Embroidered Butterfly - Simple Design & Stitches

In my studio, which is no longer in my garage but in a separate building down the road from my house, I have all my embroidery thread collections, just waiting to be put to use while I’m at work.

But in my house, I no longer have any wide assortment of embroidery goods. There’s just not a lot of room in 700 square feet, you know?

So when I picked up this tea towel earlier this week just to have something to work on, I was limited to whatever threads happened to be in a little bag close by. And once I started stitching, I realized that it isn’t the widest color palette in the world!

There’s not a lot of contrast in this particular batch of threads. There are no darks, like dark brown or black; dark blue; deep forest green. All the colors seem to be somewhat medium to light in tone, bright and cheery, but not much contrast.

So when I set out to embroider the little butterfly above, I initially bemoaned the lack of dark colors for contrast. And I almost skipped the butterfly altogether.

But then I said to myself, “Make do.”

And I pulled out whatever colors struck me, used very simple stitches (stem stitch for outlines and lines, French knots for dots, and some fly stitches) and before I knew it, there was a little mothy-looking butterfly. Not a work of art, perhaps – but I like him!

Embroidered Butterfly - Simple Design & Stitches

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking we need this particular thread or this particular color before we can make any kind of progress on even the simplest needlework. I think our world promotes the idea that we have to have – sometimes just for the sake of having – before we can do.

One of my favorite mottos is this:

Don’t let what you can’t do keep you from doing what you can.

I decided I’d apply it to this piece of embroidery, using what limited threads I have on hand, and making do. And you know what? I don’t think it’ll come out too badly!

It’s fun – and it’s very freeing!

I don’t have to spend a lot of time making decisions. I can just stitch as it strikes me.

And that’s when embroidery, I think, is the most pleasurable.

This Design – and The Other One

As I mentioned on Wednesday, this design (like these floral corner designs) was a doodle I was thinking of using for classes this summer.

I’ll be making them all available here on Needle ‘n Thread. The Floral Corners are almost ready – I was working on the last round of photo tutorials for the stitch guide when things went medically amuck. I’ll be getting back to that next week, so that I can get them out to you soon!

Coming Up

I’ve got a few neat little tidbits to share with you from out in the embroidery world, so I’ll be putting together those for your entertainment and information. I’ve got a couple new books to show you. And a tool – a lovely little tool!

Now that September is here, you might be thinking in terms of Christmas stitching. I know I am! I’ve been doodling on some new designs. If you’re looking for anything particularly holiday-ish to stitch right now to get ahead of the holiday rush, why not take a look at my e-book, Twelve Trees for Christmas? They’re a heap of fun!

Here’s hoping you have a very pleasant weekend with your needle and thread!



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(15) Comments

  1. The most famous needlework, the Bayeux Tapestry, is a masterpiece, expertly embroidered. But, if you look closely, the embroiderers had a very limited palette to chose from. There are horses with 2 different colors of legs, like one brown and one blue. None of this detracted from the beauty and skill of the tapestry. So, Mary, your color selection for the butterfly is what embroiderers have done for centuries: made do. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi Mary,

    As I was reading this post, my immediate thought when I saw the butterfly was, “Oh, that’s pretty!!” So, it amused me to get farther in the post and find out that it was a “make-do” choice. Having just come from doing some of my own “make-do” art this morning, it made me chuckle to find it in your post as well. I really like your butterfly, and I appreciate you sharing the behind-the-scenes for it.


  3. Love this piece and encouraging us to use what you have.
    I have so much trouble with choose colors though.
    But in time I’ll get better.

  4. Love your butterfly! And the philosophy. Living in rural South Africa I’m used to making do with what’s available – making a plan, we call it.

  5. Hi Mary! It’s so good to see you back on line and I am thankful you are on the mend!
    I love this little design you have been sharing with us in the last couple of days and appreciate that it may be available by you soon! 🙂 May I ask how you transferred the design to fabric? I know in the past you have posted about some pens that can be used for ironing on transfers; is this what you have used? Will the ink wash out then?
    I love your butterfly, and your motto! I can you are an optimist at heart!

  6. When I opened your post a few minutes ago, that butterfly took my breath away momentarily. It is gorgeous and I love the colors you choose to use. If you hadn’t posted that you were making do, I would have thought that it was a butterfly in colors well thought out by you!

    Once I competed in an ugly quilt contest. Not looking for an ugly quilt, but a fabric that the store owner deemed ugly and we were supposed to use it in the quilt. Didn’t win anything in that contest, but a few months later won a blue ribbon for the quilt. I took it to work to show my co-workers and they thought it was great and most guessed the ugly fabric in it wrong. I guess what I’m saying is do the best you can and don’t apologize. I know for your post/website this is part of the teaching that you do, but no reason to explain to folks that aren’t into crafts. I love making scrap quilts, but that doesn’t mean I pull pieces out of a bag and sew it no matter what came before. If it is a scrap quilt with blocks, I will make each block with colors that coordinate so each block looks planned. My favorite part of quilting is cutting up fabric and matching up fabrics to create a wonderful whole. I love seeing you do the same thing. God has given you an amazing talent! Praying for you to get better soon!

  7. Hi Mary,

    I love the colour palette of this butterfly so much that I eventually will use it in my freehand stitched dream garden.
    “Don’t let what you can’t do keep you from doing what you can.”
    How true! I had to learn it over many years.
    Hope you’re feeling well!

    Angela from the Ore Mountains

  8. Dear Mary

    I’m glad you are able to stitch again, It’s amazing what you can do with a little, this design is lovely and I love the butterfly and the hollyhocks and perfect thread colouring and stitching, so simple but effective. I look forward to the titbits and the and I’m really curious to know what the tool is look forward to seeing it. Thanks for sharing this project with us and for the links.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  9. I love your butterfly! The lack of dark thread really gives it a beautiful vintage look that goes well with the hollyhocks too. I think it will look very pretty when you’re finished, and thank you for sharing the pattern – I’d love to stitch this too

    As for limiting your thread palette, I’m doing that with a project I’m working on now and it really is freeing to just have one colour of each instead of working with shading. It fits the bright, cheerful colours of what I’m working on!

  10. I can’t wait for you to release the two stitcheries that you talked about today. I LOVE that little butterfly, and the corner stitchery you showed awhile back is soooo lovely!! I’d be willing to pay for them, so don’t be afraid to charge for them: they are so pretty!! Hugs, H in Healdsburg

  11. Mary, I so enjoy your articles and your designs! I can hardly wait for your designs to come online for sale. Our Redwork group is having a tea towel exchange in the spring and I would love to use the hollyhock and butterfly!
    Keep up the great work and my prayers are with you and your family.

    Aloha, Shel

  12. Hi Mary! It’s so good to read your daily post again and see that you are on the mend ! Your desappearance makes me worrying a lot. I can’t imagine our ‘stitching world’ withour you. send you my best wishes for a quick recover in all ways. Your lovely butterfly is a message of grace and optimism. Thank you for all you give us.
    Florence Doaré (Brittany)

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