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 Tools: This Week on My Table


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At some point each weekend, I sort through my embroidery mess from the previous week’s work sessions.

I take about half an hour to put away supplies or stitching tools that I know I won’t need for a bit. Then, I gather and organizing the needlework doo-dads that will get me started or carry me through the oncoming week.

Sometimes, if I’ll be starting a new project, I’ll have a wide variety of tools and gadgets out (like this coming week). Sometimes, if I’m carrying on with a project that’s been under way for a while, I might just have a pair of scissors and some needles out, along with the required lighting, or hoop, or stand, and whatnot.

These are some of the essential needlework tools that are on my work table for this week!

Embroidery Tools on my Table this Week

This week, I’ll be setting up and stitching two little projects that I have to re-stitch, due to some changes in thread choices.

Frames & Tack Kit

The essential needlework tools for setting up these two projects are two sets of six inch (really little!) Evertite stretcher bar frames, and an EZ Tack-It kit that I use for pushing and removing thumbtacks into the stretcher bars.

Another essential “tool” that goes along with this job is a jar of assorted brass thumbtacks that I bought en masse at a hardware store. They work as well as – if not better – than the tacks available at needlework stores, and they are decidedly less expensive.

I wrote about Evertites (and how to use them) here. And I wrote about the tack kit here.

Frame Stand

I’ll be using my Needlework System 4 table stand.

It’s definitely an essential tool! It saves my hands (I don’t have to hold the frames) and it allows me to stitch more efficiently (I can use both hands to stitch, one below and one above).

It keeps my neck from craning and my back from slumping.

It’s a good tool! You can read about my NWS4 table top stand here. One of these days, I’ll replace the one I have with the newer version.


I need two pairs of scissors this week – a blunt tipped pair (sometimes called lace and appliqué scissors), because I’ll be cutting away backing fabric from the back of my ground fabric, and a regular pair of very fine tipped embroidery scissors for careful, detail cutting.

My favorite fine-tipped, sharp, small scissors are these Dovo scissors. Dovo (and many other brands) also makes the blunt-tipped lace and appliqué scissors, but I think my pair is from Ernest and Wright.


The stitching I’ll be doing this week is detailed and little, so good lighting is crucial.

My favorite studio lights are BlueMax 70 watt dimmable daylight lamps. They are pretty wonderful, when it comes to light quality. I wrote about them here.

Needles, You Know!

You can’t do a whole lot of stitching without a needle, can you?

This week, I’m using John James #10 short beading needles with blunt tips (tapestry or ball tip, depending on where you’re buying them). Other brands make #10 beading needles, but not necessarily with blunt tips. I need the blunts!

I’ve also got my little needle threader that I wrote about a few weeks ago out. I don’t really need it with the #10s, but it’s so fun to have out! And I like using it!

Keeping it All Together

To keep all my stitching stuff together when I’m working on a project at my table, I use a plastic basket or tray or box lid. Anything that’s flat, relatively shallow, and has sides, works.

Into my tray, box lid, or flat basket go my threads, my smaller tools, a small pincushion that I can quickly stick needles in, and anything pertinent to the project, as long as it’s not huge. I wouldn’t, for example, put my frame stand into the basket. It wouldn’t fit.

But all the small things go into the basket or tray, so that I can easily find what I need, access the stuff while I’m stitching, and put it all away quickly.

And Some Extras

The other essential tools out for this week:

A couple strong magnets, to hold the chart I’m working from onto the side of my light.

A little bluetooth speaker, so I can listen to books, podcasts, or music while I stitch

A small notebook and pen, so that I can jot down quick notes while I’m working – especially changes on my current project, or new ideas for stitching the next project. New ideas for The Next Project always occur to me either when I’m stitching or right when I’m falling asleep or as I’m waking up. So I always have a notebook on my work table and a notebook by my bed.

What’s On Yours?

So that’s what’s on my work table this week. What’s on yours? What tools do you find indispensable for your needlework sessions? I’d love to hear about your essential needlework tools. Your input could help other stitchers find delightful and helpful new tools, too – so don’t be shy! Feel free to join in the conversation below!


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(35) Comments

  1. Glad to know I’m not the only one with the shoe box lid for project needs. I have found the perfect item, a plastic rectangle Chinese take out food container. It has a lid ! While I’m working on the project its open and I using both the lid and bowl. When it comes time to stop, I put everything in the bowl and cover with the lid. This keeps everything safe and together until I resume my work.

  2. My list is a lot like yours, Mary – probably because I adopt so many of your ideas!

    I only have a couple differences. First, I keep a “cheat-sheet” of stitches handy. It doesn’t matter how many decades I’ve been doing a particular stitch, sometimes I come up against a blank wall when I’m starting out for the day. “Does this stitch start at the beginning or a stitch-length in? Does it go left-to-right or right-to-left?” Silly, I know, but I got tired of it, so now I can just take a quick peek at my cheat-sheet and I’m off and stitching.

    The only other difference is that I keep my stuff in a plastic box with a lid. If I don’t use a lid? One of my three cats will steal thread or chew on the corner of the fabric or – sit on everything and then dump it all on the floor.

  3. Really just wanted to say Thank You, Mary! I so enjoy your posts and learn something new every time I read them.

    Looking forward to trying the Evertite bars on my new projects.

  4. I have a beautiful metal sheathe necklace that holds my scissors so I always know where they are! I think it’s called a scissor chatelaine, and it brings me so much joy as just a perfect, beautiful, useful object.

    1. Oh, yes – I have one, too! It’s stuck to the metal leg of my work table, so I can grab it easily! I always forget about it, because it’s underneath the table. When I initially bought a telescoping magnet for picking up dropped needles and pins, I had no idea how useful it would be. Once I realized I couldn’t live without it, I bought another for around the house. The first one I bought was at a needlework shop for some $15. The second one I bought was in the tool aisle at a hardware store – for a whopping $3! 🙂

  5. I am not as organized about putting materials away each week. Yours sounds like a great routine. I keep current projects on a shelf with my reference books, and stash supplies in a carry-along basket. This week’s projects: hem stitching a cloth for church and candlewick work on a pillow selected because everything is huge — it can be worked away from my magnifying light. Clean white pillowcases are important in my supplies so I have a tidy surface beneath my projects, particularly the hemstitching which is worked in the hand. A small pill bottle with a cotton pad and a tad bit of water and rubbing alcohol lets me moisten my fingers when threading needles.

    Thank you for your wonderful website — I consult it regularly!

  6. I treated myself to a pair of Dovo scissors at the needlework retreat I went to a few weeks back. WOW, I now know why everybody raves over them. I got the model with the extra fine tips for hardanger and other cutwork.

    Other than scissors and needles, I use a Craftlight “Dublin” magnifier/light. It converts from floor to table to clip on and has both the plug in adapter and a battery pack.

    I usually have a needlebook with lots of different sizes of needles, a pair of fine tweezers (have dog hair, will travel LOL) and I do keep my Shay Pendray laying tool nearby; it’s remarkable how often it comes in handy.

    Ruth, I’m glad I’m not the only one that finds those plastic lidded trays from take out useful! They are really the best size and the snap on lids are the best. Not beautiful as a lacquered box, but practical.

    When I get my new space set up, I’ll have to take a picture and post my ‘nest’.

    Oh, one other thing, my little ‘orts’ jar – a recycled jam jar from a gift basket I got several years ago. (I’m sensing a theme here LOL).

    1. Forgot to add, my floor frame is the “Just a Thought” one. I like that it has your bars ‘loose’, so it’s very easy to get to the back of the work to start and end threads.

  7. Dear Mary

    I have a plastic needlework case divider that I use with all my essentials tools in it. I find tweezers come in handy when I want to take out stitches or the needle won’t go through the fabric. I have a small pair of Dovo scissors which I constantly use and of course bohin needle and threads. I have the system four but I’m using the needle needs Millennium floor stand at the moment and my Pure light/magnifier which is the same as the Dublin Craftlite Magnifier/Light which snapped and not fixable. Thanks for sharing you essential accessories with us and for the photos. I’m off to Velencia on Wednesday for a 4 day holiday to visit my Niece who lives there with her Spainish boyfriend, apparantly they have sewing shops there which I hope to visit. Women there make beautiful costumes which they wear for the Las Fellas festival in March every year so I hope to see some of them.

    Regards Anita Simmance

    1. Dear Mary

      Thanks for your reply. If I manage to see any costumes I certainly shall take pictures, Valencia looks quite an interesting city it has a silk museum which I hope to visit. Let you know.

      Regards Anita Simmance

  8. Dear Mary let’s see, two pair of embroidery scissors, one with a curved tip and one super sharp pair of Sanjou scissors . Needles threaded with multiple colors. A magnetic needle minder, a laying tool (lots of satin stitch this week) multiple thread bobbins, and a puffin needle threader (thanks for the tip).. Earlier this year I was at a woman’s retreat and bought a fair trade basket from Guatemala which keeps things right at hand. Before that I was using a microwave wave food bowl. Worked just as well but not as pretty! Oh yes there is also a small pin cushion filled with emory. That’s it. That a good Stella lamp and a table clamp for my hoop are all I need to keep myself entertained for hours. It was fun to think about this, I hardly ever think about my “Work basket” it just is. Roxanna

  9. I also have a needle puller and a triangle tray for holding beads, buttons, and even needles so they don’t get lost.

  10. Hi Mary, first on, I have a question. I plan to put a needlework stand on my birthday wishlist, but can’t decide whether a floor stand or a table top stand would work better for me. In fact, I have no table to work at, but I’ve also seen occasionally the name “lap stand”. Is there such a stand out there you can put in your lap, perhaps clenching it between your legs? (if that makes sense) I always stitch on my couch with my legs propped up on a chair. When working at a floor stand (or any stand), do you have to sit up straight or could you possibly lean back as well?

    Now, my “work table” is a little three-storey side table. I’m still in the stage where I actually need only a pin cushion with all my needles in it (embroidery needles in three sizes, #5, #7 (or 8) and #10), a pair of embroidery scissors, the threads I’m currently working with, a srewdriver for my hoop, the hoop itself, my very flexibel LED magnifier lamp … my pattern(s) and a pencil, a jar for the orts … a clean white rubber for removing tiny fibres after unstitching … a plastic bag for the piece I’m stitching on … oh, and a clock, for I have to take a break after every 30 minutes.
    On the bottom storey of the side table, I keep a broad carton with a whole pile of other stuff in it: dressmaking scissors, a measuring tape, hoops in various sizes, blunt needles, sewing needles, sewing thread, basting cotton, a very fine crochet hook (akin to a tambour needle), bias tape and the like. The fine crochet hook comes in handy when darning in a thread too short for a needle on the backside.

    1. There are such stands out there – lap stands that you can grip between the legs – but I don’t like them. I’ve never found them all that comfortable, they don’t accommodate everything the way I would like them to, and so forth. They’re just awkward. Some people swear by them, but I’ve found stands that hold frames and that situate in that way very accommodating. A lap stand (like the NWS4 mentioned above) sits on top of your lap or sits on top of a table. Most popular floor stands can work at a couch setting, even with your feet propped up. They usually have some kind of adjustment or set-up for side-reaching the frame to you.

  11. I love, love, love my micro needle threader!!!!!! I so enjoy your newsletters. I cannot embroider to your lever, but get much information and love seeing all the pictures. Thank you very much!!!!

  12. I’ve discovered that a small pair of curved bladed scissors will cut closely without cutting “excess” of any kind. Seam ripper?? No! Never use it (unless I’m unsewing).

  13. I would add my Samsung tablet, to look up stitches and play an audio book or movie. I also take pictures of WIP and catch up with the Needle ‘nThread Facebook group.

  14. At the moment, I’ve got embroidery floss spread out over my entire desk because I can’t decide if I want to do this particular blackwork piece in one color or in several.

    Bohin needles, pincushion, Davosa 18-count hooped up, pattern printed out, and my favorite little sharp scissors by Warm Crochet.

    And I’ve got one of my embroidery books nearby, blackwork section marked, because I always ALWAYS forget which way to take the stitch when I have to travel on the diagonal of the design.

  15. I don’t have the luxury of being able to leave items out for working as we have a rather small, busy and cluttered house. I keep what I need for each project with the project.

    For the piece I am working on at 18th century reenactments I have pair of fine scissors for cutting. It is on a long ribbon as it hangs from the waistband of my apron at events. I have a good quality German hoop for working. It has a screw, which it should not for the period, but at our unit’s local events that is okay – if I go to an event with our national I either have to cover the screw or use one of several mid 20th century wooden hoops that I own which do not have a clamp – the outer hoop is also a complete circle of wood. Pieces of felt are inserted around the inside perimeter of the hoop for tension. Even these hoops are too narrow, but they pass. One day husband ” ill get around to” making me a proper hoop to use. Threads that I plan to use are wrapped each wrapped around a wooden bobbin (shape of +) and I put a small piece of paper with the color designation in pencil on it on each one with a period appropriate straight pin. The threads on the bobbins will change depending on what I am planning on stitching on at the event. I put the items to be used for an event into a round wooden box (similar to a cheese box) The remaining items will be in a plastic zip lock bag in either a box bench we bring with us or a fabric bag so it is not seen. I also have second pair of period appropriate snips in the small box, as well as having a “pin ball” – a pincushion which hangs from my waist, and a thimble in a thimble box ditto. All of this is stored in the box bench while in transit and at home.

    The items I need for my EGA chapter projects are kept in the tote bag I take to meetings. I have a plastic box with an assortment of things – pins, 2 pairs of small sharp pointed scissors, a pair of general use scissors (from Ikea – set of 3 scissors in various sizes and they work well – the other 2 are being used elsewhere), assorted needles in a wooden needle case turned by my husband, and some small supplies left from earlier or still in process projects. There are also generally a couple of hoops in different sizes – always at least one and generally my box of scrap floss. If a project needs something more definite in floss color, etc that will be in the plastic box with the other supplies.

    Some years ago I made from fabric to hold a project (up to 3 of them actually) for travel. It was made to fit easily in a small suitcase when we used to travel by car and stay at hotels like normal people. Now it has an assigned spot in our tiny RV for travel. It has also become my default holder for home projects and sits in my drawer in our plastic 3 drawer “projects in process” holder which sits on a dresser in the studio. Outside pockets hold scissors – always fine point, sometimes others also, a metal ruler, needles, needle threader, other small items. Inside it there are 3 large projects. I generally have one or two projects ongoing in it. The section for the project will have the fabric, the hoop being used for it, threads – I will use a Loran thread holder for each project for small threads and/or started threads, marked lightly with pencil so it can be recycled afterwards. If I am working on something with printed instructions I will put same in a plastic bag and will try to store same in a different section unless all is in use.

  16. My latest essential tool is a hand-made pottery “spool” – the top comes off and I store things there like extra needles, scissors, scotch tape, measuring tape, etc. This was a Mother’s Day gift from my daughter-in-law! From “The Mud Place” by Leslie

  17. From this afternoon’s stitching session: a mug mat (for the cup of tea I was drinking); my embroidery glasses (prescription, different than my readers); a bowl containing beads and the small needle I’m using with them, covered with saran wrap); a battery-op Ott lighted magnifier; lovely tiny scissors with a wicked curved blade; empty tack container; ornamental but functional pin cushion (stitched and finished by me –I love to make my own”smallish”); and I did have my Kindle tablet there to play podcasts for me.

  18. Along with all that you mention, Mary, I have a shot-glass filled with – no not booze – but my tweezers, Bohin seam ripper, and tiny stork scissors. I also have a little doohickey I bought many years ago – don’t remember the name of it – but it is two hearts connected by a chain. One heart has a thin, wire needle threader attached to the bottom and the other has a thin metal hook. It’s used to pull short threads through the back of your work to anchor. (Senior Moment LOL)

  19. I’ve been busy making a baby quilt lately, and I got tired of hearing my heavy scissors clunk down on my drawing board/worksurface. It has a leather sheaf, which I put on at the end of the day, but during work sessions I now have a rectangular felt pad to prevent scratches to the table. Stitched together two pieces of felt, added a few rows of French knots, and now it’s functional pretty in an unfussy way.

    Bought a needle threader, BTW, from your source. Mine had a burr, too, which I filed down with an Emory board. Unfortunately the inside still sticks and shreds my thread, so I’m sure to use it only an inch away from the end and then snip off the chewed up portion.

  20. Right now I’m working on a trial piece of whitework. I got the best ever stiletto from Jenny Adin-Christie. I’m working white on white, so I had to CLEAN first! Which meant putting away all the projects that I thought I might work on.

    Usually, whatever I’m working on I keep in a grab and go bag, with my travel light, A Number One Led/magnifier. My sit hoop in a plastic bag, and my threads in plastic bag and all my tools in a small wooden box. This way I can move upstairs or downstairs without hunting things, or run to a meeting.

    I always keep the ort jar next to me, a small pincushion, and my needle case. I actually sewed my scissors into the needle case on a long string, now I don’t have to hunt for them.

    Now to turn on the stereo and listen to a good book and I’m set.

    1. I LOVE that stiletto / laying tool! I am going to eventually review it, but Jenny wants me to wait until her new website is up. So I’m still waiting…! It’s a beautiful tool. It just feeeeeeeeeels so good. (Thank you, Holly!)

  21. I am so happy you wrote about the micro needle threader with a burr! I was in a class when I bought mine and said something to the teacher about it, so did another person. The teacher checked them and let us know they were fine…. It would cut the thread when you pulled it through… She informed us we much be pulling too hard… Right! So, I put it away, but the other day I was working with single thread & sure would like to have “that” threader. So, I pulled it out and did just what you talked about! I filed it. Been worried if that was the “proper” thing to do. It worked… Thanks.

  22. What are you using for a table? I don’t have much room & would like to leave my work for the next day. Any suggestions?

    1. I have a dedicated studio space, Georgeann, so my tables are just large folding tables (6 ft.) I have two of them. One is on risers, to use for fabric cutting or to work at when I’m standing.

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