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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Small Stitching – It’s Engrossing & Mesmerizing!


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Lately, I’ve been stitching small stuff. Very small stuff.

I find small stitching to be engrossing and mesmerizing. There are a number of reasons why, I suppose.

Here’s a little sneak peek of what I’m working on at the moment. It might be a bit crazy, but it’s also crazy fun! I’m enjoying the design process, the stitching process, and even the re-stitching process!

Silk Embroidery Threads: color choices for smalls

The projects I’m working on are anywhere from 1.25″ – 1.5″ in size. It depends on the ground fabric, you see. I’m working on silk gauze, and I’ve designed the pieces for 48 count gauze (that’s 48 holes per inch). But they can also be worked on 40 count, which increases their finished size a wee bit.

And even though the projects are somewhat small, they pack in a lot of color – 15 colors of glorious silk, to be exact. You can see some of them above. At the point I took that photo, I was testing some reds. Some of the final color selections are missing: brighter greens, blues, yellows…

I do love color! And I do love silk!

Small dog on silk gauze

Here’s one piece in progress. He isn’t quite there yet, but he’s coming along. I was making some thread decisions at this point, I think.

Incidentally, I’ve called this particular piece Dog.

I’m very good at naming things, am I not?

Small dog on silk gauze

I like to play peekaboo with Dog and my pinkie finger. As you can see, Dog is quite small.

Unless, of course, my pinkie finger is huge – which it isn’t. It’s just average.

Small cat on silk gauze

This little bit here is Cat.

This rendition of Cat had a few mistakes and needed to be re-stitched. I cut the preliminary sample out of the silk gauze, because I was sure I could find something fun to do with Cat.

But then I lost Cat. I’m pretty sure she ended up in the vacuum cleaner.

Mesmerizing & Engrossing Stitching

I always find this type of counted work very engrossing and somewhat mesmerizing.

One of the reasons is because I’m using a variety of color – there’s a lot packed into these little designs! And when the design is this small, the colors provide constant variety.

Another reason is that the little design elements unfold relatively quickly. I love to see all the little bits in the design coming to life!

And yet another reason I become very engrossed while stitching these little things has to do with my eyesight. I don’t use a magnifier, even when working this small.

Instead, I take off my regular glasses (I’m quite near sighted), and I bring my embroidery frame fairly close to my face. My work is much clearer this way, compared to when I use a magnifier. So everything beyond my embroidery fades away. My world becomes very focused on a small space.

When it’s stitching time, I turn on a good audiobook and it feels like I can go on forever in my tiny world!

That said, this type of work is not all that difficult to see. Keep in mind that silk gauze is not the same as, for example, linen or other fabric used for cross stitch. It’s like needlepoint canvas – the holes are relatively large, compared to the fibers making up the cloth.

So, although it might be hard for you to see the holes in 48 count linen when it comes to counted work, 48 count silk gauze is a different story altogether. Depending on your eyesight, good lighting might do the trick on its own – or simple magnification, if you already use a magnifier for detail work.

Pile of orts or thread scraps

Stitching and re-stitching has rendered my pile of orts magnificently grown. I stuff these into a jar. You can see my jar here along with my Ode to Orts, which I think of every time I gather a pile and stuff another clump in.

So that’s one of the projects I’m working on these days. I’ll show it to you in greater detail soon, once I work all the kinks out.

What are you working on? Chime in below and tell us! I’d love to hear!


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(64) Comments

  1. Ah, these little things are so cute. I’m afraid I will never be able to do them though, because I’m starkly far-sighted and would need at least a fivefold magnification to see the the holes in the gauze.
    In the course of my self-imposed “apprenticeship”, I’m currently stitching an Assisi sampler. Had some serious difficulties with the proper positioning of the long-armed cross stitch at slanted outlines and in single x’s, but there’s this wonderful Facebook group of yours – there’s always someone proficient and helpful to help you out. I love it!
    Hope you have a nice and engrossing day!

  2. This is a delightful little jewel Mary, I can see why you are enjoying stitching it! I’m currently stitching the spool holder accessory for the Home Sweet Home project which is also full of delightful little details and I’m collecting my Orts in a dedicated jar after seeing yours. I want to use them to stuff the pincushion for the box when I finally assemble all the pieces. It’s rather satisfying isn’t it, seeing all the thread colours building up like geological layers and knowing that they won’t be wasted. Looking forward to seeing your little dog take shape!

  3. I’m sorry to hear that Cat disappeared. It was very cute. Dog is nice as well. Can’t wait to see what you’re going to do with these…

    1. Thanks, Carol! I’ve stitched a couple more since then, and they look decidedly better, so I’m not too sad over the loss of Cat 1. 🙂 I’ll show you the results of all this not too far down the road!

  4. OOOHHHH!!!! Your Orts are lovely! I do the same thing with the “ears” that I cut off my quilt pieces. There are several different size/color antique mason jars in my sewing room full of my colorful Orts. Occassionally, I stick them in a notecard (loose of course) to brighten the day of a quilty friend.

  5. While this was an interesting article, I’m still stuck on “I don’t use a magnifier, even when working this small.” And I did read the part about bringing the stitching close in.

    As someone who has multi-focal lens implants, and prescription glasses just for stitching, AND uses magnification– wow!

    1. Hi, Janice – I wear progressive lenses, but I’m predominantly near sighted and have been all my life. I have pretty rotten vision. I wear progressives for every day stuff, but I have a different prescription (progressive as well) for computer work. Otherwise, when I’m at my computer, my chin has to be high in the air to read the screen. I can use that prescription with handwork that is not small – just regular embroidery. The focal point on that pair is about 18″ from my eyes. My computer glasses don’t work for fine, detailed stitching, though. For that, I either have to use magnification (which doesn’t work all that well for me), or no glasses at all and bring the work very close. I see better in the latter scenario. So, with my glasses off, I can bring my stitching up towards my face (within 6-8″) and see everything crystal clear. This only works because I have a stand to hold my work. In order to be able to sit up and stitch in these circumstances, I use a table stand, with the work held high enough to sit comfortably. The problem is when I have to start looking for something on the work table! I’m careful to put things in the same general vicinity every time, so I don’t have to put my glasses back on or feel around with my hands to find my scissors, the needle I inadvertently laid down, or that particular piece of cut thread that’s not all used up yet. But if I don’t put stuff in the same spot (I use a small tray), then sure enough, the glasses have to come back on to find things on my worktable around the base of the stand! Still, I’m thankful I can see clearly to stitch this small and enjoy it! 🙂

  6. I do mainly tiny embroidery when I have my choice. Cottages with fences and sheep at a mighty 1.5″ square, or long stemmed roses, a full 0.75″ overall. Single thread silk on silk, no transfer, no underdrawing, no thread counting. Sometimes I splurge on a mighty giant of a piece, perhaps a 3″ x 4″ landscape. It’s good fun being tiny, isn’t it?

  7. I’m stitching some motifs from a collection of French General fabrics in perle cotton. It’s going on Essex linen as the center of an English paper pieced block in the Brimfield block pattern, which is sort of a rounded space in the block. This one will be a pillow. A full quilt will accompany it. I just couldn’t wait to start the embroidery part!

  8. I also enjoy small works, although I haven’t tried stitching on gauze yet yet. Like you, I remove my glasses and hold the linen close to my eyes. Just have to be careful not to poke myself in the eye with the needle! 😉

  9. I named a bonsai “Tree”.
    My cat named himself “Henry”. (I spent a week giving him a new name every day. After “Henry Day”, he wouldn’t let me call him anything else. He actually bit me if I tried.)
    I named my dog “Brave Little Toaster”. Not because I liked the movie, I don’t remember it at all, but because I thought it would be a good name for a dog. (We called him “Toasty” for short. Which worked.)
    I… am a terrible namer. At the same time, it appalls me that no one will let me name their baby. I have two girl names picked out: Amelia and Eleanor. (Eleanor can easily be shortened to Ellie and Eleanor Roosevelt is a good role model for a little girl.) My boy name: Arthur. I have no defense. A terrible name for a baby. But it is the name of 2/3 of my grandfathers, so. (My maternal grandfather died relatively young, my maternal grandma was younger and got remarried. Hence, three grandpas. I was in the wedding!)
    Also, I cannot wait to see “Dog” finished! It looks so cute!

  10. I’m working on piece of Blackwork (22 Hardanger) for my mom. It has our last name in Assisi in the center and the Blackwork around it with a curved handled baby spoon in the lower right corner and a Tudor rose in the lower left corner. The top areas are divided in four sections for different stitches. I have to figure out how to make it not appear top heavy. I spent a long time researching the age of the spoon to find an appropriate font and one that I could easily do and then decide on all the designs to go around it. At first, I thought, “no problem”. That was almost a year ago.

    Although you have not written about Blackwork since I started receiving your blog (I have found articles you have written in the past), you have given me lots of encouragement. You help me keep my stitches perfect or at least as perfect as the fabric will let me. Your needlework is beautiful.

  11. I love your sense of humor Mary! The little dog looks like he might become a brooch? Or a pin? 😉 I too, have little embroidery scenes for brooches, so I can appreciate those tiny scenes!

  12. I too am very nearsighted and take my glasses off to do most close work, including reading in bed. I’ve discussed it with my optometrist and he’d ok with it. I find that my glasses interfere with true color perception. I’m glad I’m in such good company.

  13. I love working small too. I love how compact it is I can easily take it anywhere and pop it out to work on whenever I have a few minutes of dull time. Like you I’m nearsighted but see best up close without glasses. I know that feeling of listening to an audiobook and being totally out of this world. I have a little on line shop where I sell necklace pendants of my little stitchings. I get your blog every day and I have learned a lot from you

  14. Hello Mary,
    Hope you are well!
    The projects I’m working on now are ornaments for my tree that represent places I’ve been. Every time I visit a place I embroider an ornament of my own idea. So right now I’m working on France, New York City, Italy and Eastern United States. I’m behind on my work as I visited France last year, Italy a few years before, Eastern United States 2 years ago and New York City this year. Hoping to get them done before I put my next tree up. I love looking at them and remembering my travels. Italy has to have Pinocchio for sure!
    I love to read your newsletters you send out and appreciate the videos on how to do stitches.
    Thank you so much for all your sharing!
    Pam Wunderlin

  15. Thank you! I love this and anxious to try. I am having a hard time finding fabric.
    Lately my interest is free stitching lettering.
    It always changes!
    I don’t see if I can attach
    a pic.

  16. I love that you save your thread scraps. I save the threads from special projects, put them in the glass ornaments you can get at craft stores and write the project name and date completed on it. Then I will hang them on my christmas tree or if they were halloween projects, the ornaments go on my black wire halloween tree. It is fun to remember the projects and who they were for when you hang them each season. They also add a unique color and style to the trees.

  17. Glad to see you’ve posted this.
    I have been curious to work a piece on tulle. I used not silk but a stretchy off white tulle. I fabric sprayed the tulle to washable backing then penciled a dragonfly to it. I actually came out nice and looks good hanging in the window.

    I’m currently working on a Trish Burr piece….Queen Bee, white on white with color. So fun!

  18. This weekend, I hope to get a seasonal (Halloween) ornament done – the stitching is completed, but I have the “finishing” finish yet to accomplish. There’s also a bit of additional stitching on my daughter in law’s Christmas gift to do. After thinking about it, I’m going to fill in the ‘gap’ at the top of the family tree piece. I don’t want her to think I’m expecting them to have another child. But I’m going to leave the tails long and easy to get to – just in case LOL.

  19. Dear Mary

    Your new little designs are lovely and I can see you will be using lots of colour. Are we ready to see another ebook on small designs using silk thread I hope so. I’m still working on my cutwork Easter design free pattern by Joanna from Haft Richelieu on your March 2016 blog, I’m finding it challenging but enjoying the challenge. Thanks for showing us your latest project and for the photos.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  20. Just finished stitching the poem The long day by Hazel Hall. First sentence: I am sewing out my sorrow. It is a beautiful poem! My stitching could be bettered but it was very enjoyable to do.

  21. I love your Orts! They would make magnificent additions to blend into yarn. I’m a spinner and keep Sari Silk loom waste on hand just for that purpose.

  22. Like you, I learned to embroider when I was a child. My maternal grandmother – who was legally blind at the time! – was my teacher; understandably, she held her hoop 6″ to 8″ from her nose. Well, monkey see, monkey do, right?

    Now I’m the gramma, and when working on 32-ct or less (1 strand over 1 thread of course!), I too park my progressives on top of my head and stitch away in my own little world, typically while listening either to an audio book or to classical music. My idea of heaven!

  23. Mary –

    I am also near sighted – have been since I was 8 years old. I have a variety of prescription glasses – distance, close up, progressive and variations of same including slightly different prescriptions to the lenses.

    But I find by far the best way to stitch is with my glasses off and holding the – piece close up as you mentioned that you do.

  24. I USED TO put my face up to my stitching and drawing because I was extremely near sighted. Alas, I had cataract surgery in both eyes and now I’m far sighted. What an adjustment! I can now see and recognize people and items without glasses but still prefer to use progressives to read. I bought a floor light with a nice magnifier in it but just can’t get used to it. What I do is wear my progressives and put 2.75 or 3.0 readers on so they are lower on my nose. I can look down at what I’m stitching and glance up at the tv if it’s on or to see things on my table. I might need the magnifier for silk gauze but I’m not sure. I have a small piece of 40 ct silk gauze somewhere so when I come across it, I’ll have to see if the progressive/reader combination will work or not. Where do you buy silk gauze? My little piece came in a kit.

    1. Hi, Sandra – Needle in a Haystack carries silk gauze in several different counts.

      I’ve heard that many stitchers like to use reading glasses over their regular bifocals or progressive lenses, and that this approach works really well for them. Sounds like a good solution!

  25. My word! Tres petit point!
    I’m working on and off on a (mostly) cross-stitch sampler I liked the look of in a book – the dimensions given were inaccurate, so it’s taking a lot longer than I thought.
    And I’m slowly trying to learn tambour work. Not for beading, just plain tambour. I’ve inhaled everything I could find on your site, but sadly, the local library network doesn’t have any books on tambour (beading or otherwise) and my craft budget was too depleted by the necessary stand/frame to buy any myself.
    So if anyone has any suggestions for online reading on the subject, I’m all ears!

  26. Your tiny dog and cat are adorable! I’m extremely short-sighted as well, needing glasses for anything further than 6 inches from my nose, but I also do all my stitching sans glasses. Even when I’m using the magnifier I do it without my glasses, with my nose almost on top of the lens. I have a severe astigmatism, with multiple vision in both eyes, and my brain can only sort out the visual confusion for fine detail when I’m not wearing glasses. It’s a problem only when I’m trying to stitch from a chart or follow printed instructions and when I drop a needle.

  27. Right now I’m working on a pillow for my aunt’s beach house. 1 side has a mermaid cross-stitch I’d been trying to figure out what to do with, and the other side I’m stitching 2 almost iconized-jellyfish in a cream perle cotton. Coming along pretty good, too. I’m really liking how it’s turning out – not too childish/ cartoony, and not too elegant for a beach house, which is supposed to be a place to relax, after all. The jellyfish are getting all sorts of stitches I learned from here – feather stitch, bullion stitch, chain stitch, whipped backstitch, and um, one of the viny-looking line stitches I always forget the name of. *blush*

    I wish I could upload a pic of it for you, I’m so delighted with it. You do much more complicated things, but you do inspire me to try more and different things!

    -Monika in Mobile

  28. Oh Mary—Love your itsy bitsy silk animals! So sweet. Will stay tuned to see what happens next with them. I still remember your tour de force silk gauze opus “Sense of Hearing”, part of the Lady & the Unicorn series. Still in awe & it’s on my bucket list! My question is—have you made a plan to use your orts? If not, you need “Little Ort’n Annie”. These little dolls originated in a CQ class with Martha Greene back in the day & they were called Wad Dolls. In the mid 2000’s we modified the concept at EGA & she got a new name. All you need is a ZipLoc sandwich bag, a sheet of paper, pinking shears & a sewing machine. You will be off to the races. They are great fun & can be decorated with beads & all sorts of bits & bobs in your stash. Will look for the pattern & instructions to send to you.

  29. Hi Mary-

    I love the small counted work! It’s just wonderful! I fell in love with counted work and find it so soothing.

    I’m curious as to your patterns and also where to acquire the 48 count silk gauze?

    Also, I’d love to see the back of your wee work.
    What size needle and single threads?

    Sorry for all the questions, I’m so intrigued.

    Thank you for all you do. If it weren’t for your tutorials and your inspiring talent, I’d be so lost.
    You’ve taught me so much. Forever grateful.

    Seattle, WA

    1. Hi, Jo – These are actually projects I’m preparing as instructional downloads and kits, so all that information will be coming out in the nearish future! Thanks for asking!

  30. Hi Mary, I love working with silk gauze and have stitched quite a few. I have done people and rugs. I do work with a magnifier, but love doing it. Love reading your newsletters each week. Beverley

  31. Cat and Dog are cute! All I can think of is these are for brooches, earrings, ornaments, or button covers. I usually only save orts until the project is done. Sometimes I can root through and find a bit just long enough for the odd stitch or two.
    I used to be able to see tiny things comfortably by removing my eyeglasses too. Then middle age eyes hit and they haven’t changed at the same pace so now I have no distance where both eyes can focus at the same time 🙁 And now cataracts are creeping in 🙁 I now must wear readers over my bifocals and have great light to see the tiny stuff, and on some days, the not so tiny.

  32. I applaud anyone who can do anything tiny or who can count in any size. I get cross-eyed and just very frustrated. Everything runs together. But I do enjoy your blogs and read them with enthusiasm at knowing that there are folks who can do these things for those of us who can just enjoy seeing them. Shalom.

  33. I am also one of those people who stitches without my glasses. It tends to lead to odd problems as I frequently stitch at my local Starbucks. Many a time people have said hello to me as I sit in the back of the shop and stitch. The problem is they are at the front of the store and I can’t see them. Makes for awkward moments when they come to my store at a later date and they think I ignored them. Explanations always ensue. I love that I can stitch without my glasses. Have been considering getting a magnifier for some work, but I really don’t know if I’ll like it, so for now I stitch without my glasses.

    Can we look forward to an update on how your new studio is working out for you some time in the near future?

    1. Hi, Sarah – The studio is great! Having the space and the room for putting together some things that I’ve got coming out soon is wonderful! But I haven’t finished moving stuff in. I still have my books at home, along with other things. I haven’t even gotten anything besides a clock up on the walls. I think I’ll probably have to get through this last quarter of the year before I can concentrate much on the finishing touches. Right now, everything’s just business-business-business!

  34. A 6 ft. niece fit into an old pair of coveralls. Liking daisies this pair is getting realistic ones, mimicked from some garden photos. So many jeans had been covered with hundreds of basic 5 petaled blossoms. Using real flowers lots more depth is seen, as they naturally overlap and turn about. Working in only 1/4th to 3/8th inch (6.35 to 9.52 mm) means this project will be especially slow, and enjoyed. This niece recently finished high school so she may have these for her second year in college.
    For what I am working on these blossoms may count as small details.

  35. Thanks, I am planning on making a chasuble for my ordination next year, and it is such a beautiful piece. Thanks very much for your comment, blessings.

  36. Right now I am working on my goal of finishing several UFO’s. I have three that only need a bit of work , two that just need to be framed, and one ginormous crewel Afghan that has been neglected for years. Then there is the needlepoint I rescued from a thrift shop. It is a lovely, mostly finished, Jacobean pattern that would become a perfect tuffet/footstool. I am optimistic that I will complete all but the Afghan. That must be done by February since it will become too hot in south Texas to have that draped over me past that time. Aahhh, me!

  37. Good evening. I’m writing to ask a question. Where can I buy 48 count silk gauze. You told me once and I cannot find that message. I want to try a project in one of my magazines. I think “Threads” but I am not where the magazine is at the moment. It is a bird from a beautiful work shown in the article about miniatures. One of my current projects is called “Festival of Lights “ from the December 2017 “Just CrossStitch.” The material is Crystal Tarnish Lugana. It is challenging because the threads are not as clear cut as I have experienced on other projects. The more you stitch it becomes easier to determine where the needle should go. My sister-in-law is Jewish and it is a present for her. I would like my next crossstich project to be the bird. Can you help me find the silk gauze?

  38. We must be about the same age, I grew up doodling these flowers in my notebooks in the 60’s and 70’s at school. I just finished a jacket that I embroidered a raised flower garden with animals and insects. My sister and I did a flower garden jacket in the late 60’s on an Army Jacket to protest the Vietnam War peacefully. It was lost I think someone took it, I they hope

    1. Hi, Donna! Not sure which flowers you mean? Perhaps this comment was meant to be on a different article? My dad was in the Vietnam war…. and I’m afraid I wasn’t even a twinkle in his eye yet! 🙂

  39. I have a few projects but i went to a miniature show and this vendor was crocheting with thread … it was gorgeous so I have been trying myself and i have to say she made it look way easier then it is.. haven’t been able to do it yet but i keep trying

  40. What is an ort? I must have missed any talk of this.
    Thank you for the Christmas designs. I had reverse shoulder replacement surgery October first and am just getting my strength back, range of motion will never be what it was … sigh! I haven’t done any stitching (or quilting or painting my other loves of avocation), hopefully I will be able in the not too distant future.
    I love your newsletter, keep up the good work!

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