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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That Embroidered Kaleidoscope Pocket


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Long, long ago and far, far away (so it seems), I began an embroidery and sewing project that had every indication that it would eventually turn into a tote bag with an embroidered pocket on it.

You can read the backstory on this particular resurrected project in two previous articles on Needle ‘n Thread – this article on twill and duck fabric, and this article on the stitching progress on the twill.

Due to I-Can’t-Remember-What, the project got side swiped by something else, and I never got back to it…until yesterday.

Hand Embroidered Tote Pocket with Kaleidoscope Design

So, why yesterday? Well, two of my sisters are visiting from out of town, and one of them – Susie – is a sewer-extraordinaire (Sewer doesn’t come across well in writing, does it? Let’s say she’s a sewist extraordinaire), especially when it comes to sewing tote bags, quilts, and pretty much any kind of sewing stuff.

Unlike her and her sewing machine, I and my sewing machine have not quite established a loving, friendly, attached relationship. It exists to sew around the edges of embroidery fabric so I can embroider. Until yesterday, I’ve never used it for much of anything else.

Yesterday, thanks to the assistance of my sister, I made a pillowcase.

It actually turned out.

This is a milestone, I assure you. I discovered I can actually change a bobbin, thread the sewing machine needle, and sew an almost-straight seam.

Making the pillowcase recalled to mind the tote, and I thought, Why not? I figure it’s time to put my newly-found sweet sewing skills to use!

And if the going gets rough, my sister will save me. That’s what sisters are for, after all.

Hand Embroidered Tote Pocket with Kaleidoscope Design

But before I can fulfill that plan, I have to finish the embroidery on this pocket.

Hand Embroidered Tote Pocket with Kaleidoscope Design

There’s not much left to stitch on it – just some bits up the side (which may end up being covered slightly by the handle overlap… I forgot about that when planning this thing) and some small dots at the top of the design.

Hand Embroidered Tote Pocket with Kaleidoscope Design

When Susie first saw the pocket in person, she was a little surprised. Being (I’m sure?) an avid reader of Needle ‘n Thread, she has only seen the pictures of the pocket from the previous articles mentioned in the introduction above.

The pictures show the stitches and design up close. It’s hard to give you a sense of the true size of the stitching. I’m using two strands of floss to stitch much of the design, and in some places one strand, so even if the stitching looks chunky and bold, it’s not really. It’s somewhat fine and airy.

Hand Embroidered Tote Pocket with Kaleidoscope Design

Here’s a photo of the design in a six-inch hoop, sitting on my table next to me. You can see a skein of DMC sticking out there, and the handles on my embroidery scissors. This might give you a better idea of how the design looks when seeing it naturally and not up close.

The Design

The design I’m using for the pocket embroidery comes from my Party in Provence kaleidoscope. You can see the whole kaleidoscope stitched here in a different style. The kaleidoscope design is available in my e-book, Favorite Kaleidoscopes, which is a design book featuring over 30 kaleidoscopes for embroidery and other crafts.

The pocket embroidery is one quarter of the design, and in the e-book, I supply the design broken down, in case anyone wants to use it similarly. You might not use it on the pocket of a tote, but you might have a corner of something that you’d like embellished. That’s the fun thing about kaleidoscopes – you can actually break them down in sections or in layers, depending on what you want to stitch. This is demonstrated in the e-book, too.

The Plan

My plan is to finish up the embroidery on this today and then hopefully, I’ll sew the whole thing into a reasonable semblance of a tote bag before this weekend. Yay!

If I discover that the machine and I aren’t going to get along sew well (see what I did there? a corny pun?), I’ll see if I can convince Susie to do it for me. Heh heh.

Wish me luck (either way)!


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(19) Comments

  1. Dear Mary

    Like you I am not so good with sewing machines I’m actually afraid of them ever since my school days in sewing class I just couldn’t get the hang of them and definitely the machine and I don’t get along “sew” well, ha, ha. I do hope you are able to finish the tote bag I would love to see it completed and being used that would be great and I hope your sister can help you with the finer points of the dreaded sewing machine. I love the design and your stitching is beautiful good luck. Thanks for sharing with us your tote bag design and for the photos can’t wait to see it finished.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  2. Not thinking you need much luck with that delicious embroidery, but sending buckets of good luck for your tryst with your sewing machine. Mary, I am a machine addict, and love to play with bits of fabric making big or small things. The tips that have served me best are:
    1. Cut accurately
    2. Sew the seams exactly as instructed
    3. Use a new needle in your machine for each new project. Clean the bobbin area frequently using a small brush
    4. Be patient with yourself. Embroidery expertise was not gleaned in a day, but persistence pays.
    5. Most important. Enjoy!

  3. Oh, how I can relate to this! My sister, also Susie, was a professional seamstress at one point in her life. I, on the other hand, get instant headaches whenever I have to use a sewing machine. I have sewn multiple outfits completely by hand, just to avoid the trauma of using the machine, while she can whip up an outfit in an afternoon. We all have our strengths, and machine-sewing just doesn’t happen to be one of mine. Vive la difference!

  4. Morning Mary,
    I’m sure you and your machine will get along famously when you get to making the tote, having previously and successfully made a pillow case, after all it’s really just straight seams (and boxed corners if you want to add them. Pick sister’s brain mercilessly while she’s around and make copious notes. And if you get stuck, as you say, sister’s are your helping friends. I know mine is. We didn’t always behave this way, growing up was difficult for us but maturity has changed all that.
    I love your idea of using part of a mandala to ornament something else and just might be making some patch pockets for a summer smock using this type of design.
    Happy stitching ~ Brenda

  5. Good luck—but with your skill, I doubt you’ll need it! The tote will be ever so pretty. (May I add my unsolicited 2 cents and say I really dislike this new term “sewist.” Even auto-correct wants to change it to “sexist,” not knowing the word. My quilting friends use sewer and quilter. I’m a knitter, a needlepointer, an embroiderer, and a sometimes crocheter.).
    Enjoy your time with your sisters!

    1. I usually say sewer (or seamstress or tailor, even) … the funny thing is that “sewer” in writing could be pronounced soo-wer, and mean something completely different! I wouldn’t want to call my sister a conduit for waste. LOL!

  6. Ha! I didn’t barely recognise the Party in Provence until you mentioned it. This version looks beautiful. I’m curious about the finished tote bag.
    At least you and your sewing machine are as much friends as to be able sewing around the edges. Mine produces puckering seams and omits stitches, and I have no idea why. Oviously, she doesn’t love me. Alright then, I’ve got two hands as well.

    Angela from the Ore Mountains

  7. Dear Mary

    I don’t see my comment from yesterday so will try again. Like you I don’t get on with sewing machines ever since my sewing class schooldays I am afraid of them and find them confusing to say the least. I would love to be able to use a sewing machine and I am envious of those who are experts with them like your sister, wish I had someone like that. I love the design on the tote bag and I really look forward to seeing it completed. I hope you do get along SEW well and live happily ever after ha, ha. Good luck and thanks for sharing the tote bag design with us and for the update on the project.

    Anita Simmance

  8. Sewing machines are like dogs and small children…they know when you’re afraid of them and act accordingly 🙂

  9. Can I suggest the word stitcher instead of sewer or sewist. I find it much more pleasing. Your kaleidoscope pocket stitching is beautiful.

    1. Hi, Lorna – I was actually playing with the word “sewer” because it can be read two different ways. I associate a “stitcher” with someone who stitches by hand. I prefer “seamstress,” although that is often associated with making clothing. In any case, it was all said tongue-in-cheek, but it didn’t come across quite as I was thinking it. Ahhh….the difficulties with writing online! 🙂

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