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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True Confessions: My Embroidery Work Table


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Time to shatter (once again) that perception that all things in my Needlework World are perfect.

They aren’t!

Sometimes, my deadlines are not very realistic.

And sometimes, just when I think I’m on target for hitting a deadline, I do something really stupid. Most frequently, my stupid-doing involves making things Much More Complicated than they need to be. For example, yesterday, I spent six hours working on an idea for a snowflake. Once I finally had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, I started stitching it. And picking it out. And stitching it again. And picking it out. This went on for hours.

But one area where I chastise myself quite frequently is the area of tidy organization while developing projects.

I just can’t seem to do it! While I was perusing photos and bemoaning the fact that I’m a stitching slob, I came to a realization.

Embroidery Work Table

This is what the working part of my work table looks like at the end of any given day recently.

While I have organizational trays for beads (I use these), I obviously don’t make use of them as they are intended.

Bead containers mixed with threads and scraps and tools and loose needles, pincushions, scissors, several hoops going at a time, and threads – and threads – and threads! anywhere and everywhere.

Sometimes, when I look at the same area over and over again, I can’t find what I’m looking for, even though I know it’s got to be Right In Front of Me. If I were tidier, think of the time it would save me, when searching for things.

Embroidery Work Table

It got to the point the other day where I couldn’t for the life of me find my tweezers, so I took the photo above, zoomed in on it, and searched for them.

I found them. But then, I knew what to look for. Can you find them?

Anyway, I chortled to myself, because I came to the realization that messy work tables can be kind of fun, if you look at them the right way.

I decided I should be writing I Spy puzzle books for needleworkers.

Find the Needle.

Spot the Scissors.

Where Did I Stick my Stiletto.

Embroidery Work Table

The whole table is not exposed in the first photo. Above, you can see my favorite part of it.

I love to gather together my orts at the end of a stitching session! Orts are smalls scraps – they’re the pieces of thread you can’t use because they’re too small, or because you removed them too many times and they’ve lost their stitching integrity.

But they make a jolly lovely mass of threads at the end of a work session, and they always make me feel as if I’ve accomplished something.

If you find my tweezers, chime in below! I’ll show them to you up close one of these days. They’re the best tweezers I’ve ever used for needlework, and they taught me not to take tweezers for granted!


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(152) Comments

  1. I spy your tweezers under the beautiful marigold/golden thread! I’m a mess when I embroider too! Ha! You do not want a photo!

  2. Hi Mary,

    I so enjoy your newsletters and you are a wealth of information on embroidery. I have learned so much from you already and I’ve been doing embroidery for years !!!!

    The tweezers under the gold thread ???

    🙂 hope I’m right !! thanks for sharing all of your ideas and patterns !!! Rosemary

  3. I found them under the gold thread in less than 10 seconds, but then, I just had my left cataract removed and replaced with a perfect near vision lens so that I could embroider forever. Was the surgery successful?

  4. Your stitching area is above beautiful. If it is in no disarray – nothing gets done. Loving everything about it. Organized chaos!

  5. Haha! Story of my life!! Looking for things…….! I like the idea of an “I Spy” book. Generate some income so I can by more stuff (to lose)!!

  6. I love your spread of colors. In a way, it could trigger some other color combinations you didn’t think of rather than having just a certain group of 3 or 4 skeins side by side. I never did find the tweezers. And not sure if you meant it but it made me laugh: you wrote, “Orts are smalls craps.” What a great giggle to start my day.

  7. Ha! What fun…the hunt is on. Not knowing “what” these tweezers really look like does make it hard…but there is “something” sticking out from under the gold floss that does seem to have matching ends…although the center is so strange. It’s all I can see…that might even remotely fit the bill so am going with that area. 🙂

  8. I think I found your tweezers under your gold threads, but I definitely resemble your mess. I not only have hand embroidery threads and pin cushions, but quilting/sewing fabrics, patterns, books and leftover trash scraps from the last two projects I finished. The orts and threads and scrap pile seem to multiply in my studio, along with the dust bunnies, which have now turned into full grown rabbits this time of year. On the other hand, I have also been able to finish another family of teddy bears, and have orders for 4 quilts and at least 2 more bears to finish. My studio looks like Santa’s workshop was hit by a tornado, but this is the season to use it or lose it. I will put away the ribbons, floss and excluded fabrics, and vacuum the “rabbits” this afternoon in order to find the bottom of my quilt frame table and load the quilt top onto the frame. Happy Halloween–It is 8 weeks until Christmas!

  9. Is that your tweezers picking out from under the gold-colored thread in the above
    photo? I love, love, love your creative art table! Some might call it “messy” . . . not
    me! No way!

  10. You are just proving you can actually do magic. “Ladies and gentlestitchers, behold the amazing disappearing tweezers. I place them so, turn my back, and Presto! They have vanished! I say the magic words, and Alacazam! Here they are on the the other end of the table, under four different things!” (Applause) “For my next trick, I will make a USB key be wrong both ways up!”

  11. Tweezers – In about the middle of the picture under the brown and gold floss skeins, near a spool of blue thread.

  12. Mary I can’t find the tweezers but I truly appreciate your sharing this with us. I can’t stand how messy and scattered I am when I work, and this makes me feel better!!!!!!

    Lyn Procopio

  13. Found them! A project is not complete until I take a few hours of sorting and organizing so that I can return everything to its place. Then I can begin the mess all over again. I rarely use a kit, as someone else got the fun of auditioning the mess.

  14. When I saw it at first I thought it was an embroidery foot. And I thought why does she have an embroider foot on her table. LOL

    I like the built in magnifier part. Will you be posting a source for this? I love to try new tools for my hand embroidery.

  15. We own a historic Victorian (literally on the national historic register). We are the first people to own the house outside the Rexford family (it’s the Cyrus Rexford House). Well, we have a ghost – Holly – who was the matriarch of the Rexford family for most of the 20th century. Things disappear and reappear (but never people or our dogs). It’s useless to look for anything missing – it won’t be found until Holly returns it. That’s why it’s good to have extra needles and other supplies.
    Maybe Holly is visiting you?

  16. Can’t find them but then I am recovering from eye surgery!

    I am looking at taking all my pets and spreading them out on dissolvable material and making an art piece out of them!!

  17. Thought I saw the little devil beneath gold threads. It is so annoying to put something down in your space and then not find it. Makes me feel like I am old-oh wait-I am.

  18. You gave me my daily laugh. I would love I Spy needlework books!
    Did you see what your Ort statement says? Best laid plan oft gang alay!
    Haven’t found the tweezers yet even with my trifocals.
    Best wishes.

  19. I think they are under the yellow/tan thread. Enjoyed the look. Glad to know that someone else manages to lose something that is right under your nose. Take care.

  20. Tweezers – the metallic-looking thingy underneath the goldish yellow floss or other embroidery thread, about the center of the photo? Doesn’t really look like tweezers, but nothing else looks remotely like.

    I’m not the world’s tidiest person, especially when developing a project idea, but your table is truly awe-inspiring 🙂


  21. Oh Mary – but it’s true what they say, a messy workspace is the sign of a creative mind in the middle of creating. You become so focused on what is in front of you that everything else becomes irrelevant, even food. It’s a case of I’ll sort that out later but I need to follow this line of thought right now while it’s still in my head. It gets really bad when it involves the whole house though and you end up going from room to room either looking for that one thing you had half an hour ago or more horizontal space to lay out that brilliant new idea you have. Been there, done that, happens all the time. Accept and enjoy the process, don’t be embarrassed about it. It is what it is.
    Happy (messy) creating, we love the results. Brenda.

  22. All I can say is that you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. I’ve even had to call my husband in and ask if he can see this or that lying on my work space. Hey, funny story: Did you know a stiletto can mean totally different things?

  23. Are your tweezers under the gold thread in the middle of the photo? They don’t look like any tweezers I’ve ever seen so I’m curious about them!

  24. Oh Mary!!! “SEW” after my own heart! I loved this newsletter of yours .
    It made me feel “sew” at home as I find my table looks very similar to yours when I’m working on a project that requires as much as it seems your snowflakes did! Thank you for sharing this with us…a real treat! I also keep all the scraps of threads. Thy can be so effectively used in free machine embroidery, using waste-away water soluble fabric.

    I think your tweezers are lying under the two skeins of orangey / gold thread.
    Happy wishes and warm greetings from Cape Town, South Africa

    1. A jigsaw puzzle — love I Spy books — but a jigsaw puzzle. That would be ideal. Of course it would take me away from the sewing table, but everyone needs a break now and then.

  25. So happy that you shared your ‘creative chaos’! Your photo & confession leaves me feeling normal & as I’ve always said about me ‘Creative minds are seldom tidy!’. Stitching involves more than just a needle & thread when creating works of art from the heart.

    I spy the tweezers by the pincushion, nested between the two turquoise packages.
    I so enjoy your projects & tips to help us with ours.

    Stitching happily,

  26. I believe they are behind that spool of blue ‘thread’ sort of next to the yellow skeins of thread. If those indeed are they, it took me a while.

    I have a work surface similar to yours. I can set something down, needing it in the next 3 minutes, and it’s gone. I think I spend a month of my life looking for things.

  27. I can’t remember what your twizzers look like so I am taking a quess. Are they sticking out from under the 2514 & 2515 gold floss?

  28. Greetings! What fun, an eye spy on a sewing work table. Are the tweezers the 1” metal pokeing out under the gold colored thread?

  29. I often think” oh my what would Mary say to my mess I have. Certainly not called organization. ” so glad to see your work area. I think the tweezers are under the gold thread.

  30. Your table looks like someone involved in a completely normal creative process. Honest, I think this is normal. You should see my quilt room when I am working on a quilt. Piles of fabric everywhere! Now, where did I put my rotary cutter?

  31. I think I have found the tweezers.
    Recently, I stood in a chair in order to get a different perspective and find something

  32. I’m not chiming in about your tweezers but about the orts. A friend of mine collects hers and stuffs a clear Christmas ornament with them, then ties a ribbon at the top. They are actually quite festive!

  33. Under the gold floss? Looks like a sewing-machine presser foot with crab-claws on either side?
    Gotta admit, all that floss out is a pretty rainbow!

  34. Your referring to orts reminded me of a friend who was cleaning out her mother-in-law’s belongings after she had died. One box she found was labeled, “string too short to use”. These little strings were neatly tied into a ball and it fit perfectly inside the box.

  35. I too am a #stitchslob And I consi9it part of the creative process. Plus when I finally get to cleaning, tidying, organizing….it is a perfect excuse to play with my supplies.

  36. I love this post. Similar to my own messy table, except the floss is in a storage box on the hassock at my feet. Or on the left arm of my chair, which also has a small thread catcher with the orts

    I do have a question though. I have been trying to use some DMC metallic floss, but it splits into many, many strands, so it is difficult to even thread a larger embroidery needle. I have wrapped it onto the small flat commercial cards made for floss They are a mess of threads sticking out. I’m wondering if that type of floss should be left in the skein instead of wrapping on the cards?
    Many thanks,
    Alice P.

    1. Hi, Alice – I’m not a fan of wrapping thread on cardboard or plastic cards or bobbins, personally. I just don’t like the kinks that form. DMC metallics (the ones that come in a skein) are stranded, so they separate, just like their stranded cotton. Not easy stuff to work with, no matter what you do with it!!!

  37. Oh Mary – how your table looks like mine, but usually what Im looking for is – right – under the last thing I put down……..I too, enlarged your picture……your tweezers must be invisible or translucent, I sure couldnt find them. However, in your first picture in the top right corner (which is not shown in the other pics – “something” is sticking out from under the hoop. loved the story…thank you for sharing. N

  38. Good day Mary, oh my you are having toooooo much fun! Hahaha! Are they under the golden thread where only part of it is showing? I know that sometime it is overwhelming but what a beautiful mess, this is a picture that would have most people laugh as well once you take a step back! Love the game idea. Enjoy the mess, your snowflakes are really beautiful.

  39. Susan Lewis.i agree..rather than a where s Waldo type book…a jigsaw! It would look easy but be a killer! I think the tweezers are under the good thread as well but it might be imagination.
    I have scissors that do the same. They have a 4″ fob/case attached with a 4″ cord and I work within a 3′ reach on a sofa with walls on two sides…and still they vanish!

  40. Hi Mary you are not alone! Most of work in a muddle especially when you’re really making good progress! I can’t find your tweezers though.

  41. I couldn’t find the tweezers, but then I’ve been searching (over an hour) for the floss I want to use today.
    It always gives me a warm feeling to see that others also have a messy work area.

  42. I think I spy them under the 2 skeins of gold thread. Love seeing your mess…makes you more human! Love you, Mama Crow .

  43. Mary – you are soooo funny! Wonder why so many of us understand?!! HaHa
    Thanks for sharing your very ‘human’ self. Love

  44. After looking several times, I see a very small tool on the light green circle object that could be the tweezers???

  45. It looks like the tweezers could be under the gold threads 2514 & 2515.
    Your table looks like mine. I even bought an additional fold up table for my sewing room, but it’s never empty for me to fold it up! Unfortunately, my lounge also has a table either side of my chair that are both full of sewing accessories. After all, once you start on a piece of work, you need everything at hand – even if you never use them! . Love reading your emails & pray you are keeping well. All my very best wishes to you. Maureen.

  46. Mary, your table is neat compared to mine!
    One day I had a student in a quilting class who was always tossing her tools to the right of her work. She said if she does that she knew where they were.
    So, my solution is a vintage box about the size of a pencil box parked to my right. It holds my tweezers, markers, small scissors,etc that I use all the time. Needles are in 3 bottle cap pincushions, one sewing, one embroidery, and one chenille. These needles have thread in them and are next to the box. It works pretty well until I forget to put things to the right.

  47. Sorry Mary, I can’t find your tweezers, but I would love to know what tweezers you use for needlework. I can’t find anything I like. Have a great day!

  48. What’s under the gold thread looks like a presser foot to me. The tweezers could be peeking out from under the pincushion.

  49. I could not find your tweezers, but I can relate to the table. Just finished stitching a big stocking and put away all the threads in the thread boxes. Or at least the ones that were bobinnated. The rest went plop into the middle of my mess. Sigh. I feel a clean up day coming upon me.

  50. I am not certain, but they under the gold thread, can just see something metallic poking out from underneath the two skeins.

  51. “One of the advantages of being disorganized is the Joy of discovery. ” A.A. Milni
    One of my favorite quotes JC

  52. Can’t find the tweezers, however you give us encouragement and affirmation! I am working on the last of 6 canvas stocking ornaments for my grandchildren. Each is an old Lois Caron
    “ Joseph’s Coat” pattern with colors based on each child’s favorite color or two.
    My work space is a corner of the living room couch where there is strong natural light coming in from two windows. The rest of the couch is covered in much the same way as your work table — threads, tools, chart pages, stitch guides… very easy for me to reach out and claim! Your picture is very reassuring. Thank you!

  53. I think I see the tweezers…if they’re like the ones I just got!

    Mary, I don’t think it’s possible to be tidy while creating. You’re using your energy for better things. And every studio has a gremlin or two who delight in hiding scissors, tweezers, and whatever you were holding just a moment ago! My chair likes to eat things, too.

  54. Because you said you knew what to look for, I think the item under the threads numbered 2514 and 2515 must be your tweezers, though I cannot remember having seen any such tweezers. Thanks for the I Spy game!
    I’ve just finished a grand round of cake baking, so I have a mess of a different sort to clean. I’m wishing for time to make your kind of mess!
    I am enjoying seeing all your snowflakes. Thank you for sharing!

  55. Two Things:
    1. Creativity is messy.
    2. It is SO fun to see the workspaces of others. Thanks for sharing this.

  56. For the life of me, I don’t see your tweezers. (But what’s in all of those interesting little boxes?) Your work space looks way tidier than mine does most of the time. I know all about the endless searching for what you KNOW you just held in your hand a minute ago. But I’ve surrendered to the reality that, when I’m in creative mode, I’m a slob, but a happy one. It makes no sense to me to stop and put a tool or supply away just because I think I’m done with it, because most likely I’m not done with it. I’ve come to believe that the “search” is part of the process. I tell myself that when I’m finally done, I’ll put everything away in its place. But it seems I’m never done. Enjoy!

  57. Under the Yellow thread?

    My desk looks like that all the time – usually within minutes of starting! It appears I am in awesome company!

  58. Pretty, everything in its place photos of sewing and needlework spaces are nice, but I LOVE seeing work in progress shots! I can get a sense of how well the space works for the person. I refuse to call them messy especially if the condition is due to projects being worked on.

    Like the others, I think the tweezers are under the gold floss. IIRC, they are little stubby ones?

  59. What a lovely idea. A needlenthread I spy!
    Is that the point of the tweezers sticking out that I spy under your needle/pin cushion?
    Thanks Mary for sharing with us your creativity table. Looks strangely familiar somehow 😉

  60. Your ‘mess’ is really very pretty and I love it. Just figure Van Gogh must have made a mess also. How lucky you are to have that amount of inventory to work with. Enjoy the process. I think I saw the tweezers under the gold thread – maybe. Love your site.

  61. Dear Mary

    I love your work table it gives hope for all of us embroiders I am very untidy but I love your work room table with all your snowflakes hoops and all your threads and needlework accessories and orts and all, lovely. Thanks for sharing with us your work table and photos and your spot the tweezers competition.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  62. Are they peeking out from under the gold threads?
    I like to see your messes which look much more organized than mine! There may be hope for me yet!
    Jane Ross

  63. In looking for a software to create charted stitching patterns on a Mac, using my own photos/drawings/etc., I found your web page. And I found your tweezers!
    Now I’ll go back to reading what you have to say about software.

    1. Hi, Delores – I use MacStitch. It’s pretty good!! I haven’t used it for uploading photos, but I know it can do that. I use it just to chart my own little baubles, most of which are monochrome (except for the Thousand Flowers silk gauze project). I like MacStitch! And it’s affordable!

  64. Oh man, I use to love those Eye Spy books when I was a kid. Those tweezers are under the gold floss, next to the upright spool of thread.

    As for the mess, I do believe the nature of creation is disorganization because organization requires a firm understanding of what it is exactly you’re going to need and when you need it. I don’t think anybody can say that’s something they have when approaching a new idea or project for the very first time.

  65. Your tweezers are open with the end closed underneath the gold thread skeins. Great idea to take a photo. Many of us loose small things right in front of us that we know are there.

  66. I think the tweezers are the jagged bits of metal under your gold #2515 thread, but the don’t look like any tweezers I’ve ever seen! Are they folded up under there?
    I always have a creative mess when I do anything crafty. But when I cook, I put ingredients away as soon as they are used. I’m not enjoying it and thinking of all the possibilities as I do when I sew! If everything is put away, how can you experiment with floss and bead combinations?

  67. P.S. I think the birds would love your orts in spring…think of the beautiful nests! I read about that somewhere.

  68. I don’t usually comment on typos or autocorrect acting up, but “smalls craps” was too funny not to comment on! Glad you did it first!

  69. Mary!
    You are such a dear and I so love reading your posts! This one tickles me because I’m the very exact same way! And I think all true artists are. We get busy creating and not paying attention to organizations of supplies that we drive ourselves crazy with it. Just go on creating beauty and clean up later, I say!
    I use my orts in projects as background colors. I sew over combos for color or texture because I do three dimensional work. Sometimes I purposefully make them!

  70. Morning Mary, revisited this post and have decided that this is not a mess, it’s actually very organized. Everything is sorted by color (mostly), it’s just the tools that are scattered around which is why you had a hard time finding the tweezers. I still don’t see them even though many have located them. ~ Brenda

  71. about tweezers. do you have a pair from Lee Valley Tools ? If you don’t you are missing something that is just terrific. Uncle Bills Sliver Gripper The Tweezers with Pin Point Precision. Do get one You will be very pleased you did!!

  72. This looks like my work area, but so much neater. After years of miniature work I learned buy more embroidery scissors because I couldn’t find them. No I was unable to find your tweezers.

  73. I was just about to suggest an “I Spy” book too! Using your camera to find something sounds was so resourceful of you. Anyhow, these photos of your working table I can relate to much easier. Your other, tidier photos usually leave me rather in awe.
    Thank you for sharing even these tiny adventures. I enjoy your posts enormously!

  74. Don’t know about the tweezers, Mary, but some of your pictures above would make GREAT jigsaw puzzles! My favorite kind. You should approach someone and sell them a few messy worktable pics!!! (:))

  75. You make me feel so much better. In the midst of projects, my workspace (which is an entire room that I designed and for which I had cabinetry custom made) looks just like that. My tabletop and my fabulous 12 ft. Long 39” high cabinet top (also 25” deep) look like someone took a leaf blower in there and scrambled everything up. After carefully organizing and labeling all my cabinets and fabulous deep drawers, I still have trouble finding stuff that I need or want. I have every tool one could possibly imagine and, more often than not, I have several of them because I couldn’t find the original and jumped on whatever website and ordered two more. By the way I have 9 pair of detail tweezers. I know where several are. I think most of us are the same. One of my favorite things I did was to put a basket under my work table to hold my flip flops/shoes. I sew barefooted and seem to do other fabric projects the same way (I live in SoCal, close to the beach). Now I can find those shoes that aren’t in my closet.

  76. I design quilt patterns and know what you are saying about organizing.
    I love to use my Grandma’s old lap traps. The ones people used to put their plates and beverages on so they could eat from their lap while sitting in the living room. 🙂
    Some are green, some are yellow and they have flowers on them. They stack so well!
    I put cut out pieces on them and other bits when I am designing. It is so easy to grab a tray and everything is on there!

  77. is the little metal thingy under the yellow and gold threads?

    Hey, my table looks just like yours!!! No matter how hard I try to stay organized!!!

  78. Or under the gold thread, the top picture looked like they are to the right of the glasses under white fabric, but on second picture they look like they might be under the gold thread. Excited to hear correct anwser.

  79. I have just subscribed to your sure Mary and am already enjoying the educational and fun aspects you provide.

    I think the tip of the tweezers are visible at about 2 o’clock from under the pun cushion with the brown rim. I first thought the piece under the gold thread was it but on closer look I now believe that is a sewing machine foot.

    Now I’m off to wrestle with my own mess of threads, needles (I have lost count of how many I cannot find), etc.

  80. Tweezers. Try and beat this one. “Uncle Bill’s Sliver Gripper” The Tweezers with Pin-Point Precision” made by Lee Valley Tools. I’ve got 2 of them and bought one for each of my daughters!

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