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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Necessary Trial Stitching: Size, Perspective, & Design Tweaks


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A couple weeks ago, I shared this Happy Camper project that I embroidered and turned into the front panel of a quick tote for summer, perfect for favorite books, a project, or other totable things.

I’ve had lots of eager requests for the design by itself, or as part of the set (“Summer Wheels” – which includes a vintage bike and a wheelbarrow as a series of three designs), and as a pre-printed towel set. And they are coming! They really are!

Unfortunately, they can only come when they’re ready.

There’s one aspect of bringing a project to the Ready Stage that I never like to skip entirely, and that’s trial stitching. I’ll show you why, with this particular project.

Summer Wheels embroidery projects

The Happy Camper design on the tote bag is relatively small, as you can see in the photo above. In order for it to fit comfortably on the size tote I wanted to make, the design couldn’t be much bigger than about 4.5″ high by 6″ long from its farthest points.

Because the camper is a little offset by its hitch, the whole design proportionately reduces when you fit it within a 6″ wide area, and the camper itself ends up rather petit.

And that’s just fine – it’s just what I wanted – on the front of the tote.

But on a towel set, the designs would have to be somewhat larger, and that changes the way they look when they’re stitched.

In the photo above, you can see that the bike is significantly larger than the camper. If I put the camper, as is, on a towel in a towel set, and I put the bike on a towel in the same towel set, the camper would look ludicrously small or the bike would look gargantuan.

So, the design sizes need to make sense in accordance with their use. I could reduce the size of the bike and make it much smaller, which would work for use on a tote, but it would look somewhat silly on a towel. The camper at its current size would look silly on a towel, too.

Enlarging the camper will change the way I would stitch it. So it has to be embroidered again, larger, with consideration for the increased size. The number of strands I stitch with, the types of stitches I use, the number of rows for fillings – all that changes slightly, depending on the size of the design.

Summer Wheels embroidery projects

Another advantage of trial stitches is that you can see where you need to make design tweaks.

On the line drawing, the seat of the bike looked ok. But once I started stitching it, I tried various methods to make it look ok as a stitched shape.

Because I ended up filling the bicycle frame (probably a mistake in itself – but that’s a decision the individual stitcher can make!), I liked the seat less and less.

It looks to me like a tiny head on a large body.

Summer Wheels embroidery projects

Now, I’m not considering here color choices or even decisions on what stitches to use. That’s neither here nor there, in my mind, on this type of design. Pretty much every stitcher will have different color and stitch preferences for designs like these.

That said, I’m not super fond of my color choices here – or at least, the way they are not working together. I should have brought the teal into the seat.

But what I’m really not fond of is the comparative size of that seat on that bike frame, when the frame is solidly filled with color. The seat looks too small for a vintage bike.

Or the frame looks too big.

So that is something I will modify on the finished design.

The Pros and Cons of Trial Stitching

On the camper, I ended up adjusting a few elements on the design to make more sense, proportionately, within the whole design. They’re not something you’d necessarily notice – they might just be enlarging some of the flowers, or making a minor change in the distance between two lines, adjusting the slant on a line or the roundness of a curve – just little minute modifications that I noted while I was stitching, and that I think improved the design for the Ready Stage.

This is the whole advantage to Trial Stitching, and it helps me help you. When you have a question, I know I can answer it confidently because I not only drew the design, but I also stitched it.

The disadvantage to Trial Stitching is that it increases the time between conceiving a design and bringing it to the Ready Stage. There are ways to speed the process up, and they happen quite frequently in the embroidery world – either there’s no Trial Stitching at all, or the Trial stage belongs to what’s called a Ghost Stitcher, or a person who stitches finished samples for designers.

My niece and sidekick Anna often helps me trial these types of simple designs, and I love it when she’s available for that. But sometimes, she’s not available, so it takes longer for a design idea to come to fruition.

I’m Working on It!

I’ve been working on the Summer Wheels as I can, mostly in the evenings, but it’s been a super busy time of year. I’ll have those out for you as soon as I can!

In the meantime, members of my Needle ‘n Thread page over on Patreon will find my initial Happy Camper design posted later this morning. This is the first stage of the design, before making adjustments. It’s a good starting point for those who want to personalize their own little camper design, but it’s not the finished design.

Studio Life

We’re almost finished with the first stage of our organizing in the studio. We’ve been loading those shelves with products that will be restocked in my shop soon. If you’re on advanced notices lists for anything, keep an eye on your email!

I’m awaiting threads for some kits, excitedly preparing for some new books to arrive, packaging other products for shipping, and culling out computer time each day to finish up instructions on a few projects that are still hanging.

And – well, you know! – life also goes on beyond the studio walls, too. Life that involves things like a new hot water heater, three plumbing leaks in just as many weeks (the motto for my old house is now “A Leak a Week”), and plenty of little joys that make life exciting, like the impending arrival of my niece’s baby, birthday parties, wedding showers, family visiting from out of state, and the buzz and hum of general summer activities.

It’s all wonderful! And I hope all’s wonderful for you, too!



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(7) Comments

  1. Mary—I thought you were channeling Lilly Pulitzer! Your bicycle truly captures the spirit & creativity of this popular South Florida designer/socialite who passed away in 2013. Limited edition Lilly Pulitzer Beach Cruisers were produced in a variety of tropical print color combinations with contrasting/coordinating seats. Your embroidery captures “the Lilly look”. Keep the fun coming!

    1. LOL! I just looked up those beach cruisers. Gosh! I LOVE THEM. Wouldn’t that be a great bike? I don’t have a bike anymore, but if I did… and I’ve actually been thinking about getting one… that would be the one. I hadn’t heard of her, but thank you for the reference! That made my day!

  2. I really do love these designs Mary, and I’m looking forward to the PDF release when they’re good and ready. Thank you for sharing some of the ups and downs of the design process. It’s fascinating seeing what is involved in the final product. And these really are Just So Cute!

  3. Dear Mary

    I love the camper and the bike and look forward to the finished design, it should be lovely just for summer and those dreams of sunshine and holidays. I’m so glad you have almost finished organising the studio, its always a chore, but the end result is always very satisfying. Good luck with finishing the camper and the clearing of your studio. Oh those household repairs, so drab and annoying, I’m glad you have lots of joys as well with family celebrations. Have a great time with them. Thank you for sharing with us your camper and bike it looks lovely.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  4. Hi Mary… can you tell me where to find the pattern for the bicycle ( that goes with the camper) and the article with the third installment .. summer of ‘21 I believe. Thank you!

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