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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The Forest & the Trees: Lessons from Whitework


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Recently, I had a conversation about embroidery with a friend who was obsessing about stitch length and stitch spacing.

She found herself using a ruler to measure the exact length of her stitches, marking 1/8″ on her fabric along her design line so that she achieved Mega-Precise stitch length and spacing.

She was frustrated on two accounts: it was taking her a long to stitch and she felt like she wasn’t getting the hang of stitch length and spacing like she thought she would if she meticulously marked out her stitch lengths.

So we had a long discussion about things we sometimes obsess about – in needlework and other things – and why it’s important to step back.

The whitework altar cloth that I’ve been showing you lately is a really good example of what we were talking about. It illustrates well why it’s important to step back from your embroidery now and then.

Cutwork embroidery on linen: altar cloth

There’s a lot to be said for the admonition, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

On the other hand, there are reasons why I don’t particularly like that advice in all circumstances. If we don’t sometimes “sweat the small stuff,” how are we going to persevere through big stuff? Occasionally, we need to make ourselves sweat over small things, so that we can better handle bigger things.

But aside from that, it’s true that there’s a lot of small stuff that’s simply not worth sweating over!

Now, my friend’s stitch length obsession is one of those. She thought that, if she meticulously measured her stitch length, marking out precise 1/8″ segments along her design line and stitching according to her markings, two things would follow: 1. The outcome on her embroidery would be perfect; and 2. She’d develop the habit of perfectly consistent stitch length.

Cutwork embroidery on linen: altar cloth

When you embroider, though, your stitch length can’t – and shouldn’t – always be perfectly consistent. Try taking a tight curve in stem stitch with the same length stitch you used on a straight line, and you’ll see what I mean!

And if you always work with a crutch – in her case, precisely marked out stitch length – you might never develop the habit (the ease) of determining and executing good spacing and appropriate stitch length for the job at hand.

I told her to step back. Look at your embroidery from afar. You’re missing the forest for the trees.

Relax, and step back.

Sometimes, we just get too engrossed in the minutiae.

Cutwork embroidery on linen: altar cloth

It happens to all of us, though, at some point or another.

We get really engrossed in what we are doing, and we see the flaw in the micro details, without stepping back to see the overall picture.

And sometimes, seeing those flaws can get us into trouble!

Cutwork embroidery on linen: altar cloth

For example…

I’ve had a little time to work on one of the cutwork linens we’ve been talking about before handing it off to the person who is going to actually embroider the rest of it. I wanted to work out some kinks in the stitching process.

So I was working on wrapped bars. These are the support bars or bridges that span the cut fabric area in a piece of cutwork. They can be different configurations, depending on the type of cutwork you’re doing. In this case, these are simple wrapped bars that look a bit like a long bullion knot, but they aren’t bullion knots.

Well, this is The Thing: it’s winter. It’s Kansas. It’s cold.

In winter, I tend to wear dark colors and sometimes fuzzy sweaters and scarves. And fuzzy clothes have little fibers on them that love to escape and cling to other things, even if we never really see or notice them on other things.

(Incidentally, even non-fuzzy clothes shed fibers.)

Wow! Sometimes, those fibers are All I See when I’m working on the whitework!

When I first noticed a tiny fiber here or there, mixing with the white threads, what did I do?

Of course! I tried to pick them out with the tip of my needle or a pair of tweezers.

And what did that result in?

Well, it happened that I ruined a bar by snagging the white thread too badly to leave it. It distorted the bar. I had to remove the bar… which happened to be one of these intersections of five bars. So I had to remove all five bars.

All because…

Cutwork embroidery on linen: altar cloth

… I couldn’t see the forest…

Cutwork embroidery on linen: altar cloth

… for that stupid little fuzzy tree.

Moral of the story: don’t engross yourself too much in the micro-world of your close-up embroidery. Step back. Look at the forest! It usually looks a Whole Lot Better than that one individual little tree.

My two-cents’ worth… for exactly what it’s worth!

Stuff Coming!

We’ve been working on a lot of Stuff in the studio, Anna and I.

We’re prepping some ready-to-stitch towel sets (spring-themed at the moment), so those will be in the shop again soon. If you’ve been waiting for some, look for them!

We’ve been cutting and packaging linen for Linen Fabric Sample Packs. Finally! Yay!

We’re also working on supply gathering for more kits. (Oh My Word! We’re trying to get the next Stitch Snippets kit lined up.)

I’m trying to get tax stuff done. (Ugh.)

And then all the usual – stitching, photographing, editing, writing, stitching.

And tax stuff. Did I mention tax stuff? (Ugh.)

Friday, we’ll look at a great little book that’s been out a while. It’s charming and endearing on a number of levels.

And next week, we’ll finished the Bee-Jeweled Pincushion. Get those beads on!

Have a wonderful Wednesday!


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(4) Comments

  1. Great advice! Felt your pain when you had to replace all those bars!!! You set such a good example for us Mary … thanks!!!

  2. Sorry you had so much to pick out of you white work because of the fuzz. You might try a small piece of low tack artist tape or even bleed painter’s tape to gently grab the offending fuzz.

  3. I hate when I try to fix one thing and break another, or worse – multiple other things. Sometimes it really does pay to step back, take a breath, look at it again from a different angle, and ask “what’s the worst that could happen if I don’t fix this?”

    And yes, the tax preparations are underway here too. I highly suggest that if there was an unusual financial event (like CARES act of 2020 and all that related stuff), make a note of what/why and keep it with the tax return. It might save a scare like I had yesterday with not remembering a couple of changes from normal on 2020 return.

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