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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Vintage Transfers for Your Consideration & Some News


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Recently, I was the happy recipient of a box of antique pattern transfers. The owner didn’t want them to be thrown away, and she thought I might be able to add them to my collection of old patterns and whatnot.

I love going through this kind of stuff! Early this week, we had the opportunity to sort and categorize the patterns, and I took a few photos along the way – mostly of the patterns that amused me!

You know the saying “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should“? I think that can apply to design. Take a look at these old pattern transfers! I have theories about them, and we’ll talk about those down the road when I share some other photos of already-transferred designs with you. But for today, to lead into the three-day weekend, here are some photos for your consideration.

vintage pattern transfers

Many vintage pattern transfers belong to the world of Nursery Rhymes. They’d be stitched for children’s quilts and the like.

She’s a bit startling, isn’t she? I think she’s supposed to be a doll, given the stiffness of her arms.

vintage pattern transfers

Most of the patterns in this bunch are pricked patterns that you’d use a pounce powder or liquid (ink) to transfer the pattern onto the fabric.

You can see how fine the pin pricks are in the patterns. With pricked patterns like this, you can use them numerous times, as long as the ink or the powder doesn’t leak through to the other side and dirty it up too much and as long as the paper stayed intact.

vintage pattern transfers

I think this piece of art would be titled “Nonchalant Boy and Startled Dog.”

vintage pattern transfers

I’m guessing a monkey in a clown suit with an umbrella.

It’s just a guess.

vintage pattern transfers

And here, the startled one-armed, tail-less kangaroo.

I don’t know what else it could be.

vintage pattern transfers

The back of this Moon Baby shows the pricked lines quite well. The transfer hasn’t been used, so it is in really good shape.

vintage pattern transfers

And then two startled owls – which I find rather endearing!

It’s funny to look at some of these and wonder what company had in mind when they produced them – I mean, beyond making a profit on selling transfers. Sometimes, that’s the only thing they had in mind. There are degrees of “good art” and “bad art” in antique embroidery design transfers, that’s for sure. But I think in most cases, the idea was to give the embroiderer a kind of foundation and to let the embroiderer’s skill do the interpreting. Not always a great idea, if the foundation is really bad.

It’s so much fun to look through these types of old transfers, though! There’s a whole range of design quality in them, and while some are quite humorous, others are really very pretty and would make lovely embroidery designs to use today. Some are timeless; others definitely reflect the styles of the day (especially in the children’s illustrations!).

We’ll revisit this topic a little later and talk a bit more about old transfers and methods, and which ones still work well today.

News and Coming Up…

I probably will not get a chance to post all the new Reticello books in my shop today. Hopefully, I can work on that slowly over the weekend.

Fact is, yesterday in the wee hours of the morning, I had a stroke in my left eye. I spent the day undergoing exams and whatnot, to see if it can be repaired. It cannot. It was not, thank God, in a central artery, so it affects only a portion of the vision in my left eye. But the situation has prompted other medical explorations, and I foresee some interruptions in the coming days while I get things sorted.

There’s also the whole matter of getting accustomed to the difference in vision. Such is life. It could have been worse!

I’ll do my best to keep up. I can’t afford to let things rest here too much (such is life!), so hopefully, things will continue more or less as normal. But if you notice an interruption, you know why!

In the meantime, I hope to slowly get those books on the website this weekend.

Next week, I will have the next installment of Cotton Quartet for you. Members of the community on Patreon already have a PDF for the next several lessons, so you should be good for a little while on the stitching of the sampler!

I hope you have a fabulous weekend!


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(112) Comments

  1. Mary, Mary! I hope all of your tests will have only good results! You are in my prayers. Be well! Lauranne

  2. While I love your newsletter, taking care of yourself is much more important! Don’t worry about your readers – we’ll be here when you’re ready.

  3. Mary, take good care of yourself first. You have given us enough to read and resources to navigate through. You are in my prayers and thoughts .

  4. Mary,
    I am sending my very best wishes for your continued health. As you said, it could have been worse.
    Love, Hella

  5. Wishing you the strength and peace of mind that you need at this time, and wisdom and skill for the doctors and other medical practitioners who will be looking after your eye.

  6. Oh my gosh, I hope it’s nothing serious! We fiber artists need our eyes! My fingers crossed for you.

  7. Oh my – how frightening that moment must have been. Please know that my prayers are with you. Good luck and a blessing to your doctors.
    Darcy Walker

  8. I wish you all the best, Mary! Fingers crossed! Your writing and projects are always a delight!

  9. Always love the treasure troves of old transfers. I wish I could let go of mine, but they are so entertaining. Plus who knows when one just might…

    Meanwhile, what a disheartening vision event. I will be praying for you and your docs, Mary.


  10. O my goodness! So sorry to hear about your eye problem. Sending prayers and positive thoughts your way for a quick adjustment to vision changes and no further challenges.

  11. Those transfers are rather scary looking. Are they marked with the year they were produced? Completely different style from what we see now. The moon baby as you called her reminded me of the Campbell Soup kids. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m sorry to hear about your eye. Surely the doctors are taking steps to prevent any others from happening. That usually involves pills. Ick! Thankfully our brains are amazing things and can make adjustments in how we perceive things. Wishing you many beautiful things ahead.

    1. LOL! Yes, that about covers the extent of my liking for these particular ones. There are others, though – we’ll look at them a little later!

  12. Mary, you are a BLESSING to the embroidery lovers of the world. I pray for the healing of your eye.
    Thank you for all the beauty of needles and thread you have given us.
    Karole in Texas

  13. Mary, I am so sad to hear what has happened to you! Your attitude is remarkable. I am continually amazed by your determination in the face of difficult circumstances. I will be praying for you wonderful woman!!! Blessings!!!

  14. Mary, I am so sorry to hear about your eye trouble! I hope the results of the further medical explorations reveal only good news. Please take care of yourself.

    I enjoy reading (and rereading) your posts. Thank you for all you do and all you share with us. Thank you particularly for the Cotton Quartet project. I still have to prepare the linen from the kit, but I do hope to begin the project soon.

  15. Oh, Mary!!! I tend to think that every little twinge I get means the end of (well, fill in the blank). Arthritis has already taken most embroidery away. I can still knit and quilt, though. But sight is central to everything needleworkers do. I pray this won’t affect you badly long term and that any future strokes stay away.

  16. Take care of those eyes. Sorry to hear that part of your vision was affected. I’m recuperating from cataract surgery end of March. Healing is slow because of dry eyes. And I’ll need another surgery end of the summer for cloudiness in the left eye. Oh well, with a good pair of readers I’m doing just fine.

  17. Hi Mary – I am so sorry to hear about your vision loss. I have no vision in my left eye and have had to adjust to less sight over the past year as well, so I empathize. I’m keeping you in my thoughts and hoping all goes well medically, and in adjusting as well. God bless you.

    1. Thanks so much, Caitlin! I’m sorry about your vision loss, too! Gosh, we never really realize what a gift our eyes are until they can’t do what we want them to do!

  18. Those are rather horrifying little bits of artwork. They look similar to the illustrations in a book of nursery rhymes I had as a child. I think it was printed in the 1930’s as the colors were all interesting shades of lime green, faded coral and muddy blue. The “kangaroo”, is, I believe, a rabbit.
    It is really fun to browse through vintage embroidery designs, isn’t it. I’m glad the donor thought of you rather than just pitching them out.

  19. Dear Mary,

    How bloody inconvenient. I know you will manage and survive just fine, buuutt,
    you could do without thst. Hope that Anna is available or that someone else will be available to help you.

    You have created a unique spot in all our lives. Thank you Ann

  20. So sorry to hear of your loss of vision. You have such a grateful attitude. I hope all of the rest of your medical tests show no further problems. Take care.

  21. I send you my best wishes for a complete recovery from my litttle place in Bask Country, somewhere across the French and Spanish border.
    I really enjoy your posts, even if it’s hard sometimes to find the same materials, even by mail order. Your beautifull flower pins are not available in my country. But I manage.
    Take care of yourself.

  22. Hope that your eye problems are manageable, and that you are able to do everything you want to! Your writing is a constant enjoyment and the old patterns are so much fun to discover. Best wishes always, Liz

  23. I must say I don’t believe I’d choose to use ANY of these transfers you’ve pictured! I find it hard to imagine anyone using them. I’m curious about what else you’ll share from this treasure trove.

    I’m sorry to learn of your new vision problem. I hope it causes only minimal problems in following your passions. You are in my prayers for good health. As always, I look forward to your next post!

  24. I am so sorry to hear about your eye! Best wishes on this and upcoming medical exams; hope all will be well.

    Love the charming vintage transfers. I think the boy and dog might be Buster Brown and his dog Tige.

  25. Oh Mary! Best wishes for a complete recovery! My sister had a stroke in her eye about 2 months ago and has regained most function, so there is hope.

  26. These vintage and antique patterns are fascinating. I thought your kangaroo was a version of The Velveteen Rabbit. More important, Iโ€™m wishing you good news from your medical issues hoping you take the time to care for yourself.

  27. So sorry to hear about your eye Mary. Thinking of you and hope things are not too disruptive and improve for you. Best wishes Laura

  28. Mary,
    Iโ€™m so sorry to hear about your little set back! I will be keeping you in my thoughts/prayers as you rest your eye and heal.
    Thank you for these! What an interesting display of vintage patterns. I recently acquired original Vogart and Aunt Martha iron-on patterns for kitchen towels. Itโ€™s a nice break to simply iron on a design and stitch rather than tracing, or drawing.

    Karen M.

  29. I’ve got quite a few vintage transfers. Lots of day of the week, flowers, and for some reason Dutch (windmills, and people in wooden shoes) and Mexican designs (cactus, donkeys, people in serapes & sombreros).

    A stroke IN your eye?!? I had no idea that could happen. May I ask what the symptoms were that sent you to the doctor? I hope you get adjusted to the new vision soon.

    1. I suddenly couldn’t see a big chunk of area from my left eye. No warning. No pain or anything. I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that I couldn’t see my window unless I turned my head towards it. I figured whatever the problem was might fade, but when it hadn’t by 6:00 am, I decided to go straight to my optometrist. He saw me immediately, sent me on to a retinal specialist, etc. etc. etc.

  30. Mary… sorry to hear of your new medical “experiences” and I pray for you to have strength to face your new life’s “adventure”!

  31. You poor thing. As if the cancer wasn’t enough. I don’t know how much you lost in your left eye, but be aware of how it will affect your depth perception. I was born with low vision in my left eye. The left part of my car is ok but the right has s lot of dents and scratches – mostly from me trying hard to get into the garage .
    Anyway, I’ll be praying for you for the rest of your tests.

    1. Thanks, Cynthia! I will definitely keep an eye on the depth perception… and I’ll try to be careful when I’m parking. I’ve never actually had an accident with my own car, or damaged it. However, it has been hit by other people while parked about six times now, in all kinds of different places. Every single car I’ve ever owned has been hit by someone else while it was parked. It’s become a family joke. I’m going paint targets on any future car I buy.

  32. Very sorry to hear about your eye.

    We don’t have a 3-day weekend, but next week we have a 4-day one with bank holidays on both Thursday and Friday, which is a little weird.

    Some children’s illustrations make me wonder how any of them every slept at night, but the owlish things are sweet.

    1. If you look at many of the old illustrated children’s books (take the first Alice in Wonderland, for example!), they can be a little surprising!

  33. Prayers for healing and for your healthcare providers, that they are able to figure out the best treatment moving forward. Your blog is such an inspiration to me, I am looking forward to being able to spend more time on embroidery as I move to retirement.

  34. Mary,

    Sending warm thoughts for your health. I wish you well during this latest scary health upset.

    Thinking of you, Dale

  35. Oh, Mary! Wasn’t it just last year you went through that whole cataract thing? And now this? Keeping you in my prayers!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! Yep, that was last year. The two events are unrelated. The stroke has to do with an artery. Hopefully, things will be fine! ๐Ÿ™‚

  36. So sorry that you are having medical travailsโ€”I will be thinking of you.
    These transfers, and your commentary, really did make me Laugh Out Loud.

  37. Mary Iโ€™m so sorry to hear about your stroke. I do hope that you will be able to adjust to your vision changes and you experience no further problems.

  38. Hi Mary,

    I admire your positive look of things in the face of adversity. My prayers and wishes for a complete recovery and no further mishaps with health. Please take it easy. We all will understand.
    Love you Mary

  39. Oh, Mary! I’m so sorry to hear about your eye problem. I pray that your eye will heal completely, or as much as possible. Thank you for sharing all your knowledge and love of stitching with us. I’m working on the Cotton Quartet project and loving it.

  40. Hi Mary, I’m sorry to hear of your eye “problem”. Take care of yourself and do what the doctor tells you to do because if you’re like me, you tend to overdo.

    Wishing you the best!!
    Claudia McGriff

  41. Love those old patterns. I think the boy and dog are the characters “Buster Brown and Tige” later used in Buster Brown Shoe ads. The moon boy appears to be from the same artist who illustrated the “Campbell Kids” for the soup company. Thanks for the share.

  42. How brave you sound, Mary. Damage to my eyes is one of my greatest fears but we are resourceful. we gals, and somehow you will adjust. Thinking of you.

    Best Wishes from a bunting-bedecked GB.


    1. Thanks, Alison! Yes, it’s amazing how the eyes work, though. Incredible, really. The second eye is already learning to compensate quite well! So…onwards and upwards!

  43. God Bless. I’ll be here waiting with excitement for your returns whenever & however often. I’ll be here waiting. I know you are in good hands. I might even do a practice strip to let u know i did not waste my time.

  44. Late in reading this startling health news, so know I’m among your long distance fans who wish comfort in whatever adjustments you will have to make. I’ve been ignoring an impending 6 month expected need for cataract surgeries in both eyes suggested by the eye doctor late October last year. Embroidering as many unfinished & tempting new projects every week & your news motivates appreciation for whatever accomplishments can evolve. Celebrate that your Needle ‘n Thread efforts have taught us so much.

    1. Thanks, Chris. I have to say, cataract surgery last year made a huge difference in my vision, for color perception. Just make sure you discuss thoroughly the options for what you want to see (close or distance) when you get to the point of choosing your permanent replacement lens implants. I didn’t research that quite enough. I probably would have done a couple things differently. But still! The color! WOW!

  45. Dear Mary

    These patterns are lovely they are as you say so endearing and what a lovely contribution to your other patterns they will be very inspiring for you. Thank you for sharing with us these patterns.
    So sorry to hear about the stroke in your eye and I do hope the other medical examinations prove negative for you. Thinking of you and Praying for you at this difficult time.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  46. Your health is more important than us out here in the stitching world..
    Please take care and hopefully the doctors can help and you get back to a better outcome

  47. If it hadn’t been for my knitting friend, I would never have heard of such a thing (ocular stroke)!

    Dead spots are aggravating at best. I have a dead spot in the center of my left eye.

    Give it some time. Your brain learns to compensate … just like betting used to bifocals. Good luck!

  48. I am catching up on your posts tonight. I am so sorry to hear about the stroke you had in your eye. I am glad you are working on adjusting to this new vision sense. You are such a lovely person with enormous creativity. I hope you are getting some help so you can slow down a bit with getting books ready or even taking the photos of your work.

  49. My heart goes out to you. I’m glad it wasn’t worse, but still, you need your vision to be top notch. Before I got to the bad news part, I was reading (and agreeing) with your wise take on the designs, and thinking, you are such a font of knowledge and have shared so much with us. You should start a library of all this knowledge, your book collection, your patterns and all your demonstrations. A blog isn’t a sturdy enough vessel to contain such a thoughtfully curated collection. It’s a convenient mode of communication, but you need a real world museum of sorts. Hope you bounce back quickly from your ordeal.

  50. So sorry to hear that you are having health challenges. I hope that they will resolve themselves in a way that is workable for you.

  51. Mary, I just wanted to say that I’m so sorry your eyesight has been affected, and I hope that you are otherwise fine. I was so sad to hear this. Here’s hoping for everything the best for you. You are such a talented lady and so giving. My thoughts are with you.

  52. i would love to see/obtain digital scans of the entire set. im trying to write/ create something on outline embroidery patterns and designs – meanwhile your boy with dog is “Buster Brown” of early 1900s comic strip and shoe sales fame. moon child is a grace drayton design she was the artist behind the campbell soup kids these both date your patterns to circa 19o8

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