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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A Tree Dilemma: Color & Fabric


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I have a Tree Dilemma.

Remember Autumn Fire that we talked about the other day? Well, I just finished sample five.

It’s a good thing it’s a small project!

I’m in a quandary, and I don’t think I’m the only person in the embroidery world who has ever been in this quandary. I figured it might be worth discussing.

Autumn Fire & colored linen

The next project we’ll be doing in the Stitch Snippets series for 2022 is Autumn Fire, a little embroidered tree that I’ve been holding in the wings for a while.

This particular autumn tree is part of a wider series of projects that sprang from my Spring Tree of many moons ago, that I’ve since redeveloped. (We’ll re-visit the new version of that tree in 2023).

My dilemma is the ground fabric.

Linen Letdown: Color Dearth

If you’ve been in the embroidery world for a while, and if you love linen as a ground fabric for hand embroidery (it really is among the best of fabrics for hand embroidery, for many reasons), then you’ve probably already experienced a Linen Letdown.

Linen Letdowns can happen with a variety of aspects of linen, but for me, the greatest Linen Letdown is the dearth of good-quality needlework linen (not clothing linen, not upholstery linen) in a variety of colors.

And by colors, I don’t mean multiple versions of white, a gazillion versions of cream or natural or drab or gray or sand or barely-there-somewhat-gray-hint-of-blue-not-really-sure-what-color-this-is color.

I’m talking about color, color.

I know color is a trendy thing, and of course, linen manufacturers aren’t going to produce every color of linen under the sun, in every shade and level of vibrance that I think should exist, because they’d shortly undo themselves financially and we’d all be left without any linen at all.

There is color out there in the Needlework Linen World – it’s just harder to find. This is a subject that will most definitely surface again on Needle ‘n Thread. I’ve started bringing in some colored linen for sample packs (like those found in my first colored linen fabric sample pack), but I plan to expand the offerings in the not-too-distant future.

But back to the Tree Dilemma.

At what point do you sacrifice color for the exact quality and type of linen that you want to use?

Or at what point do you sacrifice the exact quality and type of linen for the color you want to use?

Well, the tree in the photo above is worked on the color that I would like it to be on. It is as close, color-wise, as I could find to that deep autumn sky blue that makes fall foliage glow.

Autumn Fire & colored linen

But truthfully, it is not my favorite linen fabric to stitch on.

The linen in the photo directly above is more akin to my favorite linen for embroidery.

But can I find, anywhere in the Whole Wide World, that shade of vibrant autumn-sky-blue that I really want to use, in the type of needlework linen I prefer to stitch on?


And I’ve tried!

I can come close to it in lower thread count linens, but on a surface embroidery project this small, the weave of the lower count linen would be too dominant. (I tried it!)

I can find blues that are a lot duller, more of the “country” or “vintage” blues, in good needlework linen.

I can find lighter – much lighter – baby blues in excellent quality linen.

But I can’t find that vibrant autumn-sky-blue that I want.

If I want that color, I’ve only been able to find it in linen that’s made for clothing, as opposed to linen made for needlework or home goods.

The Choices

1. I could paint that fabric.

2. I could have someone hand dye some linen for me.

3. I could go for the lighter color of blue and just act like that was my intended color for the project.

4. Or, finally, I could go with a linen that I wouldn’t normally use for needlework, that might be a little more challenging to use in some respects, but that offers the color result that I want, that makes the finished project absolutely glow.

I’ll give you one wild guess which choice I’ve opted for…

Autumn Fire Timing

At this point, it seems that we will most likely be able to launch Autumn Fire in the first or second week of September. I really hope it’s the first week. I was shooting for the end of August, but getting supplies is taking a bit longer than anticipated.

Autumn Fire will be available in a series of articles as a free stitch-along here on the website, like Cotton Quartet and Bee-Jeweled Pincushion.

I’ll also offer PDF downloads of each installment, as usual, for members on Patreon.

And yes! There will be a materials kit that includes everything you need to complete this project: fabric, thread (silk and cotton), needles, and specially cut mat board and mounting board for the finished design. I’ll also have some hoop options available.

As the time draws a little closer, I’ll give you an exactly launch date for kits. We’ve gone out on a limb (heh heh) with the kits and we’re putting together more than usual, so keep an eye out for more information if you’re interested in this little project!


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(20) Comments

  1. Another thought…what if you put a layer of blue gauze/chiffon/tulle over the linen and stitched through both of them, a la Lynn Payette-style?

    Personally, I’d paint the fabric with watered down acrylic paints, but I bet you went with option 4.

    Carol S.

  2. Personally, I’d go for the color of linen and just deal with it not being my favorite to stitch on.

    Meanwhile, I can not wait to get my hands on this kit! It looks gorgeous.

  3. I would dye it with yarn dyes. I know Webs (yarn.com) sells packets of dye. It’s not difficult to do (no pesky skeins of yarn to keep in place), and you’ll get the exact shade you are looking for. It’s worth a try.

  4. I’m wondering what makes garment linen different than embroidery linen? It’s probably closer-woven than embroidery linen, since EL wants a more open weave and more defined holes for the stitches. But wouldn’t it be possible to stitch on GL if it was the right vibrant color? Is it that the tighter weave would damage the threads? Or is GL lighter than EL and not substantial enough to take the weight of the stitches? In that case, I wonder if backing it with a muslin (or “calico”, as my RSN Goldwork instructor called it!) would create a firm enough fabric.

    You are by far the expert, so I’m assuming you’ve already tested and discarded this idea. But am I on the right track as far as the differences between GL and EL? Thanks!!

    1. Generally, garment fabrics will often have a little more stretch to them (on the bias and across the grain), they’ll be a bit softer, the thread count is definitely higher… there are many differences.

  5. Have you tried Attic Needlework in Mesa, AZ? Their range of colors in 40-56 count linen just keeps getting better and better.

  6. Mary, I’m here for you if you ever want to try dying your own fabric. It’s easy, especially with the small pieces you work with. I would offer my services gratis, but I’m so lousy at getting to the post office I feel I might be unreliable!

    1. Thanks, Nina! When I purchase fabric for kits, I’m usually dealing with at least 20 yards at a time to start, even when the cuts are quite small. Hand dyeing is not an area I could get into right now for kits. There are simply too many variables – it would require too much space, too much time, too much experimentation, too much mess…! But thank you for the offer of help! 🙂

  7. Mary,
    Another alternative is to use a blue silk background.
    I have just bought some pre-cut silk dupion in pale blue from Inspirations. It is a glorious sky blue colour and will look fabulous with the reds and oranges of your tree.

    1. Yes, that’s true! Switch the fabric! I did bring in a whole slew of silk swatches in dupioni, shantung, and silk satin, just to see if there was anything that really grabbed my attention. I have a beautiful silk dupioni in just the right color of blue, but I only have about 1/4 yard of it left, and I haven’t been able to find another one like it. Other than that, I haven’t come upon a silk that I really like.

  8. The problem with dyeing your own is that I don’t think it’s quite as simple as pick a color and dye the fabric. It’s a whole art of its own* it seems. IIRC, even linen count and the water used can change the outcome. How many tries to get the color you’re after? Can it be done with home dyes? The Rit company has quite a “recipe” sheet on their website, not sure about other companies though I suspect they have similar.
    I’d probably go with having someone already into dyeing do it. My worry on that is – do they have the same “brilliant autumn blue sky” in their mind as I do?

    *I have some dyes intending to dye some of that 32 count antique white I have. I’ve not yet gotten the equipment and courage gathered to try it. Any personal knowledge I have comes from a couple of tie-dye projects from high school decades ago and reading rug hooking or yarn spinning** bloggers adventures in dyeing wool.

    ** – those who spin yarn not tall tales.

  9. oops – a couple more thoughts –
    regarding option 4 – what about quilting cotton? There’s a ton of colors available, especially now that solid colors are popular with the “modern” quilting trends of late. Yes, it’s flimsier and finer weave than needlework linen, but if backed with something, maybe it might work?? Especially after making this project 5 times, maybe there’s not much rework to wear it out. Though that might not help for those buying your kits.

    I’ve seen some lovely projects with painted backgrounds, but they usually have things like clouds or distant mountains and hills, etc., not a solid color like I think of for the autumn sky you are talking of.

    and back to dye – I’ve seen people dye things with permanent markers & 91% rubbing alcohol. Some marker lines have pretty bright colors now, that might be an option over more traditional dyes?

    Yes, once again, more rambling thoughts while waiting for coffee to gather them 🙂

  10. I dye embroidery linen sometimes because I really like deep, strong colors like black, navy blue, etc. to embroider on. This is a pillow cover for which I dyed some off-white embroidery linen I had around. Dharma Trading Co has Procion fiber-reactive dyes that give good, permanent, deep or pastel colors on cotton, linen, or silk easily in a basin or sink.

  11. Dear Mary,

    I think the answer is number 2.

    2. I could have someone hand dye some linen for me.

    No compromise!

    Thank you for your insightful posts.

    Kind regards

  12. Why not dye it yourself in your washing machine? DharmaTrading makes/ carries awesome dyes in an incredible color range … especially formulated for linen and other cellulose-based fibers as well as dyes for silk and wool.

    Highly recommended.

    1. 🙂 Hi, Susan! Ah – not my Thing, I’m afraid! I love it that other people enjoy the process, but it really wouldn’t work for my purposes. There’s also the question of space, mess, time for experimentation – I can’t add all that to what I already do. Plus, home-dyed fabrics present a new level of problem-solving, especially when trying to achieve consistent, repeatable results for kits in large volume.

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