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 Bookshelf Dilemma: True Confessions


Amazon Books

There is a slim chance that I have an obsession with needlework books.

I’ve always been a book lover. I like to read. I love holding a real book in my hands and reading it. And when my hands are occupied with work, I like to listen to audio books.

Throughout my reading life, I’ve sunk my teeth into many genres of literature with insatiable enthusiasm until eventually glutted. Then, I moved on to the next genre and became a devotee of it until duly gorged. Right now – and for about the past five years – I’ve been on a non-fiction binge. I’ve found, much to my extreme delight, that non-fiction is possibly the best genre I’ve ever wallowed in, despite my calculated aversion to it when I was younger. You know the kind: well-written, accurate, supported by meticulous research, and related in the best tradition of story-telling? I just can’t get enough non-fiction these days.

Needlework books don’t really fall into any of the categories of regular literature that I’m talking about above. They are the Other Category of book that I tend to over-indulge in. I love needlework books! And I have a great excuse for constantly acquiring them, after all.

This poses a question: can you ever have Too Many needlework books?

Recently, I’ve been evaluating this question. I think the answer could be yes.

Needlework Books on Shelves

Warning: Messy bookshelves ahead!

When I moved into my current studio space over four years ago now, I didn’t move all my books over from my previous space. There, the majority of my needlework library fills a double, floor-to-ceiling, 24″-deep cabinet, with shelves stacked with books in double layers.

You can see a picture of those cabinets in this article. Since then, that double cabinet has overflowed into the neighboring cabinets. All the shelves, top to bottom, are devoted to books and periodicals that are devoted to needlework.

In my current studio, I’ve got most most frequently used needlework books (reference books and some of my old favorites that inspire me), plus new books I’ve acquired in the past four years.

Needlework Books on Shelves

I have a set of large cubbies for books. And I have a few small bookshelves for books.

And then there are the Stacks of Books that are on top of the bookshelves. And on top of the cubbies. And on small side tables. And here and there and everywhere.

Needlework Books on Shelves

Many of the books on my shelves you will probably recognize. Maybe you have them, too. Or maybe they’re on a wish list?

Over the years, I’ve also received other people’s needlework book collections. Folks have sent their books to me because they needed to reduce or unload their needlework books, and they didn’t want them going to a thrift shop or the land fill. They’d rather get them into the hands of people who want and appreciate them. They figured I could do that, and I was happy to help them.

Needlework Books on Shelves

Often, I’ll buy a newly published needlework book in anticipation of reading it and possibly reviewing it, only to have the publishers send me a copy as well.

These conditions have led to lots of repeats, as well as to housing many books that I simply wouldn’t keep, myself, because they aren’t in my area of focus.

And while it has always been part of my plan to have a wide variety of needlework books available as needlework library for folks taking part in classes or workshops, the long and short of it is this:

I have a surfeit of books.

As we prepare to move to the next studio space, we’re going to have to winnow out some of these books in order to make space.

Needlework Books on Shelves

To thin out my collection, we’re probably going go the eBay route. I can’t put them in my regular online shop as a listing – it would clutter the shop up and it would be difficult to manage.

Anna loves to do eBay, and eBay is a good way to get the books into the hands of people who really want them. I’ve decided it’s a pretty good solution – eBay or other online used-book outlets.

Needlework Books on Shelves

It is a dilemma, though! It takes time to photograph and list items, but there’s more to it than that – especially with the books that were never mine. I know my books. I can say what they are, where they came from, what they’re about. I don’t necessarily know other people’s books. So we will have to see how to handle listing them.

Needlework Books on Shelves

Tippy books! you can tell we’ve been pulling books off the shelves lately!

I think my book collection is probably the biggest hurdle in my head for the upcoming move to the new studio space. We’re going to use bookshelves to separate out work spaces, so I think my books will have a decent new home. But just the idea of going through them all daunts me.

So, back to the question: can you ever have too many books? At one point in my life, I would have said no. But as I look at this looming task, I find myself reconsidering!

It’s going to be great, though, once the job is done!

Coming Up

On Friday, we’ll kick off Autumn Fire. I want to give as many people as possible enough time to get their kits in hand before we launch, so Friday it is. Keep an eye out!

Hope your week is off to a great start!


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(23) Comments

  1. Mary, I understand your problem — I’ve been a “stash magnet” – for supplies rather than books. For descriptions, Anna might find some of these listed on GoodReads. Pricing — auction vs. fixed price: addall.com may give you an idea of the going prices depending on condition and shipping. Best wishes on “destashing!

  2. It would be great if there was a way to let your Patreons have first crack at the books that are going to go. Maybe you could post a compiled list or some composite photos of the covers that Anna would use for eBay? I can see quite a few from just the pictures in this post that I wouldn’t mind buying.
    Coincidentally, I was cataloging my craft books this weekend and I’m close to 150. I thought that was a lot! But I could definitely accumulate more– especially the stuff you have that is probably out of print.

  3. I recently had a similar dilemma–I donated a lot of the books that I had to the local library-They were thrilled and said that they would put them into circulation so that others might be able to benefit…Just a thought if you don’t want to sell all of them.

  4. I have too many books. I know this because I am trying to move. So, I decided that the books had to be thinned. Going further, every time I purchase a new book, another must go. I did not put them on ebay, but donated them to the local library. The library sells donated books and discarded library books at their book sales. The library then has more money for new books. And I have more money for new books. I have stopped buying fiction and only read it on line. This helps when you are a voracious reader. I have filled two bookcases with sewing, quilting, embroidery, knitting, weaving and books about making books. I’m going to winnow these as well.

    No Marie Kondo for me. I need lots of fabric and lots of thread to create. So there will be no winnowing of threads. But some of those books are just taking up space and I no longer refer to them. So off they go to new homes. Good luck, it’s hard work.

  5. I had my 6 year old look at your shelf, and she picked out the Reader’s Digest “Complete Guide to Needlework” …. the same book she’s using to teach herself knitting stitches! My copy was given to my sister by my Grandma in 1992 and has been well loved and referenced. Nope… cannot have too many books! My other needleworker, age 8, on the other hand, is a non-fiction lover like you, currently reading and rereading sever fat biographies of Saints when she’s not sewing, knitting, or embroidering. Love this post 😀 God bless you this week!

  6. Yes, I have a LOT of books too! I recognize most of the titles in your photos!! (blush) I have loved them all. I, too, am trying to figure out how to thin the herd — I have grown past some of the earliest books — but others are absolutely necessary!! And I ALWAYS enjoy going through my bookshelves and discovering something new that I didn’t know was covered in THAT book! So looking through them for different reasons always uncovers something good! It’s so hard……. I do wish I has someone that was willing to go the ebay-route. Meanwhile, the books shelves (ALL of them) continue to groan.

  7. Yup, got a bunch of the same titles. The ones I was surprised to see on anyone’s list were the “4,000 Animal Motifs” and “4,000 Alphabet Motifs.” There’s a third volume in this Motif collection too, Mary, tho the name escapes me now…I can spend hours leafing through them for ideas!

  8. “they didn’t want them going to a thrift shop or the land fill. They’d rather get them into the hands of people who want and appreciate them.”

    Surely, you have public libraries where you live. You might even have enough books to warrant a “Mary Corbet” collection. And, you could visit them any time you wanted!


    Now, imagine two people crazy about books and their joint/separate collections of books.

    Our home office has husband’s fictional books, our fairly good sized collection of books on the 18th century (we are reenactors and same includes books on making repro clothing) and other history periods, part of my collection of Louisa May Alcott books, general reference books, computer related books & manuals plus magazines related to reenacting & history.

    In our bedroom is husband’s James Bond book collection (including some first editions), on my night stand are evening reference books mostly British history, on husband’s nightstand some books he is reading.

    In our spare bedroom, referred to as “The Teddies’ room” are non fiction and fiction books on/about teddy and related bears plus related magazines.

    Our craft related books,including needlework history and instructions, are in our main studio behind our kitchen – several bookcases filled, though half of one shelf is our cooking books and two shelves hold my Louisa May Alcott main collection (while many are antique, none are first editions) and half a shelf of books by and about Laura Ingalls Wilder and a few by/about Kathryn Forbes. The craft books are mostly needlework and sewing.

    In the finished part of our basement, which is also used for craft storage and cutting table for fabric/mat board, the bookcase holds woodwork, leatherwork, metal jewelry and some other crafts related books as well as movie related books including biographies. We did have a bookcase of books related to husband’s profession (he is mostly retired) but Hurricane Ida leaked through the window behind it and the bookcase had to be disposed of – he donated many of the books – only the bookcase was destroyed, but we still have many of them looking for a new home – not – in our house. Game and toy related books are in one of the metal closets in the basement.

    Additional books on woodcraft are on shelves in his woodshop – what should be our garage, but isn’t.

    And of course both of our “reading rooms” (aka bathrooms) have books in them also

  10. Sadly, the answer is yes. I spent this last summer going through all my arts and crafts library plus the ones I’d brought home from my late mom’s collection. What I got rid of were mostly duplicate information or things I wasn’t interested in anymore, but it was still hard to let them go.

    I donated everything to the local Friends of the Library. Now all I have to do is remember what I donated and not buy the books back.

  11. We have the same problem. Both academics, and I am a textile/fiber arts person. At least my books are in a Filemaker database (and Delicious) so I can tell what I have. But giving them up is too painful still… and there are always more. Hoopla works for a lot of fiction, but not for craft source/ reference books! Be careful moving them …I gave myself bursitis packing up just 96 linear feet of them so we could replace flooring…

  12. I have discovered it is time to give some of my books away too. I have every book, sewing pattern, quilt pattern and magazines since I began teaching in 1983. Those old books have great vintage info, but I don’t open them any more, so I have decided to give them to my beginning students.

    When my studio felt like a hoarders nest, I realized I do not need to keep every book that is given to me, better to pass them on and create a space conducive to my work. Now to do it! I love those books too!

  13. OMG just realised that I too must have an obsession about books. As I scan thru your pictures I have most of the books that adorn your shelves. I have to hide the growing numbers in baskets so my husband doesn’t see them all.

  14. Ha, same operation on this side of the ocean. For the same reason :). I am using an app (Momox) that lets me scan or type the ISBN and then I get an offer immediately. That way, you get less, but you don’t have the time-consuming tasks of taking pictures and making listings. The app even has an option for picking up your parcels at no extra cost. Maybe a similar thing is available in the US? Good luck!

  15. Too many books? I’m going to land on the fence hard on this.
    Warning – rambling thoughts ahead!

    No, one can never have too many books. Yes, most of the information can be found on internet now. But what about *when* people take their sites private or off the internet all together? There’s a gajillion broken links, who knows where the information they used to lead to is now? Or what if that long feared apocalypse does happen and there’s no power, let alone internet? Or you want the information or inspiration while curled in bed hoping for sleep to come (science has shown screens are not good for sleep). Anyone can post tutorials and information to the internet, at least book publishers have vetted authors they publish (at least I hope so!). There are still people who don’t have decent internet access. And some of us simply like the feel and smell of a book in hand.

    Yes, one can have too many books. When you can’t find the information you’re looking for, and it becomes easier to head for the internet, maybe you do have too many books. When the shelves are full and you start laying books flat in that little space between the book tops and bottom of the next shelf. When you start stacking them on or under the sewing machine or any other open spot they can fit. When you buy them, read through and never look at them again. When the shelves collapse, though with particle board shelves that’s a shelf quality problem not a book quantity problem, IMHO. When you start considering expanding the collection to other places that aren’t suitable or easily accessible – damp basements, attics, garages, your car, relatives and friends houses.

    If you haven’t guessed – yes I do have a lot of books. No fiction other than a few children’s books, it’s all sewing, quilting, needlework, knitting, crochet, gardening, cookbooks, etc. I wish I could say that I supported authors & publishers fully and bought all of them new at full price. Truth is most came from library sales, garage/estate sales, and used book stores. Most of the new books I did buy were purchased on sale. Very few I paid full price for. I hope that doesn’t discourage what you stock Mary – I did buy some from you!

    I’ve had to become much more selective in my book purchases. Quit buying books totally? Never! I do still add to my wish list. While I did retire a couple of years ago and have more time to read and do the hobbies, I’m out of space for more books. Retirement also means the option of working overtime to re-build the finances is gone. Right now I’m trying to be more about buying and using the supplies to complete the things I want to make, and space for those is running short too. I’d use the local library but last time I stopped in, their already very small and outdated section of what I used to check out was decimated. No needlework, sewing, or quilting, only a few gardening and cookbooks. And as I get older, there’s the question of how much stuff do I want to leave for DS (or DH if I expire first) to deal with. Yet, it’s so hard for me to move books out of my collection, same with the fabrics I know in my heart I’ll never sew into garments or quilts.

    I’m glad to see I have quite a few of the same books you do, and that others are also in the same situation with books that I am.

  16. You might want to also list the books and magazines on Etsy, its a great community of crafters. Possibly Amazon also. Since the pandemic forced me to work from home, my library has grown alarmingly from these sources. Good luck with the clear out, I must be joining you soon (but not yet! haha)

  17. Hello,
    I just read your comment and would like to add something.
    If you feel like you have too many books on embroidery, I think you need to put it into perspective.
    I have been a bobbin lace maker since 1982, I like needlework such as knitting, crocheting, embroidery, patchwork, sewing… all this has always helped me to live and support the present world. Indeed, when I work with my hands, I think of nothing but praying and thinking about the people I love. This clears my head completely and allows me to move forward in the present world. For this, I need to surround myself with books, magazines or works to start and/or finish.
    And while looking at the books you show us, I noticed that I have a few in English and French, my mother tongue.
    Here it is: a small sharing because I like your site very much and I consult it regularly.
    You offer us so many beautiful things.
    It is always with great pleasure that I admire it.
    It’s always with great pleasure that I read you.

  18. I don’t know if this will make you feel better or not, but I have over 2000 sq ft of crowd book cases. Years ago, my daughters started
    counting my books, just to make a point and at 4,ooo I made the stop. They told me that it is going to take them forever to go thru my collection of books when I pass. I told them just to call a large used book store chain near us. I joke and tell my friends, if Amazon does not deliver within a 10 day period, they send an ambulance and a medical crew to make sure I’m OK.

    You are NOT ALONE, but remember, we could have worse vices! Brenda Dillard Dickson, Tn. USA (a suburb of Nashville, Tn.)

  19. Loved your book post! We moved back to my home state of Montana recently, and before leaving Washington State, I had to face the shelves of books in our house (with a BA in English Literature and my interest in many crafts–embroidery, jewelry, quilting, weaving, bookmaking, rug hooking, and, most recently, cartonnage–there were books in every room in our house). Taking “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” to heart, I began winnowing down my volumes. I was able to donate more than 20 boxes of books to the AAUW book sale, which funds scholarships for local women returning to college (among other projects and events). Now in Montana, I’ve already found more books I could part with, and I’ve managed to fit nearly all of the craft books I wanted to keep into my four-shelf bookcase (though there are a few more boxes in the basement to go through yet). Parting with a good section of my home library has been sad and liberating at the same time. It has been a time of realizing that I won’t live long enough to read all of my books or do all of the crafts I’d like to. I may even winnow down my interests, too, though embroidery and quilting will always be on the top of my list, as long as my eyes and hands allow. What a wondrous journey we’re on! Thank you for being one of the treasures along the way!

  20. Hmmm, I think the many linear feet of bookshelves in my home would be evidence that I love books! And I’m well aware that I have a book addiction. To that end, would you share your eBay seller name so that we can bid/buy some of your extras? 😉
    Carrie PlaneNut

    1. Hi, Carrie – Thanks for your note, and apologies about the long delay in reply. I have not yet gotten around to listing the extra books in my library yet, but when I do, I will certainly announce it on the website and I will link to the eBay channel. Thanks!

  21. I’m guilty.

    I’ve been collecting needlework books and magazines for about 35 years. Quilting, cross stitch, knitting, crochet, sewing…I like to look at them for inspiration, not to mention I want to make almost every project, so dying is out of the question.

    The last time I moved, I gave away most of my quilt books and magazines. Boy, was that dumb. I’ve regretted it ever since.

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