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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Goldwork … and Holding!


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Well, here it is. Wednesday, April 26th! The deadline for this goldwork project!

Ok, ok. It’s what I called “the first deadline.” I really wanted to be finished by today, since we have a family wedding this weekend, with family coming in from out of town for the event, and all kinds of activity going on. I knew it would get hairy around here! The “absolute” deadline is next Tuesday.

There were multiple spanners tossed into the works on pretty much every front lately, so, alas, here we are. Unfinished goldwork. Deadline looming. Wedding this weekend. Medical appointments. Last minute tree removal in front yard. House still in the process of construction. Another new toilet to be ordered. Little Blooms awaiting progress. And on and on and on.

But hey! Who doesn’t have this type of Life Episode now and then? It keeps things exciting (!) – and it gives us a chance to appreciate the those quiet, peaceful days. There’s bound to be some of those ahead shortly.

Today, I’ll share goldwork progress from Monday – we’ve gone a little farther since then – and then regretfully, I have to put you on hold for a wee bit. I’ll tell you about that below.

Goldwork medallion, Marian monogram altar cover

The photo above is a close up of the center medallion that’s going on the altar cover we’re working on.

It’s 8″ round. It features a Marian monogram with a crown and cross.

In the center of the cross is a rather larg semi-precious stone (a blue topaz) set in a 14k gold bezel tray, which was customized by a local jeweler with small flat loops so that I could attach it to the fabric under the goldwork padding that I built up around there. I still have small bit of twist to put around the bezel. The twist will nestle into the goldwork and smooth up the area a bit.

The background of this medallion is flat silk – Au Ver a Sole’s Soie Ovale in color 0006 – which is the most gloriously mysterious blue in the world. Sometimes it looks deep and dark; sometimes it is vivid, royal blue. It depends on the light and the angle of viewing. I think it’s probably the most beautiful blue thread I’ve ever worked with.

Everywhere you see white felt foundation will be silver and everywhere you see yellow felt foundation will be gold. The medallion is almost finished now. I’m glad we went with a combination of silver and gold – the silver is pretty fabulous!

That basketweave area on the crown is worked with a silver twist (size “super”) that’s rather fine. I was going to initially use silver passing thread (like the smoother gold you see on the cross and the monogram area), but the twist had such a light sparkle to it, that I couldn’t resist using the twist instead. Besides, I like the texture a lot!

Today, I’ll be surrounding most of the elements in the design with pearl purl twisted with silk (matching the letters already worked – you can see those in earlier articles). And then I’ll be finishing off with the rest of the chip work. My plan is to have the medallion finished by Friday. Um….

We’ve been working mostly around the clock on this, putting in 12 – 15 hour days, except for a few interruptions here and there. If I can get in the equivalent of two more 12 – 15 hour days on it, I’m pretty confident it will be finished.

Goldwork medallion, Marian monogram altar cover

Anna is diligently appliquéing the letters to the cloth. We are not doing a turned edge appliqué. Instead, we left about 1/8″ of linen all around, which we used to tack down with a running stitch (in blue), working the running stitch very close (almost under) the gold outlines, to hold the letters in place. Then, the final stretched pearl purl twisted with silk is going around the letters. It covers the trimmed linen edge.

I’ll explain later how we mounted the velvet cloth and so forth, for this part of the job. We were asked not to use a lining on the altar cover (because often, with velvet covers, over time they start to hang weird, or they become difficult to manage due to the lining more than anything else. It was believed the cover will hang better without lining. This created a little problem for us, as far as getting the lettering on in a reasonable way. So I’ll go into that later. Hopefully, the back won’t look too bad, but I’d prefer it if there were a lining on it, that’s for sure.

We are a little farther along in the appliqué of the lettering and in the embroidery on the medallion, so I’m still confident we will meet the final deadline, if nothing else in life goes amuck at the moment. I just need five days of smooth sailing!

The Holding Pattern

To make it a little more feasible to finish this project on time, and to take care of a few other difficulties that have cropped up, I’m going to put the blog here on hold for the next week. We’ll be back to normal scheduled programming next Friday, May 5th.

I’m sorry to say that Little Blooms is also on hold until then. If you’ve been stitching that project, now’s a good time to catch up on it. If you want to move ahead, you are more than welcome to improvise with your vines by working chain stitch varieties and variations on them. Our next lesson will cover the variations I used, but you’re not limited to those at all.

Wish me luck, and I’ll see you Friday, May 5th!

Thanks for your understanding!


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(15) Comments

  1. I’ve been enjoying the posts about this longer-term project. I am curious, how will this piece be stored when not in use? Is there a traditional method for these type pieces? All I can think is so much tarnish, dust and handling that will quickly take a toll. I am curious.

    1. Hi, Sara – Good question! The piece is meant to be used, and it will most likely be used until it is too worn for further use. In fact, it will be “used up.” It’s not meant to be a museum piece, or a piece used just occasionally. As an altar cover, its purpose is to protect the linens on the altar, so it will be in use every day. Depending on how often each day the altar is used (at least once, but in this church, I think it’s a minimum of three times a day), it’ll be removed for Mass and any liturgy and then replaced afterwards. Each time it’s removed, it’s folded up and put on (or in) a small side table called a credence table, and each time it’s put back on the altar, it’s unfolded and laid out on the altar to cover up the linens. So, yes, it’ll tarnish, collect dust, be handled frequently… and there’s even a chance other things will happen to it. For example, beeswax from the candles could drip on it or it could even get singed by the little used wick bits that might fall off from the long candle lighter that is used to light the candles, if the person lighting the candles isn’t diligent. But that’s what it’s there for – to keep those things from happening to the linens underneath the cloth. Eventually, it will need replacing due to wearing out or lots of other contingencies. It may even need to be replaced because the goldwork becomes too tarnished or discolored. This wear and tear is normal and it’s expected on this kind of work for purposes like this. But this isn’t to say that the piece won’t be cared for – I have no doubt that it will be used with care, to get as much longevity out of it as possible.

    2. Oh thank you for that detail. I did not realize it would be in daily use. Lack of specific religious knowledge on my part apparently.

  2. Hi Mary,
    The project is incredibly beautiful. I had a thought about a potential “lining” for you if you even see this in time. What about a removable/replaceable liner – could be basted on or even use tiny lingerie snaps. One of my concerns of going without a lining is wear and tear on the stitching on the back as it is used over time. A replaceable lining would give some protection and as it wore, could be (you got it) replaced! 🙂
    Hope this is helpful,

  3. Fingers crossed that all goes well with the Altar cross. It is going to be beautiful.
    I haven’t even started Little Blooms – so I better get myself in gear (work interferes with my hobbies!)
    Enjoy your family this weekend and have a fantastic time at the wedding!
    Good luck Mary and Anna!

  4. For whenever you can read comments, your work is absolutely gorgeous. I have enjoyed so much learning how these works of art are created. You have a beautiful gift for design and needlework that you are using to bring glory to God.

  5. Truly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as beautiful as the Altar Cloth you and Anna are making! Maybe it will your Magnum Opus of embroidery (yours and Anna’s)? It’s definitely going to be a legacy to be proud of.

    I can’t wait to see the whole thing when it’s done (I wish I was there in person to see it, but that’s impossible). Is there any way at all that you can video it as you move through the various sections? And is there any way you can show that blue silk changing colors depending on light and angle?

    Speaking for myself, I am absolutely fine with you going dark while you finish this incredible piece (and yes, I most definitely could use the time to catch up on Little Blooms).

    Thank you so much for all you do, including your spectacular photography!

  6. Wishing you the best of luck for getting finished on time, I hope you reach the weekend satisfied that everything is in order.
    I have really enjoyed following this project as it is so beyond the limits of most people’s experience of embroidery. Hard work for you and Anna, a feast for the eyes for us ! A big thank you for sharing and I look forward to seeing the finished piece.

    Enjoy your family wedding !

  7. GOOD LUCK! We’ve all been there! Take the time you need, and a day or so off to rest and recover afterwards.

    Please do keep snapping progress pix whenever you can, really looking forward to detailed descriptions and visuals of this beautiful piece eventually when it is DONE DONE DONE! Rah rah team!

  8. Hello, I was curious as to what threads are used in gold work? Is there any specific threads you might recommend or any gold metallic thread would do? Is there a link for specialty threads you recommend? Thank you.

    1. Goldwork threads are made from real metal wire, often with a percentage of gold in them depending on the thread, and often wrapped around a core of silk, cotton, or polyester. Some goldwork / real metal threads are metal wire formed like springs that don’t have a core. It just depends on the thread. Metallic threads are not the same as real metal threads and they don’t provide the unique variations that you find in real metal (goldwork) threads. If you’re in North America, right now, Berlin Embroidery in Canada is the best source for real metal threads. Hope that helps!

  9. Dear Mary

    Long time no blog.
    The Alter cloth is absolutely beautiful. The gold work is amazing.
    I do hope you managed to meet the deadline and at the same time had a lovely time at the wedding. We all have those times when we are busy and life just keeps throwing more deadlines at us. Thank you for sharing with us the progress on the Alter cloth and the beautiful gold work. Looking forward to seeing the finished embroidery.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  10. Hi Mary – when I saw those embroidered panels used in King Charles III corination I immediately thought of you ! I was wondering what you thought of the work?

  11. What an enormous job. I hope to see photos of it when it is finished. I think it will be very beautiful.

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