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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Kicking Off 2024 at Home – Wool Embroidery


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Happy New Year and Welcome to 2024 on Needle ‘n Thread! I hope you all had a joy-filled, restful break for the holidays!

I sure did! It was low-key, quiet, and restful almost to the point of comfortable stupefaction. My break consisted of some decorating, some cooking, some family-visiting, some reading, some watching, some sleeping, some listening, some eating, some friend-visiting, some tea-drinking, some merry-making, some cocoa-drinking, some game-playing, some carol-singing, some cheese-eating, some wool-embroidering, some mitten-felting, some soup-making, some cookie-decorating, more tea-drinking, more cheese-eating, and a little more tea-drinking. And cheese-eating. And soup-eating. And finally, some year-planning. And a some more embroidering. And some more sleeping.

I think that about covers it!

I’m not quite ready for the holidays to end – and in fact, they don’t officially end in my mind until January 6th. I leave my decorations up and keep the whole holiday vibe going until after the Epiphany (January 6th), which is the end of the real twelve days of Christmas. I’m always sad to see the lights, ornaments, trees, garlands, bows, sparkles and twinkles of Christmas disappear. But I suppose the transition out of Christmas makes next year’s preparation and festivities all the more welcome when they come around again!

Over the break, I started something so that I’d have a project to work on at home. I’ll show you…

Embroidering Felted Mittens

My wonderful, adorable, lovely, kind, generous, beautiful (this is all by way of flattery, so she does it again) sister Sarah – who lives in Pennsylvania – knitted me some Massive Mittens in wool yarn that I felted down into normal-sized mittens, just like I did with these wool mittens years ago, which she also knitted.

I wanted to use Heathway wool on them, because Heathway wool is such a gorgeous, deliciously buttery-soft wool to stitch with, and they have a fabulous range of shades in great color families.

At first, I was going to fiddle out a folky sort of design – something rather Nordic in flavor.

But then I realized I really just wanted a project that I could stitch ever-so-randomly, enjoying the fibers and the colors I wanted to use, but without a whole lot of thought because, after all, it’s vacation. And I was being Excessively Lazy.

Plus, I had a picture in my head of something that I wanted to try.

Embroidering Felted Mittens

The picture in my head involved working in shades, and I was hesitating between shades of coral-to-reddish and shades of lilac / purple.

I went with the purple family.

Thank goodness.

Because… oh dear. You’ll see eventually why the choice of a purple family was way better than anything pink / coral / red!

Embroidering Felted Mittens

Because I wanted to work out a kind of ombré effect with the shades of purple, I portioned off the mittens into section, marking the sides with small scraps of wool thread in a high-contrast color. I will pull these threads out as I finish each section, as I move from shade to shade.

Embroidering Felted Mittens

For the embroidery, I decided to work a meandering chain stitch using two strands of Heathway wool. Why chain stitch? Well, I suppose I could have used backstitch or stem stitch – they are equally scoopable stitches – but I like the heaviness of the chain stitch.

When working on an item like a mitten, you have to “scoop” your stitches. For obvious reasons, you can’t take your thread to the back of the work completely with any amount of ease or convenience. Instead, you scoop up a bit of the fabric, working with the needle and thread only on the front of the felt. Everything, therefore, pretty much starts on the outside of the mitten. And you have to hide the beginnings and ends of your threads, working from the front and into the felt.

Because of the nature of the thick felt, though, this is all fairly easy, especially with line stitches that can be nicely scooped. You don’t even have to scoop all the way to the back of the felt – you can scoop into the felt, but not all the way to the back, because the felt is super dense.

My idea was to work a meandering chain stitch in an approach similar to vermicelli goldwork (you can see an example of vermicelli goldwork here).

As I moved down the mitten and reached each marker on the sides, my plan was to switch to the next shade of purple.

All of this was trucking along just fine and I was really enjoying the process…

… except for one small problem.

Working with two strands of the wool in chain stitch around both the front and palm-side of the mitten, the whole process ended up being a Massive Thread Hog.

I ran out of each shade of purple before I ever got to the sectional marks.

And that’s only on the first mitten.

Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

Or something like that.

Obviously, there was no prior proper planning here.

I’ve ordered more wool. It’ll be here tomorrow or the next day.

I’ll show you how this ombré vermicelli chain stitch approach is working out on the first mitten – and you will see why it’s a darned good thing I went with purple and not the corals, pinks, or reds!

Happy New Year, my friends! I hope 2024 is off to a great start for you!


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(10) Comments

  1. Is the Nordic Needle still in business? or is this just a private blog? I have a question but it doesn’t need to be a WWW question. To what address may I send my question? Thank you

    Pastor Becky Senner
    Sioux Falls, SD

    1. Pretty sure Nordic Needle is out of business. They might still have a placeholder-type website, but I don’t think they’re producing anything. The shop has been closed for years and years.

      I’m not sure which blog you’re referring to, about being a private blog. If you’re referring to Needle ‘n Thread (where you left the comment), I’m a public blog and website and online shop, but I’m not associated with Nordic Needle at all.

  2. Looking forward to seeing what you do with the mittens. Also glad to see I’m not the only one that things Christmas runs through January 6. So many people think the 12 days of Christmas come before the holiday. I get so disappointed when Valentine’s Day stuff goes up on December 26.

  3. I remember the mittens you embroidered before. Can you remind me the pattern and yarn your sister used again.I look forward to seeing the end results for this pair..

  4. Happy, happy New Year, Mary! Thank you for that opening paragraph, so clever, and funny – it had me laughing out loud!
    Really looking forward to see all that you decide to make in 2024! I am really hoping that you might include a whitework pall amongst them?
    All the very best!

  5. Happy New Year, Mary!
    I’m glad that you’ve had such a lovely, fun-filled holiday!
    To continue the 12 Days of Christmas, perhaps you could follow a custom we celebrate in Puerto Rico. On the eve of the Epiphany (5 January), children put grass out (We put it in a shoe box under our beds.) for the camels of the Magi (Three Kings), who were certainly very hungry after their long trip to visit the Baby Jesus. In gratitude, the Magi would leave us presents on the morning of 6 January.
    We always left our Christmas tree and Nativity up until 7 January.

  6. Oh, Mary, now that you’ve done SOMETHING, the rest of us can talk about what you should have done! I see that swirling stitch as light-weight, lacy — even if it is purple — and not taking itself so seriously. One strand might have done it. As to making mittens, both Ravelry and Drops are international and offer thousands of patterns in various gauges. I recommend Brown Sheep’s lovely wool/mohair Lamb’s Pride Worsted or the worsted weight from Bartlett Yarns, an ancient American mill. I used to sell huge mittens on eBay made from “black sheep” natural color (actually a brownish dark grey) Bartlett Yarn wool. They were knitted by an old pattern, fairly simple, designed to be felted down by the end-user by dropping into the wife’s soup or leaving palm curving up on the radiator. These were lovingly knitted for mountaineers and fishermen who swore their hands never felt cold, even when wet. I was amazed at how many big guy customers felt terribly antsy at felting their own mittens. You describe the felting process very well. I now wonder if not all machines agitate. Alas, I use laundromat washers and had a hard time felting, even tho the books said it was duck soup!

    1. Thanks, Mimi. These mittens turned out great! They’re worsted weight wool and they felt into a wonderful, warm, really sturdy, weather-proof mitten. I use them (well, the ones I posted many years ago – I haven’t used this particular pair yet) whenever we have snow. They’re especially great when I have to clean off the car. The insides (and therefore, my hands) never get wet.

      I love that the knit (unfelted) cuff gets sewn in at the end, so you have a nice snug cuff inside, that keeps out snow. Best Mittens Ever! And so easy and quick!

      You are correct, not all machines agitate. There are felting instructions out there for front-loading machines that don’t have an agitator in the center. My machine agitates (I have a Speed Queen commercial washer), and I just keep turning it back to the agitation part of the cycle until I get the shrink and level of felting that I want. I always stick my hand into the mittens when I check them, to make sure that they are going to fit right. I check them about every five minutes. It doesn’t take too long for them to felt, once the water is in the machine – only about 15-20 minutes. And then when I take them out, I fit them on my hands and leave them there, damp, for a couple minutes, pressing them to the shape and size of my hands as much as possible, and then I take them off and stand them to dry.

      If the wool is in any way hairy – which, with some yarns, the mittens can be rather hairy when they come out of the washer – I go over the mittens with a felting needle once they’re dry, just to reduce the fuzziness. I also felt right along the top of the fingers (the curve) of the hand to round the tip out as much as I want. I prefer a rounded tip on a mitten to a pointed tip.

      One aspect of these mittens that I really love is the fact that there is no seam. There’s just that little conical tip on the hands (which ends up rounded and smooth once felted). A lot of the embroidered mittens out there have seams on part of the mittens – the parts are are sewn or felted together after the embroidery is complete. But this always leaves a seam of sorts. I love the fact that these don’t have a seam anywhere!

  7. Dear Mary

    Happy New Year to you and your family, I’m glad you had a restful time over Christmas with your friends and family. The mittens look warm and cosy, just what you need over the winter months. I love the pattern you have chosen the stitches and the colour of the thread really suit the mittens. Thank you for sharing with us your Christmas present (mittnes) and the lovely design you have chosen for the mittens.

    Regards Anita Simmance

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