Hi, welcome to String Revolution. I'm Léan, I live in Dublin with my husband and two little boys, and I am a dangerous stringy subversive.
My job is to radiate my creative truth, and to help you radiate yours. I create, without exception, every day. I write here when I have something to say.

(learn more about me).

My Favourite Craft Blogs: Needle ‘n Thread

Red camellia from my parents' garden (April 2010)

Whee! Welcome to the first in a new series of posts in which I introduce you to some of my favourite craft blogs. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages – almost since I started String Revolution, in fact – but somehow I haven’t had the nerve until now.

(Haven’t had the nerve? Indeed. I’m peculiar that way.)

Needle ‘n Thread

If you’ve poked around the online embroidery scene at all, you’re quite likely to have come across Mary Corbet’s Needle ‘n Thread, a beautiful, astonishingly comprehensive site devoted to hand embroidery.

And when I say “devoted”, well, Mary Corbet takes that word to a whole new level.

If String Revolution is a testament to my multi-track, dabbly, dilletantish approach to crafts, Needle ‘n Thread shows what’s possible when you set out to dive cleanly into one discipline.

You hit a world at every plunge, essentially – Mary has been blogging since 2006, and there isn’t so much as a hint of her flagging, as far as I can see! Her profound love for her craft, her passion for sharing what she knows, and her exceptional proficiency shine out from every post.

What You’ll Find There

Page upon page upon page of incredibly useful material; its usefulness, moreover, transcends the blog’s stylistic focus. Mary works mainly in a highly traditional style, and although I mainly don’t, I’ve learned huge amounts from her.

Humility. Mary is a true expert – she has no need to talk up her accomplishments. Instead, when something doesn’t go as well as she’d have wished, she often shares the details with her readers, in case it helps us.

Respect – for her readers, and for the crafts she loves. Mary strives to meet her own ideal standards, and even when she’s writing about very simple techniques (e.g. this recent post about turning corners in stem stitch), she tacitly assumes that we are all similarly striving. She doesn’t do that thing you often see in the crafty world, of emphasising how easy something is. That has its place, certainly, but I find Mary’s more serious approach refreshing.

What You Won’t Find There

Shortcuts, cheats, quick fixes, ways to make it look as though you’ve done more work than you have. At Needle ‘n Thread, it’s authenticity all the way down.

Popular trends, or engagement with current debates. (At least, not as far as I can discern – though perhaps I’m wrong, given that Mary’s is the only fine hand-embroidery blog that I read regularly.)

Grit. Subversion. Politics. Not really her style.

A Few of My Favourite Bits

The Crewel Rooster project. I followed this from start to finish – the highs, the lows, the drama of colour and stitch choice – and it was riveting, I tell you.

Video tutorials – more than 50 of them – showing how to do individual stitches.

This post about using an olive oil and sugar scrub to make the hands smooth before stitching – not so much for the tip, which I haven’t used (yet), but because it’s indicative of the thoroughness with which Mary Corbet goes about her work.

Mary kindly answered some questions

Léan: You’re a teacher by profession – and also, it seems, by vocation. Have you always had this drive to share what you know, to help others attain the standards you’re aiming for?

Mary: Not really. I’d like to say, “Oh yes, I’ve always been driven to help others learn…” and other similar noble things. But the fact is, I didn’t decide on teaching until my third year of college. The thought never occurred to me before then! Around that I time I realized how important it is to pass on what we have received. I’ve been given much in my life – from my family, from my own excellent teachers, from friends and neighbors. Not really in terms of material things, but definitely in terms of education, appreciation for the arts, a fairly solid work ethic, and other things that you can’t really put a value on. So teaching, in a sense, is a kind of payback.

Léan: You’ve clearly hit upon a setup that really works for you when it comes to Needle ‘n Thread. What would you say are your chief assets as a blogger?

Mary: Um… my family would probably say my biggest asset is my big mouth – I never seem to run out of something to say! But really, when it comes to blogging, my readers are my greatest asset. They inspire me, they motivate me. Their enthusiasm feeds my enthusiasm. Blogging regularly can be tough, but the interest from others in surface embroidery, the interaction through the website with like-minded people, and the many terrific people I’ve met through the website – these all make the tough parts of blogging worthwhile.

Léan: Who is your ideal reader?

Mary: This is a tough question! There are all different types of readers. The ideal for me is the reader who takes what he or she needs from my website and puts it to good use. I love interaction with my readers, too, but I realize that commenting and interacting on a blog doesn’t appeal to everyone. Admittedly, there’s nothing better than receiving an e-mail or a comment that says, “I finally learned this. This is what I did with it.” That’s success!

Léan: More than five years on, Needle ‘n Thread is phenomenally substantial. I’ve linked to some of my favourite parts of the blog. Would you like to share any other posts that you’re particularly fond of, or proud of?

Mary: Like you, I liked the rooster project. I made so many mistakes on him, had so many different ideas after I had stitched an area, and had to rip out so many times, that it was great fun! My favorite projects to work on are simpler projects – the spring towel, the opposite faces pillowcases (there are two pillowcases), my felt needlebook, and the blackwork fish. Unlike more complicated projects, these were pretty relaxing and I could do whatever I wanted on them. But it’s somewhat difficult to narrow down absolute favorites – I never start anything that doesn’t attract me somehow, because I know I would never finish it. (And there are already too many projects I don’t finish!)

Thank you, Mary, for maintaining such a wonderful resource for hand embroiderers. May your needle never grow dull!

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