This week it is my great pleasure to talk to Mary Corbet of Needle N Thread. Not that Mary needs much introduction – if you are one of the +/- ten thousand subscribers you will be familiar with her daily postings in your inbox. Mary covers topics on all forms of embroidery from step by step project lessons, online classes, stitch techniques, free patterns, book reviews, information on materials and equipment etc, just too many topics to name. I believe she is soon to introduce a DVD of all the stitch techniques, we can’t wait. Mary is a household name in the embroidery world, she is the “Martha Stewart” of embroidery!
This feisty lady , I believe she is of Irish descent – that says it all :), is a minefield of information on embroidery, if you have a question on any topic Mary can answer it. Mary and I have developed a friendship over the years, grounded on our common love of embroidery but she is also the first person I contact when I need help and always receive a long detailed reply. She is knowledgeable, fun and the most selfless person I know when it comes to sharing her expertise.
In this interview with Mary I am going to take you behind the scenes for a look at what Mary Corbet is all about. I don’t think we have any idea of the work that’s involved to produce these daily postings – not only is she required to be well informed on the subject of embroidery, but also know a great deal about photography, video and computer technology. After my debacle with trying to create a video using my web cam I am in awe of her expertise!
When I needed to know how to take a picture of my computer screen, Mary was the one to tell me, when I needed help setting up my blog I asked Mary. Like all of us Mary does have another life outside of her website, in fact when I asked her to do this interview she was on the road taking her parents to Alabama for her Aunt’s 94th birthday, laptop in tow so she could stay connected and post her daily bloggings!
In this interview Mary humbly tells us more about herself for instance, did you know that Mary gave up a teaching post to devote more time to her website? You can read all about it below.
1. Mary please tell us about yourself and personal life briefly? Who is Mary Corbet?
I grew up in a large family (#7 of 8 children). My dad was a naval aviator, so we lived many different places while I was growing up. After high school, I moved to Kansas to go to college, and after finishing my undergraduate degree, I began teaching. Then I pursued post-graduate degrees while still teaching, and then continued to teach at various levels, from high school to university level. In fact, from the time I was five years old, I’ve never not been in school, on one side of the desk or the other!
2. When did you first become interested in embroidery and how?
I got involved in embroidery as a child and a teenager, primarily because my older sisters, my mom, and my aunt enjoyed an interest in counted cross stitch, which was the big thing in the US in the 80’s. At that time, surface embroidery information was pretty hard to come by here. I had one “old book” that I found at a garage sale – it was Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book! Through that, I was able to dabble with stitches. It wasn’t until I was in college studying the history of art that I became acutely aware of the heritage of hand embroidery and its magnificent place in art history. These studies really sparked my interest in the history of embroidery, thanks, really, to one teacher, who loaned me a book on the history of ecclesiastical embroidery.
My interest grew from there, and I studied a lot and read a lot about embroidery as an art. But I still didn’t know how to acquire serious instructional information in surface embroidery. The Internet at that time was not what it is now! My sister started buying Inspirations Magazine about then and getting into heirloom embroidery, so during summer vacations, I pinched her copies of the magazine. I was able to learn a lot from those magazines – not only about technique, but also about where to find more information and how to find surface embroidery supplies.
3. Where did you train?
Does my dorm room count?! Seriously, though, I have no “formal training” in the needlearts. I’m self-taught. I suppose you could say I studied in the School of Trial and Error! I’ve attended some workshops in recent years, and I have plenty of formal training in the field of education, which helps quite a bit when it comes to teaching embroidery.
4. Did you inherit your love of embroidery from anyone in particular?
It’s hard to pin that down to any one person. I’d like to say it was my grandmother or my mom who gave me a love for embroidery, but it’s not really the case! It would be more accurate to say that my love of embroidery comes from the whole history of needlework in general.
5. You recently gave up teaching to devote yourself full time to the cause of needlework – can you tell us a bit more about this?
Well, I still teach one class, but that’s another story altogether! But yes, I’ve given up formal classroom teaching for a while, to “test the waters.” Let’s call it a sabbatical! This was the situation: I couldn’t give 100% both to my professional life and to Needle ‘n Thread, which had become large, expensive, and time-consuming. One of them had to go, and it was a tough decision – probably the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. And a scary one, too! It’s not easy to give up the security of a good profession and everything that comes along with it, to venture into the unknown. But shutting down Needle ‘n Thread would’ve been a lot like chopping off an arm or two (or three!). It’s become an important part of my life, and so have all the people with whom I’ve come into contact because of Needle ‘n Thread. I love teaching, but I like to think that I still manage a little bit of that through the website.
As you know, I took the plunge with Needle ‘n Thread. Was it the right decision? The jury is still out!
6. You post daily on embroidery topics. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Everywhere! When it comes to writing (perhaps too prolifically!) on the topic, my readers are my greatest inspiration. They are wonderful! I like to know what others want to know – what do they want to learn, what do they want to see? How can I show it to them? So that’s how I approach writing articles for Needle ‘n Thread.
7. You cover all forms of embroidery. Are there any in particular that you favour?
I love ecclesiastical embroidery, because it has such a profound purpose and it has been such a rich and strong force in the whole history and development of embroidery. But gosh, I haven’t met a technique I haven’t liked, for one reason or another. I love just fun and simple embroidery – it’s very relaxing! Embroidery for me – no matter what kind – is a constant learning experience. There’s great joy in achieving some level of mastery in the skills involved in different types of needlework, and then being able to pass that on to others.
8. Your website is very popular. I believe you have approx 10,000 of subscribers. Can you give us some of the highs and lows you experience as a result of being in the public eye?
The “public eye” sounds very daunting! Until you put it this way, I’ve never actually considered it. The most satisfying thing about creating Needle ‘n Thread is hearing from people who have learned something from the website, or have overcome a fear of a technique, or have developed a strong interest in embroidery, or have tried something they wouldn’t have tried – this is always very exciting!
I’m not sure about lows. There are not very many. As a teacher and as a blogger, you have to be fairly thick-skinned when it comes to criticism, and you have to be willing to take criticism and try to improve.
9. What do you love most about your job?
That I am doing what I love and I can share it with others – that’s what I like best about what I do.
10. What is your advice for people who would like to start embroidery?
Start! Find the technique that sparks your interest – that makes you sit up and say, “WOW!” – and learn how to do it. There’s nothing to be afraid of! What’s the worst that can happen when you try? You might fail and have to try again, right? But that’s what success is made of! As my Mom always says, “Think you can, think you can’t. Either way, you’re right.” Well, with embroidery, you CAN. Just jump on in – the water’s fine! And if you find yourself floundering, don’t worry! There are plenty of people out here to give you a hand!
Thanks Mary. This reminds me of the children’s book The Little Engine That Could. The Engine struggles up the hill saying “I Think I can , I think I can…… ” and then when he succeeds says, “I thought I could, I thought I could……..”!
On that note wherever you are have a wonderful weekend, happy stitching and remember YOU CAN AND YOU COULD! Trish