Picking Stitches in Needlepoint

Whenever you buy a painted canvas or when you design your own needlepoint, you will need to pick stitches for it. Here are some simple rules for deciding what stitch should go where.

Tent Stitch in Needlepoint
Every canvas, no matter how big or small, should have some areas of tent stitch (basketweave). Think of this as “neutral texture.” By having some tent stitch, the eye gets a place to rest. Without some tent stitch, the canvas will look way too busy and can be difficult to read. Areas which almost always need to be worked in basketweave include areas which have lots of detail (like faces) areas which are very narrow (like these Chinese characters), and areas with shading.

There are also many small stitches which are the same size as Tent Stitch but which add some texture. Some of these are Needlepoint Cross Stitch (great for eyes), Skip Tent, T Stitch, and Dotted Swiss.

In needlepoint, Tent Stitch i considered a neutral texture. I think of it like zero on a number line. Many stitches , like Cashmere Stitch for example, are either bigger or higher Tent Stitch. These are the positive numbers and will make areas stitched with them stand out. Other stitches, like Blackwork or Darning Patterns, use thinner threads or have more open space. These are the negative number and will always look lower and lighter than Tent Stitch

Does It Work?
Sometimes your choice of stitch is determined by what the design is showing. For example, if you were needlepointing a cat, you probably would not want to use a strong geometric stitch for the cat’s fur (although it might be a very cool background). But if you were stitching a brick wall that kind of stitch might be just the ticket.

The scale of the stitch is also important, it must work with the scale of the area on the canvas. Any stitch you use should be repeated at least three times in all directions, if it does not this stitch is too big for the area. Pick a smaller one. The bigger the scale of the stitch, the more attention it draws to itself. For example if you were stitching a sunflower, you might want to emphasize the petals or the center. If you wanted to emphasize the center, that’s where you would put the larger stitch. The larger the pattern, the more your eye will be drawn to it.

Sometimes the combination of Needlepoint thread and canvas mesh rules out some kinds of stitches. The thread/stitch combination might be difficult to work as is. In those cases you might want to thin out the threads by using one fewer plies. Or you might want to pick another stitch. If the coverage in this combination looks too thin, thicken the thread by adding another strand or adding a strand of crewel wool or embroidery floss in a matching color to your base thread. Usually these additions don’t stand out, but just make the needlepoint look better.

Try Before Deciding
The best method for checking out a stitch is to try it. Work a bit on a spare piece canvas, make a sample for your stitch notebook, or try a little bit of the stitch on the edges of the canvas. If it doesn’t look right, frog stitch (rip-it-,rip-it). I’ve sometimes done this with entire stitched areas and sometimes I’ve worked the same area several times before I find something which is perfect.

Ultimately, your best judge will be your eye. I have seen canvases which break these rules, which are wonderful. I have also seen canvases which broke these rules and created messes.

But always remember that it’s your needlepoint and your vision. If you like it, and it is fun to stitch, then it is right!

Janet M. Perry is one of the leading writers of needlepoint stitch guides in the world. She writes innovative guides for needlepoint canvases from over 20 designers. She puts into practice her motto to make needlepoint fast, fun and affordable.

She is an expert in needlepoint, both on the Web and through her writing as the Needlepoint Pro for Cross-Stitch & Needlework magazine. She works with deigners, shops, and thread manufacturers on new products and regularly reports on trends in needlepoint.

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