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What Is Needlepoint?
Needlepoint, also known as canvas work, is a type of embroidery in which different stitches are embroidered (usually using yarn) onto a rigid, open-weave canvas, resulting in several stitches that come together to form a larger pattern or image. The final product of needlepoint work varies among stitchers—some frame their finished needlepoint project and hang it on a wall as a work of art, while others needlepoint directly onto belts, purses, pillows, or keychains.
Related hobbies include cross-stitching (in which you needlepoint using x-shaped stitches and embroidery floss), hand embroidery (in which you embroider without a grid), crochet (in which you use a hook to weave yarn together), and knitting (in which you use two needles to weave yarn together).
What Materials Do You Need for Needlepoint?
Needlepoint is a simple and inexpensive hobby that only requires a few materials:
- Needle: While you can needlepoint with any type of needle, you can achieve the best results with a tapestry needle. This type of needle has a blunt point and a long eye for easier threading. Tapestry needles come in a range of sizes, from 18 to 24 (the latter number is the smallest). The mesh size of the fabric you select for your project will determine the ideal needle size for your project—generally, fabric with larger holes (or fewer holes per inch) require larger needles and vice versa.
- Canvas: You’ll need a material with a balanced grid of squares that you can count as you work toward creating the final image. Needlepointers typically choose a stiff canvas, like a mono canvas, which they can paint beforehand to serve as a pattern for stitches. Plastic canvases are easy for beginners; evenweave fabric like linen or Aida cloth are other options for advanced needlepointers. Note mesh size during canvas selection. A canvas between 16 and 20 holes per inch is very fine and will take longer to stitch (called petit point needlepoint); a number between 8 and 16 means the holes are larger and take less time to stitch (called gros point needlepoint), and 7 or below will have extra-large holes that take very little time to fill (called quickpoint needlepoint).
- Yarn: Needlepoint most often uses yarn, available in many different colors. Persian wool yarn is the traditional choice, and silk yarn is a popular second. Crewel yarn or embroidery floss are best for especially small or detailed projects.
- Scissors: You can use any type of scissors to trim your fabric and cut your yarn. For more precise cuts, purchase a pair of embroidery scissors, which have a smaller, sharper set of blades.
- Pattern: Needlepoint, like knitting, is usually done as a mathematical process in which you count each of your stitches in predetermined rows to form a larger whole. Most needlepointers follow a pattern as they stitch. You can buy a canvas with a pre-printed pattern or paint your own pattern onto the canvas. You can also follow a cross-stitch pattern set up on a grid with different colors and shapes to indicate the placement of your stitches, but this is more difficult and not recommended for beginners.
- Frame (optional): Since needlepoint canvas is usually thick and stiff, you don’t need to stretch it on an embroidery hoop to keep it taut and easy to work with: you can simply hold your project in your hands while you work. If you’re working on an extensive project or prefer a more hands-free approach, consider a wood frame or scroll frame to help hold your project in place while you stitch.
4 Basic Needlepoint Stitches
Needlepoint employs several different types of stitches to add variety and texture to the finished project. Here are a few of the most common:
- Continental stitch: The most basic tent stitch, in which each slanted stitch follows horizontally across the canvas; not recommended for covering large areas since it can warp the fabric.
- Basketweave stitch: A basic tent stitch in which each stitch alternates over warp and weft threads, similar to the weave of a basket; recommended for covering large areas since it produces minimal fabric warping.
- French knots: Decorative knots that you can create to add small raised spheres to the canvas.
- Half cross: A series of slanted stitches (named because it’s half of the x-shaped stitch of cross-stitching); suitable for small areas, but doesn’t provide great coverage.
How to Needlepoint
Here’s a basic step-by-step tutorial to needlepoint—from preparing the design to your final stitch:
- Decide on your design. First, select your design. Needlepointers typically follow a pattern as they stitch—if you want to use a pattern, you can buy a canvas with a pre-printed pattern or paint a pattern onto the canvas yourself.
- Stretch the fabric over the frame (optional). Needlepoint artists may use a scroll frame or stretcher bar to hold their project in place—this keeps their hands free to stitch and prevents the project from warping as you work. A box frame is the most straightforward option—simply use thumbtacks to pin the edges of your canvas around the wood frame. A scroll frame offers a much tighter and more precise stretch, good for more complex projects or stitchers struggling with consistent stitches. To use a scroll frame, use a basting stitch to sew your project to the fabric of each scroll bar, then attach the crossbars and roll each scroll bar until your project is drum-tight. Pulling too tight can warp the weave of your fabric; you want to ensure the fabric still has a consistent grid pattern for the cleanest final product.
- Prepare your yarn or floss. Cut a long piece of yarn or floss (about the length of your arm) from your skein. Then, take one end of your fiber and thread it through the needle eye, letting the other half dangle a few inches from the eye—avoid tying the floss to the needle. On the other end of the floss, tie a single knot so that that end won’t slip through your fabric—this knot is called a waste knot, and you’ll eventually cut it off once your thread is secured to your project.
- Pick your starting point. You can start with any part of your design—if you’re a beginner, consider choosing a place in which you’ll fill in many stitches in the same color and type to get used to making consistent stitches.
- Anchor your waste knot. While many other needle arts begin by anchoring the knot on the back of the canvas, needlepoint begins by anchoring the knot to the front. To begin, choose a place an inch or so from where you want to start stitching. Start with your needle at the front of your canvas. Pull it through the hole in the canvas until it stops on the knot.
- Make your first stitch. With your needle at the back of the canvas, bring it to the area where you want to start stitching (at least an inch away from your waste knot), then pull the needle and thread back through the canvas. Identify the hole just above and to the right of where your thread has come through. Push the needle through that hole. This is called a “continental stitch,” and it is the most straightforward, foundational stitch in needlepoint.
- Continue the row. Continue to the left of your first stitch, making parallel horizontal stitches by stitching through the bottom hole and then the hole just above and to the right.
- Begin another row. After you’ve stitched an entire row of left-moving continental stitches according to your pattern, begin a new row moving back to the right. To do this, bring your needle up through the bottom of each existing continental stitch, and then finish the stitch through the hole just below and to the left—mirroring the stitches that you made before as you stitch back to the right.
- Continue making stitches. Continue making continental stitches following the horizontal left-to-right technique. Once you’ve made enough stitches over the waste knot to secure the entire thread in place, you can cut the knot off of your project.
- Tie off your last stitch. When you’re close to using up the entire thread, thread your needle through at least three stitches on the back of your fabric, which will secure it in place. If you still have more needlework to do before your project is finished, thread your needle with a new piece of fiber and continue the process.
What Are the Differences Between Needlepoint and Cross Stitch?
Cross-stitch and needlepoint are two types of embroidery with a few key differences:
- Material. While cross-stitch can use a range of evenweave fabrics, including linen, needlepoint usually opts for a stiffer evenweave material, usually canvas or a plastic grid.
- Thread. Cross-stitch usually exclusively uses embroidery floss, which is a soft, thin cotton or polyester thread; needlepoint can use embroidery floss and is traditionally done with wool or silk yarn.
- Stitches. Cross-stitch uses only a handful of different stitch types, sticking with variations on x-shaped stitches; needlepoint has much more variety in its stitches and can use many other techniques to achieve different looks.
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