Doily Still Life - Project Update 1

Doily Still Life is the only canvas I've painted "for myself." I originally designed it because I wanted a small canvas, something easy to stitch, easy to pack, to take with me on vacation or wherever I went. As I've stitched, this canvas turned from a relaxed project into an experimental piece (starting with the silk ribbon rose I 'dyed' with art markers which then bled onto the canvas…I did rip it out) and I'm OK with that. Actually, it's been great…

The Doily

I love the doily's lacy effect. I started by couching the main diagonal lines of the doily using two strands of petite silk lame braid (and one strand to couch).
Then I stitched french knots all around the lace edging, also using two strands. This part threw me a bit. Because I placed the french knots over one strand of the canvas, rather than an intersection it was harder to establish a pattern. After a few tries I found a pattern I liked - take a look at the above diagram.
I then went into the diamonds created by the couching and…I'm not sure what this stitch is called, or if it is a stitch. I took a tiny stitch over one thread of the canvas (with a single strand of the braid). Then I took three more tiny stitches, creating a square around one intersection of the canvas. It's hard to explain clearly…take a look at the diagram. I also filled in the lace border with these tiny stitches, trying to keep a consistent pattern in each section.

Abigail Cecile Needlepoint - Doily Still Life Stitch

I stitched the table in basket weave (I wanted the doily to pop and stand out against the background) with three strands of splendor silk.

The little yellow flowers are four cross stitches around a french knot. I used Kreinik and a strand of splendor silk for the cross stitches and Silk Opal for the french knots.

The leaves are stitched using straw silk and a satin stitch. I don't mind the leaves but I don't love them. If you have any great ideas (or a favorite stitch you use for leaves), let me know!
The stems are also stitched using straw silk and a stem stitch.

(I've included thread descriptions and names at the bottom of the post).

Next Steps

I started learning stump work last night! I'm so excited. It's something I've wanted to do for ages. The yellow daisy will have raised petals. I'm going to use linen as the background material instead of canvas. Then I'll stitch a long and short stitch inside. Here is my first attempt…

I'm planning to stitch beads across the entire vase.

I'll rework the failed ribbon roses.

I think it would be fun to do more stump work for the butterfly or use a charm. Any recommendations on good places to find pretty charms?

That's it for now! If you'd rather 'watch' this post - check out the video below. 

Threads I used:

Tabletop: Rainbow Gallery - Splendor - S1095
Doily: Rainbow Gallery - Petite Silk Lame Braid - SP02
Small Yellow Flowers: Kreinik - #4 very fine braid - 321J and a strand of Rainbow Gallery - Splendor - S877 for the cross stitches. Planet Earth Fiber - Silk Opal - Noon 041 for the french knots.
Leaves: Silk Road Fibers - Straw Silk - Mary Jane

- Project Update Video

What is Needlepoint?

Not too long ago, I was intimidated by needlepoint. I stitched my first piece at the Royal School of Needlework. But when I started my second piece several years later (and came into contact with an American style of needlepoint) I was overwhelmed. I realized I had only learned several of the thousands of stitches available, and that the variety of threads is endless. When I meet a fellow needlepointer (especially if they are my age) I find they usually got started because they where taught by their mom or grandmother. Unfortunately a lot of us don't have a needlepointing grandmother - but needlepoint is a wonderful, relaxing, historic art! So I’m working on creating a series of blog posts and videos that will help you get started and get over the unknowns. 

Let’s start at the very beginning…

What is needlepoint?

Needlepoint is a type of hand embroidery. Specifically, it is a counted form of embroidery. That means it is stitched on a canvas that has designated holes for your needle to go through (think of it as a grid). Because of the grid like canvas, the stitches are (for the most part) geometric in nature.

I think the big question is “how is needlepoint different from the hand embroidery you see on Instagram, in craft stores, or in kits and patterns on Etsy?” Well, while you use some of the same materials, like a needle and floss, the stitches and background material are totally different. Typical hand embroidery can be stitched on just about anything. But needlepoint is stitched on an open weave canvas.  The stitches are limited by the holes of the grid which determines the types of stitches used. Another difference is that the entire surface area of the canvas is covered by stitching.

The application is different too. Needlepoint canvas is quite stiff, so it’s used to create pillows, home decor, wall hangings, eyeglass cases, bags, Christmas stockings etc.

Ok, let's dive into specifics.

Canvas

Today, a design is hand painted right onto the needlepoint canvas. So instead of having an instruction booklet or chart, the canvas itself is your guide and you’ll stitch right over the design.

Canvas comes in different counts or mesh sizes. Typical needlepoint canvas is 10, 13, 16, and 18 count. Each has a different amount of openness, or rather the holes are different sizes. On 10 count canvas there are 10 holes per inch and therefore 10 stitches per inch.  On 18 count canvas, 18 holes per inch and 18 stitches per inch. More stitches per inch means more detail. Other factors to consider are:

  • Time. It takes longer to stitch eighteen stitches vs. ten. So a ten count canvas will stitch up much faster.
  • Thread. To completely cover a canvas with ten holes per inch you are going to need something thick and chunky. At eighteen holes per inch, you are looking at using a thread that is more delicate and fine - something that can easily pass through a much smaller hole (which is very different visually).

By the way, I really enjoy stitching on sixteen count canvas. It stitches up faster than eighteen count but is fine enough for a lot of great detail!

Threads

There are so many gorgeous threads to choose from! The threads you use will depend on your design and its ultimate purpose.

There are silks, wools, cotton, synthetic sparkly special effects stuff, fluffy stuff, ribbon…..

How do you choose?

  • Appropriateness. If you are stitching something with a smooth surface (let's say a tea cup), choose a thread that will lay flat and well, smoothly. Silk is smooth, so is cotton and bamboo. If you are stitching an animal such as fox, use wool or something even fluffier (something that will look like fur).
  • Thickness. Depending on your canvas count you’ll need to choose a thread that will cover your canvas nicely but make it through the holes.  
  • Application. What is the final application of your piece? A pillow will get a lot of wear, probably not the best project for delicate ribbon work…something hardier like wool would be appropriate. If you’re making a wall hanging, delicate sparkly threads and ribbon are just fine.

Stretcher bars in use!

Frames

The needlepoint canvas does not necessarily need to be held in a frame during stitching but I almost always use one. Stretcher bars (a type of frame) are cheap and easy! Just grab a staple gun (or tacks) and attach your canvas. It will keep the tension of your stitching even and the grid of your canvas square.

Stitches

You have two options when it comes to stitches. The first is to stitch your entire design in basketweave (a basic stitch - take a look at the picture below). The second is to use a combination of stitches across the different areas of your canvas.

Basketweave is a traditional, small, diagonal stitch that you see often on needlepoint pieces. It gives you an optimal amount of detail. (You may have heard basketweave referred to as tent stitch. Basketweave is one of three different tent stitches. All tent stitches look the same on top but are different on the back). 

The pickup truck is worked in Basketweave

The pickup truck is worked in Basketweave

Otherwise, there are literally thousands of stitches that you can use on a needlepoint canvas! The hard part is choosing stitches that are appropriate for your design. But there are tools that will help you with this:

  • Books: There are books that break stitches up into different categories. Let's say you are stitching a flower and looking for an appropriate stitch. You wouldn't want to choose a stitch that has a pattern like a brick wall. The books listed below will have a section on stitches that work well for flowers, for grass, sky, clothing, walls, houses….and on - making it very easy to find an appropriate stitch.

Stitches for Effect Series by Suzanne Howren and Beth Robertson

Stitch Series by Little Shoppe Canvas Company

Ins and Outs

Landscapes (you can also get it as an app!)

Winter

  • Finished pieces: Again, if you are stitching a flower - find a picture of a finished needlepoint flower and see what stitches were used. Reach out to stitchers and ask! Social media is great for this, you can join a needlepoint group and get in contact with the original stitcher about the stitch you’re interested in.  (BTW, I’m not endorsing buying a canvas and finding a finished picture of that canvas and copying it stitch for stitch, that’s rude and verging on copyright infringement)
  • Experimentation: Nothing will help you more than trying a stitch for yourself. Grab a piece of scrap canvas and test it out. See if you like it, see if it fits visually, make sure it looks good with the thread you’ve chosen and the size of the area it will be stitched into. Because ultimately that’s what matters.

Instructions

“You mean I don’t get an instruction booklet like everything else in the crafting industry?” Well, sometimes.

Needlepoint is different.  It’s not a craft, it’s a needle art. BUT that doesn’t mean it's complicated or hard. The coolest thing about needlepoint is, the canvas is just the design. It’s up to the stitcher to make it as complicated or simple as they want! The entire piece can be stitched in basketweave…ONE stitch across the entire design. The same piece can be stitched using advanced embroidery techniques and many different stitches. It’s up to the stitcher.  

That being said, if you are set on having an instruction booklet you have several options.

  • Buy a kit. Your options are more limited, but there are some gorgeous kits available (I've linked a few below).
  • Buy a canvas that comes with a stitch guide. A stitch guide is an instruction booklet for a specific canvas. Experienced needle pointers will decide which stitches and threads they would put on a canvas, stitch it up, create instructions, and sell it alongside the canvas. Not all canvases have stitch guides but quite a few do. Sometimes the stitch guide is included with the canvas, sometimes you have to purchase it separately.

We got pretty specific for just an overview.  I’ll be exploring a lot more as we continue the series. If there is something about needlepoint that is keeping you from trying it or if you have any specific questions - I would love to hear from you!