In this lesson we are going to dive into the materials that make up the needlepoint project.
The needlepoint canvas is the crux of this technique! It is made up of cotton threads that are woven into a stiff open mesh canvas. Most needlepoint is stitched on “mono canvas” (“Mono” has to do with the way the canvas is woven).
The design can be hand painted, printed, or charted onto the canvas.
- Hand painted needlepoint canvases are a work of art in and of themselves. Each canvas is individually hand painted using acrylic paints, a time consuming process that creates a high price point but a wonderful stitching experience. Downside: The price. Upside: each portion of the canvas is carefully and individually painted. All you have to do is follow and cover each color with your stitching, it’s like paint by number with thread and needle!
- Printed canvases have the design printed onto the canvas rather than painted. They are high quality but less exact. Downside: The printed colors may not line up perfectly with the grid of the canvas making them less of a “paint by number,” you might have to use your brain a bit. Upside: price point!
- Charting a canvas is very similar in process to cross stitch. Rather than the design being placed onto the canvas, you follow a chart which shows you stitch by stitch where to place each color onto a blank canvas. The design is typically printed on paper or sold digitally. Downside: it involves a lot of counting and keeping track of the design as you stitch (though personally I find it fun and easy). It can also limit your stitch choices. Upside: This is the cheapest form of needlepoint. And there are so many cute cross stitch designs that could be easily adapted for needlepoint…the creative possibilities are endless!
Canvas Mesh SizeCanvas comes in different “counts” or “mesh” sizes. Typical American needlepoint canvas sizes are 10, 13, and 18.
The mesh size is determined by the amount of threads (and therefore stitches) per inch on the canvas. On 10 count canvas there are 10 threads per inch and therefore 10 stitches per inch. On 18 count canvas, 18 threads per inch and therefore 18 stitches per inch. More stitches per inch means more detail and finer work. Fewer holes per inch means less detail, bigger, and heavier work.
Threads are categorized by their material, type, and size.
The most common materials are cotton, wool, silk, and synthetic.
- Wool - soft and forgiving, wool sometimes gets a bad rep but it’s lovely and a great price point.
- Silk - beautifully shiny and soft, silk tends to be the universal favorite.
- Cotton - less shiny than silk, it is a staple especially given its super reasonable price point.
- Synthetic - This is where threads get fun! Sparkles, shine, glow in the dark, you name it. Any glitz or special effects you want to create on your canvas will come from this type of thread.
Sometimes these materials are blended together to create “blends.” Such as silk and synthetic sparkle, or silk and wool.
- Twisted thread is made up of two strands of thread twisted together to create of a single round thread.
- Stranded thread is made up of multiple smaller threads. Usually between 4 -12 threads will be combined into one.They can be separated and used individually or all together.
- Ribbon is wide and flat.
- Braid looks similar to twisted thread but is braided rather than twisted together.
Threads come in all different thicknesses. Some work on 18 count canvas, others on 13 count, others on 10 count. The thread will usually list the type of canvas count it was created for.
Threads are dyed together in big batches (called lots). There can be some color variation between dye lots. So if you buy a skein of purple thread from one store, and buy the exact same thread a while later or from another store, chances are the skein will be from different dye lots. And the purple will be slightly different. This is only a problem if you’re stitching a large area in the color and run out of your first skein. You’ll see the difference of color in your stitching. Buy all the skeins of a specific color that you’ll need to finish the one project. There is usually a number on the label specifying dye lot.
You will use a Tapestry Needle for needlepoint. Tapestry needles have a characteristic blunt tip and come in many sizes.
You should choose a needle size based on the mesh count of your canvas.
Size 22 works well with 18 count canvas.
Size 20 with 13 count canvas.
Size 18 with 10 count canvas.
Another way to tell if you are using the right size of needle is that the thread should pass through the eye of the needle fairly easily without getting stuck or being damaged. The needle should pass through the hole of the canvas fairly easily as well. If the needle or the thread is too large for the canvas it will make a “pop” noise and be difficult to pull through.
The most common type of needlepoint frame are stretcher bars. They are the most cost effective and easy option. Stretcher bars come in all sizes and are sold in sets of two bars. You will need two sets of stretcher bars per canvas.
Measure the length and width of your entire canvas from edge to edge, this includes the design AND the blank white canvas surround the design (called the “waste” canvas). Then choose stretcher bars with the same measurements. For example: if your canvas measure 5x8 inches you will need one set of bars that measures 5 inches and one set of bars that measure 8 inches.
The bars lock together to create a square frame. The canvas is attached to the frame using tacks or a staple gun.
Note: if your canvas is a partial number, size down rather than up. For example: if your canvas measures 4.5” x 8.25” you will need a set of 4” and a set of 8” bars.