The Unstitchable Needlepoint

Do you find yourself tearing your hair out, trying to catch up on needlepoint news? Help is on the way!

Do you find yourself tearing your hair out, trying to stitch the unstitchable? Learn what to avoid.

Don’t get me wrong folks, I’m all for the painterly canvas. These are canvases where each canvas is unique because the color is applied a little differently (more about this later).

BUT . . .

I am finding, more and more, that there is lots of unstitchable needlepoint out there.

What really bugs me are the canvases where there is no understanding either of the scale of the canvas or the shape of stitches. Canvas has holes, this means that the stitches must be able to begin and end in them. Yes, you can stitch through the canvas threads, but this requires a different needle and many stitchers are reluctant to do this.

Then there is a lack of understanding of threads. Threads have thicknesses, this means that to get delicate effects you will need to have fine threads and multiple stitches. But then you get back to the canvas problem.

Stitches also have direction. So a line which slants up and to the left will either look like a bunch of unconnected dots (if one stitch wide) or an irregular line (if more than one stitch wide). This will happen not matter what you do if you stitch in Basketweave and many other stitches.

A design which is easy for most people to stitch has lines that are either straight or slant up and to the right. This is a small thing and easy to overcome (use Reverse Tent), but the more thought a designer puts into a canvas, the less likely this is to occur.

There are stitches which don’t have a clear direction, but many do. So if a canvas has too many lines which slant the wrong direction or which has too many small curves, it can be impossible to stitch.

And then there is the “amorphous area” problem. This is where the painting on the canvas is so uncertain that you don’t know where an area begins or ends. How can you stitch something which is in discrete parts when you don’t know where it begins or ends?

Then there are the canvases which have “things” on them. You know the ones, those which have shapes painted on the canvas but you don’t know what they are. Is it a bowl? a ball? part of the hand?

For some artist, mostly those who don’t stitch, a canvas becomes unstitchable because the colors used so prominently do not exist in thread.

What’s a stitcher to do? For that matter what is a designer to do? I don’t know everything by any means, but I’ve needlepointed for almost 40 years, and must have close to 1000 stitches floating around on the computer, on CDs and in books. But these canvases utterly defeat me.

So here’s my advice.
For stitchers: Look at the canvas before you buy. Does it have lines which slant up and to the left? Is the canvas too detailed for the mesh size? Are there colors in it which don’t exist in thread? Is there lots of shading and you don’t know how to do it? Can you see it in stitches?

For shopowners:Don’t buy canvases which are way out of the skill level of your customers — they’ll sit around. Don’t buy canvases which have lots of colors on them which don’t exist in your thread lines. Don’t buy canvases where there is too much detail for the mesh or ones where you can’t even begin to think of the stitch to use someplace.

For designers:If you don’t stitch (and many designers don’t) at least take some time to learn about the colors of the threads which are popular. You wouldn’t paint without knowing the colors of paints. Thread is the paint of stitchers, so you should know the color palette of your customers.

Don’t do lazy design. Think about the slant of your lines, think about the detail of the design. Put a little more work into the piece to make it a joy to stitch. I became a fanatical collector of canvases from some designer because of this level of attention to detail. And there are some designers where I will never stitch another one because they ignore this so flagrantly.

None of us, not one, needs to settle for canvases which are unstitchable. If you are buying hand-painted canvases, vote with you dollars. If you are designing canvases, make them the best they can be

Now that I’ve gotten THAT of my chest, I’m going to go run errands.


  1. Robin says

    Excellent ideas Janet! I have been a stitcher for 34 years and I have learned the hard way to really analyze a canvas before purchasing. I know now that I need to pass on a pretty canvas whose looks are deceiving. It’s difficult to supress your emotions in those cases and take a pass!

  2. Judy Russell says

    Great article Janet! Having been a copy painter for many years and a designer for a few, I really understand the need for canvases painted so the stitcher knows where to place their thread. I was proud to be a stitch painter. Now I only do custom work, but some of the things I copy painted were really hard for me because as a stitcher I could see problems with stitching that particular design.
    Sometimes how the stitcher will stitch a canvas gets lost in trying to design a more intricate, more colorful, design. As for the slant of a design to the left, I have often used a cross stitch in order for the line to be straight. If there is a “companion” line to the right, I use the cross stitch there also. Gives it uniformity!


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