Transferring a Design to Needlepoint Canvas

Originally posted 2008-10-24 07:07:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I began by a rose design from the collection at the V & A. I’m a sucker for this Arts & Crafts style of rose, so it was a no brainer.

Using this as an example, we’ll go step-by-step through the process of transferring the design.

1. Begin by printing or copying the design onto a single piece of paper. Even if you are using a design from a book, do this, your life will be so much easier.

Design prepared to transfer onto needlepoint canvas.

Design prepared to transfer onto needlepoint canvas.

2. Trace over all the lines so they are thick and solid, as you can see from the picture above. It’s better to use a thicker pen for this, but I didn’t have one.

When tracing, connect or complete all lines, fill in lines which are dotted, and generally make something which will be easy to see through the thicker canvas.

3. Cut out your canvas, it should be 4″ wider and longer than the design in order to leave a 2″ margin of blank canvas for stitching. In my case the drawing is about 8″ x 10″ so I’m going to make may canvas 12″ x 14″. I’m using 14 mesh canvas.

line drawing with needlepoint canvas over it

line drawing with needlepoint canvas over it

4. Make a sandwich of drawing and canvas and line the straight lines of the drawing with the straight lines of the canvas.

This is a critical step. Most drawings have a straight line someplace (in this one it’s the central stem). If these lines don’t line up, your design will be crooked and your needlepoint ruined.

That makes it important. But lines on paper which look straight might not be straight on the canvas; that’s what makes it difficult. I line the paper up so that the one line is as close as possible to a straight line on the canvas.

5. Using a permanent, non Xylene marker (I used a Staedeler drawing pen for this one) trace the design onto the canvas.

Begin with the line you lined up to a thread of canvas. Draw it on the thread, so it is straight.

If there are no other straight lines, just trace away.

If there are straight lines, you will not trace them, you will draw them, along lines of canvas, starting from the line you first drew. This will keep the drawing on canvas straight and square, even if the drawing on paper is not.

Traced design on needlepoint canvas

Traced design on needlepoint canvas

6. When you have finished tracing the design, lift the canvas from the paper and let dry 24 hours before you start to stitch.

Some Tips

Do this in good light, you could use a light table if you have one, or tape the drawing and canvas to a window for tracing. I generally do it at my kitchen table during the morning when the light is good.

If you need to lift the canvas to see if you have gotten everything, line it back up using the reference line you drew first. This will keep the design in the proper orientation.

Once you have completed tracing, you may want to go over sections of the design to make the lines darker. Because I plan on doing some more coloring techniques on the canvas to color the background, ultimately I traced over all the lines with a FabricMate dye pen.

If your design is going to be predominantly one color, you might want to use a pen in the somewhat darker shade of that color. Pigma Microns and dye pens made to color fabric come in a variety of colors.

Most of these pens are not colorfast until they have dried for 24 hours, they may run onto your threads if you start to stitch sooner than that.

Next week, on Tuesday & Wednesday, I’ll show you how to color a design before stitching and how to sponge paint a background.


  1. says

    This is great! I am going to Pat Catan’s when I get off work so I can get canvas and the pens needed for this step . I should be ready for the next step.

    Thanks so very much!

  2. Sally Sheehy says

    My husband has taken a picture of a Diego Rivera painting at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. We would like to try to transfer it to a needlepoint canvas which I would then stitch, if possible. The picture is on our computer. Can you give us some advice.
    Thank you.

  3. says

    I haven’t myself found any good ways to do this at home. Sandy Grossman-Morris offers a service to transfer photos and artwork to canvas (there are several posts about it in the archives). However there are limitations on size.

    A bigger concern is copyright. You’ll need to be sure that you can do this.

    You also might check Art Needlepoint ( They have paintings by dozens of artists reproduced on canvas, but I can’t remember if Rivera is among them.


    Keep Stitching,


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