“Needlepoint” was one of my top search terms for 2019. Which is crazy because I didn’t personally start to needlepoint until the end of the summer. Had I started on January 1, I think it would have definitely been the most searched term. I’ve been THRILLED to see how many people have picked up needlepoint. And I know, based on what people are searching here and what people are asking via email and DM, a lot of people are interested but don’t know where to start.
When I first wrote about needlepoint, I essentially shared where to find canvases. It was probably the thing I was most “expert” on at the time since I had spent so much time combing through websites looking for cute and not cheesy canvases.
Since writing that though, I’m thoroughly hooked on needlepoint. It’s become a slight problem because I could do it all day and not get a single thing done. I’ve also learned a lot through my own mistakes and also from the larger needlepoint community. Honestly, I made my stitch-stagram so I could have one space where I could follow needlepoint accounts! And I’ve also joined a Facebook group called Needlepoint Nation where I learn something every time I scroll through the new posts– these women are straight-up EXPERTS.
Anyway, I feel more confident doing a post with tips for needlepoint beginners now.
You can make needlepoint as complicated as you want, but at its core, it’s super simple. I like to describe it as paint by numbers with thread (or “fibers” as its called in the needlepoint world!). Where you have more creativity (and therefore more room for error) with embroidery, needlepoint canvases are pre-painted and give you the exact blueprint so to speak of what to do.
WHAT YOU NEED:
– A canvas! From my experience, you should absolutely stitch something that sparks joy to quote Marie Kondo. Needlepoint can feel really repetitive, which is meditative if you’re enjoying it and annoying if you’re not so into it. Pick a canvas that really makes you happy! Here are some of my favorite places to find them.
– Fibers! If you’re just starting out, it may be helpful to ask the needlepoint store you’re buying from to include their own selections for threads. They’ll take the guesswork out of it and it can relieve some of the “stress” of making the right choices, choosing the right amount, etc. If you’re going to buy your own, DEFINITELY go to a store in person. I have a knitting store two towns over where they sell thread for needlepoint in addition to yarn. I love going in and staring at the wall of threads and picking out the colors! Silk & Ivory is a very popular brand and it’s what I stitched with the most when I first got going. But now that I’ve been doing it for a while, I actually prefer DMC Perle Cotton. I found Silk & Ivory to be a little fuzzy (I’d be covered in lint when I stood up!) and the DMC is tighter/smoother while stitching and when stitched.
– Needles! You’ll want to “match” your needle to your canvas. Each canvas will have a mesh size and that will help determine what size tapestry needle you need for it. I think all of my needles are size 20 (for #13 mesh) or 22 (for #18 mesh).
– Stretcher bars! So I didn’t use these at first. I would just stitch on the canvas. And then Needlepoint.com sent me a canvas that was already attached to stretcher bars and my needlepoint world will never be the same. The idea is that the stretcher bars will help keep your canvas’ shape (stitches can pull and distort the end shape). And that certainly is the case. However, my favorite benefit is that it makes it so much easier to hold the canvas while stitching. The bars are much easier to grip than just the canvas, which caused me hand cramps after prolonged stitching.
– Sharp scissors! There are a ton of beautiful embroidery scissors that would work. If you’re traveling though and will be throwing your scissors in a bag, definitely consider getting a pair with a case. I have these and while they’re not the ~chicest~ they’re the safest/best I’ve used. I have a few other pairs that are prettier but I’m always afraid they’re going to stab me or tear a tote.
– Carrying case! You can go fancy, you can make your own, you can find something you already have at home. I have a bag like this that zips up and protects my current WIP and then I put fibers in a smaller one to keep them separate and untangled.
– Needle Minders! This is an unnecessary but convenient “add-on.” I was just securing the needle when not in use on the sides of my canvas. But a needle minder is a fun way to keep your needle out of the way when not in use. It’s a magnet that you secure to the canvas and the needle rests on it. I have this one and there are a ton of cute ones on Etsy too!
HOW TO DO IT:
– Getting Started! Start with this video. I think it does a good job of getting you set up right from the get-go.
– The Continental Stitch! There are a ton of stitches you can use to needlepoint. They all look different and can add a decorative flair to your canvas (like a special background or a textured look for a particular portion like hair for example). With that said, start out with the continental stitch. It’s the absolute easiest and looks the most traditional. If you’re doing a larger area, consider the basketweave stitch (it helps keep your canvas from distorting), but if I’m going to be honest here… no one will know if you did or didn’t do basketweave because it ultimately looks the same.
– Stitch Guides! If you want to attempt a more complicated design, try to find stitch guides online or buy a kit that comes with a stitch guide. I did a more complicated stitch for one of my canvas backgrounds and, while I love the way it looks, it wasn’t that relaxing because I was constantly counting and examining to make sure I wasn’t messing up the design. So keep that in mind.
WHAT TO DO WITH IT:
This has been the most asked question via DM…. what to do with all the needlepoint?!?!? I love looking up Instagram accounts of huge needlepoint fans because they have the best inspiration for projects. Ornaments, pillows, belts, and stockings are probably the most popular… but you can also do canvases for keychains, scissor covers, eyeglass cases, jewelry case inserts, wallets, etc. I framed my first canvas– I sent it to Framebridge– and absolutely love how it looks framed. And I’ve made a couple of ornaments.
I will say, this is the part where things can get expensive. Sending away a canvas to a finisher is not for the faint of heart. I HIGHLY recommend starting a canvas with the end project in mind so your price expectations are clear. Finishing small items (like a small ornament) can start ~$50 and then as projects grow it can be upwards of $200.
– Youtube! My life is run by Youtube essentially. If you’re stuck with something, start with YOUTUBE. Personally, I get embarrassed to ask people things because I’m afraid of looking dumb (🤷🏻♀️) and I like that I can watch ten videos and figure something out without admitting that I have no idea how to it.
– Local shops! Now that I’ve admitted that, I will say that a lot of towns have local shops and you should 100% support them when/if you can. Beyond shopping though, the people who work there are amazing resources for learning. From my experience, most shops offer classes or drop-in stitch clubs. And the employees are all avid stitchers themselves and can help you figure out what fibers to buy, what needle you might need, what stitch will look best, etc.
– Start with the right size thread! I didn’t pick out the fibers for my first few canvases, so I didn’t really have to think about my threads. But now I’ve started picking out my own, I realized how easy it is to pick out the wrong size!!! The skeins can all look super similar but you don’t want to get home and have multiple sizes for the same canvas. (I am speaking from experience here 🤦🏻♀️.) Start with knowing your canvas mesh size. I found this chart to be the most useful. Using the thread that’s too thin will not give you the best coverage. Using thread that’s too thick can make stitching messy and challenging. Using multiple weights on the same canvas can look messy and uneven.
– Color! This is a general rule of thumb but start with the lightest color of your canvas first. There are a couple of reasons, but the bottom line is that you don’t want darker threads to show through on lighter threads or show up through the canvas. Whether that’s when you pull the needle and thread through the canvas or jumping to a new area. You can also pick different colors than what the canvas calls for, just make sure you’re going darker and not lighter (so the paint from the canvas doesn’t show through). For example, you can change a light pink section to navy but not navy to light pink.
– Start small! I would choose a small canvas with no more than four or five colors. This will help you practice and get on your feet without biting off more than you can chew!