One of the more frustrating aspects of doing needlepoint is coming face-to-face with a large undefined background which needs to be filled. The traditional way to solve this problem is to fill it with tent stitch. And what’s the result? A lovely piece which you may end up abandoning because the background bores you.
Now mind you I love doing basketweave backgrounds, they can be a delightful counterpoint to your design. But I also can’t help tinkering. Her are some ideas you can use for your canvases
In the world of overdyed and hand-dyed threads, bringing many colors to our needlepoint, a tent stitch background in a single color looks, well, sort of flat. An easy way to add depth to the background while not really changing the color is to combine more than one color of thread (or even two dye lots which don’t match) in the background. The effect might be so subtle you hardly notice it, or it might end up looking like gently faded vintage fabrics, but the depth will there because the combination of colors changes constantly.
I find plied threads, like floss or crewel wool, to be the best choice for this. On two Hawaiian quilts I used three strands of crewel wool, EPiC and Appleton, for the backgrounds. EPiC is an excellent choice for this technique because the dyeing process results in colors which change subtly — adding even more depth.
You can do this technique in one of two ways, use one strand each of three closely related colors. Each stitching length will have the same amount of each color (one of each of three on 18 mesh). The hardest part about this method is cutting the stitching lengths.
The other way is more random and requires a bit more thought. It works well with only two different colors. Each time you set up a stitching length pick a number between zero and three. That tells you how many strands of the first color. Then pick evens or odds,
that tells you which color is the first. If you have small children, this is a good way to have them help with your needlepoint.
I have also used this technique effectively to make a “grass” background. Combine one strand of EPiC or another softly colored overdyed wool with two strands of silk. The texture changes constantly and the color changes of the wool make for a more
Tent stitch stripes were my first efforts are tinkering with Tent Stitch. I had a lovely autumn wreath and I didn’t have enough background thread. The dyelot had changed and it was just different enough not to work. So instead of blending the two, I made even stripes across the background. Since this pillow was for my living room, the somewhat formal look of the stripes was perfect.
There are tons of striped patterns out there and almost all of them can be used for needlepoint. Depending on your color choice they can be formal or casual, bold or subtle. One of my favorite sources for striped patterns is books on weaving, there are usually many stripes pictured there.
Gridded Thread Sampler
This technique works really well when you have many threads of similar colors. Divide your background into one inch squares. Some will be partial, running into the main part of the design. Make every square a different thread.
Because this background technique sets up a strong pattern of its own, it won’t work for many designs. Use it when the main design is simple, fairly self-contained and has rounded edges.
This is one of my favorite tent stitch backgrounds because it’s so versatile. The idea behind it is simple; use two threads in similar colors but contrasting textures to make a pattern in the background. Because I really like the contrast of shiny with matte, like damask
tablecloths, I call this technique needlepoint damask.
You can use just about any pattern, the first ones I did were small blocks of pearl cotton and wool. Use a shiny thread to define the design and a more matte and textured yarn to fill in. I particularly love the oatmeal heathered ribbon floss from YLI — I think it looks just like raw silk.
This technique mimics the look of Tiffany glass without having to count out a pattern or use several colors of thread. Multicolored threads to the rescue. In all lines of overdyed and hand-dyed threads there are colors which are basically shades of the same color, choose one of these.
This technique must be worked on a frame as it distorts the canvas, since it’s mostly continental stitch.
Start working someplace in the middle of the design, and stitch a little irregular blob. Whenever the color of the thread changes, move a bit and make another blob. The edges of all the blobs should be irregular and the blobs don’t need to touch.
If your design has discreet areas of background, work in one area at a time.
Proceed this way until your blobs fill up more than half the area. Now you begin to fill in the spaces. Work in blobs to fill in,working in horizontal rows between the blobs. The changes in the thread will soften the blobby look and make the whole things look
smoother and more natural.
This is one of those techniques which look really weird while you are doing them , but have a lovely end result. Mottling works really well when you want to picture something like a stone wall or fields from far away.
This is another continental stitch technique (so you must use a frame), which is based on a method of knitting sweaters. Gather several (at least six) different threads of similar colors. They should be different textures and fibers. Some should be overdyes. Take a piece of paper and write down the threads. If you have several threads with only small amounts, group them together. Now number them from one to six. If you have more than six threads and you don’t want to group them, number a second group one to six and so on.
Now get a die. Every time you are getting a stitching length, roll the die and pick the thread which is that color. Make horizontal rows, but stop and start the thread at different places on the rows, the ends should never line up.
You will end up with orts of various sizes. But the longer ones I reused the next time the thread came up.
This technique is so fun to do and gives you a dramatic end result. In a canvas where there is lots of background, it almost makes the background the focal point.