Updated September 7, 2022.
You might think adapting cross stitch to needlepoint is just a matter of replacing each Cross Stitch with a Tent Stitch. Yes, you can do this and your project will look fine. But in order to make it look like great needlepoint, you may have to go a bit further.
I’ve stitched a fair amount of Cross Stitch in my life and Prairie Schooler is one of my favorites. I took advantage of the designer’s retirement last year to buy several of the versions of her charts that were converted to hand-painted canvases by Stitch-its. The little cat above is one of these.
Things to Change
Add in color to the “open” spaces. One of the big appeals of Cross Stitch for many stitchers (it was for me) is that the fabric does the work of all that background stitching you do in needlepoint. In Cross Stitch, the huge variety of fabric colors and textures means that you can have open areas because the fabric is doing the work of needlepoint’s stitched background.
When a chart is converted to a canvas, these areas are just blank canvas. On my cat, both the sky and the black border were just white canvas. It seemed pretty silly to me to have a fence against a white sky because I wanted this to be a sunny day. So I stitched the sky in blue.
I thought it would look silly to continue the sky all around the piece, so I decided that one thread unpainted canvas border would be stitched in a different color. I chose black, but it could be any color.
Beware of lines that slant up and to the right. Cross Stitch has a huge advantage over needlepoint — its stitches are square. That means that no matter the slant, a single thread diagonal line has a blocky look.
Needlepoint is different. If the line slants the same way as the stitch slants, the line is solid. If the line slants in the opposite direction of the stitch, the line is dotted. That’s just a characteristic of thin diagonal lines when they are made with slanted stitches.
If your adaptation has these, you will need to switch the slant of the stitch. Happily in this piece, the only place where I had this problem was the bird’s legs. I switched the right stitch and turned the top of the legs to a cross stitch so it would point to both legs.
Things to Consider Changing
Get more texture by changing threads. A vast majority of thread used for Cross Stitch is cotton embroidery floss. In needlepoint, we use many more threads. A needlepoint stitched in a single thread can look a bit flat to us. By switching to different threads for some areas, we can create more texture and add emphasis.
The daffodil here is a good example of this. Instead of stitching it in floss, I stitched it in two colors of Neon Rays +. The little bit of sparkle in these threads helps make the flower, beak, and bird’s legs better accents in the piece.
Get more texture by changing colors. Sometimes, as was the case here, Cross Stitch has fewer colors than a similar needlepoint would. Sometimes it has many more. That’s because needlepoint relies more on the thread and stitch texture to convey information that in Cross Stitch is conveyed only by color. Here the crow, fence, and dark areas of the cat were all dark brown. I don’t see crows as brown, nor have I ever seen dark brown spots on a cat, so I knew immediately that I would have to change those colors. To help convey the difference between the crow’s shiny feathers and the cat’s soft fur, I used different threads and slightly different colors. The crow is stitched in Neon Rays, helping to make him a secondary focal point. The cat is dark grey, stitched with Dinky Dyes silk/wool.
By changing these colors carefully, I created subtle variety in the piece.
Get more texture by changing stitches. If you have larger areas of color, such as the grass here, you could stitch them in a different stitch. As long as you follow the three repeats rule for fitting a stitch, there is no reason why these areas can’t be done in another stitch. I chose not to do this here, largely because I wanted to see the thread, Baroque Silk, stitched in Tent over a larger area.
Overall I am very happy with the results. I liked the changes that I made by and large. However “Meow” is a weak point because there is too little contrast between it and the grass. I am probably going to restitch it with either a darker blue or a different color.
About Janet M Perry
Janet Perry is the Internet's leading authority on needlepoint. She designs, teaches and writes, getting raves from her fans for her innovative techniques, extensive knowledge and generous teaching style. A leading writer of stitch guides, she blogs here and lives on an island in the northeast corner of the SF Bay with her family
Great timing. I want to convert a cross stitch picture of magnolias to needlepoint so I appreciate all the information. One question, what is the three repeats rule?
Janet M Perry says
Thanks for asking. In order for a stitch to fit & look like it should instead of just chaos, the space needs to fit three repeats of the entire stitch, horizontally, vertically, and diagonally.
Three is the magic number that makes are brain think “pattern” instead of chaos. And this rule holds true most of the time. The main exceptions are stripes (they have many repeats in one direction but not in the others) and big bold accent stitches (they usually aren’t repeated.
Randi Nelson says
In lettering and lines where the tent stitch would create a jerky visual effect, I have people downsize the size of the thread in their needle and just do cross stitches over the one intersection and it solves the problem.
Janet M Perry says
I like this idea. I’ll have to try it.
Janet, this is great!
Question: Are there any rules-of-thumb for converting a needlepoint chart to cross-stitch?
Janet M Perry says
If it does not have textured stitches, one square on the chart equals one cross stitch.
Janet M Perry says
Yes if the needlepoint pattern has only Tent Stitches, i.e. no decorative stitches, you can translate it symbol to stitch directly to cross stitch. If the pattern has decorative stitches, you will have to do one of two things:
1. Make the game decorative stitch but on your cloth (not all stitches will translate nicely, but most do).
2. Make individual cross stitches over the same area.