Beautiful Needlepoint sits firmly between two extremes: boring and chaotic. If things are too much the same the needlepoint is dull. If there are too many different elements the result us chaotic. I talked about dull needlepoint in yesterday’s article.
The dullness problem does not apply to every canvas done in Tent Stitch, nor should it, but one stitch or one thread or one of many others things has the danger of making the needlepoint unexciting.
Chaotic needlepoint can be a bit easier to recognize, you don’t know where to look when you see the canvas. There are just too many colors, too many stitches, and/or too many threads. All of them shout for attention. The result is, for me, canvases that make my head hurt.
The problem with both kinds of canvases is the same — balance. Successful pieces are balanced, unsuccessful ones are not.
What Is Balance in Needlepoint?
Balance when it comes to needlepoint does not refer to whether the design is symmetrical or asymmetrical, or whether items are balanced in terms of the projects composition. If we are stitching projects designed by someone else, that kind of balance is the designer’s concern.
Instead balance has to do with the three aspects of needlepoint: color, stitches, and threads. Think of balance as creating the three bears out of these elements. One of the three should be the dominant factor, or Papa Bear. Another should be only used in the smallest amount, as an accent or unifying factor, or Baby Bear. The remaining element should be somewhere in the middle, or Mama Bear.
When these elements are ranked in this way, the design is balanced, no matter what the design might be. If two elements are too close in importance, the design will not be balanced.
Achieving balance in your needlepoint is not hard; you can keep tabs on it as you go along. It is, however, the place where needlepoints often fail.
It’s easy to figure out the balance of the piece. You count each time the element appears. Let’s see how this is done by using a simple project from the archives, the Rhodes Heart, pictured below.
This Rhodes Heart is pretty easy to analyze because I deliberately limited two of the elements. Rhodes Stitch, the only stitch used in the design is clearly the Baby Bear.
The middle element is color. While everything is red, there is also pink, red-orange, red gold, burgundy, and red-violet. That makes six colors.
The dominant factor in this design is threads. I didn’t keep track but I used at least 20 threads in this design.
The balance is: threads, colors, stitches. Because one is clearly dominant and one is in the minority, the design is balanced.
A Simple Case of Unbalance
Sometimes though balance is hard to discern. It can also be difficult to see which is dominant.
This is a small geometric design, using a quilt block called Attic Windows. Each of the three areas uses a different stitch. Each area has two threads, but the overdye is used in every area, so there are four threads. Finally if we consider the overdye a single color there are four colors (overdye, pink, blue, light blue).
Is it balanced? No. I intended to make the overdye the unifying element, but by using several other threads as well as colors, I made two elements (threads and colors) fight for dominance. The piece would be better if I had only used two threads. Then thread would be the unifying element, with stitches in the middle and colors dominant.
Achieving Balance in Needlepoint
The best way to do this is to begin the process by looking at your canvas. Because only one element appears on the unstitched canvas you can’t finish the job but you can start it. Let’s look at a canvas to see how to do this.
This canvas from Blue Dogwood has nine colors. We can also look at the canvas to see if some of the colors go together, giving us ideas for threads and stitches. Because we have rocks and transparency here, that tells us we can group some of the colors.
The next step is to start to plan your stitches and threads. I decided that those grouped colors were individual rocks and chose to use the same stitch throughout each rock. Adding the background stitches, I got seven stitches (two background stitches, five rocks).
I’ve got two elements. For threads I can choose to make them the dominant element with more than nine threads, or make them the smallest element. By analyzing and then planning my canvas I can now make better choices about threads, knowing my canvas will be in balance.
Ultimately I used five threads, resulting in a balance of: color, stitches, threads.
Can I Fix an Unbalanced Needlepoint?
You can fix unbalanced canvases as long as you are still stitching them and are willing to rip out if needed.
Begin by looking at your canvas and seeing why it looks confused.
Are there too many colors? Try to minimize this by using the same color elsewhere. If your problem is with overdyes, try to use ones with fewer colors or add solid threads that match the overdye.
Did you use too many threads? In the unstitched areas, as much as possible use the same threads, in different colors if needed.
Do too many stitches clamor for attention? Add Tent Stitch in areas to quiet things down. If that isn’t enough look for areas that can reuse stitches you have used or that could use Tent Stitch variations. Also be sure that your background stitch is not too busy. Using a quiet background can often help a chaotic canvas.