Updated August 3, 2021.
Stitching fur that is both realistic and easy to stitch can be a real puzzler for needlepoint. Many of the solutions that come to mind are just too difficult or time-consuming. This delightful Quail Run canvas (from Nancy Coffelt’s The Wild Life Collection) is perfect for showing off these techniques. I stitched this to remind me of my three cats: Wakko, Yakko, & Dot, now, sadly, all deceased.
Tips for Stitching Fur
- If you are going to be using a very furry thread, do not stitch this area until last. Otherwise, you will get bits of the thread in all the other stitches around it.
- If your animals have whiskers, put them on after you have done the fur (and brushed it if needed). Use a thin metallic to give them a bit more sparkle.
- If you are making a stiff mane, or using a stitch like Turkeywork for your fur (not shown here). Do not begin cutting until you are finished stitching. Begin by cutting the area longer than you want as the end result. Then trim, a bit at a time until you get the right length. Another good idea is to make the edges slightly shorter than the middle, this gives a natural effect.
- Furry stitches and threads really draw the eye. Keep this in mind when you are doing a piece with fur and other textures. Don’t use too many furry effects all over the canvas, this will confuse the eye of the viewer and keep your work from having a focus.
- Not all fur needs to use a special effect. Sometimes wool threads (especially thinner wools) in a canvas which is mostly smoother threads is all you need.
Dot (on the right) was a long-hair cat with very soft fur. Rainbow Gallery makes several threads that are fantastic for making long fur. In this case, I use Angora, a three-ply thread made from 100% angora, so it is very soft. This thread is perfect for stitching on 14-mesh canvas, but it doesn’t ply very well, because of its softness. After I had finished stitching Dot, I brushed the thread vigorously with a Bunka Brush. This brush has thin dense wire bristles and is used in Japanese embroidery. Many needlework shops carry them. If you can’t find one, try a suede or wire brush.
Whisper, another Rainbow Gallery thread, is a single ply, thin furry wool. Using two-ply on 18-mesh canvas works well for long fur. For a slightly less furry look combine one strand of Whisper with a strand of crewel wool. This also allows you to get more variation in the color. While Whisper is less furry than Angora, you can brush it to make longer fur.
Other furry threads by Rainbow Gallery include Alpaca (100% Alpaca wool in natural colors), Santa’s Bread and Suit (acrylic/wool blend, single ply), Eyelash (very long hair, polyamide, single ply), and Fuzzy Stuff (polyamide and viscose, single ply).
Yakko (middle) being a shorthair, needs a less flamboyant texture. For him, I used black crewel wool (three-ply). He is done in plain Basketweave and was brushed slightly to raise the texture of the wool. Yakko is a very black cat, but if your cat isn’t quite so solid, you might want to think about using a thread like EPiC, or Sheep’s Silk from The Thread Gatherer which has some subtle variation in the color. This would make the cat look more realistic. These would also work well for gray or orange tabbies.
Wakko presented the greatest challenge because of his tweedy fur. Some kinds of cats, such as Abyssinians, and some colors, such as brown tabbies, have fur which is called agouti, where each hair is more than one color from top to bottom. As a result, Wakko’s color doesn’t look solid, even where there are no stripes. Wool Crepe Tweed gives the perfect effect. It is a blend of wool and rayon and combines colors with black and sometimes a bit of white, to make gloriously tweeded threads. It is a very easy thread to use and for Wakko I used three different colors. All tabbies have a bit of lighter solid-colored fur around their mouth and for this, I used crewel wool.
For the brownish area around his nose, I used color 120 (Inca Gold), a combination of gold and black with a bit of white. For his stripes, I used color 720 (Putty) a dark taupe with black. For the rest of him, I used color 102 (Champagne). When I saw this color I thought it looked just like his fur. As you can see by the picture, the tweeded effect of the yarn does a great job of conveying the texture of his fur. This thread really draws the eye, so I would not try to use it with fancy stitches. Tent Stitch is just fine.
To make his stripes, I used a picture of him as a kitten for my model (he wouldn’t stay inside to pose). I put in the pale area around the nose first. Next, I stitched the stripes. Finally fill in with the final color. In all fairness, I need to note that it was the last color that really made him look good. Without it, the results were just terrible, so don’t despair if it looks bad partway through.
Finishing the Canvas
As for the rest, here the texture of the threads is the focal point, the rest of the canvas should take advantage of different stitches in a larger scale than the eye-catching versions of Tent Stitch used on the cats. As a result, I used two versions of Mosaic, diagonal on the leaves and horizontal for the background. I have French Knots for the holly berries and used versions of Scotch and Satin stitches for the packages. The bows on the packages are actual loops of thread, like uncut Turkeywork. This adds real dimension to the finished piece.