Updated January 1, 2019
In the last past I’ve thought lots about what makes needlepoint which is both stitchable and which has results which are appropriate to both the medium and the subject.
I think I’ve identified one aspect of this, the resolution of the design as regards the subject.
It’s easiest if I explain it with an example. Let’s say I want to make a picture of a flower. The fewer details I have, the less it resembles the real flower. You can readily see this if you think about photos of flowers. Close-ups provide tons of detail, but if I take a picture from many feet away, the flowers are blobs of color we only identify as flowers because we “know” that they are flowers or by the shape. Our mind provides the context and the identification.
In a way this is a problem of resolution, the lower the resolution, the more abstracted the design or object will be.
When it comes to human figures or animals, the less detailed the image, the more it becomes like a cartoon.
I was thinking about a piece I stitched on a commission awhile ago. It was of a cherub-like figure and I didn’t like it much. It was based on an old piece of art, probably Rococo. And the original was probably quite nice. But it was painted on 12 mesh canvas. The canvas resolution forced the design to be almost a cartoon of the original. The grace and the beauty of the piece was lost to the lack of detail.
Now in terms of physically being able to stitch the piece, this design was stitchable. In terms of having a lovely and appropriately beautiful piece for the hours of work put into stitching, it was not worth it.
On the converse I’ve seen plenty of canvases painted on 18 mesh because that’s what people like that could as easily be painted on 14 mesh without the loss of detail. These too are physically stitchable, but take longer than they should to stitch and may not reward you for that time.
Today, most painted canvases are on 18 mesh. Most threads are designed for this size canvas as well. But I have seen plenty of pieces which didn’t need to be on this mesh size. The detail isn’t lost on a larger mesh, so why make more work for yourself? It would make me terribly happy if designers thought about this (many do) and didn’t just automatically go for the finer mesh.
I’ll use a couple of other examples of appropriate use of mesh size from two of my designer friends. My friend Kelly Clark designs charming Santas and they come in two sizes, 13 and 18 mesh. They are both stitch painted and are exactly the same. The only difference is the finished size. By going from one mesh to the other, Kelly loses no detail. As a stitcher I can chose the mesh size which works best for me.
My friend Leigh Richardson paints incredibly detailed canvases, like her amazing shells and sand castles. They are large, detailed and on 18 mesh. But try to imagine how much detail would be lost if they were the same finished size and on 13. The detail would be gone. Instead of having a shell I can recognize from my collection, I would have a general shell and one that would be abstract and less beautiful.
There are many approaches to painting canvas and many solutions to this problem.
So the next time you look for canvases think about the resolution. It may be a gut reaction (I only figured out the problem with the cherub 8 months later), but does the mesh size work to make the design as it was intended to be. Or is it too small or too large a mesh?
As consumers of needlepoint we have great control of the designs we buy and see. Don’t settle for the wrong mesh size for the design. Hold out for the possibility of good art.