Article updated January 19, 2021.
Whenever you buy a painted canvas or when you design your own needlepoint, you will need to pick stitches for it. Here are some simple rules for deciding what stitch should go where.
Every canvas, no matter how big or small, should have some areas of tent stitch (Basketweave). Think of this as “neutral texture.” By having some Tent Stitch, the eye gets a place to rest. Without some Tent Stitch, the canvas will look way too busy and can be difficult to read. Areas that almost always need to be stitched in Basketweave include areas with lots of detail (like faces), areas that are very narrow (like these Chinese characters), and areas with shading.
Sometimes your choice of a stitch is determined by what the design is showing. For example, if you were needlepointing a cat, you probably wouldn’t want to use a strong geometric stitch for the cat’s fur (although it might be a very cool background). But if you were stitching a brick wall, that kind of stitch might be just the ticket.
The stitch scale is also important; it must work with the scale of the area on the canvas. Any stitch you use should be repeated at least three times in all directions; if it doesn’t, this stitch is too big for the area. Pick a smaller one. The bigger the scale of the stitch, the more attention it draws to itself. For example, if you were stitching a sunflower, you might want to emphasize the petals or the center. If you wanted to emphasize the center, that’s where you would put the larger stitch. The larger the pattern, the more your eye will be drawn to it.
Sometimes the combination of thread and canvas mesh rules out some kinds of stitches. The thread/stitch combination might be difficult to work as is. In those cases, you might want to thin out the threads by using one fewer plies. Or you might want o pick another stitch. If the coverage in this combination looks too thin, thicken the thread by adding another strand or adding a strand of crewel wool or embroidery floss in a matching color to your base thread. Usually these additions don’t stand out but make the needlepoint look better.
The best method for checking out a stitch is to try it. Stitch a bit on your doodle canvas, make a sample for your stitch notebook, or try a little bit of the stitch on the canvas. If it doesn’t look right, frog stitch (rip-it-,rip-it). I’ve sometimes done this with entire stitched areas and sometimes I’ve stitched the same area several times before I find something perfect.