Read enough and you’ll come upon several names for the stitching we do. Tapestry, canvaswork, or needlepoint all look like words for the same thing — but are they?
Using the word “tapestry” for Tent Stitch needlepoint is fairly common in the UK and Europe, but it came about because of a mistake.
Properly “tapestry” is a weaving technique that produces hangings. I don’t know much about how they were woven in the Middle Ages, but today they are usually made on vertical looms using specialized techniques.
Tent Stitch needlepoint got the name because often the finished piece looks like a woven tapestry. Properly, it should not be applied to needlepoint.
The use of tapestry in England created a problem: What term should be used to cover all those other stitches we can put on a canvas? Their solution was to use the word “canvaswork.” You’ll often find this term in the titles of vintage British books on needlepoint, such as Dictionary of Canvaswork Stitches.”
It’s a broad term covering not only what we call “textured stitches” in the US, but also techniques such as Bargello, Pattern Darning, and Petitepoint. For people in the UK this term is their version of the US term, “needlepoint.”
In the US it has this meaning as well, but it is used far less often. It caries another meaning as well. Designers of counted needlepoint projects may refer to their technique as “counted canvaswork” to make it easier to distinguish from painted or printed needlepoint canvases. Counted Canvaswork projects begin with a blank canvas and the design is created from charts and instructions.
In the US we prefer to use the term “needlepoint” to cover everything from basic Tent Stitch to specialized techniques. For most of us the commonality in all needlepoint is that it is stitched on needlepoint canvas of some kind. That is it uses as its ground (base) a fabric that is evenly woven and that has bigger holes than thread. We would usually, though not always extend countability to stitches as well. Stitching that does not use the holes in the canvas may not be needlepoint to some.
The American Needlepoint Guild widens this definition in a couple of ways. They define needlepoint as being on a “countable ground.” This means that projects made on linen or other fabrics that are evenly woven count as needlepoint for purposes of exhibition at ANG. They also include the stitches that can be used in needlepoint to include both counted and free stitches.
It’s a broad definition, but it’s one that covers in a single term what we would recognize as “needlepoint.”