Updated May 31, 2019.
The videos about learning needlepoint, which teach Continental properly, have sparked some controversy among people who believe that “Plain Old Needlepoint” should always be done as Basketweave. While I prefer Basketweave, I think there are many good reasons to make it the first stitch you teach brand new stitchers.
First off, and let’s be honest about it, needlepoint suffers greatly from the image that it is hard to do and that it MUST be done one particular way. And that way is Basketweave. But, as many people point out, there are no needlepoint police. We will never, ever, make needlepoint popular as long as it viewed as an elitist craft and one which must be done a particular way.
If I think about knitting I see how true this can be. Being a lefty, my grandmother couldn’t teach me to knit because she knitted American style, which is a very right-handed style of knitting. Until I was almost 30 I thought knitting was a closed society to me because I was left-handed.
It’s no fun being on the outside looking in.
One day the owner of my company, who loved to knit, gave me a present of knitting lessons. The shop taught Continental style, which is two-handed, and I learned to knit. Even after I learned to knit and knitted in public, I was told I knitted “wrong” and that as a lefty I couldn’t knit.
Neither style is “right.” Neither style is “better.” Both, and the many other methods people use to knit, are correct.
The same holds true for needlepoint. If it has beautiful results and it is correctly made, then it is right, whether it is stitched entirely in Continental or entirely in Basketweave. I recently helped a lady with a stunning needlepoint pillow, all stitched in silk. She had changed the colors and needed help deciding on the border. I turned over her stunning canvas and found the whole thing was stitched in Continental! (You can always tell Continental by the oblique stitches on the back, below).
Today’s maker is not a person who wants to be told she must do something a certain way. She wants to learn quickly and she wants to explore for herself. No matter if needlepoint is new or old to her.
If you’re teaching a brand new stitcher needlepoint you should tell her not to stitch Half Cross Stitch (it doesn’t create a stable fabric because there isn’t enough thread on the back). From my experience with teaching beginners of all ages, Basketweave is simply too hard to understand. The new stitcher will give up quickly and then what have we accomplished?
Diddly squat. She doesn’t know how to needlepoint. She thinks it is “too hard” and “too rigid.” Instead of embracing her desire, we have reinforced the stereotype.
The video I watched, by Susan Battle, owner of The Point of It All in DC, isn’t doing that, she has found, and conveyed beautifully, a fast, simple way to get people stitching. It isn’t hard (it takes much less than five minutes to teach) and the viewer can make something beautiful right off the bat.
I know it works. I started stitching in 1970. I learned Basketweave successfully, after many false starts, in about 1982. I knew dozens of other stitches, made beautiful needlepoint, designed my own stuff, but I stitched Continental. It wasn’t wrong then and it isn’t wrong now, it’s just different.
It is also, a natural way to stitch, which is part of the reason it can be taught so quickly. People see straight lines and can quickly understand going up and down or right and left. But finding true diagonals is much harder. And remembering the way to stitch the row to keep on the grain is even worse.
How many of us still chant or little mnemonic for Basketweave while we stitch? I do, it’s how I remember and check if I’m stitching Basketweave correctly.
Continental is the answer for beginners. We want new stitchers, we don’t want frustrated people, we don’t want folks on the outside looking in.
Get then stitching, get them stitching fast, get them hooked on the thing they made so quickly. THEN, when they are hooked and want to learn more, teach them Basketweave.