Updated May 26, 2020.
I stitched this Petei canvas for my daughter. As I was stitching him, I realized it’s a pretty unusual canvas for me. Especially the background. I tend not to pick threads and colors that are so flashy, but I’m trying to expand my horizons.
When choosing a background for a piece, the best choices are ones that echo things you find in the main part of the design. The perfect background will echo more of these things.
You probably already do this. You choose, for example, a color that is a lighter shade of a main color in the design. You pick a rounded stitch when the design is rounded and a small stitch when the design has lots of ins & outs.
Another aspect of great backgrounds in contrast. By choosing a background that contrasts with the focal point, you set the focal point apart. I am about to start a baby shark round from My Pink Sugar Life. It’s grey, black, and white except for the open mouth, which is red. I’m going to highlight that & reinforce the underwater feel by stitching the background in a light aqua silk.
That’s something else you probably do. You put dark designs against light backgrounds. Or use a muted background with a bright focal point.
Let’s look at some aspects, in no particular order, of the design and the background to see how they work together.
The background stitch is Double Nobuko done in Planet Earth Opal (I think).
Direction: Because the rabbit is standing, we see his entire figure which is vertical. All standing figures are somewhat vertical, but this one is especially so because his hands are in front of his body. Double Nobuko, unlike Nobuko, has a very subtle stripe, making it have a vertical direction as well. This vertical feel reinforces the main design.
Texture: There is very little metallic on the main part of the design. The only metallic is the watch and chain. The eyes, stitched in rayon, add another bit of glitz. Otherwise all the textures are matte.
By picking a background thread with only a bit of metallic and one that does not match the base thread in color, the small bits of glitz on the rabbit are reinforced. If there was more metallic, it would overwhelm the more matte figure. If the metallic matched the base thread, it would mostly disappear.
Tweeds: The rabbit’s tweed jacket also created another opportunity for reinforcement in the background thread. It’s a rustic combination of two different colors, with brown being the major color. Although you probably don’t think of it this way, Opal is tweedy as well. It combines two very different colors in unequal amounts. This creates another subtle bit of reinforcement.
Those aspects of the background reinforce aspects of the figure. But one aspect of the background, color creates a strong contrast to the rabbit, making the result unexpected but right.
Except for the eyes (the focal point) the rabbit is entirely neutral colors. Even the white thread used for the fur is a creamy white (a bit yellow). He’s neutral and muted.
The background, on the other hand is a bright color. Blue is a complement to brown, which is a dark shade of orange, so there is contrast built into a blue background. It’s bright while the rabbit is muted. It’s a color while the rabbit is neutral. On the upcoming shark, the blue is a near compliment to the very vivid red of the mouth.
Not every background will relate to your project in so many ways. But it’s good practice for picking backgrounds to look at pieces you particularly like and figure out why the backgrounds work.