A few years ago, if you had asked me, I would have told you that outlining in needlepoint is not a good idea. And often it isn’t.
You might think that if you outlined and area first making a line of Continental (one thread lines in needlepoint are always Continental, no matter what you think you are stitching), that it will be easy to fill in. Yes, it’s easy to fill in the space, but you will always be able to see that outline. This is because the stitch is constructed differently and the tension will be different.
The problem is not apparent if the thread is a different color. And this is a powerful technique. A recent post from Anne Stradel, really demonstrates how wonderful it is and why sometimes outlining is the perfect solution. In this design, notice the angelfish on the left. It’s very similar in color, though not in texture to the wonderful background. Without the outline, it blends into the background, at least from a distance.
But add that outline in the darkest green used on the fish and it pops out. There is enough value and color difference here to define the edge of the fish. Notice the sea horse on the right. Although it has plenty of contrast to the background, by outlining it as well, she makes it pop more and keeps similarity between the focal points, an important aspect of making a great design.
Sometimes this simple technique is all you need to make a design sing.
Another outlining technique, sometimes suggested, is to Backstitch around the focal point, much as you would in Cross Stitch. Oftne this looks odd in needlepoint for a couple of reasons. The thread used for them is often too thick. Backstitch tends to look too choppy, distracting from the outline. By using thinner threads, as Cheryl Shaeffer does, you get a good looking outline.
I solve this by using thin threads and Whipped Backstitch. This gives a thin smooth line. It’s perfect for outlining curved areas.