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Photo by Stephanie Staton
Needlepoint is often confused with counted cross-stitch (pictured above), which only uses X-shaped stitches on even-weave fabric.
Moberly says she found that hand-painted canvases can be expensive. There are less-expensive canvases available, but they are usually printed in China, and she says, “sometimes you have to guess on the colors” when choosing thread for those projects. She also says the variability in cost can be surprising.
Nelson, who has been a needlepointer for 41 years, acknowledges that hand-painted needlepoint canvases aren’t cheap. A 9- by 14-inch needlepoint canvas can cost in the neighborhood of $70; a 2-foot-square design can cost upward of $152. But, she says, the hand-painted canvases are the best ones.
“The painters are very exacting in how and where they paint the design on the canvas,” she says. “That’s why they’re so expensive. Kits with stamped designs are done using lower-quality canvas, called interlock. It’s very difficult for manufacturers to get stamped designs placed correctly—evenly—on the canvas.”
According to Nelson, companies that produce hand-painted needlepoint canvases are typically small. The owner is usually the designer, she says, and hires copy artists to duplicate the design on canvases. Because they are hand-painted, no two canvases are ever exactly alike. Nelson buys the canvases for her shop at trade shows, from painters across the country. She also carries a supply of blank canvases for people who prefer working from charted directions or who’d rather paint their own design. The blank needlepoint canvases come in many colors, including black, dark blue, red and assorted pastels. According to Nelson, whether people choose hand-painted, stamped or blank canvases is all in what appeals to their learning styles.
The color of canvas chosen depends on the project. Needlepoint styles have changed over the years, says Nelson. “We don’t necessarily cover the canvas any more. Open areas of the canvas can become part of the picture, offering shading or definition to aspects of the design.”
Covering Your Canvas
Nelson recommends covering the edges of the canvas with masking tape to keep the thread from snagging on it and to prevent tears. She says that although needlepoint projects can be worked without special equipment, for best results, mount your work on stretcher bars or a scroll frame. This keeps the canvas taut and keeps the design from warping.
Pulling at Threads
Needlepoint kits come with preselected threads; projects assembled “a la carte” include threads selected by the needlepointer specifically for the project. There are multitudes of threads from which to choose in nearly every color imaginable, sure to match the colors in any hand-painted or stamped canvas design. Threads are also available in a variety of textures, including those that mimic animal fur and those with a metallic sheen. There are even yarns that are hand-dyed by artisans, a whole other art form in the world of needlework. The type of yarn and its durability should be chosen to match the intended use of the completed project.
Filling in the Gaps
Needlepointers working on a non-kit project don’t have the benefit of a stitch guide or diagram. According to Nelson, most people rely on their own stitch guides, learning a variety of stitches on their own and creating samples they can choose from as they interpret a canvas design. The stitches serve not only to fill in the holes in the mesh but also to create a sense of texture, motion and dimension. Some people don’t limit their design interpretation to stitching, adding found objects to their work—such as beads or even seashells.
This is part of the appeal needlepoint has for Nelson. “I love the ability to take a canvas and use different stitches to make a two-dimensional piece of canvas come to life,” she says.
Once you’ve finished your stitching and made that needlepoint design come to life, what next? According to Nelson, most people hire professional finishers to complete their projects. Finishing involves blocking the piece, coating it with fixative so it doesn’t warp, and either mounting it in a frame or putting it on an object, such as a glasses case.
“People don’t sew any more,” she says, and therefore don’t know how to incorporate a finished piece of needlepoint into a pillow, for example.
It isn’t difficult to block your own work. To block, place the piece face down on a clean towel and press lightly with a steam iron. Mount it on stretcher bars, ensuring that it is taut and square, and let it dry.
Techniques for finishing depend on the intended use of the project. Some smaller pieces, such as Christmas ornaments, can be finished with edging such as ribbon. A wall hanging can be easily mounted in a frame. If you’re a beginner, you may need some professional guidance when tackling the finished work on projects that involve incorporating needlepoint into something like a pillow or quilt.
The Extra Stitch
If you’ve completed your first project and decided you’re hooked on needlepoint, you might want to invest in equipment that will make the job easier and produce the best results. As mentioned, stretcher bars or a scroll frame help keep the canvas taut while you work.
Stretcher bars are available in many sizes and can be purchased completely assembled or as kits that you put together. Prices, depending on size, can range anywhere from less than $1 per piece to more than $100 for kits that include the parts for several stretcher boards in multiple sizes. Brass tacks must be used in mounting a canvas on a stretcher board, because standard office tacks could rust and ruin the piece.
Scroll frames are suitable for medium to large projects, where the piece is filled in one section at a time. As one section is finished, the piece is rolled up farther on the frame to expose the next area to be worked. They can be simple, hand-held frames or more elaborate floor-mounted models and range in price from about $30 to more than $200 for frames that have attached accessories, such as lights or magnifying glasses.
Good lighting is essential when working in a medium as exacting as needlepoint. Many companies sell inexpensive lights, from about $12 up—some combined with magnifying glasses—designed to mount onto hand-held frames. (Magnifying glasses are a necessity for many while working on the closely spaced stitches of needlepoint.) More expensive lights and magnifiers accessorize floor-mounted units.
Whatever route you choose when embarking in needlepoint—working from kits or blank or stamped canvases—be sure to have fun with it. Start small, selecting projects you won’t find discouraging. Build your skill set, and work up to larger projects. Needlepoint can help you slow the pace of life for a bit, with stitch-by-stitch patience that results in unique works that can become treasured gifts or character-filled accents in your home, creating a sense of place. Either way, it can be a wonderful way to embroider a memory.
About the Author: Lynda King is a freelance writer and newspaper editor in central Massachusetts who contributes regularly to Hobby Farm Home. Besides her new-found interest in needlecrafts, her pastimes include creative cookery, organic gardening and “mini-farming.”
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of Hobby Farm Home.
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