Getting Started in Needlepoint

Needlepoint offers a veritable potpourri of design options—wild, daring, and bold or quiet, shy, and gentle. The methods of creating them are surprisingly quick and simple. Follow these basic instructions and you’re certain to turn out work that looks perfect every time!

Getting Started

Before you begin, read all the instructions you receive with your kit or chart to familiarize yourself with the project. Then, separate your yarns by color. It can be helpful to loosely braid the same colors together. You can then pull strands from the braid as you need them. Never work with a piece of yarn longer than 22" (56cm). This will help prevent your yarn from fraying as you stitch.

Do not knot the yarn. To start the first stitch, leave about 1" (2.5cm) of yarn on the wrong side of the canvas and work over it as you make the next several stitches. To finish and secure a length of yarn, run the needle under the stitches on the wrong side of the canvas for about ½" (1.3cm). Clip off the excess yarn close to the canvas. To start a new length, secure the yarn by running the needle under a few worked stitches on the wrong side of the canvas.

Basic Stitches

The word “needlepoint” is the general term used for petit point and gros point, which are the same slanting stitch (half cross), differing only in size. The half cross stitch, the basketweave stitch, and the continental stitch all form this basic stitch. Each looks the same on the front of the canvas. Each has its own characteristics and advantages. Always slant the basic stitch in the same direction. Use your tapestry needle in an up-and-down motion instead of “sewing” the entire needlepoint stitch in one movement.

Half cross stitch: 
For pillows, pictures, wall hangings, and other items that will not receive heavy wear, this stitch leaves little yarn on the back of the canvas. That makes it economical since it requires the least amount of yarn. It should be worked only on double mesh canvas.
Work on row left to right. Up at 1, down at 2. Up at 3, down at 4. Up at 4, down at 6.
Work on row right to left. Up at 7, down at 8. Up at 9, down at 10.

Basketweave stitch: This is the most durable stitch and the one that makes blocking easy because it won’t pull the canvas out of shape. It’s good for backgrounds and large areas of color, and it can be used on any project and any canvas. It leaves a thick pad on the back of the piece, using approximately 30% more yarn than the half cross stitch. This stitch is worked on the diagonal. It does not pull the canvas out of shape as much as the continental stitch and makes blocking easier. Notice that the needle is always parallel to canvas threads, except when beginning a new row. 

Begin at the upper right corner. Follow illustrations 1 through 4. All rows from left to right are worked as in illustration 5, all rows from right to left as in illustration 6. All end stitches are worked as in illustration 3 and 4.


Continental stitch: Using the same amount of yarn as the basketweave, this stitch also works up with more thickness on the back than on the front. The stitch is especially desirable for upholstery and rugs because the extra thickness of yarn serves as a pad and saves wear on pieces receiving heavy use. It may be worked on single or double mesh canvas. Blocking is always necessary due to extreme distortion of the canvas.

Working from right to left: Up at 1, down at 2. Up at 3, down at 4. Up at 5, down at 6. At the end of the first row, turn the canvas and start the second row, working again from right to left.

Helpful Hints

  • Sharp scissors are important. Use small, pointed embroidery scissors for cutting the yarn and large, heavy scissors for cutting the canvas.
  • Use a thimble. It makes the work go a lot faster and easier. Plus, it saves your fingers!
  • Work design area first, then fill in the background.
  • Try to keep your stitches even. A too-loose tension gives an uneven look to the stitching. A too-tight tension will distort the canvas, even causing the distortion to reappear after blocking has been down.
  • Do not carry yarn across large areas when you are going on to another area of the same color. Finish off and start again in the next area.
  • If the yarn twists while stitching, turn your canvas upside down, drop the needle, and let the yarn hang free. It will unwind itself.
  • Cover the raw edges of your canvas with masking tape to prevent the mesh from raveling and snagging as you stitch.
  • Do not crumple or squeeze your canvas while working. It can warp the meshes, and if the canvas threads are bent out of shape, your stitches won’t look even. Simply roll the canvas up to the area you where you are working.
  • A needlepoint frame is helpful when you’re stitching on a large canvas. The frame keeps the canvas from warping, so it requires less blocking when you’re finished.
  • When you stop working for the day, roll the canvas with the wrong side out and put it in a plastic bag to keep it clean.