Types of Needlework: What's the Difference?

The term “needlework” is used to describe a variety of crafts that use a needle and colored floss or yarn to stitch. Yet while needlework crafts are based on the same concept, there are differences that set each type of needlework apart. 


Cross-stitch uses X-shaped stitches to create a design or picture using cotton embroidery floss. There are two types of cross-stitch: counted cross-stitch and stamped cross-stitch. In counted cross-stitch, a gridded chart is used to indicate where the stitches should be made on the fabric, typically aida, evenweave, or linen. You must count the threads on the fabric to determine where to stitch. In stamped cross-stitch, the design is already pre-printed on the fabric and you simply stitch over the “X” marks, referring to a chart for placement of floss colors.


Embroidery uses floss to create a design or picture using various styles of stitches. Often embroidery is done on fabric stamped with a pre-printed design, and you stitch over the lines and fill in the shapes. It is also common to use iron-on transfers to add a design to a towel, pillowcase, or other fabric for embroidery. Designs may also be stitched free-hand.


Needlepoint designs are created with tapestry wool stitched on a mesh canvas. The canvas may either be painted with a pre-printed design or blank. With a painted canvas, you follow the colors printed on the canvas to stitch the design. With a blank canvas, you follow a gridded chart and count threads to indicate where to stitch.

Plastic Canvas

Plastic canvas designs use yarn stitched on a plastic mesh canvas. Designs are stitched from a gridded chart, much like in counted cross-stitch. Plastic canvas can be used to create two-dimensional projects, such as wall hangings or coasters, or pieces can be joined together for 3-D creations like tissue box covers or pencil holders. A gridded chart is used to indicate where the stitches should be made.