Introduction to Needlepoint and the equipment you need.

First of all, what is needlepoint?  It is counted thread embroidery mostly covering the ground material – even weave canvas.  However my web site shows many different lacy designs and incorporating different coloured canvases into the design. Sometimes it is called tapestry erroneously but that is a different story!

Girls Stitching in Tuscany
There are three main types of needlepoint, Tent stitch from charts or on printed or hand-painted canvases; Florentine/Bargello traditional upright stitches worked in curves and spires and Stitchery on geometric designs and for adding interest to painted canvases.

This blog covers equipment for all types of needlepoint that I have found useful though the years.

One of the most attractive aspects of learning needlepoint right from the start is the fact that initially very little equipment is needed to get one going in the right direction.

Later on as you become more hooked, possibly see fellow stitches either at class or in ‘stitch and bitch’ groups with equipment they love you can add on or build as you wish.

Anna's Mill in Norfolk
I design and stitch all the projects we offer on class or the web.  So, while I stitch a great deal I can only tell you of the items I can’t do without and find essential to my stitching pleasure.  There are many, many others I haven’t mentioned as I’ve not tried them or find non-essential.

I expect the first thing to talk about is the kit or design you pick first time around;  we hold regular open days when people are able to see our range, discuss whether it would be right for their standard of stitching; which colour scheme would best suit their home.  Failing that our web site does show full details of the colour schemes and one can hover over a design to see detail.

If a design from another designer do not go for anything too large; I would reject screen printed designs on interlock canvas, any design on Double or Penelope canvas. 12 or 14 mesh evenweave are good to start on.  Crewel wool is the best option (see later)   Finally check the design doesn’t only allows for half-cross stitch as that doesn’t wear well.  If you should work a background in Basket weave/Diagonal Tent instead of the suggested Half Cross you will not have enough of wool supplied and finding a match could be difficult so better, right from the start, to have fresh background wool of the right quantity. Check quantity in any event by stitching a square inch in the stitch you plan to use on the identical canvas and recording the number of threads used.

Canvas Besides the canvas mesh, (the higher the number the finer the canvas, eg 14 threads to the inch is larger than 18 threads to the inch) there are three main types of canvas, Penelope or Double, Interlock and Evenweave.

Our kits come complete with the evenweave, when the canvas threads weave over and under each other allowing for some give and take when the piece is finished and in use.

The 14 and 18 mesh are available in white and antique (brown) so choose the colour to best suit your colour scheme. The 18 mesh also comes in an exciting range of colours, both pastel and dramatic.

Cakes stand
A frame is essential – in my book anyway – the type that is best to use are artist stretcher bars.   They come in pairs in different lengths and widths and simply slot together - very easy to store and use.   The lengths you need are the same as the canvas dimensions, a 10 x 10 inch canvas needs a 10 x 10 “ frame.  The narrow ones we can supply are light and best fitted with flat headed drawing pins. They can be reused time and time again and will fit with other lengths of the same width to make rectangles etc for future projects. It is always possible to order a frame at the same time as a new project.

 Threads, probably the best choice for your first attempts is crewel wool.   Appleton’s make a wonderful range of closely shaded families, particularly good for shading realistically and Florentine/Bargello designs.  It is available in small skeins and larger hanks; I recommend the hanks as one frequently wishes to do further designs in the same colour scheme.   Work with lengths no longer than18/19 inches to prevent fraying. If working with a finer canvas 18/20/22 mesh consider an even shorter length.

Joint teaching project with Dede Ogden
Later on when more confident, stranded and pearl cottons add interest to designs and when hooked overdyed floss, silks and metallic, are beautiful to work with and look marvellous. New, exciting threads are introduced all the time – I try and incorporate them in my designs. In my kit instructions these threads are explained when applicable.

So, now you are set up to make a start - a kit or instructions in a book you love, the colour scheme that suits, a frame and of course needles!  If and when you wish to change a colour scheme from that given, it is most satisfactory to replace wool with wool, stranded cottons with stranded cottons etc. 
Needles are usually given in kits however you need ‘tapestry needles’ that have no point that would split the canvas threads. They are available two ways, in a mixed pack or an individual pack of one size – these I find better.

As a rule,

Size 18 is for 12 mesh canvas

20 for 14 mesh canvas

22 for 18 mesh canvas

Exceptions to these rules that are worth considering - for Pulled Thread stitches I use a larger size than recommended to enlarge the holes effortlessly and I enjoy using  a fine 24 needle for lacy stitches on 18 mesh.

Recently I have discovered a French needle manufacturer that are markedly nicer to use; these are now included in our kits and available from us in packs of 6.

For those of us who have problems threading needles (I find the French needles much easier) there is an excellent 3 in 1 Needle Threader;  it can thread sewing cotton on a fine wire loop, medium threads on a hook and thick threads on  a large hook.

Binding the edge of the canvas; most often our canvases are taped before sale; otherwise the edges of the canvas should be bound with 1” masking tape.

Stitching with others is always a bonus, there may be classes in your area where you will get useful tips that will help all future work, there may be a ‘stitch & bitch’ group that meets in a private home, there you would see other people’s work.  All group stitching be it in a formal class or informal group gives you the opportunity of discussing your work, making new friends and generally swopping ideas.  Highly recommended.

Crewel wools & threads, range of coloured canvases
 and stretcher bar frames

Then, when you are ready, you might think of adding to your equipment; there are small items to pick up and others, more expensive that are really helpful to your work and pleasure.

Among others the small items are scissors, laying tools, needle cases, thread storage and project bags and magnetic pick up tools for finding and rescuing your needle.

Until recently I loved some small curved decoupage scissors but they appear to be no longer available so I am researching alternatives. The curved tips get under waste knots with easy. The airline authorities generally accept blades under 4.5mm but perhaps it is wise not to rely on this, pack a spare pair in your check-in and have a thread cutter for the flight. The ones I like are a Japanese ‘disc’ that I wear as a necklace or a cheapo airline cutter.  Group photo of small accessories.

If you plan on cutting canvas then a larger pair of shears would be useful (not to be taken on board!)

Unpicking work is often unavoidable and the two tips I offer are - There is often more thread on the reverse making it easier to snip; the curved scissors are good.  Finally use eyebrow tweezers (or any tweezers that you have) for pulling the cut stitches out.

Laying tools come in various materials, polished wood, metal and plastic; They help your threads, particularly cottons, floss, and  perle to lay smoothly;  in particular any thread that you use with a number of ply.

My favourite are the wood versions but many of my students like the ‘trolley needle’ a laying tool that fits on a finger always at the ready.   Try for yourself.

Needle cases again come in many forms;  one can make a small ‘book’ with flannel ‘leaves’ and a canvas work cover or recently I have found a pop-up that holds all sizes of needles or if needed a pop-up for each size.  There are amusing copies of pewter Victorian animals with padding  for the needles – a great present for friends who stitch.

Then comes a method of keeping your threads under control!   The one I like and use often is a heavy card with various size holes to accommodate the selection of threads (wool is more bulky than say stranded cotton)   I use these as I can record reference numbers, quantities used and ideally the code that the kit has used for that colour.   Now these cards are included in our larger kits. 
Then transporting your precious project, or even just keeping it all together. The simplest way is an old pillow case, a more sophisticated method of transport is making yourself a large tote bag; make it generous enough to take the size of canvas (left on the frame) you usually work on and it can be fabric or needlepoint – either just the front or both sides and a shoulder strap all in needlepoint – I suggest a longish strap to go over the shoulder and leave both hands free

Needle threaded, Magnetic Pickup, Project card, Tweezers,
Needle holder & a Needle case
So, now take a breath, you love your stitching and to make it even more pleasurable; these items will help immensely.   

 A floor frame to hold your piece at both the right height and angle; good for your back if you need further justification!  My absolute top favourite is the Lowery floor frame, the silver grey version with a side clamp.  The big advantage over many on the market is that it has a good floor plate that, with your foot or chair leg is rock solid and that it stands to the side of you and leaves both your hands free for 2-hand stitching.  It also has a useful range of add-ons illustrated on their site.  Many others come centrally into your body and should you need to get up for the telephone or a well earned coffee, go flying!   I always have some of these Lowery floor frames that students can try on class. I even have some students who have taken a second one – for down and upstairs or in their weekend cottage. Having said that they are not impossible to pack as they all come apart!

Then there is light and magnification - daylight can’t be beaten but most of us stich in the evening and frequently in the winter with curtains drawn with lights on quite early.   So I am spoilt in having two types, each of which I love.   First there is a wall mounted magnification and light; it has a large magnification area so I can see the whole design area without too much adjustment.  It does come with a floor base but mine is fixed with a bracket to a wall but could be clipped to a table or window cill.  It lives right by my stitching chair.  It needs a power point for the light.

The other version is even more adaptable; it can be connected to power but will also work on batteries; it comes with a solid floor base but can also be used alone with a strong clip for a table top or similar. This is the one I take for travelling (without the base if I know there will be a suitable table to clamp it to)

Again both these items are here in the studio, I encourage people to try them and see which would suit them best.
Lowery floor frame (canvas on artist stretcher bar frame)
& Magnification / Light (works on electricity or battery)
So, step by step you have items that truly make stitching even more pleasurable and not expensive or difficult to get.
Think how much a set of golf clubs would cost!


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