American Needlepoint Guild

Gateway Chapter - St. Louis, MO

The Science of Canvas Embroidery* - or - the "weakest links" of needlepoint

September 2001 program

Prepared by Denise Beusen with input from the members of the Gateway Chapter of ANG

# 1

Wash your hands before picking up your work and don't eat while you're stitching. Don't handle or "stroke" fibers once they're stitched.


Corollary: consider the intended use of your piece. If it's destined to receive heavy use, stay with wool or cotton.

# 2

Stitch with your canvas on a stretcher bar frame and periodically remove your canvas to retighten the tension on it. Tacks and staples should be no more than 2" apart.


To attach canvas to stretcher bars:

  1. make sure frame is square
  2. align the warp and weft with the frame
  3. staple or tack the center of one edge
  4. tug the canvas to the opposite side and staple or tack
  5. repeat 3 & 4 on the other two sides of the canvas
  6. pull one canvas corner taught and secure it; do the opposite corner and then the other two corners
  7. secure the canvas all the way around, stretching it and working on opposite diagonals as you place tacks/staples.
  8. staples should be inserted diagonally - not aligned horizontally with the stretcher bar - and alternate directions to reduce strain on the warp and weft

# 3

In most cases, stripping and laying the plies of a fiber will yield a more pleasing effect than stitching with the unplied fiber.


# 4

Make informed decisions about starting and ending threads.

A waste knot is parked in the stitch path so that it will automatically be covered as an area is filled.

An away knot is positioned away from the area to be stitched (but not in an area that will be exposed).

Use the Bargello tuck - a backstitch - when securing slippery fibers

End threads within the same color area to avoid fuzzy intermingling and dark shadows.

Avoid carrying yarn across the back - weave it through the backs of stitches.

An "L" or a "pin tuck" stitch sequence can be used with non-bulky fibers to stabilize long stitches or to start a stitching length when away/waste knots cannot be used.

Loop start can be used in areas where away or waste knot can't be used - fold the fiber in two and thread the two cut ends into the needle. Sink the needle into the canvas and bring the needle back through the loop to knot the fiber to the canvas.

When stitching basketweave, bury starting/ending threads vertically, NOT diagonally.

Maintains same tension on beginning and ending stitches

Allows tails to spread out better

Diagonally buried ends tend to create ridges on the front

Stop stitching when the remaining length is 2x that of your needle

# 5

If you have to mark a canvas, make intelligent choices:

# 6

As you stitch, reposition the needle on the stitching length periodically.


So the eye of the needle doesn't wear the fiber thin.

For delicate fibers, it's best to use short lengths and not reposition the needle because they wear so quickly.

# 7

When using light colors and dark colors next to one another, work the light colors first, then the dark colors.


If the dark colors are worked first, the light colors will pick up fibers from the dark colors and the light colors will not look clear.

Corollary: Don't wear dark or fuzzy sweaters when stitching, and don't let your animals sleep on or play with your fibers or canvas.

# 8

Bring the needle up in empty canvas holes and down in "shared" or occupied holes.


It's easier to avoid splitting the already stitched fiber by slanting the needle when entering from the front.

Corollary: If you need to park a thread temporarily and come back to it later, bring it to the front of the canvas to keep from stitching it into your work on the back side.

# 9

Tips for handling difficult fibers:

*The primary reference for this document was a book by Ann Strite-Kurz, "The Science of Canvas Embroidery", self-published and available at

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