I learned just how important the value in needlepoint color can be the hard way. I had planned an elaborate sampler, featuring two color families of Persian wool (raspberry and French blue). Each block in the sampler was going to feature two different colors in many different patterns.
But as I stitched the colors which looked so lovely in skeins, looked, well, dull.
I wondered why.
The source of the problem was that I was combining two thread colors with the same value, rendering the color combination washed out.
Value is the amount of black or white in a color, in other words, how light or dark a particular color is. Colors that have white added to them are tints, colors with black added to them are shades and colors with gray added to them are tones (which can be light or dark).
Value has absolutely nothing to do with the actual color (red, yellow, etc.) of a thread, but only with how dark or light it is.
A simple tool artists use for determining value is a value scale. Ten shades of grey, ranging from white to black are printed on a piece of paper (usually pasted onto cardboard). Holes are punched in each shade. You put the color you want to match behind the holes until you find the one which it matches most closely — this is the thread’s shade.
Another easy possibility is to make a black and white photocopy of your thread selection, this removes the color and lets you tell the values of the threads you have chosen.
A delightful tool for checking on values is to use the Ruby Beholder from That Patchwork Place. A thick piece of red plastic, put this over two or more threads. The color “washes out” and you see only the values. If you don’t have one of these any transparent red film will work.
Almost all needlepoint color needs some contrast in value to work. Think of monochromatic Bargello, it gets its beauty from the many values of a single color. Even single color needlepoint is more interesting because of the changes in value in the piece.
Color can sometimes mask similarities in value, but a transparent red filter (like the Ruby Beholder) reveals the problem. When viewed through the red filter, colors with the same value look the same. When a needlepoint color that makes a subtle combination with another color, it might as well be single color or thread when you look at values. This could make a needlepoint using these colors seem dull.
If you have a pair of complementary colors, go for a value contrast as well. While this combination is more lively, using it in large areas or with one thread as the background and one as the accent will not look good.
Only when you use a variety of values do you get exciting needlepoint color. If a color looks dull, change it for another one with a different value.
If you are stitching and find that your needlepoint looks less interesting than the threads did on their own, check the values. Maybe make a black and white photocopy. If you see too much of one value, change some of the threads to lighter or darker colors — you’ll be surprised at the difference.
I didn’t know this aspect of needlepoint color when I first noticed the problem and abandoned the project. Now I could do it right.
Hand painted canvas needlepoint, like most other things to do with our hobbies, tend to become collections. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.
I am a great collector of other things (china swans, milk glass, rose bowls, little boxes, etc.) but for a long time, it had never even occurred to me to apply the thrill of hunting and searching to my stash of hand painted canvas needlepoint.
Yes, my stitching and purchasing of needlepoint does have some themes. I’ve made Christmas ornaments for years (This is thanks to my husband who suggested it when he felt overwhelmed by pillows) and especially black cat and mini-sock ornaments. But mostly I buy things I like without rhyme or reason.
But having a theme to additions to your hand painted canvas needlepoint stash is a great idea. You can look at every shop you visit for designers and designs which fit your theme. Free patterns on the Internet can be another search. You can look for chart packs or line drawings with your theme.
The thrill of the hunt is a much unappreciated delight for stitchers. And if you want thrills, go onto on-line auctions looking for handpainted canvas needlepoint, stitched or unstitched, in your theme. I will never forget how totally delighted I was when, looking around eBay one Sunday, I found a teapot canvas I had not bought when I first saw it. Shortly after that it was no longer made. I thought I had lost it forever.
One great way to make your eBay searching easier is to use the saved searches. You have to be registered in eBay to do this.
Enter a search term in the area you want to collect.
Do the search.
You might need to refine it to make the results a reasonable amount. Do this by using the “advanced search” link and limit your options by excluding words, limiting price or whatever.
Ask eBay to send you email when the items are found.
That’s it. eBay will send you notices daily whenever things are found.
So how do you decide what to collect? You might consider a particular type of hand painted canvas — mini-socks, standing figures, nutcrackers. You might want to concentrate on a particular designer (I’ve done 17 canvases designed by Mika Partridge and have three more in my stash). You might want to look at a theme or particular kind of object, perhaps teapots. Finally you might want to go with a particular style, Art Deco maybe or Victorian, and buy only canvases which fit that style.
My current obsession is with the hand painted canvas mini-socks from In Good Company. I’ve stitched about 24 of them, maybe more, in the past and I’ve been buying them on eBay pretty regularly for the last couple of years. So far, I’ve added about twenty to my stash, including some I’d never seen. They will keep me happily stitching for years.
Once you’ve made up your mind on your themes, then go out and hunt. Buy hand painted canvas needlepoint which fits your theme. Look for kits or stitched needlework in the theme at thrift stores and garage sales. Best of all when you go to get something from your stash to stitch, you will always have something which matches. And, at least in my house, this is a powerful incentive to get something framed or finished.
One of the hardest parts of stitching hand painted canvas needlepoint is finding the perfect background. This article will help you evaluate different choices for background stitches and make suggestions for what will work.
All stitching has three aspects which need to be considered when evaluating them for backgrounds. They are texture, scale and direction. All of these aspects need to harmonize and not compete with the stitches you have chosen for the focal point of the hand painted canvas. If they are stronger, then your eye will notice the background instead of the focal point of the hand painted canvas needlepoint when finished.
Stitches and threads have texture to them. Your texture should not be stronger in the background than in the foreground. Stitches with very strong textures (like Turkeywork) should never be used for backgrounds. Open stitches are good choices because they look lower (and thus further back) than the Tent Stitch used in the focal point.
Your thread choice also has texture which affects the stitch. A stitch may work but the thread may not. It may be too thick and fluffy or it may have too much color variation, or it may draw too much attention to itself. Once again, your eye notices the background before the focal point. This is the kiss of death for any completed hand painted canvas needlepoint.
Scale has to do with the size of the stitch or the motif. I did a charming cheetah from Needlepoint, Inc. with a large Triangle Stitch as its background. There was lots of background, so the big scale worked well. For a busy design, a small scale stitch works well. Stitches which are too large smooth out details. Stitches which are too small for the focal point look fussy.
Many stitches have a strong direction, when the lines made by the stitches point in a particular direction. Elongated Cashmere is strongly horizontal or vertical. Double Woven has a strong and shifting diagonal direction. The direction of your background shouldn’t compete with the direction of your design. For example, if you are doing a design which has a vertical emphasis, don’t pick a strongly horizontal background.
The only exception I can think of for this is when your background is “really” a wall or a floor. On this canvas from ABS Designs, Santa is pictured against both a floor (horizontal) and a wall (vertical), creating a strong and busy background for this hand painted canvas needlepoint. It works because, in essence, this needlepoint is a picture in stitched form, and, like a photograph, the background needn’t be uniform.
When I’m looking for backgrounds, I go to my stitch dictionaries. I page through them looking at and marking stitches which seem suitable in texture, scale and direction. Often these are old friends which I use over and over, but sometimes they are new. I use Post-it flags to mark the likely candidates.
If they are familiar, I think back to where I have used them before and remember what aspects of them I liked or didn’t like (sometimes I make notes in the books to remind me). If they are new, I might try them on a piece of doodle canvas to get an idea of how they work.
Once I find a good possibility, I start to stitch. In some cases, I try four different stitches in each corner of the hand painted canvas needlepoint. Usually I use the one which seems best. I stitch enough to get an idea of how it looks. If it isn’t working, then I cut it out and try another stitch (or another thread). Sometimes I have to cut out an awful lot of stitching.
A stitch might not work out for many reasons. It might have the wrong qualities for the piece. It might not work well with the thread you are using. It might use more thread than you have on hand. It might take longer than you have. It might be hard to compensate or it might make a small detail harder to stitch.
Don’t be dismayed if it takes several tries before you find the perfect background. Your choice of background stitches, threads and colors are part of what makes your hand painted canvas needlepoint unique. There are always lots of great possibilities for backgrounds — you are sure to find one that’s perfect for you!
Often you find a hand painted canvas needlepoint you love, but some of the colors aren’t right. The hair color is wrong. Pink just won’t go in the room, or you hate green.
Don’t pass on the canvas, you can change the colors easily.
Hair and skin colors are the easiest to change. For hair, just pick the correct color of the same thread. I like Burmilana, Rainbow Tweed, and Petite Peluche for hair. All of these lines of thread have excellent choices for hair colors.
Skin can be more difficult because there are so many colors and your choice of skin color should harmonize with the hair and clothing. Happily some companies, such as Access Commodities and Rainbow Gallery, make palettes of thread colors for skin, so it is easier to find lighter or darker shades.
You can see exactly how I did this for a baseball nutcracker I made for my DH and made it into his favorite player in this blog post about the hand painted canvas needlepoint. The tricky part comes when you want to change another part of the design, say change the dress from pink to yellow.
Begin by finding a thread which will match the area of the canvas in the original color. You don’t have to be picky about the thread type, and it doesn’t even have to be an exact match, just very close. I pick threads from my stash, but you could also buy a skein of inexpensive floss.
Now go pick the thread you want to use in a color as close in value (light/dark) as possible to the original color. If possible it should have a similar level of saturation (bright/dull) as well.
Put the threads together and squint at them, they should look almost the same. You can also look at them through a red or green value filter; these remove the color so that you can judge on values alone.
As a final test, pull out the other threads you were planning to use and see if they work well with the new color. Sometimes changing one color will mean some of the other colors will need to change.
If this is the case, repeat the process with the other colors until you are happy with the result
Now stitch your hand painted canvas needlepoint and make a unique work of art!
If a finisher could give you needlepoint instruction, she’d probably begin by giving you some simple tips of things you can do to make your needlepoint look better.
By folowing some of these simple points, your stitching can be finished the way you want it to look.
Have you ever had a piece of needlework that came back from being finished with part of the design missing? This is probably because you forgot to put an extra edge on your needlework. This little bit of extra stitching (about three meshes), provides some fudge factor space for the finishers.
You can use Tent Stitches (probably do Continental) but you can also frame the edge with a simple border. While any stitch will work, I like Gobelin because it stitches up so quickly.
If you are having a belt finished, use Overcast Stitch to make a firm edge for turning.
If you are making something like a dog collar which will get lots of rough wear, do not use Overcast Stitch, use Tent Stitch, it wears better.
Sometimes a good job of blocking and a self-finishing product are all you need to make a great finished piece. Blocking is quite simply the process of taking a stitched piece of needlepoint and stretching it so that the canvas returns to its original shape. This section of the needlepoint instruction has some important things to remember when you block.
Needlepoint which is severely distorted may have to be blocked repeatedly and may never completely be straight.
Needlepoint stitched on a frame needs little or no blocking.
If at all possible, trace the original outline of the piece onto paper and use that under your stitched piece as a pattern for blocking before you start to stitch.
If you have a copier at home, make a copy of the unstitched canvas to act as a guideline. Be sure to destroy the copy after you have done the blocking.
There are two kinds of blocking, wet or dry. Dry blocking should ALWAYS be used if you are not sure of the colorfastness of your threads.
It is very important in blocking to stretch both sides of the canvas evenly. So for every nail you put in one side, put another nail diagonally across the piece from the first nail. In other words if my first nail is in the upper left, my second nail should be at the lower right.
New tips will be added to this needlepoint instruction as I find them.