Needlepoint Background Color Choice
Far too often we stick with a safe color choice for a needlepoint background. How many pieces have you done which use ivory or ecru for a background instead of an almost-white pastel? How many Victorian style pillows have you seen with black or wine-colored backgrounds instead of charcoal or deep green?
Your choice of needlepoint background color can have a significant effect on the finished piece. In this article, I will discuss how to pick a color, the background color choices in the three pictures below, and a list of some other background color choices you might like to try.
Sometimes the best background choice comes from the room where the needlepoint will live. Perhaps you can use the background color from the drapes, or a color which matches the chair where the pillow will sit.
In my living room I have two very similar floral pillows. They are both Victorian in style and the flowers have many of the same shades in them. The one with a black background sets off the flowers and sits on my white couch. The one with the peach background sits on a peach chair and the flowers seem to almost float above the chair. Switching them would not look anywhere near as good. So the romm and furniture are good places to start when choosing potential background colors.
If you have no idea where the piece will live, then you can take the design itself and use that as the basis for needlepoint background colors. Look at the piece and ask yourself:
What colors dominate? A good choice for a background might be a significantly paler or darker shade of the dominant color or its compliment.
What is the style? Is it a modern geometric? Then think about brighter, clearer colors. Is it Victorian? Then look at dark shades.
Is it a floral? Then greens of all kinds might be a good choice.
Select several different possibilities for the background and lay them across your piece (or across the other colors of thread).
Does the background make the colors in the design stand out or does it fight with them?
If you have decided on a green background for your flower design, then look at several kinds of green. Yellow-green was very popular in Pre-Raphelite and Arts & Crafts design. So if this is a crewel-style floral, those greens might clash. The crewel-style piece would most likely look better with a pale blue-green celadon color.
The top example uses a dark charcoal grey for the background. Dark needlepoint backgrounds, even black, are very typical of Victorian stitching and Berlinwork in particular. Burgundy, dark blue, dark green, brown, as well as dark gray and black give a very Victorian feel to almost any design.
However, if you are choosing a dark background, pick a color which does not appear in the piece itself, otherwise the design will look as if it has holes in it. Also pick a color which has a strong contrast to the main design.
If you look at the sample again, you can see that the gray goes much better with the pale blue on the inside than the darker blue on the outside, this is because of the strong value contrast between the two colors.
The middle example uses a pastel shade of blue’s complement orange. These pale contrast backgrounds are one of my favorites because the contrast gives interest to the piece, but the paleness keeps the needlepoint background in the background. Other great examples of this are pale pink with a dark green pattern or a pale yellow background for a group of pansies.
This kind of color choice always makes the design stand out because of the tension between the complements. In virtually every kind of thread there is a set of very pale pastels, almost white, which will work for this kind of background. Brown Paper Package’s Silk & Ivory has a number of extremely pale pastels which are perfect for this purpose. Because this selection of background is based on a fundamental principle of color, it can be at home in any kind of environment.
The bottom example, a red of almost equal value to the darkest blue, gives a surprising and very modern look to the sample. Bright against bright is one of the harder combinations to make work, but when it does the results can be very striking.
These two near compliments play off each other and make the piece vibrate. This characteristic is central to much of modern art and would make a background choice like this only good for contemporary rooms.