Needlepoint accessories are as varied as can be. But I love the way needle holders are so easy to buy or make, and can add a pretty bit of color to your needlepoint as you work.
I must admit I’m as guilty as anybody. Right now as I type this, my current needle is parked not-so-firmly in my dress. But there is a better way to deal with needles to keep them handy, secure and within reach while you stitch — needle holders.
There are many variations on the theme, but the general purpose is to give you a place for your needle to sit when you are not using it. Holders are a needlepoint accessory that can be something which is used over and over again or just used for that canvas. You can but lovely ones, or you can use a scrap of thread to make your own.
The current preference for needleholders is to use a pair of magnets. Many companies make hand-painted or decorated magnets which can brighten up your stitching.
My favorites have ribbon holding the pair together, so I don’t lose one of them. I make these myself by using super glue of some kind and buttons from my button jar, old earrings or pins from the thrift shop. 1/8 inch ribbon works to keep the halves together.
You can also use those “blue magnets” which you can find in almost any needlework shop. Most of these magnets are about 1/2 inch diameter. Magnets from the chain stores don’t work; they aren’t strong enough.
Another possibility is to use Rare Earth Magnets, which are tiny but extremely strong. You can also use what are called “ceramic” magnets. They look like craft store magnets, but are stronger.
You can also use magnets bought at places like Radio Shack. These are much less expensive, if not as good-looking. If you use these, you should lightly sand the rough edges with a coarse nail file and coat the magnet with clear nail polish. This will help it stay nice.
When magnets are powerful enough, placing one on top of and one underneath your framed canvas works. You will never lose track of the needle. The advantage of magnets attached with ribbons is that they can easily be moved around the canvas as needed.
Another alternative is a magnet with a tie tack on the back. I like the firmness of the grip with the tack and I don’t mind the extra work to move it around. You can also make these yourself easily. Take a magnet and get some clutch/tie tack backs at your local craft store. Using a glue which will work with metal, glue the pin to the back of the magnet. Let dry. Now you have a pin needle holder.
In The Needlepoint Book, Jo Christensen suggests using a Leviathan Stitch (charted below) done in the margin of your canvas as a needleholder. You simply put the needle under the top stitch to hold. The advantage of this method is that it can be used with any needlepoint, framed or not. The disadvantage is that it could eventually come undone.
Other stitches that might work include Rhodes, Waffle, and Norwich.
You could make this needlepoint accessory with a scrap of thread, use it as a simple way to try out a new thread, or test a color without stitching on the main part of the canvas.
But whichever method you use, this is one needlepoint accessory, you will be glad you have. It sure beats losing needles in the chenille of your fuzzy bathrobe.
Mitred corners can be a problem for beginning needepoint. For years I hated having to figure out the correct diagonal line which would make the design meet perfectly. And a border design which went around a corner — forget it (I still don’t like these AT ALL!). But sometimes you cannot avoid having to make two areas of stitching meet along a diagonal line. Probably Four-way Bargello is the most noticeable example of this, in this there are diagonal intersections all over the place.
Mitered corners have the two sides meeting along a diagonal line, for example the way the corners of a picture frame look. In needlepoint, you will often find that you need to turn a corner when you are using straight stitches like Gobelin. This is when you miter.
To miter, first stitch the last complete stitch on either side of the corner, providing your basis for the diagonal. Now make each subsequent stitch one thread shorter than it neighbor. Do this for both sides of the corner. As the stitches get shorter, you will notice that they are meeting along a diagonal line going up the center of the corner. The last pair of stitches you make should cover one thread each.
That’s it! Your corner is properly mitred. Now if you want to accent the corner a bit, or if you really do not like the empty hole at the very corner, make a long diagonal stitch from the empty hole on the outside to the hole where the two full stitches meet.These may be left out but having them makes the corner look more finished.
Now even those who are just beginning needlepoint can make perectly mitered coners.
To learn how to do needlepoint, you should begin by learning Tent Stitch, the basic needlepoint stitch. It covers one intersection of thread, slanting from upper right to lower left (/).
All three kinds of Tent Stitch: Half Cross, Continental, and Basketweave look the same from the front but look different from the back. Although Basketweave is preferred because it distorts the canvas less, many fine needlepointers only use Continental Stitch. There are instances when only Continental Stitch can be used, such as when stitching a straight line. Half Cross is not stable on needlepoint canvas and should be avoided.
By learning how to do needlepoint with these basic stitches, you’ll be off and running. Not only will you be able to make lovely pieces with just Tent Stitch, this stitch forms the basis of many other needlepoint stitches.
We could call this section How to Do Needlepoint — NOT!, but we won’t.
Half Cross Stitch is really easy to recognize from the back. It consists of small straight stitches. You can easily see the threads of the canvas between these stitches, and that’s the problem.
When you make a Cross Stitch on fabric, you make two Half Cross Stitches, one slanting in each direction. There and two of these lines on the back and the stitch on the front is a square. It’s stable because it is stitched on fabric.
But in needlepoint, you aren’t embellishing a fabric, you are making one. Therefore the stitches need to be robust enough to create the stability the canvas lacks. Because Half Cross Stitches do no travel across intersections on the back of the canvas, there isn’t stability.
Avoid this stitch, it is not how to do needlepoint.
When using Continental Stitch, all the stitches are made in a straight line, either horizontal or vertical. The easiest way to remember where to begin the next stitch is that the thread needs to take the longest path on the back from the end of one stitch to the beginning of the next. Thus a line of Continental will look like this:
When you are making a line from left to right, begin at the top of each stitch.
When you are making a line from right to left, begin at the bottom of each stitch.
When you are making a line from top to bottom, begin at the left of each stitch.
When you are making a line from bottom to right, begin at the right of each stitch.
The end result on the back will be a series of oblique lines, that lines which slant, but not on the true diagonal.
Always use Continental Stitch when:
This is probably the oldest way to do needlepoint and can be found on most older pieces. It’s the stitch my grandmother taught me so many years ago.
In Basketweave, all the stitches are made in diagonal lines. The back will look like a woven basket, hence the name. A single row of Basketweave will look like this:
When you make Basketweave, you will make diagonal rows, so that this stitch looks like this:
The back of an area of Basketweave looks like this:
It is critical in making this stitch that you follow the grain of the canvas. This can be difficult to do. You determine the grain by looking at one intersection in a diagonal line, to see whether the thread on top is vertical or horizontal. The canvas looks something like this:
That direction determines the direction your row of stitching should go.
“Firemen go down poles (|) and up stairs (-).”
In other words, if a horizontal thread is one top, a stair, go up the row. If a vertical thread is on top, a pole, go down.
The hardest thing about Basketweave is figuring out where the second row should begin, once you’ve done that, it’s pretty easy to continue to stitch the area. You begin to do needlepoint by making one stitch, but should your next stitch be to the left of that stitch (going down) or below (going up)?
Look at the canvas, it will tell you. Is the thread to the left a stair? Then start below (firemen go up stairs). Is the thread to the left a pole? Then start to the left (firemen go down poles).
Don’t have two rows go in the same direction; this causes ridges that will show when the canvas is blocked.
Always stop stitching in the middle of a row. This makes it easier to remember the direction of the row when you begin again.
Interlock canvas (found in many needlepoint kits) does not have stairs and poles. There is no grain, so it’s very important to stop in the middle of a line; otherwise it it too easy to get lost.
Four-way Bargello takes a basic Bargello line and turns it along the diagonal lines of the area, turning it from a line into a square. Even the simplest Bargello lines get great sophistication from being turned and the resulting shapes and patterns are very compelling.
It’s not my best technique, although I’m getting better at it. But I love to look at the patterns. The shapes which appear at the corners, the sense you have of depth as the design moves towards the center, all give this form of Bargello needlepoint a very modern feel.
The picture at the top of this article is of a very simple Four Way Bargello pattern from my book, Bargello Revisited. It’s made into a pincushion.
It became popular in the 70’s through several books by Dorothy Kaestner. I have also seen examples of this technique in books from the early 1900’s. Because it works best on square items of one kind or another, it’s not great for large expanses of stitching, borders or non-square shapes.
One consequence of turning the Bargello line is that along the diagonals stitches will meet at 90 degree angles. Often this shortens the stitches significantly and hides the pattern.
I find it easiest to approach one of these patterns by looking and thinking first before I begin to stitch. Star by looking at the longest line of the pattern. There you will see a straightforward Bargello line. As the design moves toward the center, it shrinks from both sides, but it still remains the same basic line. By identifying this pattern and by keeping it in mind as you stitch, you will find the whole turned pattern makes more sense.
It’s also really easy to get off count on a four way piece. You can minimize the chances of this happening by beginning in the center of the design and working in circles, stitching in each quadrant in turn.
On a recent piece, I found that by analyzing first then stitching, and checking my stitching against the pattern in my head after I finished each quadrant in each round. I stayed on track and finished the stitching in about a day.
Usually when I stitch a Four Way Bargello I rip almost more than I stitch, throw up my hands in frustration, and throw out the piece. I hope these tips help you as you explore this technique.
For a Christmas needlepoint ornament, I love diamond-shaped ones. Not only is their shape unusual, but they are so easy to finish, using threads in your stash.
The result is a slightly puffy diamond, sometimes called a hollow balloon.
The pictured ornament is a free design from Judy Harper. The one pictured here is one of two I stitched and about which I blogged.
Make a square around the diamond and cut it out about five canvas threads beyond it.
Fold that margin and then fold the corners of the square to the back so that they meet in the center, above.
You can insert your hanger at one of the points or do it at the end. Use a length of thread about 6″. Pull it through the unstitched margin at one point, leaving a long tail. Bring it back through the unstitched margin at the other side of the point.
Once that’s done, tie the ends together and pull out the loop, making a hanger.
Sew the edges of the canvas together on the back. Begin at one of the points and sew, making sure each stitch goes through the folded edge on both sides of the seam. You can also add your hanger now, following the same method, but putting it through the canvas on the back.
Once you come to the center, go out to another point, then start again at the third point and repeat.
Glue on a pretty piece of Ultrasude to cover the unstitched canvas.
This finish can be used with any Christmas needlepoint ornament with a central medallion or which is diamond-shaped.