Continental Tent Needlepoint Stitch Tutorial

When to Use the Continental Tent Needlepoint Stitch

continental stitch front and back
Continental Needlepoint Stitch Front (left) Back (Right). Althea DeBrule

The continental tent needlepoint stitch is the most-used and best-known of the three basic tent stitches. It can be worked row-by-row, either horizontally or vertically, and is always slanted up to the right over one intersection of canvas mesh.

Unlike the half-cross tent stitch, the continental stitch can be used on any type of needlepoint canvas and provides excellent coverage that makes the finished needlework sturdy enough to last a lifetime.

This image shows the front and back sides of the continental tent stitch. While the front side (left image) looks the same as the half-cross tent stitch, the back of the continental stitch (right image) completely covers the canvas with thick ridges of needlepoint thread.

Instructions for learning how to work the continental tent are given for right- and left-handed stitchers.

Learning to Needlepoint With the Continental Stitch

If you are new to needlepoint and would like to master the basics, the multipurpose continental stitch is the first place to start. Here are some of the most common ways to use it:

  • When stitching a single line or an outline of a shape or design motif
  • For filling in background areas of the needlepoint canvas that are too small for basketweave tent stitches
  • When stitching tiny details of needlepoint portraits, faces, hands, and other body parts
  • For overall canvas coverage to make the finished needlepoint durable and long-lasting
  • Whenever in doubt about which stitch technique to use to complete a needlepoint project

When NOT to Use the Continental Stitch

 The Continental Tent Needlepoint Stitch should not be used for working large areas of a design or open background because it distorts and stretches the canvas out of shape. This is entirely due to the multiple rows of right-slanting stitches that are formed when properly working the technique.

Right-Handed Instructions for Working the Continental Tent Stitch

continental tent stitch for right handers
Right-Handed Continental Tent Stitch Diagram. Althea DeBrule

The first horizontal row of continental tent stitch is worked from the right side of the needlepoint design to the left, slanting from the bottom diagonally up to the top and over the intersection of one canvas mesh. Start in the upper right area of the needlepoint design to begin working this stitch.

Closely follow the stitch diagram in the image and these five steps to make perfect continental tent needlepoint stitches.

  1. Come up from the wrong side of the canvas with the threaded tapestry needle at (1) and work up diagonally over an intersection of canvas threads, and down again at (2) as illustrated in the stitch diagram. Next, bring the needle up at (3) over the next intersection and down again at (4) and so on until you reach the end of the row. You should be at the left side of the needlepoint design area.
  2. You now have a choice as indicated by the arrows on the stitch diagram. Since the continental stitch is always worked from right to left, if you are working without a frame, you will have to turn the canvas completely around and start working again from (1) to (2) and so on.
  3. If you are using a frame, either turn it upside down—the same as if holding the needlepoint in your hand, or work across the second and subsequent rows from left to right, without turning the canvas. In this case, the stitches will begin at the top going down diagonally across the row until you reach the right side of the design (see stitch diagram).
  4. Continue working each horizontal row (right to left) in its entirety before moving to the next one. As each row is completed, you will be making longer stitches on the back to create ridges that strengthen the needlepoint.
  5. Vertical rows also are worked in the same manner but from top to bottom. As indicated by the arrow, at the end of each row, you will turn the canvas completely around to begin the next row.

Left-Handed Instructions for Working the Continental Tent Stitch

continental tent stitch left-handed
Continental Tent Needlepoint Stitch for Left-Handers. Althea DeBrule

Left-handed stitchers should remember that when working the continental tent stitch, each one should slant in the same direction. With this rule of thumb in mind, you can work this basic stitch in any direction you choose.

For example, many left-handed stitchers work the stitches from left to right with a left slant as well. Others simply reverse the directions for right-handed stitchers and achieve the same right-slant result (see left-handed stitch diagram).

If you are left-handed, an easy way to remember how to follow the stitch diagram is to always bring the tapestry needle up from the wrong side through the canvas at all odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc.)and go diagonally over canvas mesh intersections and down at all even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc.). 

  1. Starting in an area of the needlepoint pattern where you are most comfortable, work your first row of stitches from left to right beginning with (1) and going down at (2) as indicated on the diagram.
  2. You’ll notice that the stitch begins at the top for horizontal rows and at the bottom for vertical rows—the reverse of the right-handed directions. Continue to follow the diagram to complete each row.
  3. Alternatively, make the stitch the same way as for right-handed instructions. Although the odd rows may be a bit uncomfortable (stitching from right to left and bottom to top), you’ll be rewarded when you stitch the even rows (stitching from left to right and top to bottom). It actually works up quite quickly and easily, and before you know it, you will have established a working rhythm and whether you’re right- or left-handed will not be an issue at all.