Needlepoint vs. Cross-Stitch: What's the Difference?

Needlepoint and Cross Stitch Samples
Mollie Johanson

Needlepoint and cross-stitch have a lot of similarities, but also plenty of differences. What makes these two needlecrafts unique? See for yourself in this comparison of materials, stitches, and style.

Like so many types of crafts, even within each of these needlecrafts there are variations and different ways you can choose to stitch them. For example, one common needlepoint style you might see is a pillow or seat cover stitched entirely with a simple tent stitch, forming a design. Other times you might encounter a highly textured piece with a variety of stitches. Cross-stitch brings similar variety in that you can stitch a large, filled-in area with lots of detail, or a small motif with only basic cross stitches.

Before exploring a full comparison of these two techniques, take a look at the characteristics of needlepoint and cross-stitch.

9 Needlepoint Stitches in Bright Colors
Mollie Johanson


This counted embroidery technique includes a vast array of stitches worked on a sturdy canvas. In some ways, this method is like a hybrid between cross-stitch and crewel or surface embroidery.


Needlepoint uses evenweave fabric, which is usually referred to as a canvas. The types of canvas range from finer canvases all the way to plastic canvas, but all have the structure to support heavier stitching. Some projects use painted canvases, which you stitch over the colors, filling them in almost like a paint-by-number piece.


You can use many different types of threads in needlepoint, but the most common is Persian or tapestry wool. This type of yarn is strong and holds up to pulling through the canvas, plus it lasts when making heirloom pieces. Many designs allow you to add in all kinds of specialty threads as well, giving your work a unique look.


The most basic needlepoint stitch is called tent stitch, which you can work in several ways. This stitch is common on the classic needlepoint pillow. But there are so many different stitches you can use to create texture in your stitching. These allow you to make realistic brick or baskets in a design, but also gorgeous geometric designs.

Cross Stitch Sample in a Rainbow Spectrum
Mollie Johanson


This counted embroidery technique uses X-shaped stitches to form designs on fabric. Cross-stitch is sometimes compared to pixel art because of how the designs are formed on a grid.


Cross-stitch typically uses evenweave fabric, and the two most common types are Aida cloth and linen. It is possible to cross-stitch on other fabrics with the help of waste cloth, but materials designed specifically for cross-stitch make it easier.


Most cross-stitch patterns recommend stranded cotton embroidery floss. Usually, you separate the strands, working with only a few strands at a time. This finer thread works well for the small stitches that make up typical cross-stitch work. You can also use specialty threads, such as metallics to add some bling or a finishing touch.


The most basic stitch in cross-stitch is a cross or X. Each cross fills in a square on the pattern. Additionally, you can work partial stitches or add back stitch to achieve better shaping to designs.

Similarities and Differences

Both of these techniques use evenweave fabric and are types of counted thread embroidery. This means you follow a chart and count the squares or spaces as you stitch. However, cross-stitch generally uses tiny Xs on a grid, while needlepoint has either lots of small angled stitches or a mix of textured stitches.

Needlepoint threads or yarns tend to be thicker and the fabric sturdier, while cross-stitch uses finer threads on softer fabric.

You can use both needlepoint and cross-stitch to fill an entire area with stitches. In needlepoint, you almost always cover the whole canvas, while in cross-stitch it's very common to leave open areas of fabric showing.

When working on a cross-stitch project, most stitchers choose to place their fabric in an embroidery hoop. Needlepoint, however, requires a frame to hold the canvas.

Designs for both of these needlecrafts come in the form of charts and often they can be used interchangeably. However, due to the shape of the stitches and the materials you use, the results can look vastly different.

Try both and see which one you like the most!