Stitch Needlepoint Projects on Stretcher Bars and Frames

Stretcher bar and frames for needlepoint crafts.
Althea R. DeBrule

For beautiful, hand-stitched needlepoint that you will enjoy and be proud to finish and display, use stretcher bars and frames to work smooth, neat stitches. Frames and stretcher bars can often be mounted on a stand, which will make working your design virtually hands-free.

Hands-Free Stitching: Is It Really That Important?

There are pros and cons to hands-free stitching as opposed to mounting your canvas on stretcher bars or in a frame.

The pros include the following:

  • If you enjoy the laborious and time-consuming process of blocking and stretching warped stitched needlepoint canvas back into shape, then hands-free stitching might be a waste of your time.
  • If you are able to maintain consistent stitching tension with ease while holding the needlepoint in your hand, then you do not need to work your project on a frame.

However, there are some downsides to hands-free stitching, which include the following:

  • If you want stunning results that will make your needlepoint look as if it was stitched by a professional with very minimal blocking needed, then mount your canvas on stretcher bars or in a frame before starting to stitch.
  • If you like the challenge of working with multiple-step decorative, as well as basic needlepoint stitches on fine mesh canvas using a variety of novelty threads and fibers, then a needlepoint stand that holds your framed or stretcher-bar-mounted project will help you to easily work a complicated stitch.
  • If you like to keep your needlepoint clean and dirt-free while stitching, you’ll want to use a frame since you handle it less than if you were stitching the needlepoint project in your hands.

Stretcher Bars for Needlepoint: Low-Cost & Practical

Artists use stretcher bars to keep the canvas they are painting smooth and taut. These bars also can be used for mounting needlepoint canvas before stitching.

You don't need to go to great expense to work needlepoint projects on stretcher bars. On average, you can purchase two sets of stretcher bars at your local craft or art supplies store quite cheaply (depending on the size of your project).

Stretcher bars are sold in pairs in lengths of four to 36 inches. They have grooves on each end that allow them to fit together snugly. They can be easily combined to fit the size canvas of your needlepoint project.

Here is an example of how to choose the right stretcher bars for a needlepoint project:

  • A piece of 12-by-14-inch needlepoint canvas requires one pair of 12-inch and another pair of 14-inch stretcher bars to mount the canvas as tightly as possible for stitching.

How to Mount Needlepoint Canvas on Stretcher Bars

Mounting canvas on stretcher bars isn't as complicated as you might think.

  1. Put the pairs of stretcher bars together by easing one inside-facing groove into another outside-facing groove at each of the four corners until all the bars have been assembled snugly into place.
  2. Center the blank needlepoint canvas over the bars, making sure that the entire stitching area is visible, and that there is at least one inch of additional canvas clearance away from the inner edges of the bars around all sides of the canvas.
  3. Attach the canvas to the bars with staples or rust-proof thumbtacks. Thumbtacks are preferred as they give you the freedom to re-stretch the canvas as you stitch.
  4. Starting in the center of each assembled bar, tack the outside edges of the canvas to the bar and begin to stretch it from the center toward each corner. Repeat this process for each bar, adjusting the canvas as needed until the entire piece is drum-tight.
  5. Test for tautness by dropping a dime or lightweight coin on top of the canvas. If it bounces, the canvas is taut.
  6. To work with two hands, rest the mounted canvas on the edge of a table and hold it down with clamps, books, or a frame weight. Or, use a needlepoint stand.

The Most Common Frame Used for Needlepoint

Frames for needlepoint come in different shapes and sizes. The most common are roller or scroll frames, which are rectangular shaped. They have round bars at the top and bottom with strips of webbing or fabric tape attached and straight flat bars at the sides that remain stationary.

Needlepoint canvas is sewn to the fabric tape and then rolled evenly until the canvas is firm and tight with only the stitching area showing. Roller/scroll frames have interchangeable bars and rollers that allow you to adjust for the size of your needlepoint project without distorting the canvas.

Although a simple needlepoint project can be worked without a frame, the use of a scroll frame will keep the canvas threads straight and like-new. It is essential if you want to experiment with decorative stitch techniques.

Steps for Mounting a Needlepoint Project on a Frame

Just as mounting the canvas on stretcher bars is easy if you follow the steps, the same is true for mounting a canvas on a frame.

  1. Roll the bars with the fabric tape to the inside of the frame. Mark the centers of the tape and then mark the outside centers of the top and bottom of the canvas that will be attached.
  2. Match canvas mark to fabric tape mark and place a pin. Sew the canvas ends to the entire length of fabric tape.
  3. Insert the roller bars into the frame and roll until the canvas is taut. You can roll in either an over (right) or under (left) the bar direction, but the over-the-bar direction gives you more tension control as you stitch.

Stitchers who do not like frames enjoy arguing that mounted needlepoint is not as portable as projects worked in the hand. But the beauty and professionalism of the finished needlework far outweigh the disadvantage of working on a frame or stretcher bars.

Needlepoint Stands for the Next Level

Using a needlepoint stand is a matter of preference rather than a requirement. Once you start using a frame, you'll enjoy having a stand to secure the project because it guarantees that your hands will be free to stitch as long and as creatively as you like.

A stand paired with a frame will take working a needlepoint project to the next level. There are floor stands, lampstands, and even table-top versions that are perfect for stitchers on-the-go.

Some needlepoint stands are very elaborate and expensive, while others are medium-priced. Full-service needlepoint shops offer one or two types of stands that can be custom-ordered.

Before buying a stand, try using the model they have on hand in the shop to see if it works for you.