The Ultimate Guide to Needlepoint Canvas

ultimate needlepoint canvas

Althea DeBrule / The Spruce

Needlepoint is worked on even-weave canvas instead of fabric. This canvas is similar to wire mesh that's used in window screens. Both needlepoint canvas and wire mesh are evenly woven; but instead of wire, needlepoint canvas is made with long strong cotton or linen fibers that are 100 percent natural.

Why Is Canvas Used in Needlepoint?

Needlepoint is set apart from all other types of embroidery by the material used to make it. Historically, needlepoint was used for upholstery including furniture and chair covers, pillows, draperies, and rugs.

The even-weave canvas was found to be durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of constant usage, and thus became the material-of-choice for working these types of needlepoint projects.

Over the centuries, as needlepoint developed from being the way to embroider practical home decor items to that of fine art, needlepoint canvas has changed as well to include non-traditional or novelty even-weave materials.

Plastic canvas, perforated paper, and waste canvas are a few examples of novelty materials that are suitable for stitching needlepoint projects.

Sizing and How Needlepoint Canvas Is Made

Needlepoint Canvas is made up of a loosely woven square netting with horizontal and vertical threads that weave over and under each other at evenly spaced intersections. During the manufacturing process, the vertical or warp threads are placed on the weaving loom first and provide the foundation for the canvas. The horizontal or weft threads are then woven back and forth over and under the warp threads to make the final ground fabric used in needlepoint.

Needlepoint stitches are worked at the intersections of the warp and weft threads, covering the canvas entirely when stitching a design.

After the weaving process has been completed, needlepoint canvas is then stiffened with sizing to keep the woven strands in place for stitching a design. This sizing is similar to fabric starch; but made of a stronger solution that when completely dry and polished, will be able to withstand the constant rubbing and pulling of needlepoint yarn as it is worked consistently through the canvas.

A Word About Needlepoint Canvas Quality

Poor quality canvas has scanty sizing, making it limp and easy to tear and pull the canvas strands out of place during stitching. Good quality canvas has sufficient sizing to make it crisp and stiff but is polished enough to make the stitching process smooth and even.

The highest quality needlepoint canvas, made in West Germany, is not only crisp with proper sizing but has a polished look and feel. The more polished the threads, the better the quality of the canvas.

Types of Needlepoint Canvas

There are two basic types of needlepoint canvas—single thread and double thread—including common varieties like Mono, Interlock, and Penelope; as well as novelty examples of even-weave materials that fall in one or both types. Most needlepointers have a type they prefer to use every time they make a needlepoint project.

Every needlepoint project starts with a result in mind. Understanding the basic types of canvas is critical for deciding which kind to use. For example, if your needlepoint project is meant to be a pillow, single thread canvas is most appropriate; if a portrait with detailed areas for the face or hands, then double thread canvas should be used.

How to Use the Ultimate Guide to Needlepoint Canvas

This Needlepoint Canvas Wiki will help you demystify the basics and increase your knowledge. Continue reading to learn what you need to know about your preferred type of needlepoint canvas, and then use your new knowledge to make quality selections when buying canvas for your next needlepoint project.

What You Probably Don't Know About Canvas Mesh

Every needlepoint project begins with a description of the canvas size needed to work it. This size is called, “Mesh.” It is the per-square-inch gauge of the canvas and is represented by the # symbol. For example, #10 canvas has a 10-mesh gauge per inch; #13 has a 13-mesh gauge, and so on for all other sizes of needlepoint canvas, regardless of type.

Calculating Needlepoint Canvas Mesh
Althea R. DeBrule / The Spruce

A Common Misconception About Canvas Mesh

There exists a bit of a controversy over how to calculate canvas mesh. Depending on the needlepoint designer, shop owner or instructor, “mesh” or canvas size can be calculated in two different ways—“holes-per-inch” or “strands-per-inch.”

  • Holes-per-inch: Take a look at the #10 canvas sample in the left image above. It shows the number of canvas squares or holes between thread intersections in an inch. This is the size canvas you will get when you ask a typical needlepoint shop owner for a piece of #10 needlepoint canvas.
  • Strands-per-inch: A small number of needlepoint purists would most likely choose the right image above to calculate canvas mesh. It depicts the number of canvas strands or threads per inch; which closely mirrors the basic definition of “mesh.” The problem with this way of calculating mesh is that there is one strand more per inch than holes; and in most cases, needlepoint canvas is not made in odd gauges like #11 (instead of #10 canvas), #15 (instead of #14), #19 (instead of #18) and so forth.

Demystify Canvas Mesh With These Basic Facts

No matter how it is defined, the higher the number of mesh, the finer the canvas. Mesh sizes #18 to #24 are fine enough for delicate and detailed Petit Point projects. As the mesh gets even finer at #32 and #40, the canvas begins to look like transparent gauze fabric.

The lower the canvas mesh size, the larger the squares and holes between the canvas strands. Mesh sizes #3 to #7 have squares large enough to work Quickpoint and needlepoint rugs with heavy Persian or rug yarn.