How to Handle Every Needlepoint Canvas Challenge With Ease

Two surprisingly effective ways to work with needlepoint canvas

Sharply detailed needlpoint
Roxanne Ready/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Always match needlepoint canvas to your project! This simple trick may sound easy but you’d be surprised at how many needle-pointers (including us occasionally) forget this basic rule when choosing canvas for a project.

Needlepoint Canvas Trick #1–Avoid Mistakes When Choosing Canvas for Your Project

Needlepoint canvas should be chosen after you have decided on a specific design. If you are working from a chart or book, the canvas size and type has most likely been chosen for you. However, if you've created your own design to work in needlepoint, there are a number of things you need to think about when selecting canvas. 

  • For instance, the amount of detail in the needlepoint design is extremely important when making your choice, as this may change the mesh size and type of canvas you select. Very fine detail may require Penelope, #18 single weave or Congress Cloth; while a simple design with a modest amount of detail can be worked on #10 to #13 canvas.
  • If you are unsure of the mesh size, try #13 mono needlepoint canvas as it allows for a good amount of detail and is easy to stitch without magnification. A needlepoint project can also be finished quicker on #13 than on finer canvas because it has at least five fewer threads per square inch. Mono canvas in this size, as well as #10, is also great for working straight, upright and horizontal needlepoint stitches like Encroaching Gobelin, Bargello, and Brick.
  • At the same time or after choosing a design, determine how large or small you want the finished needlepoint project to be. For example, if you’ve decided to make a needlepoint pillow that measures 18-inches square when finished, then you will need to add 2 to 3 inches around all sides to get the exact size canvas you should use. In this example, that would mean a piece of canvas that is from 20 to 21-inches square. 
  • The extra inches provide room for blocking and finishing, experimenting with stitches as well as an area to place a magnet for attaching a laying tool, extra tapestry needles, scissors or other stitching supplies.

Quick Tip: When working a geometric or Bargello needlepoint pattern, you may wish to include 4 additional inches of blank canvas instead of 2 or 3 around the entire design for experimentation; as Bargello repeat patterns are wider and need more canvas space to really get an idea of what the design will look like before final stitch placement.

Needlepoint Canvas Trick #2–What You Should Look for When Shopping & Buying

Shopping for blank needlepoint canvas can be daunting. At needlepoint shops that sell canvas by the inch as well as by the yard, you’ll find single weave or mono needlepoint canvas on 40-inch wide rolls (or higher). When you purchase a piece for a project, the shop assistant will cut whatever size you need; but in many instances, this may be the length you need times the entire width of the roll.

For example, if you plan to buy a piece that is 18-inches long, you may receive a piece of canvas that is 18-inches by 40-inches (the width of the roll). If you only need a piece that is 18-inches by 18-inches for your project, be specific with your request and ask exactly for what you require. Here are a few tips to help you be a savvy shopper when buying needlepoint canvas.

  • Whenever possible, needlepoint stitches should be worked with the grain of the canvas, which is usually identified by the tightly woven selvage edge on either the right or left side as you stitch. This edge looks different from the rest of the canvas and may have a red or blue thread running lengthwise down the entire bolt. Stitching with the grain will help minimize canvas distortion and provide better thread coverage.
  • Many times, if you are only buying a small piece of canvas, it may be in the center of an area that has already been cut. As a result, your piece may not have a selvage edge. Simply ask the shop assistant to mark both sides where the selvage would have been so that you can work with the canvas grain and not against it. Watch to make sure the piece is cut straight "in the ditch" between canvas threads. This simple trick will keep the mesh threads intact until they can be covered or secured.
  • Good quality needlepoint canvas has enough starch or sizing to give it the firmness required for the continuous pull of fibers and threads when stitching. In many cases the closer to the center of the bolt or roll of canvas, the better the sizing; but if the entire bolt is of good quality, you need not worry that you will get an inferior piece. Make sure to test any canvas you are buying to make sure it is firm with sizing, not soft or limp. Do this before you have it cut.
  • Watch as the assistant rolls out the canvas. Check for bumps, knots and uneven canvas threads in the piece that may be cut for you. If you see any, ask that your piece be cut either before or after the flaw; or at least that the bolt is unrolled until there are no more visible flaws. 
  • Many needlepoint shops will bind the canvas edges with decorative tape or use a sewing machine to zig-zag stitch the edges. If your shop does not provide this service, make sure to cover all the edges with masking tape as soon as you get home.

Using these tricks may seem time-consuming at first; but the more you use blank needlepoint canvas, the easier it will be to pick the right type and size for your projects–every time!