9 Tips for Working With Needlepoint Charts and Patterns

Needlepoint tools

Kathy Quirk-Syvertsen / Photographer's Choice RF / Getty Images

Needlepoint projects can be stitched in three different ways: 

  1. Prework: This type of project already has the main design areas worked in basic tent needlepoint stitches. All you need do is stitch the background.
  2. Hand-painted canvas: Needlepoint projects of this type have beautiful hand-painted designs that allow you to stitch creatively using a variety of techniques.
  3. Needlepoint charts: These show the pattern printed on a graph or grid with color squares or symbols. This grid is meant to mimic canvas mesh threads.

Working With a Needlepoint Chart

To work a needlepoint pattern from a chart, each square is counted as one diagonal stitch over the intersection of a vertical and horizontal canvas mesh. If you are familiar with cross stitch and other types of embroidery, working from a needlepoint chart is the same. There is no need to paint a canvas when following a chart.

Using Online Needlepoint Charts

The free needlepoint patterns are charted in color to give you an idea of what the stitched needlepoint designs will look like when completed. However, they may need a little massaging to see them and follow them better. The needlepoint patterns and charts should be downloaded full-size from their links, and then enlarged as needed for printing.

Although charted symbols work well for other types of needlework; they are usually not as effective when reading a needlepoint chart because of the confusion that occurs when attempting to translate symbols into diagonal shaped stitches that are typically used in needlepoint.

The more detailed the needlepoint design, the more colors there will be on the needlepoint chart. Although at first glance, a multi-colored needlepoint chart may look confusing when placed next to a piece of blank needlepoint canvas, you only need to remember these nine tips to understand and be successful in using a chart to stitch needlepoint projects.

Work From the Chart, Not a Traced Design

If the needlepoint chart is not in color, use markers or pencils in the same colors as seen in the completed design photo to make it easier to quickly recognize the shades. This will also help when changing the original colors of a design.

Enlarge the Needlepoint Pattern

The majority of the patterns and charts on this site are sized to fit a standard letter size sheet of paper for ease of printing. This means that the more detailed or larger the finished size of the project, the smaller the squares will be on the page.

For example, a chart for a 14-inch needlepoint pillow front needs to be squeezed down to fit an 8.5 x 11" piece of printer paper. This, however, is not always the optimum working size as the larger the finished pattern, the smaller the squares on the chart, and the harder the pattern will be to follow.

So, if the full-size pattern or chart, when re-sized, is larger than a standard sheet of printer paper, it will print on multiple sheets of paper which can be taped together to create one large pattern.

Always enlarge the entire chart or specific areas of the pattern so that you can closely see the color changes. Make several copies of the needlepoint chart as well—especially if you are working from a needlepoint design book. By making extra copies, you can preserve the original for later use in other needlepoint projects.

Count the Squares, Not the Lines

To make a stitch, remember to count the squares on the chart, not the lines separating them. One colored square on the needlepoint chart represents an intersection of a horizontal and vertical mesh of the needlepoint canvas. Although difficult at first, the grid lines on the needlepoint chart must be ignored when making a stitch. You must focus on the colored blocks instead.

Keep Your Place

To know where you are at all times and to keep your place as you stitch, use a very light-colored highlighter to cross off stitched areas on the printed copy. If you plan to re-use the needlepoint chart, mark off the completed stitches with a pencil. If the needlepoint design is large, use a fine felt-tipped pen to darken every tenth line on the needlepoint chart to make it easier to see where to add stitching accents and to begin background fill areas.

Compare the Chart With the Canvas

Although you are working from a charted pattern with colored squares, when working a needlepoint project, the finished stitching will not be square like the chart because of the basic stitch techniques used. However, compensating stitches, vertical and horizontal straight stitches or surface needlepoint stitch techniques can be used to create the illusion of a square design.

Find the Center of the Chart and Canvas

Unless you know the exact dimensions of the finished needlepoint project, always mark the center of the chart as well as the needlepoint canvas with an insoluble ink pen (never use a ballpoint pen unless it is designated for needlepoint and is completely waterproof); or work basting stitches in light-colored thread on the center horizontal and vertical lines.

Follow the Needlepoint Chart for the First Stitch

In most cases, when using a needlepoint chart, you will begin stitching in the center of the design entire design and canvas; but you can also start with the main design motif. Work outwards in any direction from the center or main motif to complete the needlepoint project.

Making Bargello Needlepoint Stitches

When using a chart for Bargello needlepoint designs or other long stitch needlepoint patterns, remember that each colored square is a thread of the needlepoint canvas; so if one long stitch is made up of four squares, then work over four canvas mesh to complete the entire stitch.

Choose Thread Colors From the Needlepoint Chart

Use the needlepoint chart to help you select thread colors for your project, but keep in mind that the colors may not be exact because of the difference in printer ink or computer screens. If the chart has a color guide in the thread family you have chosen, it will work best in selecting the exact colors used by the needlepoint designer.

Experiment With Other Needlework Charts

Other needlework charts including knitting and cross-stitch can be adapted for working in needlepoint as well. Simply experiment a little and remember to think of the colored charts and symbols as one stitch each to convert the design to needlepoint.