Needlepoint Stitches to Know

Needlepoint StitchesCreate beautiful wall hangings or throw pillow covers with needlepoint. Needlepoint is a handicraft that uses stitches on a stiff, open weave piece of fabric to create intricate and beautiful designs. Unlike embroidery, needlepoint stitches rely heavily on the warp and weft of the fabric, so the results are far more decorative in nature.

The Basics of Needlepoint Stitches

While embroidery and cross stitch have a lot of things in common, and can be used to do things like make boutique-style children’s clothing, needlepoint is different. Embroidery and cross stitch use soft cloth that needs to be held taut with a hoop while stitching. The mesh that needlepoint is done on is so stiff it can be held up on its own.

The floss or thread that is used is also different; the floss used for embroidery is much smoother, while a yarn that could also be used for knitting is more likely to be used for needlepoint. Therefore, the stitches that are made in needlepoint need to take these materials into consideration.

Every needlepoint stitch needs to go over and under at least one warp and weft at a time, if not over multiples at a time. There are several different ways to do this, although most are a variation on the tent stitch.

The Tent Stitch

The tent stitch is a diagonal needlepoint stitch that goes from one weft (horizontal square) to one warp (vertical square) within one stitch. Running the tent stitch over a single warp and weft at a time is known as Petite Point or small point. How many you work at a time depends upon the pattern and the size of the canvas that you are working.

There are three different variations on the tent stitch. All of these stitches look nearly identical to one another when seen in a finished pattern; what makes them different is their method of execution. As you learn the various needlepoint stitches, you will also probably find yourself gravitating toward one stitch over another. Each one has its positives and negatives, and many people find themselves vastly preferring to use one stitch consistently rather than the other two.


The basketweave stitch is the tent stitch most often recommended for covering large sections of canvas at once. Because needlepoint canvas can’t be left blank or without yarn in any area, many designs are filled in with a basketweave stitch of a solid color behind and around the decorative portion. The reason for this is because the basketweave stitch remains the most stable when used in large sections such as this.

The basics of this needlepoint stitch is to stitch down vertically for two warp and wefts, then move over and run them horizontally for two, then back to vertical.

  1. Start at the upper right hand corner of where you want to produce the pattern. Run your first stitch from the top corner of the weft up to the bottom corner of the warp.
  2. Move down one square and run from weft to warp again.
  3. Now move to the square just to the left of your first stitch and stitch horizontally for two squares.
  4. Move back down to just below your third stitch to place your fifth stitch.
  5. Make your sixth stitch just below your second stitch, and place the seventh stitch underneath that.
  6. Place your eighth stitch beneath your fifth stitch and your ninth stitch beneath the fourth.
  7. Move up next to the fourth to place your tenth and eleventh stitch, then move back beneath the tenth stitch to place the twelfth.
  8. Keep repeating this pattern until you cover the entire canvas.

When complete, the front of the canvas will look identical to the other stitches, but the back will have a basketweave pattern of lines moving in horizontal and vertical directions weaving into and out of one another.

Continental Tent Stitch

The continental tent stitch uses more yarn to complete, but makes for a much more long-lasting and durable finished piece. This method works the yarn in one direction at a time until it completes a row or a section of the fabric.

  1. Start at the upper right hand corner of where you want to produce the pattern. Run your first stitch from the top corner of the weft up to the bottom corner of the warp.
  2. Move one square to the left and repeat. Continue moving to the left until you reach either the end of the row or the end of the section you are working on.
  3. Move down and in one square. Now stitch from the lower left hand corner of the warp to the upper right hand corner of the weft in the next row. As you move to the right to complete the row, you will be crossing back over each stitch twice.
  4. Continue moving over, then down until you fill in the desired section.

Half Cross Tent Stitch

The half cross tent stitch also moves in just one direction at a time until it completes a section, but it uses a lot less yarn than the continental stitch does. This makes it faster and easier to cover smaller sections of canvas than either of the other two stitches.

  1. Start at the upper left hand corner of where you want to produce the pattern. Run your first stitch from the top corner of the weft up to the bottom corner of the warp.
  2. Move one square to the right and continue stitching across the entire row until you reach the end.
  3. Move down and in one square and stitch from the bottom corner from the warp to the upper corner of the weft, moving to the left across the row. You’ll notice that you are not cross back over each stitch at the back of the fabric the way that you were with the continental stitch due to the direction that the stitches are moving in as you go.

Other Stitches

Once you’ve mastered the tent stitch, there are countless other stitches you can learn to work your needlepoint. Many of them are slight variations on these, others may be needed to work with specific types of fabric or mesh. Remember that the type of material you are stitching with and the type of mesh you use will greatly change your outcome. For example, if you learning to make lampshades and want to needlepoint the fabric you are using to cover it, you may want a smoother, less durable stitch than one that you would use if you are learning how to cover the seating of shabby chic French Furniture and need something that will hold up to use.

A sampling of stitches that you can learn includes:

  • The brick stitch, which introduces beads into the needlepoint
  • The Victorian cross stitch which uses a similar, cross-shaped stitch to that used in embroidery
  • The Gobelin stitch which works over two horizontal squares and one vertical square at the same time
  • The Mosaic stitch, which alternates two short stitches with one long one that equals the length of the two together
  • The Parisian stitch, which alternates small and long stitches vertically, switching the lead placement with each row

Start Stitching

Like many handicrafts, needlepoint stitches take some time to master, but once you do, the possibilities for what you do with them are endless. From furniture coverings to tapestries, there are countless ways you can use needlepoint stitches to add color and detail to the world around you. Learn how to do some simple needlepoint stitches today and get started on a crafty new journey.