Which needleart is a favorite with men as well as women? Which is one of the most luxurious of the needlearts, but also long-lasting? Which type of needlework is a kind of embroidery worked on canvas mesh? If you guessed needlepoint, you are right!
Needlepoint is worked with thread on a canvas mesh. It is also called “canvas work” or “tapestry work.” The stitches on the canvas can be arranged as a picture or abstract design, or in a repeated geometric pattern called “bargello.”
The roots of needlepoint go back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians, who used small slanted stitches (similar to the common “tent” stitch now used in needlepoint) to sew up their canvas tents. There are also many references in the Bible to elaborate needlework on religious articles, including the tent used for worship in ancient Israel.
In the Middle Ages there were two types of needlework that were forerunners of modern needlepoint. In 13th century Europe, one kind of embroidery was done on coarsely-woven linen fabric which was similar to canvas mesh. Tapestries, another important art form of that era, were actually woven on vertical (up and down) threads on a loom. These very complex and intricate designs were difficult to do, so in the 16th century, people began to imitate them on a canvas background. Steel needles were invented around this time, which allowed more intricate work than the fishbone or thorn needles used previously.
One of the most famous of all needlepointers lived in the 16th century – Mary, Queen of Scots. As a rival of Queen Elizabeth I, she was imprisoned for many years of her life. To pass the time, she stitched an enormous number of canvases, a living legacy of the Elizabethan era.
In those days, needlepoint was a pastime of the “leisure class” who had the time and money to invest in artistic pursuits. As time went on, its appeal gradually broadened to other parts of society. Early Colonial
American women had little time to spare for stitching that was not absolutely “practical,” so the few examples of needlepoint we have from that period are household items, such as seats done in a shell pattern by Martha Washington.
Mid-19th century saw more leisure time for men and women to stitch just for fun. At this time, a printer in Germany developed a method of printing colored charts for needlepoint designs – it was called “Berlin Work” and rapidly became popular. Since that time, needlepoint has been more or less “in style,” with surges of interest.
Needlepoint today offers a wide range of avenues for self-expression – it can be used to make needlepoint pictures, pillows, fashion items like belts, purses, even vests and other clothing. In fact, people of all ages and walks of life find needlepoint to be immensely satisfying and rewarding. We think you will like it, too!
This booklet will acquaint you with basic canvaswork techniques, and some of the many needlepoint stitches. Although all of these stitches create a different “look,” there are only a few basic techniques involved. Once you learn them, you will be able to learn any other stitches on your own.
Do not be overly critical of your first attempts. Needlepoint, just like any other skill, requires practice to be perfect. Just relax and enjoy your stitching. You will soon be needlepointing like a pro!
The “How To” series of easy-to-read and use needlework instruction booklets is designed with you in mind. Whether you are a beginner looking for basic instruction that will get you stitching quickly with correct techniques, or an experienced needleworker looking for a handy reference guide, you’ll want to keep the “How To” series close at hand. Each volume in the series explores a different type of needlework: needlepoint, embroidery and cross-stitch, knitting, crochet, and much more. You’ll find lots of helpful hints to build your confidence, make your learning experience relaxing and fun, and most important, make your finished project something you’ll be proud of for years to come.