Choosing needlepoint stitches for your projects

There are a huge number of needlepoint stitches available. So how do you choose which ones to use for your design? 

Many stitch names actually refer to a group, rather than individual stitches.

For example, Gobelin stitch is basically a straight line, i.e. the needle comes up through a hole in the canvas and down in another one. Depending on how many threads the stitch covers, the direction, and where the next stitch is placed, this simple line can be known by various names.

We can categorize different types of stitches by the techniques used to create them. But on this page we will look specifically at needlepoint stitches. 

The Stitch Direction

You can work needlepoint stitches either vertically, horizontally or diagonally.

Which of these we choose for a particular area of our design can be important, especially if we are creating a pictorial project.

We may wish to work diagonally, for example, if we are depicting the slope of a hillside.

A building may work better if the stitches are vertical, otherwise it may appear to be falling down!


Not all areas of a design need to show direction as that could be distracting. Often background areas work best if they appear random, or flat (we will discuss texture shortly).

 Stitch Size

A basic stitch comes up through the canvas, and then down again in a different place. It can travel over a single canvas thread or multiple threads. Those that are taken over a low number are smaller stitches.

However, many needlepoint stitches are actually a combination, sometimes taken over differing numbers of canvas threads. When we talk about size, we are referring to the area that combination covers to make one complete stitch pattern.

This means that when stitching something in Mosaic Stitch you will fit a lot of stitches into an area. If you were to try to fill the same area with Milanese stitch it wouldn't work in the same manner. The larger stitches require more space in order to "make sense" and show to their best.

Some stitches take up the same area, such as the Mosaic and Rice shown in the diagram above.

Overall Shape of a Group of Stitches

We say some needlepoint stitches are rectangular, square, octagonal, diamond or leaf shaped. 

We should think about how these "blocks" of stitches will fit into an area. Often there will not be enough space at the edge of an area to complete the block, and we then need to use compensating stitches to fill the area available.

Other times we want to consider what the section of the design is representing. If it is a tree, then a leaf stitch would be appropriate whereas we would use a square "tiled" pattern, such as Scotch, for a roof. 

The Texture a Stitch Creates

Needlepoint stitches can be smooth or bumpy. I like to keep the background areas smooth, and utilize texture for the foreground elements. Where one (or more) thread crosses over another it creates bulk and effectively brings that area closer to the viewer. 

Bumpy textured stitches include Rhodes, Rice, Cross, Leaf, Fan, Norwich and French knots.

If you want a smoother appearance go for Tent Stitch, Hungarian, Byzantine or Gobelin.

Another way to create texture is to form a pile, which can either be cut or left looped. Velvet stitch would be an example of this kind of work.

Start building your needlepoint stitch library

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