Choosing needlepoint stitches for your projects

With so many needlepoint stitches available, selecting the right ones for your design can be daunting. As a beginner, start by learning the fundamental stitches that form the foundation of most projects.

Learning basic stitches like basketweave, tent or gobelin stitch is crucial. These stitches may seem simple, but they're the building blocks for intricate patterns. For instance, the iconic Bargello pattern, is made of straight stitches that make a pattern depending on their placement and yarn colours. 

When working this stitch 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

When it comes to working your stitches, the direction you choose can greatly impact the overall appearance of your design.

For example, diagonal rows can create a sense of movement, while vertical rows can add stability.

When choosing a direction, consider the subject matter and the effect you want to achieve. For instance, if you're depicting a hillside, diagonal rows may be more suitable, while a building may benefit from vertical rows to avoid a 'falling down' effect.

Working on a frame when stitching diagonal stitches can be beneficial as they can tend to twist the needlepoint canvas when worked in the hand. 


Not all areas require directional stitches, as that could be distracting. Often, background areas work best with a random or flat appearance, allowing the focal points to shine.

 Stitch Size

But what about stitch size?

The size of your stitches plays a significant role in achieving a balanced design.

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.

Larger stitches, like Milanese, require more space to create a cohesive pattern, while smaller ones, like Mosaic, can fit into tighter areas.

When selecting a stitch size, consider the scale of your design and how you want the different elements to interact. A good rule of thumb is to start with a larger stitch for the background and gradually decrease the size as you move to the foreground.

Overall Shape of a Group of Stitches

Now, let's talk about stitch shape. When working with different stitch shapes, consider how they'll fit into an area. Square shapes like Scotch stitch can create a sense of structure, while leaf-shaped stitches can add organic flair. Think about what you're trying to represent in your design and choose a shape that complements it. For example, if you're stitching a tree, leaf stitch might be more fitting than a square one.

chequer stitch

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. These are portions of a stitch group, that don't extend to the full size of the complete version. 

The Texture a Stitch Creates

rhodes stitch 01

Finally, don't forget about texture!

Texture plays a crucial role in adding visual interest to your design. Bumpy textures like Rhodes Stitch and Rice can create dimensionality, while smooth textures like Tent Stitch and Gobelin can provide contrast.

To effectively use texture, consider separating background areas (smooth) from foreground elements (bumpy). This will help draw the viewer's attention to specific parts of your design.

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. 

By learning these fundamental stitches, you'll be well on your way to creating stunning needlepoint designs that showcase your creativity and skill.

Remember, practice makes perfect, so don't be afraid to experiment and try new things – and most importantly, have fun!

Start building your needlepoint stitch library


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