Tent Stitch - how to work three variations

When I first picked up needlepoint, I was a bit overwhelmed by all the fancy stitches out there, but then I discovered the tent stitch. 

This small, diagonal stitch covers one intersection of the canvas and can be used for your whole design or detailed areas, even if you are a beginner. 

So I grabbed a printed canvas and set to, holding it my hand as I pulled the needle through in one movement. However, I noticed an issue as the image began to take form. My work was becoming twisted and turning into a parallelogram instead of a neat rectangle!

It wasn't long before I discovered that there are three ways to work this simple-looking stitch, each giving a different coverage and appearance on the back.

Choosing the right tent stitch variation is essential to ensure your project looks its best and withstands wear and tear. As I had found out, the wrong choice can lead to a distorted canvas, while the right one can enhance the overall appearance and durability of your needlepoint piece.

The variations are known as half-cross, continental and basketweave stitch. We'll look at each in turn, below. 

windows stitched with tent stitchThe scenes inside the windows of my house were stitched in tent stitch.


Half Cross Stitch - the Simplest Version

The half cross stitch is suitable for items that don't get much wear, like wall hangings or framed pictures, due to minimal yarn on the back.

Before you begin painting, put your canvas in a frame. This step is important because if you pull the canvas too tightly, it might distort the image.

As it sounds, this is just the first leg of a cross stitch. To work it follow the guide I gave for cross stitch, without making the return journey.

Using half cross stitch may lead to a messy look because you bring the needle up through a hole that already has yarn, which can bring loose fibers to the front.

photo showing the front of half cross stitch
The reverse of half cross stitch

How to do Continental Tent Stitch

The extra yarn on the reverse of the canvas makes the continental stitch more durable.

Before starting a kit, check the instructions to ensure you have enough yarn. Running out mid-project is frustrating and time-consuming to fix.

Diagram showing continental tent stitch

Start the top row by following the numbering on the diagram. Each stitch is worked in a downwards diagonal direction over 1 canvas thread (top right to bottom left).

Take the needle back up to 3 to start the second, leaving a longer diagonal stitch on the back (as shown by my purple "stitches" on the diagram).

When you reach the end of the row bring your needle up in the row of holes directly beneath your previous stitch. Then, this time working from right to left along the row, continue following the diagram this time working each stitch in an upwards direction (bottom left to top right). 

When checking the back of your work note that all the stitches will "lean" in the same direction - apart from that turning stitch at the end of each row.

The front of continental stitch looks the sameThe front looks the same...
The back of continental vs half cross stitch...but see how much more thread is on the back of the continental stitch rows?

How To Do Basketweave Needlepoint Tent Stitch

Diagram showing basketweave stitch

The neatest method of working tent stitch is with the basketweave stitch. This time you are working in diagonal rows. Start with the blue lines on the diagram.

Note: there is a distinction between the stitch direction and row direction when working the basketweave stitch. This can be a little confusing, but if you follow the diagram you should soon fall into a rhythm. 

Each stitch is worked upwards, but the actual row is traveling down the canvas. You will get an almost vertical stitch on the reverse when working down the canvas and a horizontal one on the back when working back up to the top.

As with the method above this way of working does use a little more yarn, and a little extra concentration is also needed.

I have shown the second row in pink. 

You start with stitch a-b and this time both the stitches and the row are going upwards. The stitches on the back will be almost horizontal.

This variation is named for its basketweave appearance, which forms on the back after a few rows. Check for mistakes by looking for stitches going in the wrong direction, which spoil the weave. Only the stitches were you move to a new row should be diagonal.

Basketweave looks the same on the front
The woven look on the reverse of basketweave stitchThe back of basketweave stitch appears woven

Basketweave preserves the canvas shape while you work but requires more practice. Use it for large background areas, but be prepared to adjust for frequent colour changes.

Get Stitching!

Now that you've learned the three variations of the tent stitch test your skills with a new project. Start now and see the difference the right stitch makes.

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