Saturday, June 13, 2015

An Introduction to Needlepoint


We are thrilled to have Helena Ben-Zenou of POMPOM Design as guest blogger on &Stitches! Helena's company designs Needlepoint kits (read more about POMPOM designs in the interview we posted last week!) and today she introduces us to Needlepoint. 

Blue Jay Bathing Kit. Copyright Charley Harper Art Studio. World Rights Reserved
In recent years needlepoint has gained itself something of a fusty reputation, what was once a highly regarded craft enjoyed by English Queens, film stars and major European Modern artists has become more associated with images of puppies, cabbages and floral arrangements.

However, we are now seeing a new wave of needlepoint designers creating kits aimed at those who love both design and needlepoint. These contemporary designers are looking to create a new generation needlepoint makers who enjoy textile-based crafting, love contemporary design, and who want to create the design classics of the future.

Needlepoint kit Kiss & Hug by Emily Peacock
Needlepoint (or tapestry as it is often known in the UK) is considered one of the oldest textile-based crafts. A form of thread embroidery it is worked by stitching yarn through a stiff open-weave mesh-like canvas to create a thick and luxurious textile. Unlike other forms of embroidery it does not embellish a fabric, but through the process of stitching through the canvas grid, the maker creates a completely new textile. The high quality of yarns and wide variety of colours available allows designers to create vibrant, detailed and colourful designs that can be made up into cushions/pillows, upholstery, pictures and rugs.

Stitches for needlepoint kits are generally simple to work and tend to be based on the tent or cross stitch, a diagonal stitch. Basketweave tent stitch uses the most wool of all the tent stitches and creates a richly textured, long lasting surface and does not distort the canvas when worked off a frame.

Stitching thread is generally made from wool, silk or cotton, and comes in hundreds of shades from super bright to muted and subtle. Canvases also come in different types and have different sizes of holes - the more holes per inch creates a more detailed pattern. Kits usually use an interlock or mono canvas with anything from from 7 holes per inch to 14 holes per inch.

POMPOM design 'Verano' at design stage using Victorian Cross Stitch (without a frame)
Most needlework kits recommend one of the variants of tent stitch, although Victorian cross stitch is also used. The canvas can be stitched either on or off a frame, but in general a frame creates a more even and square finish. If the canvas is stitched using the diagonal continental tent stitch without a frame the canvas can become distorted. However the canvas can be easily reshaped before making. up by dampening and pinning. Alternatively some companies design kits using Basketweave Tent Stitch, a thicker more luxurious stitch which does not distort the canvas. Victorian Cross Stitch is the only stitch that cannot be stitched on a frame. The stitching method keeps the canvas square and also creates a super thick textile suitable for cushions and also to for joining to create rugs.
Futura by POMPOM design
In the UK designs are often printed directly onto the canvas making the canvas simple to work. With a printed canvas the stitcher never loses their place, always knows which colour use and can move around the design easily. In the US and Canada canvases are sometimes hand painted for bespoke commissions, but kits and canvases are most often supplied with a separate printed paper chart, rather than a printed canvas, making it more like a knitting pattern to complete. Some companies offer a print and a chart to cater for all tastes!

'Futura' stitched on a frame using Basketweave tent stitch
Historically needlepoint has been found in Egyptian tombs and some experts claim it predates cave painting! However in art needlepoint is most associated with William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement. The movement began in Britain around 1880 centered on a fundamental belief in the pleasure of work and the equality of the art. The revival of traditional handicrafts created away from the machine and factory. Needlepoint lends itself perfectly to these ideals and we can instantly recognise the textile designs informed by natural motifs and the flora and fauna of the British countryside that typify the Arts & Crafts style.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Vertical-Horizontal Composition 1916
Sophie Taeuber-Arp [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It can’t all be swirls, flowers and heavy browns, greens and blues though… Early Modernist avant-garde artists such as Sophie Taeuber Arp and Sonia Delaunay have also both created stunning visual art using needlepoint.

Red Cassette Needlepoint kit by Jenny Henry
Today many of us would like to bring a bit of the Arts & Crafts ideals into our lives, but with a contemporary twist. Contemporary needlepoint kits offer us the chance to engage in a creative activity, and to create a hand crafted, high quality item that has been designed with both the stitcher and the design lover in mind.
Helena Ben-Zenou is Founder/Director of contemporary needlepoint kit company POMPOM Design, more information and a range of contemporary kits can be found at

What are you stitching? Please share in the &Stitches Flickr group. We'd love to see it!

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