Needlepoint is an ancient art that, according to the National NeedleArts Association, “offers a wide range of avenues for self-expression and is easy to learn.” Examining the history and uses of needlepoint is a good starting point for the beginning stitcher.
Needlepoint is a type of embroidery done on canvas to create a picture. The picture can be realistic, abstract or a repeated geometric pattern. The most basic needlepoint technique is very simple, using one stitch to complete the entire canvas. Needlepoint is also called counted work, canvas work, tapestry work and Berlin work.
Internationally known needlework teacher Chottie Alderson notes, “Stitchery is considered to have been one of the earliest human accomplishments.” In her article "A Quick Run Through History," originally published in the Summer 1982 edition of Needle Pointers magazine, the late Mrs. Alderson recounts that, though needlepoint is generally thought to have originated in China, pieces of this art form were found in the tomb of Egyptian King Tutankhamen, who had lived 1500 years before Christ. She traces the development of needlepoint not only through the centuries but all over the world.
Throughout the ages, needlepoint canvases have been used to adorn the clothing of royalty, to denote rank or class, to upholster furniture and cushions, as bed linens, framed as decorations, made into tapestries and rugs for warmth, to copy and distribute famous works of art, and as a pastime of the leisure class.
Needlepoint canvas comes in many different gauges and widths. It is sized according to the number of vertical threads there are per inch; the larger the number of vertical threads per inch, the smaller the actual stitches will be. There are three main types of canvas: Penelope canvas (double threaded), mono canvas (single threaded) and interlock. A size 12 interlock would be a good canvas for a beginner.
There are hundreds of needlepoint variations including types of canvas, threads and yarns, and stitches. A medium-gauge canvas about 8 inches square with a simple floral pattern using the continental stitch in traditional wool tapestry yarn would be an ideal project for a beginning needlepoint artist.