Stitch in time: Needlepoint is cool again

I have been stitching for over twenty-five years. Not continually, of course. I picked up my first needlepoint project to busy my hands when my mother was in the hospital. There was too much coming and going to focus on reading a book and I didn’t want her to think she couldn’t talk to me if she wanted to.

What I found was that the process of stitching—the repetitive movement of the needle against the canvas and the rasp of the thread—was incredibly soothing. I needed soothing. Later, I found that I enjoyed creating as I watched television or waited for my children to get out of school. I stitched Christmas ornaments and stockings and many, many pillows. I dreamed of stitching a rug.

It was amusing, then, to flip to the back page of House Beautiful a few months ago to see the editors proclaiming that needlepoint is “back.” For some of us, it never left.

It is true that needlepoint is having a resurgence. Gucci has a line of needlepoint pillows exclusive to Bergdorf Goodman in New York. Fendi’s sometimes it-bag, the Baguette, is currently available in a needlepoint version and Tory Burch has added needlepoint accessories to her line.

Buy if you like, but I find the process of stitching part of the appeal. To begin, you can choose your own thread—and design your own canvas—so your project can be completely custom. Beyond that, it’s a great outlet for those who want to create but don’t consider themselves artists.

I stitched a few projects that I bought off of the wall or out of a basket at The Studio in Brookside, which closed several years ago. But after I’d caught the bug, I started designing my own canvases and having the shop’s artists create them for me. The shop’s owner, Joanie Sherman, still has a line of needlepoint, though she sold the store long ago.

After years of designing my own projects, I decided to launch a line of my own. Joanie taught me how to paint canvases and coached me through starting a line.

It’s a short line, which shares the same name as my blog, Mrs. Blandings. I don’t give it nearly the time I should. My regular work can’t be put on hold and my children still require a good bit of my focus. (Please pray that my youngest gets his driver’s permit soon. I may be chauffeuring him to college.) Still, I can’t give it up. The porch off my bedroom is stacked with canvases and there’s a pile of designs that I’ve painted on paper, but haven’t transferred to canvas yet. Don’t get me started on the projects still bouncing around in my head.

But even this reminds me of the appeal of stitching. You can pick it up and put it down. And a little bit at a time eventually leads to a finished project.

Like all hobbies, needlepoint isn’t all that complicated. Or, it’s only as complicated as you make it. Here’s a rundown of the basics:

Canvas
The canvas is basically a mesh that comes in a few standard sizes. Quick Point is a larger mesh with a hole slightly smaller than a pencil eraser. This is a great size when you want a very chunky, handmade texture. Many children’s projects are Quick Point.

13 holes per-inch is a standard size canvas. The yarn covers it well and it wears like iron. If there is a “basic” size, this is it.

For small projects and canvases that offer a lot of detail, 18 holes per-inch is ideal. Honestly, I love the look of it, but it can be tough on the eyes. Belts are often stitched on this canvas because it’s easier to create a small, detailed picture with more holes per-inch.

The better canvases are hand-painted so that the pattern is mindfully applied to the grid. This makes the process much easier for the stitcher, though these canvases are more expensive than printed, or “stamped” canvases. Still, a badly printed canvas is less satisfying to stitch. Hand-painted is worth it.

Yarn
Yarn comes in an array of colors and textures. Wool, wool and silk, pearl cotton and metallics are only the beginning. Each of these textiles creates a different texture and finish when stitched on the canvas. Each stitcher has her favorite, but the project and personal preference really drive the selection. I’ve tried just about everything, but rely on wool and Silk and Ivory, a product that is a wool and silk blend that produces rich, clear colors.

Stitches
There are a lot of stitchers who exclusively use a basket-weave stitch. It covers well and does not distort the shape of the canvas. I rely on it. But there are literally dozens of different stitches that can give a canvas different textures. Any needlepoint shop would have people on hand to help with this. Beyond that, there’s lots of information online.

Finishing
Stitching the canvas often pulls it slightly out of wack. It may look as if it’s leaning left. For this reason, when a needlepoint project is complete, it needs to be blocked. This process removes the sizing from the canvas and allows it to be returned to its intended shape. After a canvas is blocked, it can be made into a pillow, stocking, belt, rug, purse—almost anything that you would create with fabric.

Patricia’s canvases can be viewed online at mrsblandings.com/shop and purchased locally at KC Needlepoint in Waldo, which also has a limited selection at kcneedlepoint.com.

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