Needlepoint stitchery on specially prepared needlepoint canvas makes a durable tapestry fabric for throw pillows and cushion covers. Hand-stitched covers are a way to refresh old cushions or to personalise new ones. Designs range from realistic pictures, such as country scenes, family and pet portraits, to abstract and geometric patterns. Thousands of ready-to-stitch designs are available, or you can paint canvas with your own designs to work in silk or wool.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Plain throw pillow
- Needlepoint canvas
- Backing fabric (optional)
- Steam iron
- Tea towel
- Large sheet of plain paper
- Masking tape
- Silk embroidery floss or wool needlepoint yarn
- Large-eyed needles
- Sharp HB pencil
- Oil paints in different colours, well thinned with turpentine (optional)
- Indelible fabric marking pens (optional)
- Adjustable embroidery frame
- Cotton matching the background colour
- Snap fasteners or hooks and eyes
Choose suitable needlepoint canvas. This fabric is a stiffened mesh that is available in different sizes indicating the number of threads per inch. The most popular sizes are 13 (for coarser designs) and 18 (for finer details). Pre-printed or painted designs will come on a mesh appropriate for the details of the picture.
Cut the canvas to match the size and shape of one side of the pillow to be covered. Leave a border of at least 3 inches on all sides to allow for handling while stitching. If the cushion cover is for reupholstering a chair seat, leave a border wide enough for wrapping around the sides of the seat and tacking to the underside.
Press out any creases in the canvas with a hot steam iron.
Cover the work surface with plain paper and tape it in place. Spread the canvas over it and tape it to the paper.
Apply the design. This can be done by sketching or tracing with an HB (medium hard) pencil, then colouring in with a thin film of oil paint. Take care not to clog the holes in the mesh with paint. Alternatively, the design can be drawn and coloured with indelible fabric marking pens. For bargello designs, which are repeating geometric patterns, only one line of the design needs to be drawn.
Allow to dry thoroughly.
Stretch the canvas mesh over an embroidery frame. Choose a frame large enough to expose the entire design, if possible, to avoid distorting it. Larger embroidery frames are available from speciality shops and online.
Gather sufficient embroidery floss or yarn, choosing colours as close to your painted design as possible. The amount you will need depends on the size of the mesh and whether you are using yarn or floss made of silk or cotton. To estimate how much to buy, fill one square inch of the mesh, using your chosen stitch. Unpick the work and measure the length of thread used.
Choose an appropriate stitch. Tent stitch is the most commonly used for pictures and filling. It is easiest for beginners. Bring the needle up through a hole in the mesh at the beginning of the row to be stitched. Then bring the needle down through the hole one row up and one to the left. Push the needle back up through the hole immediately beneath one through which you just went down. Tent stitch creates a durable surface of slanting stitches.
Irish or brick stitch is a straight stitch used for geometric patterns. The needle comes up through the canvas and then down above it, varying length by covering one, two or three threads.
Fill the border area with solid stitches, covering at least three extra rows to create a selvedge for throw pillows, more to cover an upholstered chair seat.
Block the needlework. Dampen the embroidery with cold water, and stretch it to shape by pinning it to a board along the edges. Cover it with a tea towel or clean cloth, and gently steam with an iron. Allow it to dry completely.
Cut a shape matching the needlework cover out of backing fabric, for throw pillows, allowing for a half-inch seam allowance. Machine stitch the backing and cover, wrong sides together, on three sides. Turn under the edges of the fourth side, press and hem, leaving the fourth side open. Skip this step if the cover is for an upholstered chair seat and wrap around the seat as described in Step 1, above.
Turn the cover right side out, and apply snap fasteners or hooks and eyes to the open side. Cotton tape with regularly spaced snap fasteners is available from sewing supply shops, haberdashery departments and online.
Tips and warnings
- Buy each yarn colour from the same dye lot to avoid colour variations in large, solid areas.
- Well-thinned oil paints are better for painting canvas than acrylics, which can sometimes crack or bleed through when the work is blocked.
- Avoid using soft pencils or dark colours on the canvas design as they may show through light colours in the finished embroidery.
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