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Friday, June 27, 2008

Needlepoint and Focal Point

With the many different threads and stitches available to us as needlepointers, it is easy to agree with the saying “This is not your Grandmother’s needlepoint!” We’ve come a long way from the days where endless streams of continental were done by dignified ladies. This is a very good thing.

Having so many threads to choose from, and so many stitches at our disposal makes making lovely needle art easy — or is it?

It is all too easy for a canvas to get overwhelmed by too many textures, colors, threads and stitches, so that the piece loses it’s focus and looks like a mishmash instead of something worth the work you put into it.

When you get a new canvas and are thinking about how to stitch it, decide which things in the piece will be your focal points. There should be one major focal point and there may be a very few additional focal points. The focal point is the most important area of the design and all the stitching everywhere in the piece needs to support it.

Next chose the threads (and maybe the stitches) for your focal point. These should be threads and stitches which make the focal point come towards the viewer. So for example, if your background is going to be wool, make the focal point silk or pearl. Use a more textured stitch, or a lighter color.

You can pick and chose stitches for your design as you go, adding some texture here, picking a different thread there.

1-3-5 Rule for Great Needlepoint Pieces
But keep in mind while you work what I call “Mary Shipp’s Rule.” Mary is an amazing stitcher and teacher and one of my mentors. She says that there are three aspects of needlepoint — thread, color and stitches. The line between lovely needleart and confusion is in how many of each of these you use.

In good needleart, one of these should be dominant, another should be “just an accent” and the third should be somewhere in the middle. In fact she uses the proportions 1-3-5 to demonstrate this.

For example, if you are doing a piece in all wool, you could have lots of colors (say a bouquet of flowers) and relatively few stitches (maybe one stitch for the leaves and another for flower center). But you could also have lots of stitches (maybe all the different furs of animals in a Noah’s Ark piece). And in that case your colors would mostly be browns and tans.

But what if you made every flower a different stitch or every animal a fanciful color? You can probably imagine how confused this would look.

When you are planning to stitch a canvas, start with the focal point and then move on as you stitch (which is what I do) or as you plan, keeping in mind Mary’s rule.

And if you start to feel as if you have gone too far — evaluate the piece according to the rule, and make adjustments. Don’t be afraid to rip things out if the piece is not working. a piece which you will finish is much better than one which will languish in your stash.

Janet M. Perry is one of the leading writers of needlepoint stitch guides in the world. She writes innovative guides for needlepoint canvases from over 20 designers. She puts into practice her motto to make needlepoint fast, fun and affordable.

She is an expert in needlepoint, both on the Web and through her writing as the Needlepoint Pro for Cross-Stitch & Needlework magazine. She works with deigners, shops, and thread manufacturers on new products and regularly reports on trends in needlepoint.

Her newest book, Needlepoint Trade Secrets, will be available in the summer of 2007 on Amazon. Visit her website ( or blog ( to learn about my newest products.

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