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Guide to Tapestry and Chenille Needles

Guide to Tapestry and Chenille Needles

How to Choose the Right Needle for Needlepoint or Cross Stitch

Learn how to choose the best needle for any needlepoint or cross-stitch embroidery project, with a handy needle size chart for both tapestry and chenille needles.

Many beginning needleworkers don’t realize just how important it is to use the correct needle for any embroidery work. Using the right dimension and type of needle can make the difference between struggling through every stitch and ending up with a disappointing result, or stitching with ease and creating a beautiful work of art.

Tapestry needles are the preferred needle for every kind of needlepoint embroidery and most types of cross stitch embroidery. Chenille needles are similar in size and length to tapestry needles but have sharper points and larger eyes. They are a good choice for some kinds of cross stitch embroidery.

Dull-Tipped Tapestry Needles for Needlepoint and Most Cross Stitch

There are two reasons why tapestry needles are the needle of choice for needlepoint and most cross stitch projects:

A tapestry needle has a large eye to hold the thicker threads and yarns used in needlepoint and cross stitch. This keeps the yarn or thread from fraying as it gets pulled through the needle.

It has a blunt tip that glides through the openings in the canvas or evenweave fabric used for all needlepoint and most cross stitch work. This keeps the thread or yarn from catching on the material. For cross stitch on linen or waste canvas, though, consider a chenille needle instead.

Chenille Needles Have Sharper Points to Pierce Dense Fabrics

Chenille needles have sharper points than tapestry needles, which makes them better for piercing through tightly woven fabrics such as satin, cotton, or synthetic blends. A chenille needle’s sharp point can make cross stitching on waste canvas easier since the sharp point pierces the underlying fabric more easily than a tapestry needle would. Chenille needles are also used in a variety of other types of stitching:

  • Silk ribbon embroidery
  • Crewel embroidery
  • Candlewicking embroidery
  • Tying quilts with yarn
  • Stitching with Pearl cotton
  • Embroidering on coarse fabric

How Tapestry and Chenille Needles are Sized

Tapestry needles and chenille needles both use the same size numbers. In both cases, lower-numbered needles are thicker, with larger eyes and duller points. Higher-numbered needles are thinner, with smaller eyes and sharper points.

Tapestry needles are available in sizes from #13 to #28. A #13 needle is a very thick, rigid needle with a large, elongated eye and a blunt point, used primarily for needle pointing the thickest yarns on rug canvas. A #28 needle is a short, very fine needle with a small eye and a sharper point. It is used for very fine petit point work on gauze canvas.

Chenille needles are available in sizes #18 to #22.

Match the Needle to the Fabric Count or Canvas Gauge

Needlepoint canvas and evenweave cross-stitch fabric have a gauge or count that helps determine which needle to use. The fabric count relates to the size of the openings in the weave of the fabric. The lower the fabric count, the larger the openings, and the thicker the needle and yarn or thread needed to stitch on them.

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Guide to Needlepoint Frames and Hoops

Guide to Needlepoint Frames and Hoops

Needlepoint frames hold the canvas taut while you sew, freeing up both hands for stitching. A frame can help produce straighter stitches and reduce the need for blocking.

While many small needlepoint projects can be sewed by just holding the canvas in your lap, using an embroidery hoop or frame to keep the craft area secure for stitching can make the stitching work go more evenly and easily.

Advantages of Using an Embroidery Hoop or Needlepoint Frame

Mounting the needlepoint canvas on a frame that holds the work area tight for stitching can be helpful in some ways:

  • A taut canvas makes stitches easier to see and count.
  • Both hands are free to guide the needle and yarn, which makes stitching go faster.
  • When the canvas is taut, stitches are more even, with more uniform tension on the yarn, which greatly decreases the need to block the project once it’s completed to straighten distorted areas.
  • Canvas on a frame needs less handling, so there is less wear and tear on the yarn, and the project stays neat even if it’s worked on for months and years.

Disadvantages of Using a Hoop or Frame

Because the canvas is stretched taut, a frame makes it hard to “weave” the needle through the canvas and create several stitches at a time. A framed canvas also requires a lot of back-and-forth hand movement to push the needle through from front to back, then from back to front again. Holding the frame in position for stitching can be tiring to the hands and arms. To avoid fatigue or pain from gripping the frame, many needle pointers attach their frames to a lap or floor stand that holds the frame for them.

Needlepoint Hoop and Frame Options

Small pieces of canvas may not need any stretching at all. If you stitch without a hoop or frame, roll the canvas to a comfortable size instead of folding it while you work, to avoid distorting the finished piece. Canvas can be rolled around a dowel or a paper towel tube.

The size and gauge of the needlepoint canvas determine whether or not a hoop or frame will work better for a needlepoint project.

Embroidery Hoops for Petit Point (Canvas Gauge 16 or Higher)

Soft, flexible canvas can be secured in an embroidery hoop which consists of two tightly fitting rings of wood, plastic, or metal. The canvas is stretched over the inner ring and secured by the outer one. Most hoops have a screw to adjust how tightly they fit together.

Hooping can leave permanent marks in heavier canvas, though. Lower-gauge canvas should be stretched on a frame instead.

Stretcher Frames (Stretcher Bars)

Stretcher frames consist of two sets of wood strips that fit together into a rectangle. The entire canvas needs to fit inside the rectangle, with the inside dimensions of the frame measuring about an inch larger all around than the needlepoint canvas. The canvas is attached to the frame with thumbtacks, quilter’s tacks, brass needlework tacks, or staples. Stretcher frames can be found at art supply stores and come in a large variety of sizes. Reaching into the middle of a large stretcher frame to stitch can be uncomfortable, though. For larger projects, consider a scroll frame.

Scroll Needlepoint Frames

Scroll frames are popular because the area being worked on can be rolled to the most comfortable position for stitching. A scroll frame has two roller rods at the top and bottom, attached to two side arms. The roller rods are encased in fabric tubes. The needlepoint canvas is hand-basted or machine-sewn onto the tubes, then rolled tautly. Scroll frames are available in widths from 6” to 34”.

Ratchet Needlepoint Frames

A ratchet frame is a new variety of scroll frame that consists of two split end rails and two side sections with ratcheted rollers that move both ways. The canvas is locked between the two end rails and rolled back and forth on the rollers. Ratchet frames are available in three sizes: 12″, 18″ and 24″.

Needlepoint Lap and Floor Stands

A frame stand makes needlepoint even easier by freeing up the hand that otherwise would have to hold the frame in position for stitching. Lap frame stands are made for sewing while sitting. Floor stands can be used both sitting and standing.

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How to Block a Needlepoint Canvas

How to Block a Needlepoint Canvas

Restore Needlepoint to its Original Shape after Stitching

Learn how to use needlepoint blocking to straighten out needlepoint canvases and make them lie flat to look their best.

Needlepoint blocking is an essential finishing step for almost any needlepoint project. This is because the act of stitching tends to pull the needlepoint canvas out of shape. Blocking involves dampening and stretching the canvas to pull it back to its original form.

Prepare for Blocking Before You Start Stitching

Straightening out a needlepoint canvas is easier if you have a guide to show what the original shape was. Here’s how to do this:

  1. Fold the canvas in half vertically, then mark the folded spot with a waterproof pen at the top and bottom edges. This shows the center point of the canvas. Make sure the ink you use is waterproof because you will be dampening the paper later.
  2. Unfold, then refold the canvas horizontally to mark the center points on the left and right edges.
  3. Trace the outline of the whole canvas onto a heavy piece of paper with waterproof ink before you begin to stitch. Mark the paper with the name of the project and keep it until the stitching is finished.

How to Block a Small Canvas with Minor Distortions

If your canvas is small and not too badly pulled out of shape, it may be possible to block it with a steam iron set on the wool setting. Here’s how to do this:

  1. Cover the needlepoint with a damp cloth.
  2. Steam the canvas, holding the iron, so it doesn’t quite touch the surface. Pull the canvas into shape while steaming it.

How to Block a Larger or More Distorted Needlepoint Canvas

Start with a clean, flat piece of pine board, ½” plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) larger than the canvas. Use a quilting ruler or carpenter’s square to make sure the board’s edges are square.

Mark the Needlepoint Blocking Board

Marking the blocking board will help with alignment. There are several options for this:

  • If you have the paper outline of the canvas before it was stitched, tack it down on the blocking board and use it to align the canvas.
  • Cover the blocking board with checked gingham fabric and use the lines to align the canvas grid.
  • Draw a one-inch grid on the board with a waterproof marking pen. Make sure the ink is waterproof!

Dampen the Needlepoint Canvas

There are also several different ways to dampen the canvas. Whichever method you use, the yarn should feel damp on both sides, but not soaked.

  • Sprinkle the canvas with water or wrapping it in a damp towel
  • Roll the canvas in a wet, wrung-out towel and leave it for several hours.
  • Tack it on the blocking board as described below while it is still dry, then wet it with a sponge.

Tack the Canvas onto the Blocking Board

With the canvas face down, start at one corner and place tacks every inch along the edges, stretching and straightening the canvas to align with the drawing on the paper or the grid marks on the blocking board. Continue pulling the canvas taut and tacking it along the edges until you reach the opposite corner of the canvas.

Re-Dampen the Needlepoint Canvas

When everything looks straight, sprinkle the canvas with water again and let it dry in a warm spot for at 24-48 hours, until it is completely dry.

Remove the canvas from the blocking board only when you are sure it is dry.

Some Needlepoint Needs More Blocking

Some needlepoint stitches, such as the continental stitch, can distort a needlepoint canvas so badly that one round of blocking isn’t enough. You may need to block those projects several times to completely straighten them out. It may even make sense to take a misshapen canvas to a needlepoint store for a professional to block it

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Essential Needlepoint Supplies

Essential Needlepoint Supplies

Tools and Accessories for Getting Started with Needlepoint

One of the reasons needlepoint has been favorite for centuries is its simplicity and portability. Just a few easy-to-find needlepoint supplies are all you need.

The essential equipment for needlepoint embroidery couldn’t be simpler. All you really need is needlepoint canvas, yarn, and a tapestry needle.

Of course, there are a few other tools and accessories that make needlepoint easier and more fun. You will also need additional supplies if you decide to create your own needlepoint designs.

Basic Needlepoint Supplies: Canvas, Yarn, and Needles

The three essentials for any needlepoint project are canvas, yarn, and needles. You can find all three at needlepoint or embroidery supply stores or online.

  • Canvas. Needlepoint is always stitched on a foundation of canvas fabric. The canvas you need is explicitly woven for needlepoint and is different from the type of canvas used for painting or other purposes. Needlepoint canvas comes in a wide variety of sizes, from ultrafine gauze canvas typically used to make little items for dollhouses, to heavy-duty canvas made for stitching needlepoint rugs. Learn more about needlepoint canvas.
  • Needlepoint yarns and threads. A wide variety of different yarns and threads can be used for needlepoint, from Persian yarn woven specifically for needlepoint to embroidery floss, pearl cotton, and metallic threads. Learn more about needlepoint yarns and threads.
  • Tapestry needles. Regular sewing needles are too sharp-pointed for needlepoint. Tapestry needles are used instead because they have blunt points that slide through the openings in the canvas, and large enough eyes to hold several strands of yarn or thread. They are available in sizes from #26 (shortest, with most excellent point and smallest eye) to #13 (longest, with the thickest point and largest eye.) Buying a package that includes several different size needles will guarantee that you’re ready with the right size needle for any project. Learn more about tapestry needles.

The simplest way to get started is to buy a needlepoint kit that contains everything you need: a piece of needlepoint canvas with a design pre-painted on it, yarn or thread pre-cut in the right quantities and matched to the gauge of the canvas, a needle of the proper size, and instructions.

Other Useful Needlepoint Tools and Accessories

In addition to the essentials, a few other tools will help make needlepoint easier and faster. They can be found at local needlepoint stores or online.

  • Scissors. It’s helpful to have two pairs of scissors on hand for needlepoint: a pair of dressmaker’s shears for cutting canvas, and a small, sharp pair of embroidery scissors for trimming yarn and cutting out mistakes.
  • Masking tape. This is used to bind the raw edges of the needlepoint canvas to keep it from unraveling or catching on things during stitching.
  • Needlepoint frame. A frame stretches the canvas taut and holds it in place while it is being stitched. This helps make the stitches more even, reduces wear and tear on the yarn and canvas, and can reduce fatigue on a needle pointers hands and arms. While not everyone uses a frame, many needle pointers consider them essential.
  • Frame stand. A stand adjusts to hold the frame in the perfect position for stitching and completely frees the needle pointers hands. Stands can be expensive, so they are usually used by serious needle pointers.
  • Magnifier. A magnifying lens reduces eyestrain caused by working on tiny stitches. The more delicate the yarn and canvas you use, the more helpful a magnifier will be.
  • Needle Threader. This can make less of a struggle to get thick threads and yarns through the eye of a tapestry needle.
  • Thimble. Helps protect the fingers during stitching.
  • Laying tool. A long, stiletto-like tool that helps align the stitches and make them lie more evenly on the canvas. Large needles, sewing stilettos, and other household objects can be used for laying tools.
  • Waterproof markers. Use one of these to outline the canvas onto a piece of paper before you begin stitching, to make it easier to straighten the canvas by blocking it when it has been completely stitched. They are also used to mark needlepoint designs on the canvas. It’s important to make sure the marker is waterproof to avoid staining the yarn during blocking or when the needlepoint is used after it is completed.

Tools for Transferring Needlepoint Designs onto Canvas

While the supplies described below aren’t necessary if you use a design that is already painted or charted for you, they are essential for creating your needlepoint designs or copying images from other media to use for needlepoint.

  • Tracing paper. This is used to trace an image from a book or photograph, then laid under the canvas so the design can be copied onto the canvas.
  • Graph paper. Used to draw a chart of a needlepoint design that shows the exact placement of each color of yarn.
  • Acrylic paints and brushes. These are used to paint a needlepoint design directly onto the canvas. When stitching, the needle pointer matches the yarn colors to the colors painted on the canvas. This method is less precise than charting the design on graph paper.

Assemble these few supplies, and you’re ready to get started creating your own beautiful and durable needlepoint embroidery.

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Brief History of Crewel Embroidery

Brief History of Crewel Embroidery

Ancient Hand Embroidery Technique Reinvents Itself over Time

From the Bayeux Tapestry to modern floral wall hangings, crewel stitches worked with embroidery wool on the woven fabric have been an enduring hand embroidery tradition.

Crewel work is a form of embroidery that uses wool yarn to stitch a design drawn on a background fabric. Linen twill is the traditional background fabric for crewel work. Flowers, vines, leaves, and birds are all traditional crewel embroidery motifs.
“Crewel” Derives from Ancient Word for Wool Yarn or Thread

While the origin of the term “crewel” is murky, historians speculate that it may come from the medieval words “clew” or “krua,” which refer to a ball of yarn or worsted thread. Wool was one of the materials widely available to hand stitchers in the days when trade with distant lands was slow, difficult, and dangerous.

Crewel Embroidery as History, from the Bayeux Tapestry to the Quaker Tapestry

The most famous early example of crewel embroidery is the Bayeux Tapestry, a 230-foot (70 meters) long wall hanging that tells the story of the 11th century Norman Conquest of England. The tapestry was embroidered more than 900 years ago and can still be seen today in Bayeux, France.

Crewel work is still being used to create an enduring visual record of historical events. The modern-day Quaker Tapestry, begun in 1981 and completed in 1996, depicts the 350-year history of the Quaker religion. More than 4,000 people took part in the making of the Quaker Tapestry, which consists of 77 embroidered linen panels. The tapestry is on display in Cumbria, England.

Decorative Crewel Work in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Crewel embroidery was popular across Europe through the middle ages. Surviving objects from the period that were decorated with crewel work include wall hangings to help cut down the chill in drafty and uninsulated rooms, clothing for both men and women, covers for beds, tables, and floors, chair seats, and numerous small everyday items. Silk threads and a variety of background fabrics were used for crewel work.

In those days, crewel was an art that belonged to the elite. Queens and high-ranking ladies of their courts embroidered flowers, fruits, animals, and other motifs drawn from nature on expensive silk, wool, linen, and velvet fabrics, using a huge palette of colors and often working with costly silk threads instead of embroidery wool.

Legend attributes the creation of the Bayeux tapestry to William the Conquerer’s wife, Queen Matilda of England (working with a large group of her ladies), although some historians now dispute this. Like many great ladies, Queen Elizabeth I of England was an accomplished embroiderer.

The development of steel needles in Germany paved the way for the expansion of crewel work from the court to guilds of professional craftsmen who embroidered for a living. In 1561, Queen Elizabeth granted a charter to the “Keepers and Wardens and Society of the Art and Mystery of the Broderers of the City of London.”

Jacobean Crewel Embroidery Patterns Take on Modern Form

During the reign of the English King James I, crewel work evolved to a form that would look familiar to modern stitchers. The tree of life design, with curving branches, blossoms, broad leaves, and birds and other wildlife perched in the branches, is typical of the Jacobean style. English embroidery of the era was influenced by designs from China and India; particularly the painted Indian wall hangings called palampores. Wool embroidery fell out of favor in the eighteenth century, perhaps because silk became more widely available.
Two American Crewel Embroidery Revivals

Crewel work came to the United States from England in the eighteenth century, at a time when a growing middle class of town dwelling women had enough free time to devote to decorative arts. Linen wedding dresses embellished with colored wool designs represent the some of the best of American crewel work of the period.

Crewel work fell out of favor again around 1800 as other forms of needlework such as lace making and crochet became more popular. Its latest large-scale revival occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, when all kinds of handmade crafts experienced a surge in fame in the United States, with renewed interest in both contemporary and traditional designs.

Today’s crewel embroidery offers stitchers great freedom in materials, subjects, stitches, and styles. It will be exciting to see what adjustments the next crewel revival brings to this ancient art form.

Sources for this article:
Springer, Jo. Pleasures of Crewel. Western Publishing Company, 1972. ISBN 0-307-09650-5
Coss, Melinda. The DMC Book of Embroidery. Collins & Brown, London, 1996. ISBN 1-85585-273-X.

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Free Fairy Wonder Needlepoint

This Fairy is Designed by Donna VermillionGiampa
Size of Design: 77w x 94h

Materials Required:

  • one 2.5m skein of Kreinik Silk Mori® in each: 3013, 3021, 7135, 7012, 7014, 7124, 6083, 6106, 6104, 4166, 4164, 4163, 4162, 5093, 5053, 5091, 6124, 6123
  • Kreinik Blending Filament in 002HL
  • 32-count silk gauze from Kreinik (at least 4” x 4” piece)
  • #28 Tapestry needle or #10 crewel needle


Download the FREE instructions for this Fairy Wonder design on the link below:

-Fairy Wonder Needlepoint.pdf pdf

Note: Make sure you have a PDF reader on your computer to view and print this pattern. Or you may use a newer browser like Google Chrome to view and download the pdf.

If you have trouble downloading this pattern and would like a printed copy, send a #10 SASE to: SilkGauze Fairy, P.O. Box 1258, Parkersburg, WV 26102.

Credits to:


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