Tips and tricks for creative stitching without a stitch guide.
The perfect canvas is standing right in front of you. It’s the canvas you’ve been waiting for— the O.M.G., meant-to-be, drop-everything-else-and-start-stitching-today canvas of your dreams. The colors are beautiful, the image reminds you of your childhood, it’s exactly the right size for that confounded empty space over your mantle, and even your partner would like it; Most importantly, when you look at it, your heart sings with delight.
And then it hits you: the canvas is difficult. It’s full of all kinds of tricky elements: large, plain areas, heavily shaded areas, awkward angles—not to mention it’s 18ct. How on earth are you going to fill that background? How are you going to do justice to those flowers? As you stand there with this magical canvas sending electric shivers of desire racing to your brain, you realize you have no idea where to begin. If only there was a stitch guide to tell you what to do…
So you go to the register (or more likely you add a comment line on the checkout page), and you ask, “Is there a stitch guide for this?”, and your lovely local needlepoint associate replies…
I’m not sure…
let me see…
if we have one—Hmm.
Doesn’t look like it…
A little disheartened, you think to yourself, “Okay, I’ll look online. It’s a great canvas— surely someone somewhere has stitched it and published it everywhere. I’ll just wait and buy it after I’ve found the stitch guide.”
Alas! Your perfect canvas, the one that both exhilarates and baffles you, has apparently (judging by the massive gaping hole on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and all your go-to needlepoint forums) never been stitched by anyone. Ever. Or worse, there is a stitch guide, and you buy it – but it’s completely illegible. It’s full of misprints and discontinued fibers and you get a headache just looking at it. What a let down!
Most of us know that a good stitch guide is worth more than it’s weight in gold. Stitch guides are a great way to acquaint yourself with new stitches and fibers. They have handy instructions, diagrams, and pictures, and they tell you exactly what fibers to use (and how to use them). Better yet, you know what the finished product is “supposed to look like”. We are all very grateful to those stitch guide writers who take the time and energy to share what they have discovered to help us bridge the gap to the next level of skilled stitching. But what do you do if there isn’t a stitch guide for the canvas you want to stitch?!
Well, you have a few options:
A. You can walk away from that once-in-a-lifetime canvas. (Of course, you may or may not have tortured dreams about it for the rest of your life, but you will probably live to buy another really great canvas.)
**If you choose option A, try shopping for a kit-to-go. A kit-to-go will set you up with a cute canvas, fibers, and a stitch guide at one flat rate– everything you need to start a new adventurous project. And it will help you build new skills and confidence, so you feel more empowered the next time you are face to face with that perfect canvas.**
B. You can hire someone to create a custom stitch guide for you. Yes, it’s true. There are a lot of needlepointers who will stitch and draft a custom stitch guide for your canvas. This is actually a pretty good option if you are in a real bind. You can check with your local needlepoint shop and see if they have anyone on staff available. Just be prepared to be patient. Depending on who you ask, and what is already on their plate, this process might take up to six months and cost anywhere from $20–200, not including fibers.
C. (I bet you saw this coming,) You can start practicing these tips that will enable you to creatively stitch your dream canvases, even when there aren’t stitch guides readily available.
Tips and Tricks for Creative Stitching Without a Stitch Guide:
- First and foremost, buy the canvas. If you felt so strongly about it that you a spent a whole Saturday trolling every stitching forum in tarnation looking for a stitch guide – you deserve to be stitching this canvas. The sad truth is that you just never know when a canvas will get discontinued, or when another pandemic will hit and all the canvas painters in the world get so buried in orders that you’ll never see it again. (too soon?) “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”
- Put the canvas in a place where you will see it every day. Talk to yourself about it – no, seriously – open a dialogue:
- What do you see? Is it a landscape? A scene in a famous café? A woman walking her dog? An abstract of geometric baubles?
- What is your favorite thing about the piece? Is it the color? The definition? The way it makes you feel?
- What area on the canvas does your eye gravitate towards?Ask yourself what you see, and listen to your answers. Sometimes it helps to write them down. Keep a little stitching journal or a small slotted box by the canvas where you can put scraps of paper. Or maybe post-its work better for you— It doesn’t matter how you make your notes— just make them. Start noticing the world around you. Maybe you see a flower that reminds you of your canvas while you’re out on a walk—take a picture! Look at it later. Are the petals small and delicate? Are they striated? Are they smooth or hairy? Is the stem thick or thin? Maybe you meet a friend for coffee at your favorite café. Is the awning droopy with age? Is it a little dirty ? Are the tables wrought with intricate iron work? Or mosaic tiles? Little by little your canvas will start to reveal itself to you.
- Stitch with other Stitchers!!! It’s very likely that your local needlepoint shop has some form of open stitch where you can come to work on your piece with others doing the same thing. We have a hybrid Open Stitch session on Thursdays, from 4pm – 7pm PST – we’d love to have you join us!) Most of us believe that the grand tradition of needlepoint is built on tribal knowledge. You never know when someone sitting next to you is going to make the suggestion that brings your whole piece together. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – (All of the stitchers I’ve met are really wonderful people who want to share their experience! 😊). For more direct advice, advanced techniques, and professional experience, consider private lessons with one of our instructors, or our sign up for our Canvas Enhancement Class.
- Invest in a Book that works for you. You don’t have to go out and buy a mini library. Start with one book and OPEN IT. (Okay, good, now open it again!) I know it sounds a pretty intuitive, but utilizing resources is a difficult chore for a lot of people. We see it all the time, stitchers who have several books at home who never look at them (you know who you are!) No judgement here, but consider this: If you have a book at home that isn’t serving you— get rid of it and find a better book! Different stitchers need different things. What was suggested to you by your stitching friends might not make sense to you. Personally, I prefer books because I like to have something weighty to flip through and pepper with bookmarks and notes. For me, there’s more accountability with the gravity and directionality of a book. On the other hand, some people prefer social media outlets like YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram—and these are great too. You can find books here on our website, at used book stores, antique shops, thrift stores, or your public library. There are e-books that you can download to your phone or kindle. Magazines like Needlepoint Now are full of new ideas, patterns, canvases, and useful tools. Whatever resource you choose, just make sure it’s one that works for you.
- Get a blank piece of canvas and PRACTICE. Blank canvas is relatively cheap and easy to come by. Many shops sell it by the inch. We sell blank canvas in 13 and 18 count in a variety of colors. We even offer canvas that has already been bound and put on stretcher bars for you. (See our doodle canvases). Once you start practicing, you’ll notice that different fibers and colors change the appearance of your stitches. Begin with one new stitch from your book every week. Try it in different colors, try it in different fibers, try stitching it vertically, try stitching it horizontally. Work it in reverse order, work multiple rows next to each other. The slightest shift in your approach can create a major difference. If your stash is limited and you need more variety to practice with, take a look at our fiber packs. These fiber packs are wonderful ways to build your stash and increase your stitching versatility. The greater the variety of threads you practice your stitches with, the more stitching possibilities will open up to you! Just remember to take note of what you did.
- **Be brave and go easy on yourself. Intuiting your own stitch plans takes time, effort, and practice. There really isn’t any easy way around that. But the more you work at it, the easier it gets. I promise!! Remember that this is YOUR hobby: take what you like, and leave the rest. Whatever, wherever, and however you stitch, the needlepoint community is here for you:
May you never be kept from your true bliss by fear of the unknown,
— Stephanie, at The Needlepointer.