Four years ago I wrote a series of Lessons for Beginners; now I find I've changed my mind a bit and in my lead-up to Catherine the Great, I'm rewriting the lessons a bit.
The most current lesson is on Queendom Website's Home Page and on this page.
You will find links to the former lessons below.
Are Stretcher Bars essential even for the very beginning needlepointer? In my opinion, yes, start using them straight away. They will keep your work from distorting and improve the evenness of your stitches.
Stretcher bars are simple strips of wood that come in pairs and fit together to form a square or rectangle the size of your needlepoint canvas. Assemble the bars into a square or rectangle by fitting the edges together. Place your canvas on top of the stretcher bars and use thumb tacks to secure the canvas to the stretcher bars.
I prefer the gold-colored thumb tacks with plain tops that many
needlepoint shops sell. I wish I had a specific reason for liking
I don’t, they just feel right to me. In reality, any thumb tacks will
I do not suggest using staples to mount a canvas on stretcher bars.
In time the canvas loosens and you will need to tighten it again.
Thumb tacks are simply more flexible.
Styles of Stretcher Bars
Maybe this is an indication of my tenure in needlepoint,
but I prefer old-fashioned stretcher bars, not the new styles
which keep your canvas perennially stretched tight. In fact,
I prefer mini-stretcher bars, even for projects 16”.
I use regular stretcher bars only for projects over 16".
Step-by-Step Instructions for Mounting Canvas on Stretcher
Assemble the bars into a square or rectangle by fitting the
Place your canvas on top of the stretcher bars and secure
the canvas to the stretcher bars with thumb tacks.
Begin at the top center: push a thumb tack through the canvas
and into the stretcher bars. Push in a second thumb tack about
1 1/2” to the left of the center thumb tack, and a third thumb tack
about 1 1/2” to the right of the center thumb tack.
Don’t finish the row. Instead, pulling your canvas as tight as you can, push 3 thumb tacks into the bottom.
Then, pulling the canvas as tight as you can, 3 thumb tacks along the left side, and then 3 along the right side.
Now return to the top and add thumb tacks radiating out till you reach the corners. Repeat along the bottom, and then along the left side, then the right side.
Most needlework teachers want students to stretch their
canvases drum-tight on stretcher bars. Not me; it is one of
my idiosyncrasies that I prefer my canvas with a little give.
I find my stitches sit better and more firmly on my canvas if
the canvas isn’t drum tight. Drum tight seems artificial.
Here’s my recommendation: in the beginning, stretch your canvas as tight as you can. Later on you will discover your preferences mostly by feel and experience..
A Simple Argument for Using Stretcher Bars
Because I make so many samplers and dabble in counted-thread techniques, I cross paths with counted-thread people, many of whom like to work in hand (that is, holding the ground fabric with no bracing at all, like the lady on my header). Put quite simply, this method doesn’t work well for needlepoint canvas.
The quality of your work will improve 110% in less than 5 minutes if you mount your ground fabric on stretcher bars*
Why? A simple two-sentence answer. When you hold ground fabric in your hand it doesn’t stay squared. If you keep the canvas squared, you have a much better chance of making very even stitches.
Needlepoint technique is all about tension. The best technician isn’t the person who knows how to do the most stitches or the most difficult techniques; the best technician is the one with the best tension. Think of stretcher bars as an elementary move toward perfecting your tension. Use them! From your first project on.
‘Stitching in the Well’.
This term has come to mean mounting a canvas underneath the stretcher bars so that you peer down into the well to see your design.
The conventional way is to mount a canvas on top of the stretcher bars but in recent years there has developed a theory that your canvas will stay cleaner if you have the protection of the stretcher bars on top.
My personal choice is the traditional way of canvas on top of the stretcher bars. I think I have a better and cleaner view of the design because the visual of the stretcher bars framing the design doesn’t interfere.
This is just my personal choice and both ways work well so my recommendation is, try both ways and make up your mind which you prefer.
* I use stretcher bars, but scroll frames will work also.
Two pairs of stretcher bars, each 12" long. You will find them usually hanging in multiple rows in most needlework shops. Buy them! Use them!
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For Beginning Needlepoint Students, here is a reworking of my series from the past.
Above is the edge of an important canvas in my life.
You will see that I turned under the edges and hemmed the canvas with pearl cotton #12 as I described in Lesson #2.
You will also see my thumb tacks: I used 7 of them irregularly spaced across the 12" canvas.
If you look carefully you will see a long piece of pearl cotton at the center of the canvas. This is my own personal way of marking the center, then to the left and to the right you will find basting lines under 10 meshes, over 10 meshes.
If you also look carefully, you will see that the canvas is not drum tight on the stretcher bars, another trait of mine.
And lastly you may notice rather a rumpled look to the canvas. That's because I worked on it every day for a month and a half.
I snapped a photo of this particular canvas to show that my descriptions are indeed how I work. Know what this canvas is? If you could scroll down, you would find Catherine.