Deciphering a Stitch Guide

When you buy needlepoint stitch guides, especially if you are ordering them on-line, you sometimes feel as if you aren’t getting what you expected. The guide comes, you look at that pile of threads, read through the guide, look at the canvas and have no idea where to begin.

Relax, take a deep breath, it isn’t as bad as you think it is. And these tips will help you with the stitch guide before you take a single stitch.

Lack of Picture: Often needlepoint stitch guides are written when there are no completed models, as a result there can’t be a picture. If you have bought a custom stitch guide (one written especially for you), there won’t be a picture because your needlepoint is the model.

Complexity: Needlepoint stitch guides when you read through them can seem really complex. I know when I look at a canvas, I often feel overwhelmed by the canvas and worry about the guide as a result. Read through the guide once and then do some things to sort out the spaghetti. A good guide will have done lots of these things for you, but if it hasn’t you can do it yourself.

  • Highlight or write in the margin where each section of the guide begins. Then you can tell what’s what.
  • If the diagrams for the stitches are all bunched together in one place, I would mark in the text where the appropriate diagram can be found.
  • Highlight (in a second color) the name of every stitch used in every area.

These simple things should make the guide easier to understand.

Threads: Now go on and look at the threads. First check to be sure that every thread listed in the guide is in the thread pack. Sometimes things like floss aren’t included since they are easier to find, and sometimes things get forgotten. Better to know that up front so you can get what’s needed. If something which was supposed to be included isn’t, contact the shop right away.

I have a rule for threads in my needlepoint stitch guides, if the canvas will use less than a yard of the thread, then often I will suggest the stitcher use a thread from stash. As a stitcher, I don’t like buying threads which I will only use a little bit — I don’t need more stash. A thoughtful guide write won’t use the stitch guide as a way to sell threads you don’t need.

Too few stitches and threads for the canvas: This could be caused by a couple of things. The canvas is a flat medium and so you show shading by changing colors. Needlepoint is a dimensional medium and so I can show shading in lots of different ways. One way might be using padding, another might be using a specific stitch throughout an area. In both cases though, the canvas will have more colors than the number of threads you’ve got included.

Check to see if this applies anywhere in your canvas.

Another circumstance where you will have more colors on the canvas than in the threads is when an overdye is used. Let’s take an example where something is obviously multicolored — the sky at sunset. If I had an overdye which was just the perfect set of colors for this, I might convey the sky by using one stitch and that overdye. Once again many colors on the canvas; one thread.

Go through and see if this applies to places on your canvas.

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This is similar to what I do when I work on a canvas writing a guide, I try to anticipate the stitcher’s questions, provide advice and work to make the whole thing easy to use.

But many guides do not do this to the same extent, and some go into even more depth.

If you haven’t bought the guide yet, check this stuff out before you buy. I f you have bought the guide, read it through, mark it up and make notes. It’s for you to help you stitch — make the needlepoint stitch guides the tool they should be.


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