Basketweave Needlepoint stitch

I’m a bit of a newcomer in a local bar trivia group, but man, it would be hard to tell! These are definitely my people! Big pop culture nerds from all walks of life, most of whom are very crafty in their own rights. We had a make-up Halloween party this last weekend (we have healthcare workers in the group who couldn’t celebrate on the day), and I was one of three people with a yarncraft project.

But of course, I had to show up with the weirdest of them all: a needlepoint skull I’m trying to get to the framers yesterday. The crafty folks were understandably curious: “Is it like cross stitch?,” “Where did you find sparkly yarn?,” “Why are you working on the diagonal?”

In-progress needlepoint project

It made me realize this is a craft I haven’t written a lot about yet, so here I go!

Needlepoint is super similar to cross stitch. You usually have a painted canvas you’re stitching over. Unlike cross stitch, you usually also stitch a background (what I’m doing here with the skull), and your threads are intended to completely cover the canvas you’re stitching on. It’s essentially paint-by-numbers with yarn, so what’s not to like?

It’s also, typically, incredibly expensive. You can get a screen-printed canvas kit here and there, but more often it’s a handpainted canvas with $1+/yard luxury fibers that you usually take back to the store you bought the canvas from to get it “finished.” Like, I’m getting this one framed, but many pieces like this get sewn, stuffed, and a handmade twisted edging. It costs a lot, because the canvas isn’t easy to work with (those sewists earn every single penny). That said, a needlepointer can easily spend $200+ or more on one finished piece.

That’s not to say it has to be that way. You can finish stuff yourself, if you’re up for it. Rug wools and perle cottons fit into most budgets, and I’ve stitched plenty of blank canvas in my day. Bargello is a popular stitch that doesn’t require painting at all, or you can sketch your own design with erasable (or not, if you’re brave like that) fabric markers.

Absolutely zero shame if you are one of those stitchers dropping serious money on your hobbies (’cause you know I have!), but it makes it a bit more understandable why it isn’t the most popular fiber art.

Another thing that sets it apart is, actually, that diagonal stitching. Because your fibers cover so much of the canvas, stitching in straight lines for larger areas can actually warp the canvas. So most needlepointers choose the basket weave as their basic stitch. Why is it called basketweave, you ask?

wrong side of needlepoint project

Because it’s worked on a diagonal, the back look like a woven fabric! It allows you canvas to be pulled up and down as well as side to side, which fixes that warping issue!

To do this stitch, your needle is always going in one space up and to the right (down and to the left, if you’re lefthanded, though!). Then, depending on the direction you’re stitching, the needle comes out horizontally or vertically two spaces away from where it went in.

If that’s utterly confusing, I made a little video:

(If you’re lefthanded, the action is the same, but the direction is different! This site shows it better than I could.)

And that’s the basics of needlepoint! If you’re excited to try is out, be warned: it can be hard to stop once you get started!

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