What is tapestry / needlepoint?

Tapestry/needlepoint has been around for centuries and has decorated the walls and homes of royal and wealthy families around the world. Tapestry/needlepoint is a form of counted thread embroidery in which thread is stitched through a stiff open weave canvas with a tapestry needle. Most tapestry/needlepoint designs completely cover the canvas and can be worked in a variety of stitches and patterns.

The degree of detail in tapestry/needlepoint depends on the count of the underlying mesh canvas. Many designs are painted directly onto the canvas, but there are also designs that are charted, similar to cross stitch with each square in the chart representing one single stitch. Tapestry/needlepoint is worked on a canvas ground in either mono, interlock or a 2-thread canvas called Penelope/Duo.

    Gather Your Tools

    You will need some basic tools to get started on your tapestry/needlepoint project.

    - DMC Thread for tapestry/needlepoint
    - DMC Tapestry Needle
    - DMC Needle Threader
    - DMC Embroidery Scissors
    - Tapestry/needlepoint Canvas
    - Scroll Frame or Stretcher Bars
    - 2.5cm (1”) Masking Tape

    Additional supplies to make your stitching experience even more enjoyable:

    - Good Lighting
    - DMC Armchair Organiser

    You can use a variety of threads for your tapestry/needlepoint projects ranging from cotton, wool, rayon and silk. DMC offers beautiful tapestry/needlepoint threads from lustrous Pearl Cottons to soft Tapestry Wools. All DMC threads are made from the best quality materials and 100% colourfast and fade resistant.

    Canvas is selected based on the mesh size – the number of holes per inch of canvas – and threads selected for a tapestry/needlepoint project are based on the mesh count.  Thicker threads such as tapestry wool or #3 Pearl Cotton are used for canvases with lower mesh counts (fewer holes) and finer threads such as #5 Pearl Cotton, Mouline Stranded Cotton Thread, or other thinner threads are used for canvases with higher mesh counts (more holes per inch).

    The different types of tapestry/needlepoint canvas available on the market are Mono, Interlock, Penelope/Duo, Rug and Plastic Canvas, all available in a wide assortment of mesh sizes and colours.


    Tapestry needles are used in tapestry/needlepoint, because they have blunt tips and elongated eyes.  The blunt tips pass smoothly between the fibres in the canvas and the elongated eyes accommodate the thicker threads used in tapestry/needlepoint. The size of the needle you will use depends on the size of the mesh of the canvas. For example, a narrow needle should be used on fine-mesh canvas, while a thicker needle is used on canvases with larger hole sizes. Select a needle that accommodates your thread and will enter the canvas with little or no drag on the thread. Tapestry Needles are sized by number and the bigger the number, the smaller or finer the needle. Refer to the DMC Needle Guide to see which needles are best for the thread being used.

    8-10 count Canvas - use a size 16 tapestry needle
    10-12 count Canvas - use a size 18 tapestry needle
    12-14 count Canvas - use a size 20 tapestry needle
    16-18 count canvas - use a size 22 tapestry needle

    Click here to see how to thread your needle



    It is recommended that you bind the edges of your canvas with Masking tape before you begin stitching. This will prevent the canvas from unraveling and from catching the threads as you stitch. Simply cut a piece of tape the length of one side of the canvas. Apply the tape over the canvas edge, with half of the tape on the front side and half on the back side. Repeat on all four sides of the canvas.

    If you plan to use a frame, mount the prepared canvas to your frame of choice.


    Learn how to separate your thread strands so you can adjust the thickness of your thread.

    DMC Mouline Stranded Cotton is a 6 stranded thread.  You will usually not stitch with all 6 strands of thread so you will have to separate the thread before stitching.  To start, find the end of the thread on your skein of DMC thread. Slowly pull the end out from the skein until you have an 45cm (18”) length of thread and cut it off. To separate the thread into individual strands, pull one strand up and out slowly until it is completely separated from the remaining strands. Continue to pull out the number of strands you need to stitch with.  To rejoin the threads, hold them together at one end then gently stroke the lengths to smooth and recombine them.

    If you are using Pearl Cotton There are two common ways to open and cut a skein of Pearl Cotton, depending on the length of thread you prefer or need.

    For approximately 50cm (19”) lengths of thread: Push the two labels toward the centre.  Find the end with the two loops and cut through the bottom of each loop.  Move the labels back into place. Pick and pull out a single piece of thread from the top loop.

    For approximately 100cm (38”) lengths of thread: Remove both labels and untwist skein to form an oval. Cut through all the threads at one end of the oval. Pick and remove one thread for use as needed. To keep the threads tidy for future use, put the colour number label back onto the threads and slide it to the centre.  Fold the threads in half and set aside.


    To thread your needle it is easiest to use the DMC Needle Threader. To use the DMC Needle Threader, slide the eye of the needle onto the hook, then loop the thread on the hook and pass the hook through the eye of the needle and pull the thread through.

    Here are some other ways to thread your needle without the assistance of a threader:

    Pinch and Poke

    Pinch and Poke – Cut a clean end of thread and pinch it between your thumb and forefinger, leaving only a little of the end exposed. Holding the needle in your other hand, “poke” the eye of the needle over the tip and the thread into the eye, then pull the thread through. Pinching the thread gives you more control to guide the thread into the eye. You may have to “saw” the eye of the needle back and forth slightly to get the thread to enter the eye.

    Loop, Pinch and Press          

    Loop, Pinch and Press – Loop the end of thread over the eye of the needle and pinch the loop tightly between your thumb and forefinger. Remove the needle from the loop and press the eye of the needle down over the thread. Pull on the loop to get the thread through the eye of the needle.

    Reading A Pattern

    Learn about the different types of tapestry/needlepoint patterns out there in the market from hand painted canvases to printed canvases.
    Hand Painted Canvas

    Hand-Painted Canvas designs are individually hand painted on the canvas. Canvases may be stitch-painted, meaning each thread intersection is painstakingly painted so that the stitcher has no doubts about what colour is meant to be used at that intersection. Alternately, hand-painted canvases can also have areas where a thread intersection is not clearly stated meaning the stitcher will have to use their judgment about what colours to use in that thread intersection.  Stitchers often enjoy making these decisions along with choosing both the threads and stitches they will use on their hand-painted designs.
    Printed Canvas

    Printed Canvas designs are created by either silk-screening the colours onto the canvas or by using a processed heat transfer.  Printing or transferring can be done on a commercial basis and thus has a lower price point than a Hand-Painted canvas.  Printed designs are typically simpler in style because the colour palettes are limited by these methods.  A colour block strip printed on the selvage of the canvas lists the colours printed in the design.  This handy tool makes it easier to discern the colours used in the design.
    Charted Canvas

    Charted Designs are the most affordable and can be easily attained from a multitude of Tapestry/needlepoint books or monthly publications on the market.  The design chart contains all the information you will need to stitch the design.  Every square on the chart that requires a stitch will contain a symbol and the thread colour key will show you the symbols that correspond to each colour thread. Charted designs are stitched on white or coloured canvas so it can be more challenging to cover the surface with your stitches Tapestry/needlepoint stitches that fully cover the canvas work best in charted designs.

    Blocking you canvas

    When the tapestry/needlepoint design is finished most canvas work will need to be blocked.  Blocking is the method used to straighten and square the canvas back into its original shape.  Blocking can be done with a bit of time and patience or you can contact your local Needlework shop and have a professional block the canvas for you.
    Step 1

    Dampen the tapestry/needlepoint by spraying the entire canvas with warm water.  Using a liberal amount of water to dampen the surface but not so much as to saturate it,  let the canvas rest for 5 minutes to relax the fibres. To remove excess water from the canvas, pat the surface gently with a clean towel.
    Step 2

    Hold the canvas in your hands and stretch it in the direction opposite to the distortion.  Most stitched canvases lean toward the right.  To help reshape the canvas, hold the upper left and lower right corners and pull it back into a reasonable alignment. Never cut the canvas before blocking.  The selvage strips are used to hold the pins when stretching.
    Step 3

    Using the blocking board grids as your guide, press a T pin into the centre of the top selvage strip on the canvas.  Gently stretch the canvas downwards keeping the canvas threads vertical and tack the centre of the bottom strip onto the board.  Repeat the method on the left and right sides keeping the threads horizontal and at right angles to the vertical threads.

    Step 4

    Working outwards from each centre pin continue to stretch and pin the canvas at 2cm (¾”) intervals.  Add the pins a few at a time equally to all four sides as you work around the canvas.  If the canvas starts to dry out, dampen it again and resume pinning.

    Step 5

    Once the canvas has been fully pinned to the blocking board, lightly spray the surface again.  Dry the piece of work dry at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.  Drying can take several days or longer depending on the humidity and temperatures.  Remove the pins only when the canvas is “bone dry”.

    Step 6

    When dry the canvas should be straight and ready for finishing.  If the design is still a little distorted, simply repeat the blocking process.  Some canvases require multiple blocking to get them back into shape. While the design is drying, keep the board flat to avoid water marks on the canvas.