Needlepoint Lingo

This page is dedicated to all things needlepoint terms/terminology!


Needlepoint is a form of fiber art where thread is stitched in to a canvas. With roots in ancient Egypt, this craft has continued to grow and evolve. In the US, hand painted canvases are a staple of the craft. Each canvas is meticulously hand painted using acrylic paints to provide you with a stunning piece of art. That piece of art is then taken by you and through the process of picking threads and stitches, that piece is then completed in to a beautiful finished work of art. Think of these pieces as a "stitch-by-number" (but better). The canvas gives you a template to follow, which makes it nice for those learning the craft. So, you can choose to stick with the colors provided, or you can switch up the colors, add some fun and funky thread, and pick some amazing stitches, which is what makes needlepoint (in my opinion) so great. Two people can take the same canvas and end up with two completely different, yet stunning, finished pieces, and there is something really beautiful about that.

Before you begin: 

Mesh Size: Mesh size refers to the size of the holes in the canvas. The larger the mesh size, the smaller the holes. There are two mesh sizes used most commonly in needlepoint in the U.S. - they are 13Mesh and 18Mesh. The number refers to the number of holes per inch - so 13Mesh has 13 holes per inch, while 18Mesh has 18 holes per inch, which means 13Mesh is larger than 18Mesh. 
Tapestry Needle: These are a type of blunt tip needle and are the needle type used in needlepoint.
Needle Size: Just like the canvas, the tapestry needles come in different sizes and it's important to use a needle size appropriate for the size canvas you have. If the needle is too big, you may not be able to get it through the holes of the canvas. Or, if the needle is too small, you likely won't be able to fit the size thread you need to stitch the canvas. For 13Mesh, a size #20 needle is recommended, and for 18Mesh, a size #22 needle is recommended. 
Stitch Painted: This refers to how the canvas is painted. The canvas is made of hundreds of intersections and it is the intersections of the canvas that get stitched. When a canvas is stitch painted, it means paint is meticulously applied to each canvas intersection so that there is no guessing as to where the next stitch goes. 
Needleminder: A needleminder is strong magnet used to hold your needle while you're not using it. It sits on the canvas you are working on, and if you need to set your needle down, you can park your needle on these needleminders. They come in many fun designs, so definitely check them out!
Thread/Fiber: Thread is what you will use to stitch with. Fiber is technically the raw materials prior to becoming thread (but people will use these terms interchangeably.) Threads come in all different varieties. The most common are cotton, silk and wool. Typically cotton and silk are used on smaller, 18mesh projects, while wool is commonly used on larger, 13 mesh projects. But there is also specialty threads that can be really fun, so once you've practiced with some silks and wool, definitely try some of them!
Skein: A unit of measure for thread. Thread is typically purchased in 1 skein increments.
Dye Lot: Many threads used for needlepoint are dyed in batches. When this happens, a dye lot is assigned noting which batch that skein was dyed in. The tag for the skein of thread will include this information, along with the brand and color name. Why is this important? Colors can vary widely from dye lot to dye lot, even for skeins from the exact same brand and of the exact same color name. So you may have two skeins that are the same color name, but look very different - which can be a problem if you are working on a canvas with a large background area and you switch to the new skein (you will notice a color change). To try and avoid this, when buying thread for a project, if you have a canvas with a large area make sure you purchase all the thread you would need, and double check that the dye lots are all the same for those skeins. 
Ply/Plying: Some thread is a strand that's actually made of multiple tiny strands of threads. Why is this important? Using the thread right out of the skein or card may not be suitable for the type of canvas you have. For example, Splendor from Rainbow Gallery is a fantastic thread but it cannot be used right off the card. It is a 12-ply thread, meaning there are 12 tiny strands of thread that make up the thread on the card. Using it right off the card would not be suitable for 18 mesh canvas because it would be far too thick. So you need to take just a few strands (you would take 4 in this example) and stitch with those 4 strands on your canvas. You may also encounter thread that is far too thin to be used right from the skein, in which case you would need to ply it, and add threads to create a thread thick enough to use. For example, Bella Lusso is a wonderful wool that can be used on 18 mesh. However, when used right from the skein is too thin, and will not cover the 18mesh canvas well. It's recommended to use 2 strands, so you would need to make sure you have 2 strands of the wool on your needle while stitching (in this example).

While Stitching

Tent Stitches: Tent stitches is a bucket term used to describe 3 stitches: Half Cross, Continental and Basketweave. These are the 'bread and butter' of needlepoint stitches - they are a staple of needlepoint, and learning these means you can stitch any canvas out there. These 3 stitches all look the same when viewed from the front of the canvas - but all 3 are stitched differently, and provide different levels of coverage on the back of the canvas. This is important to note, and the more coverage the canvas has (both front and back) the longer your piece will last. 
Decorative Stitches: If tent stitches are the bread and butter of needlepoint, then decorative stitches are the ice cream sundae (with a cherry on top!). Decorative stitches come in LOTS of flavors - some you will love, some you won't. But they can really make your canvas come alive. It's recommended to learn and master the tent stitches first, but when you're ready, definitely give decorative stitches a try!
Frame/Stretcher Bars: A frame, or stretcher bars, are used as an alternative to 'in hand stitching'. First, you need to find a frame to fit your canvas. Frames come in two flavors - frame bars and scroll frames. Frame bars are typically sold in sets of 2, so you can create a frame that's to fit your canvas. Its recommended to find a frame that allows for at least 2inches of space around all sides of the design on the canvas (ie. if you have a canvas with a design that's 2in x 2in, you will want a frame that is 4in x 4in). Next, you will need frame tacks. You can typically purchase a box of them, and they are used to hold you canvas firmly on the frame. Scroll frames work a little differently - you attach your canvas to the scroll bars (either on the top/bottom, or the two sides), either with a clamp or by sewing the canvas in to the frame (This is determined by the type of scroll frame you have.) And then you can roll the scroll bars to tighten the canvas. No matter which type you choose, the purpose of a frame/stretcher bars is to a) help make stitching a larger piece easier and b) to help limit how much your canvas warps while you stitch it.
Frame stand: Sometimes you may have a piece so large that holding your frame just is not practical. For these pieces, you can put your frame in to a stand (or sometimes the stand comes with a frame!). The stand sits on the floor, or your lap and helps balance the weight while you stitch. There are many options, so it's recommended to do a bit of reading prior to purchasing.


Blocking: The process of taking a stitched canvas and returning it to its regular shape. While stitching, the canvas can become warped (especially if you stitch in hand). The canvas needs to be returned to its regular shape after stitching and prior to finishing to ensure a straight, clean finished piece.
Finishing: Finishing the process of taking the stitched canvas and turning it in to something. I say something because you can really turn a canvas in to just about anything! Ornaments are probably the most common, but you can also make pillow, stand-ups, patches, clutches/pouches, belts/bag straps, and you can even self-finish items.
For more information specifically about finishing, check out our Needlepoint Finishing Page!

Other Terms:

LNS: "Local Needlepoint Shop". Needlepoint shops are amazing places! Think walls of canvases and threads. Not to mention helpful staff who are there to help you with all things needlepoint. Many shops offer group stitch time, stitch related events, and classes. If you have one near year, or see one in a place you're visiting, definitely stop by!
WIP: "Work in Progress" - this is typically used to refer to a canvas that you have started but have not quite finished yet! (And don't worry if you have a few them!)
Frogging: The process of ripping out stitches.