What is the Difference Between Needlepoint and Embroidery?

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  • Written By: Christine Clukey
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
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  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2019
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Needlepoint and embroidery are interrelated. Embroidery encompasses any art which involves decorating fabrics with stitched designs; needlepoint consists of using a tent stitch, also known as a half cross stitch, to create designs on stiff mesh or open-weave fabric, typically canvas. Needlepoint, then, is a particular type of embroidery.

The history of needlepoint and embroidery reaches back to the ancient world. Fragments of embroidered items have been found in numerous areas, most notably Egypt and China. Basic stitches such as cross stitch, half cross stitch and satin stitch have been found on textiles that are more than 3,000 years old. From this, needlepoint and cross stitch can be considered some of the oldest forms of embroidery.

In the modern world, needlepoint has blossomed into a much-loved hobby and decorative art. There are a multitude of organizations and crafter's groups who freely share information and patterns. Books on needlepoint and embroidery are readily available at most book stores in the crafts section, and needlepoint patterns can also be found through magazines and online sources. Patterns come in many varieties and can be charted out or directly printed onto the ground fabric.


Needlepoint supplies and kits can be found online and at craft and fabric stores. Needlepoint kits are an excellent way for a beginner to learn the basics of the art of embroidery. These kits include a pattern, stitching and finishing instructions, the ground fabric and all supplies needed to complete the project. Unlike most other forms of embroidery, a hoop is not required for needlepoint. However, most crafters use some type of wooden frame to hold the canvas taut for ease of stitching. These frames can be found with needlepoint and embroidery supplies at craft stores.

The ground fabric most used for needlepoint is stiff, open-weave canvas, and it is available in a variety of weights. Heavier-weight canvas is excellent for items such as cushions or wall hangings; lighter weight canvas is more suited to pieces such as table runners and eyeglass cases. The stiffness of the required canvas makes this type of embroidery more suited to decorative items than garments, and it is rarely found on clothing.

The weight of the canvas determines the thickness of the embroidery thread or yarn that is used for a project. The basic concept of needlepoint is to stitch over the design area and completely cover it with thread or yarn. Thus, for a heavy-weight canvas with wide spacing between threads, a thicker yarn must be used to ensure that none of the background fabric can be seen. For lighter weight fabric, lighter weight threads and novelty items such as ribbon can be used.

Needlepoint creates a beautiful and durable work of embroidery art that can be enjoyed for many years. Individual touches can be added by using novelty threads and materials and by learning to create patterns. Needlepoint and its cousin, cross stitch, are types of embroidery that have been in use for most of recorded history, and have been employed by various cultures around the world.


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