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What is Needlepoint Canvas?

Misty Amber Brighton
Misty Amber Brighton

Needlepoint canvas is a type of material that can come in several different formats but in all cases is designed to form the basis and backing for some sort of needlepoint crafting project. It’s typically a flat, mesh-like material that has evenly spaced holes or openings. People thread yarn through the holes in a stitched pattern in order to create needlepoint. Sometimes the end result is designed to be something like a wall hanging or a decorative ornament, but it can also be something that’s worn or worked into clothing items. Knowing the intended use is often a big part of making the right choice of canvases. In most places they can be purchased in various gauges, which is usually indicated by the number of grids per inch (or cm). This product can be made of plastic, hemp, linen, or cotton. Some of the most common types include rug canvas, Penelope canvas, single canvas and plastic canvas.

Basics of the Craft

Needlepoint canvas comes in various thicknesses.
Needlepoint canvas comes in various thicknesses.

Most people consider needlepoint to be a yarn craft, but unlike knitting or crocheting — both of which can be completed free-form in most cases — needlepoint usually requires some sort of backing or frame. This is usually known as the canvas. Artists take stitches with various colors and thickness of yarn in order to create a pattern or image, and in most cases they cover the entire backing so that all that is visible is stitched rows of color.

A plastic needlepoint canvas is lightweight and flexible, but also stiffer than a cloth canvas.
A plastic needlepoint canvas is lightweight and flexible, but also stiffer than a cloth canvas.

Needlepoint is usually a fairly easy craft to learn, and it is also normally inexpensive to purchase the supplies needed to get started. The projects that can be completed using this technique can be virtually endless. Choosing the right canvas is important to success in most cases, though.

Rug Canvas

One popular use of needlepoint is in tapestries, wall hangings, and other stiff materials, and a firm, heavy backing is usually required in these instances. Rug canvas, which is typically made from cotton, is often a good choice. It normally has three to five grids per inch (about 2.5 cm). Rug canvas tends to be heavier than other types, and can take some patience to work with; it typically leads to durable, long-lasting results, though.

Penelope Canvas

Penelope canvas, also known as double canvas, is softer and more flexible than the rug option and is most popular for projects like small hanging samplers or pillow coverings. It typically has two horizontal threads in each section that allow crafters to make small and very intricate designs. The yarn can be looped over one or both of these threads to create more complex patterns.

Gauges of this fabric are often measured in fractions, like “10/20.” This example means there will be 10 threads per inch (2.5cm), if the sewer stitches over both threads, and 20 per inch (2.5cm) if only one thread is stitched over.

Single Canvas

Single canvas alternatives usually have only one thread. These are some of the most basic, and also the most versatile; they can be used for most projects, and are particularly popular with beginners. They are normally manufactured of cotton, linen, or hemp. This type of needlepoint canvas might be plain mono, which has one thread vertically and one horizontally. It might also be an interlock type. This variety has one thread running vertically, with two threads twisted together that run the length of the piece.

Plastic Canvas

Plastic canvas is also very simple to work with. It is a sort of mesh grid constructed of heavy yet flexible plastic. It is normally sold in sheets that are about 13-5/8 inches (34.61 cm) wide, and 22-5/8 inches long (57.47 cm). This type of needlepoint canvas can be easily cut for making small projects and is a good choice for making coasters, placemats, and holiday ornaments — anything that needs a firm, stiff backing.


In some instances, a crafter may want to purchase stamped needlepoint canvas, which usually has a pattern or design printed right on it. Most examples will indicate both yarn type and color right on the backing, and all a crafter needs to do is basically “fill in the blanks.” The printing isn’t evident once the stitches are in place. Designs may be stamped on any type of canvas, and can be a good choice for people who have a hard time reading a separate pattern.

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    • Needlepoint canvas comes in various thicknesses.
      By: alexsol
      Needlepoint canvas comes in various thicknesses.
    • A plastic needlepoint canvas is lightweight and flexible, but also stiffer than a cloth canvas.
      By: Steven Latour
      A plastic needlepoint canvas is lightweight and flexible, but also stiffer than a cloth canvas.