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What Is the Difference between Cross Stitch and Needlework?

By Liz Bowlin
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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The most common definition of needlework is any work done with a needle, so essentially, there is no difference between cross stitch and needlework, because cross stitch is a form of needlework. Another form of needlework that sometimes is referred to simply as “needlework” is needlepoint. There are small differences in cross stitch and needlework of this type, most notably that cross stitch is used to create a pattern on a piece of fabric and that needlepoint is used as a manner to redesign a whole piece of fabric into something else.

Cross stitch is created on an evenweave fabric and can refer to both the stitch used as well as the craft itself. Cross stitching involves the use of an X-style stitch, executed exactly over a counted pattern to create a central design. Cross stitch requires the use of a pattern, which is laid out on a grid or graph paper. The grids on the pattern represent the weave of the fabric. This is why cross stitch is often referred to as "counted cross stitch," because the stitcher must count the grids on the pattern.

Needlepoint — or needlework, as some people call it — can be defined as a work of canvas embroidery, traditionally using woolen yarn, in which stitching is done over the whole of the canvas to resemble tapestry. Needlepoint is usually created on canvas with wool, but other fabrics and threads have been adapted for needlepoint. This form of needlework uses many types of stitches to create patterns across the canvas.

"Needlepoint" is a commonly used term that can describe several different types of needlework. Those include canvaswork, woolwork, petit point and tapestry embroidery, or tapestry needlework. All are forms of needlework that are referred to under the broader term "needlepoint."

One big difference between cross stitch and needlework, or needlepoint, is that cross stitch uses only the one stitch: a cross, or “X.” Needlework is based on the tent stitch, which is a category of stitches, including the continental stitch, basket weave stitch and half cross stitch. Needlepoint also employs varieties of straight stitching and stair-step stitches. The variety of stitches used in needlepoint and other forms of needlework number in the hundreds.

Another difference between cross stitch and needlework such as needlepoint is that cross stitch covers only a central area of a piece of fabric, and more elaborate crafts such as needlepoint are designed to recreate a pattern over the entire canvas. Tapestry needlework is a good example of this. Named for its resemblance to tapestries, tapestry embroidery is not worked on a loom and uses needlepoint stitches to imitate tapestry work.

Both cross stitch and needlework, or needlepoint, are forms of counted-thread embroidery, which is also a form of needlework, but they vary in style and form. Other forms of needlework include plain sewing and mending, as well as ornamental work such as embroidery, quilting, crocheting, netting and tatting. Needlepoint is classical needlework, whereas counted cross stitch has become a more modern form of needlework because of the accessibility of the craft and the beauty and uniformity of the cross stitch itself.

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Discussion Comments
By anon114356 — On Sep 28, 2010

My concern, and I have taught needlepoint to over 1000 people, is that the information you give is incorrect.

Although you say that needlepoint is usually done with wool, today this is far more the exception than the rule. Modern needlepoint is characterized by a variety of threads and stitches.

More to the point of the question is the difference between cross stitch and needlepoint. Cross stitch is done from a chart, using one stitch almost entirely on fabric, generally using stranded cotton, although silk is also used. The fabric has small holes and thick threads or groups of threads.

Cross stitch charts are done so that one block of the chart equals one block of the fabric (where the fabric is woven in blocks).

Needlepoint, on the other hand, is done on canvas, a stiff mesh with far larger holes and thin threads. In needlepoint you stitch over the intersections and are actually making a fabric, while in cross stitch you are embellishing an existing fabric.

Needlepoint designs can be charted, but far more popular are pieces where the design is already applied to the canvas, either by hand-painting or by printing. An outline can also be drawn on the canvas and filled with stitches.

You use "needlework" as a synonym for needlepoint; this is incorrect. Needlework is a synonym for the larger term of embroidery, of which needlepoint is only a small part.

Synonyms for needlepoint include "tapestry" and "canvaswork."

Finally, you seem to indicate that needlepoint is out-of-date when in fact it is rising in popularity and creativity. Cross stitch, while still done by many, is far less popular than in the 80's. Keep stitching, Janet P.

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