Learn How To Needlepoint

If this is your first needlepoint tutorial, we have easy beginner needlepoint instructions for you to follow. You will be stitching in minutes!

 learn how to needlepoint

Let's dive right in.

Do you have a needlepoint canvas with a design printed or painted on it, as well as threads to stitch the canvas? If not, then you can find easy beginner needlepoint kits for adults right here.

Okay, back to the canvas you now have in your hand. It might be taped or bound with fabric around the edges. This is to stop the edges from fraying and catching on your threads.

needlepoint kit

If your canvas isn't taped, you can do this yourself using masking or artist tape, or fold the edges over and baste them with thread. If you leave the edges untaped, just be aware that they may fray, and your thread might catch on the rough edges.

Maybe you also have some stretcher bars?

Stretcher bars are used to form a frame onto which you can tack your needlepoint canvas to make it taut. If you don't have stretcher bars, or another type of needlepoint frame, don't worry; It is perfectly okay to hold the canvas in your hand as you stitch it. Many stitchers prefer to do this, and the canvas will soften up as you work it.

If you do have stretcher bars, assemble them into a frame by pushing the interlocking grooves together (it will be a tight fit and you can gently tap them with a hammer to make it easier).


needlepoint stretcher bars

Next, lay your canvas on top of the frame and center it. If it overhangs the frame on any side, trim the canvas edges.

Start by placing a tack in the center top of the canvas; then the center bottom. Then, tack the center of each side. Next, tack the corners, pulling the canvas taut as you go. Finish by tacking between these anchoring tacks until your canvas is tacked all the way around, about 1" apart.

needlepoint canvas mounted onto stretcher bars

 Now, you are ready to start stitching.

Where on my needlepoint canvas do I start stitching?

It doesn't really matter where you begin a needlepoint canvas, especially for your first attempt. Starting in the top right corner of the canvas design, if you are a right-handed stitcher, is a good option. Or, if you are left-handed, start in the top left-hand corner.

Learn how to needlepoint for right and left-handed stitchers


Thread Your Needle

Thread your needle with the color you will start with. If the threads you have are pre-cut, then unless there are instructions that say otherwise, take one strand of the matching color yarn (thread) and thread it through the eye of the needle.

If the yarns you have are not pre-cut, cut them into lengths of approximately 18", or the distance from your fingertips to your elbow.

If you are having trouble threading the needle try one of the following techniques:

Freshly cut the end of the thread so it is blunt and straight.

  • Dampen the end of the thread and squash the fibers together between your thumb and index finger so they are flat and bound together.
  • Fold over the very end of the thread and thread this folded end through the eye of the needle.
  • Purchase a needle threader.

You are ready to start stitching...

Tie a knot at the non-needle end of your thread. This will become what is called a Waste Knot.

Look at where you are going to start your first stitch on the canvas—remember, we suggested the top right-hand corner if you are right-handed, or the bottom left-hand corner if you are left-handed.

You will place your Waste Knot approximately 1" horizontally from where you will place your first stitch. So, locate a canvas hole about 1" from the corner and bring your needle from the front of the canvas to the rear of your canvas so the Waste Knot sits on top of the canvas. You will stitch up to this knot in a few moments and then snip it off. In doing so, the tail of your thread will have been secured by these stitches giving you a nice and neat start to your needlepoint journey.

 needlepoint waste knot

Needlepoint Stitches

If this is your first try at needlepoint we recommend you start with a Continental stitch.

So, you have your Waste Knot, sitting on top of the canvas, about 1" from where you will place your first stitch. Now, follow the diagram below to start filling in this first color area. You will be stitching up to the Waste Knot. When you reach it, snip the knot off the front of the canvas and then keep stitching (you have now secured the tail of your thread on the back of the canvas).

Here is a diagram of the Continental Stitch for right-handed stitchers...

needlepoint Continental stitch

Here is a diagram of the Continental stitch for left-handed stitchers...

Needlepoint Continental stitch for left-handed stitchers

Bring the needle up from the back of the canvas in all the numbered holes, and take it down to the back of the canvas in all the arrowed holes. Your thread will have covered the canvas intersection on the top of the canvas, and this is how you will "color" in the canvas.

Once you have completed a few lines, the front of your canvas will have stitches that look like this...

needlepoint Continental stitch

And, on the back of the canvas you will see a lot of sloping threads that look like this...

needlepoint Continental stitch back of canvas


When you come to the end of your thread, turn your canvas over and slide the needle under 3 or 4 stitches on the back of the canvas.

To start your next thread you can secure the end in the same fashion—by sliding the threaded needle under 3 or 4 stitches on the back of the canvas. You do not need to use a Waste Knot when there are stitches on the canvas you can use to secure the end of the thread. (But you may need to use a Waste Knot when starting a new color in an area that doesn't have nearby stitches in place.)

Keep stitching the Continental stitch until all the colored areas of your canvas are covered.

Follow the painted areas of the canvas as best you can. If an intersection is painted with two colors, pick one to stitch. Needlepoint is very forgiving and individual stitch choices don't usually matter, much like individual pixels in a photograph. Use your creativity to navigate your way around the canvas and place the colored stitches.

Needlepoint Basketweave Stitch

needlepoint canvas stitched in basketweave stitch

Once you are familiar with the Continental stitch, we recommend learning Basketweave—this stitch looks the same on the front of the canvas, but it forms a basketweave pattern on the back of the canvas.

Basketweave is a sturdy, full-coverage stitch that gives a smoother, more uniform look to your stitching.

You will start and finish your thread in the same way, but the way the stitch is created is different. We have a blog post on how to do the Basketweave Stitch that we recommend you read when you are ready to move on to this stitch.

You will continue to use Continental stitch for small, "fiddly" areas, and single lines of stitches, but basketweave is best for larger areas of color.

Next Steps on How To Needlepoint

To learn more about how to needlepoint we recommend this wonderful book by Emma Homent of The Makers Marks, available on Amazon.

Needlepoint Book by Emma Homent

 Needlepoint: A Modern Stitch Directory. By Emma Homent. Published Sept. 2022. 

NB: We may earn a commission on sales of products made through links in this post. Learn more here.

This Learn How To Needlepoint guide not only reviews all of these needlepoint stitching basics in more detail, it also gently leads you further along your needlepoint journey with an introduction to fun decorative stitches and modern needlework projects. You can learn more about it on The Makers Marks website here.

We hope you have enjoyed this How To Needlepoint tutorial. Please share it on your favorite social media so that others can learn this wonderfully relaxing way to unwind.

Learn how to needlepoint tutorial


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