Repousse Needlework


Repousse –Why are we using a metal working technique in needlepoint? Repousse is an easy technique that ads dimension to your canvas. So, the better question is – why not?

repousse metal work
Repousse has been used in metal work for centuries. When I found out the ancient Greeks used the repousse technique on their armor breastplates I could just hear my father telling me that EVERYTHING noteworthy came from ancient Greece. What, you’ve never seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”?

The word repousse actually comes from the French and means "to push up".  The sheet of metal is turned over to the backside, and with a hammer and various tools, the shapes are pounded into the sheet metal so that the top side bumps out.  Not to be outdone by metal workers, stitchers have developed their own repousse technique. 


Dragonflies#kd601 - partial - by Juliemar & Friends
Dragonflies- Morning Flight by Karen Dukes, JM #KD601

Repousse was adapted for needlepoint from embroidery. It is a raised technique in that the stitches are raised from the canvas. No – we don’t work from underneath, pushing the canvas up. Instead, repousse needlework is done almost exclusively on top of the canvas.  It gives dimension to a design and is quite easy to do.

The best areas to do a repousse are long and narrow: a snake, tree limb or trunk, a cat's tail.  (This colorful snake repousse was stitched by Joey Barnes with stitch guide by Tony Minieri.  The canvas is called "Desert Fauna" by Pat Scheurich.)  Or, you can do bunches of repousse stitches overlapping one another to create a 3D effect.  (See tree trunk above.)  The area you do in a repousse stitch will stand out from the other stitched areas, so make sure you want it to be a focus of your design.

black cat #833 by Juliemar
To demonstrate the repousse stitch I've chosen Black Cat #833 by JulieMar. We will be using the repousse stitch on the tail.

black cat #833 by JulieMar
You will need 2 grades of thread for your repousse work: a heavy one for the foundation and a thinner one for the “wrap”. Since the work is done on top of the canvas, the mesh size of the canvas is irrelevant. DMC Perle cotton #3 is perfect for your foundation thread. You can use cotton floss or pepper pot silk for your top thread regardless of the mesh size of your canvas. The thinner wrap thread will be the visible one, so make sure it matches the canvas, or rather that it’s the color you want for the area. The color of the foundation thread is not as critical, but should be close to the wrap color so as not to bleed through. I've chosen black #3 DMC Perle cotton for the foundation thread and black & pink DMC cotton floss for the top thread.



black cat #833 by juliemar

You've picked the thread, now measure the length of the area you want to repousse. Make sure you measure the stitched area, not only the length of the painted portion of the canvas. The cat's tail, for example, is in an S curve. You will need to measure all the curves, not just from body to tip.  (HINT:  Use a thread to measure - not a ruler.)  Now cut a piece of the DMC Perle cotton 4 times the length of the area you measured. You will need 10-15 pieces of the same length foundation thread depending on how thick you want the repousse.

Start at one end of the area and bring a strand of the Perle cotton down one hole and up the next. Pull so that there are 2 even pieces on top of your canvas. Repeat, using the same holes with another 10 pieces of the Perle cotton. 

black cat #833 by juliemar black cat #833 by juliemar

Gather the thread and twist it lightly.  Determine if it's the desired thickness.  If too thick take out thread, one strand at a time until it's the desired thickness.  If too thin, add more.  Do not secure the foundation thread at any other place.  I used 12 strands in the cat tail.
Now we’re ready to wrap. You will need long strands of the wrapping thread - at least 1 yard long.  Take the cotton floss or pepper pot silk and bring your needle up at the bottom tip of your gathered foundation thread. Make sure it’s secure. HINT–you can use the L method to secure your thread in the area being covered by the repousse – it won’t show.

Make sure your foundation thread is twisted tightly. Not too tight – don’t stress over it, just tight enough that the threads look like a thick rope.   To keep the thread together I've used a very sophisticated method - a paper clip. 

Wrap the top thread over the foundation thread. Gently move the top thread down the foundation thread to assure all foundation thread is covered. As you wrap, periodically lay the “rope” over the area you want covered, taking into account all of the curves in the design.  The tighter you wrap, the thinner the cord.  Continue wrapping until the rope covers the entire area you are stitching. You will not be wrapping the entire foundation thread if you don’t need it.  And - no, I will not be giving this cat a pink tail, but black on black was just not a flattering picture.

black cat #833 juliemar

When your rope covers the entire length of the area you want in repoussé, place the top thread under the canvas. Now take the foundation thread, one strand at a time, and pull it underneath at the top of the area being covered– keep it loose. Position the rope, bending it with the curves in the design until it lays exactly over the area you want covered. Once your rope is in position, pull the foundation thread underneath and secure it. You can secure directly under the repousse. The top portion will hide the bulk underneath. Finally, take the top thread and couch the rope in a few places to secure it to the canvas.

Repousse – more, more, more.

dragonfliess #601 by juliemar

In this piece by JulieMar & Friends, Dragonflies #KD601,  the entire trunk of the tree is done in rows of repousse. Although not finished, you can see how the rope is positioned – curved to the side, over the one just done below – the possibilities are left to your imagination.

Repousse stripes – and, you can use different colors for your top thread.  Run the red where you want it.  Keep it tight to the foundation thread and start the next color.  Move along until you've finished.


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how to do a repousse stitch in needlepoint

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