How to Stitch A Needlepoint Canvas When the Intersections Have More than One Color

how to stitch shaded needlepoint canvases

One of the most common questions we get asked is, "How do you stitch a canvas when it's not clear what color the stitch intersection is painted (or printed)?"

In very general terms, needlepoint canvases come in two varieties:
1. Stitch-painted or stitch-printed canvases 
2. Handpainted or color printed canvases with shading that isn't stitch painted 

Stitchpainted or stitch-printed canvases are the easiest to stitch because the artist has painted each canvas intersection a specific color. There is usually no problem in figuring out what color goes where when stitching one of these canvases. A printed canvas that is geometric (lots of straight lines) might also look stitch-painted.

fox in the grass needlepoint that is stitchpainted

A stitchpainted canvas like this  Fox in the Grass has lines that are stepped rather than curved, just as the stitcher would stitch them using a tent stitch. These are the easiest canvases to stitch and require the least amount of decision making.

But where canvases are not stitch-painted they may contain shading, curved lines, and ambiguity as to what color a stitch intersection is painted or printed. For some people these canvases are the most fun to stitch. For others, they are a source of worry that the stitcher is not "doing it right".

First of all, remember there is no right or wrong way to stitch a needlepoint canvas. But, if you have a canvas that contains a lot of detail, shading, or ambiguity, then it might be helpful to keep a couple of things in mind:

1. Use artistic license when stitching it, and
2. Don't fret over every little stitch.

It's this second point that we'll discuss here.

This is a beautiful handpainted canvas by Kirk & Bradley called Poppy Trellis.

handpainted needlepoint with shading poppy trellis kirk and bradley
You can see it has a lot of shading in it. When we take a close-up look at this shading it isn't entirely clear where one color stops and another one starts, and this can be confusing for a novice stitcher.


Inevitably, any stitcher views the canvas at the micro level, rather than as an overall design, so it's easy to over-emphasize the importance of each stitch color placement.

In reality, where canvases are shaded or there is ambiguity at stitch intersections. you don't need to fret about individual color placement decisions. To a certain extent you can "wing it" and just follow the canvas colors to the best of your ability. You can even eliminate some color shades without it having too much of an effect on the overall design. It really won't matter if some of the light pink stitches placed on the canvas here were a darker shade of pink. Any interpretation will be fine in most cases as long as you're following the painted canvas as well as you can. 

stitch shaded needlepoint

An exception to this "make a color decision and run with it" rule is where the design has a distinct geometric pattern and the lines have to run straight. this might be if you're stitching plaid or geometric objects. If the color is off-printed in these instances your design is not going to look right and it is likely the canvas has been misprinted. In these instances you should contact the supplier to see about returning it.

stitch shaded needlepoint

One way to approach a shaded canvas is to lay down stitches in clumps of color. Here you can see clumps of light pink and some very dark red. These will then be surrounded with stitches of other colors.  Stitch in the obvious color areas first and then, where the canvas becomes more nuanced, you will have a good grounding from which to subjectively make other color decisions. 

We just wanted to reassure you that if you take on a project with a lot of shading or nuances you can give yourself permission to relax into it and stitch it however you like. You will almost certainly achieve a finished product which, when you stand back from it, looks just like this.

poppy on trellis needlepoint