How to Get Even Needlepoint Stitch Tension

Uneven stitches on your needlepoint canvas are distracting. Much like the pimple that appears the morning of your wedding, an off-tension stitch can become the only thing you see.

how to get even needlepoint stitch tension

When your stitch tension is nice and even your eye can focus on the overall design. This Koru needlepoint kit has perfect stitch tension. No stitch pimples here!

And, who doesn't want even stitch tension? You've spent a lot of time and money on your needlepoint project. Let's make sure it's perfect. Here are ten tips to ensure your stitches lay smoothly on the canvas...

Ten Tips for Terrific Tension:

(Sorry, we couldn't help ourselves)

1. Ensure your needle is the right size for the thread and canvas you are using.

If the eye of the needle is too small, the thread fibers will bunch up or twist inside it and may not sit flat on the canvas. If you use a slightly larger needle, it opens up the hole when you draw it through the canvas and provides a good spot for the stitch to ‘sit’. Here's a guide to "correct" needlepoint sizes for the most common needlepoint canvas mesh.

Size 16 needle - 8-mesh canvas

Size 18 needle - 10-mesh canvas

Size 20 needle - 12 - 14-mesh canvas

Size 22 needle - 16 - 18-mesh canvas


2. Shorter thread lengths are better for even needlepoint stitch tension.

Repeated pulling through the canvas wears on fibers and can make them uneven. Cut your threads about 18 inches in length, and go even shorter than this for specialty fibers like metallic, velvet and sheers.


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3. Take a break.

Every so often stop stitching and let your needle dangle and unwind. Needlepoint threads twist as you stitch and if you don't let them unwind they may knot or bunch on the canvas. It's not just you that needs to unwind in the evening!


4. Use a Frame.

Even needlepoint stitches are more likely when your canvas is stretched taut on a frame. You can stitch with your needlework held in your hand, and many people prefer this, but if you mount your canvas onto stretcher bars you will likely find it easier to get even stitch tension. Stretcher bars are inexpensive and available in a variety of sizes.


5. Make sure the fibers of your thread lay evenly alongside each other.

If your thread is stranded, strip the fiber and then rejoin the strands before you stitch with it. Using a laying tool will also ensure the stitches lie down smoothly.


needlepoint laying tool for even stitch tension when working with stranded threads


6. Use a clean needle.

If your needle is dirty or tarnished it will affect the smoothness of your thread and your needlepoint stitch tension. It's a good idea to keep a variety of needle sizes on hand, so you have a new one in the size you need, when you need it.   
needles, needle pebbles and needle threader


7. Don't split stitches.

When you bring the needle up or down through a hole that is already occupied by another stitch, try not to split (pierce) the stitch that is already sitting there. You can use your needle to wiggle out a space for the new stitch to fit into. This is yet another reason to love the basketweave stitch – the needle always comes up in a clean hole.


However, basketweave doesn’t go everywhere, and sometimes you might want/need to use a stitch that brings the needle up in an occupied hole. Slow down and make sure you create a place for it.


8. Avoid re-threading your needle halfway across a row.

Whenever you start a new thread halfway across a row, and the thread is secured through the back of the stitches, you can end up with an irregular effect on the front. Starting only at row ends may not be practical on long rows of stitches but where you can, choose to start new threads with a new row.

9. Work your stitches the same way all the time.

For example, if you use a sewing method to stitch a tent stitch, use this across the entire color area. Also, avoid changing from Continental to Basketweave (or vice versa) within a color area. 

In other words, keep your stitching method consistent across a block of color.

10. Pierce the canvas at a right angle.

The angle at which your needle enters the canvas and pulls on the thread affects how the stitches sit on the canvas. Piercing the canvas with your needle perpendicular to it will give you beautiful, neat stitches. If you change this angle by changing how you stitch, it will probably show up as an irregularity on the front of the canvas. This occurs particularly with lighter thread colors.

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tips for even needlepoint stitches
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