Should I use needlepoint stretcher bars

stretcher bars

We often hear the question “What are stretcher bars, and when are they used?” The answer is simple really. Stretcher bars are wooden sticks with notches that you use to form a rectangle or square the same size as your needlepoint canvas. Stretcher bars are held onto the canvas with thumb tacks – easy to use and easy to remove. They will hold the canvas taut while stitching.  Stretcher bars are sold in sets of two; so you need two sets to make the frame around your canvas. They come in 1” increments as small as 5", and as large as 28”, so you can fit them on almost any size canvas. 

The purpose of stretcher bars is in the name - to keep your canvas stretched and taut - as tightly as possible so that your canvas doesn't distort when stitching.  Neatness in placement of the tacks doesn't matter - just pull on the canvas as tightly as you can when pushing the tacks onto the bars.  Lighthouse on the hillside by JulieMar & Friends depicted below shows the canvas when first placed on stretcher bars. 

Lighthouse by Steven Klein

When deciding the size of the stretcher bars needed, remember to measure the entire canvas, not only the design portion. If estimating, add 4” to the width and 4” to the length specified for the design.  (And if you scroll down at the description of the canvas on our site, we've recommended the size bars to use on each canvas.) Stretcher bars are added before you start stitching so the canvas remains square throughout the process. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”   Sound familiar?   I heard my mother speaking as well….she was right!  At least in the area of stretcher bars for needlepoint.

Some of you have responded that you have never used them, why begin now?  Well, this is a personal preference, not a rule, simply a tool that will benefit your stitched canvas. But a quick look at my grandmother’s canvas and you’ll understand.

For those of you that are new to the stitching process or for those of you who want to see what all the fuss is about, read on….

Here are the top 5 reasons stitchers choose to use stretcher bars:

  • Stretcher bars will keep your canvas square/rectangular while stitching. No parallelogram shape, so less blocking is needed to make your pillow, picture, stocking or ornament.

  • Stitching on a frame/stretcher bars will help to maintain neat, even stitches.

Alambra by Jolly Red

  • Your canvas will remain cleaner simply because you will not handle it as much as you would if stitched in hand. -- No we're not showing you a dirty canvas!

  • When your canvas is on stretcher bars you can stitch hands free using a weight to hold it on the table.  You can use two hands to work front to back - back to front which allows for a faster stitching time.

    Lotus Garden by JulieMar

  •  Stretcher bars are easy to use, interchangeable,and can be use over and over again.  Your 11" bars can be matched with any other size bars - another set of 11" bars for a square, or a set of 18" bars for a rectangular piece - or anything in between.  And, unless you're stitching two canvases at the same time you can use those frames again and again.  Shown are Lighthouse on the hillside using a pair of 9" and a pair of 11" stretcher bars, and Alambra by Jolly Red  using two pairs of 11" stretcher bars.                                                                                                                                                                           
    Lighthouse by S Klein  &  Alambra by Jolly Red


Finally, a very small canvas, such as a luggage tag or key fob may not need a frame for stitching.  Most anything else will benefit from using stretcher bars, especially when it is time to be finished. 

With or without a frame, Happy Stitching!