Jul 21, 2009


NOTE: This is a really long and ridiculously over-pictured post. If you already know how to do counted canvas work, please humor me for a day and go do something else while muttering to yourself about what a boob I am. If you don't know how to do it and would like to read some really amateur blatherings about it, then by all means, proceed.

I have received several questions about counted canvas and how one transitions from cross stitch. Now I know that there are probably a bazillion stitchers out there who are better qualified to do this, but I thought I would post some really quick notes about it. If you want more detailed information, please send me your email address and I'll be happy to assist or at least point you in a more-qualified direction.

First let me say that some counted canvas is actually easy and very satisfying! (In other words, if I can do it, anybody can do it). If you can read a counted cross stitch chart (or just read, in general), then you shouldn't have any problems figuring it out. Most designers' charts are quite excellent, and my experience has been that if you get totally stumped on something there is usually somebody out there who can guide you through.

The best place to start (as it usually is), is with your materials. Canvas work is usually done on mono canvas, which is different than interlock canvas, penelope canvas, and plastic canvas. It comes in various counts, but for most of the counted canvas pieces that I've done, 18ct. canvas has been called for. Mono canvas also comes in various colors and is also available with a "marbleized" effect, which is really pretty if a lot of the canvas shows through the stitching. I'm sure there are several manufacturers out there, but I have always used Zweigart mono canvas since that is what my LNS sells.

(You can also do canvas work on Congress cloth, which for me is kind of a "canvas lite". IMHO, it's the mid-point between mono canvas and linen.)

(Come to think of it, you could probably do canvas work on evenweave linen, but then it wouldn't be called canvas work, now, would it?)

Artist's tape has been a life-saver for me. I know that you can also apply a fabric border to the canvas with a machine, but I'm not allowed to use machinery without adult supervision and Aunt Chrissy can't exactly run over here every ten minutes to make sure I don't break the sewing machine (yet again). You can also use masking tape, but I will tell you that it does eventually yellow and break down over time (trust me on this). Artist's tape can be found at art supply stores, or you can check out Janet Perry's new online shop. Methinks this is an excellent resource (and it's brand new! Woo Hoo!). (You might also want to bookmark her blog, since she really IS qualified to tell you all about needlepoint, and I'm just faking it: http://www.nuts-about-needlepoint.com/.)
Once you've edged your canvas with tape (or fabric), you'll want to mount it to stretcher bars. I know that some people prefer to work in-hand, but I think canvas work is much much easier if you've stretched your canvas tightly onto stretcher bars. Don't worry...these suckers are relatively inexpensive and they ARE re-usable, even if I insist on buying sets of them every time I turn around. (The stretcher bars are the wood thingies in the pic that form the frame.)

Mounting the canvas to the stretcher bars should be done as tightly as possible, and you should use specialty brass tacks. (The red handled thingies in the pic are tools that you can use to push the tacks in without smooshing your thumbs and fingers. Technical term: smoosh.) Again, you can find these on Janet's site, and you can also purchase them at your LNS or craft store. I think the most important thing you want in a tack is a non-rust coating or material. I suppose if you're a really fast stitcher and your piece will only be on the stretcher bars for ten minutes you'd be OK with any old tacks, but I'm slow and need to make sure I won't end up with rusty edges by the time I'm finished.
You'll need to mark the center of your canvas, and you can do this either before or after it's mounted. I know that I am supposed to do it before, but I always forget. Mark the center with a lovely little pin or pencil mark and you're ready to go!

When I wanted to learn how to do counted canvas, my LNS owner suggested Laura J. Perin's American Quilt Series. This was an excellent choice for me, since I was able to read the charts very easily and I could play around with colors without getting myself too confused. Laura usually starts the piece with a variegated cotton (like Watercolors), and then adds solid color perle cottons as compliments. Finally, she usually has a metallic of some sort to add a little sparkle to the design.
The most important thing I can tell you about counted canvas work is to READ THE DIRECTIONS! The designer included them for a reason, and in Laura's case, she even tells you the order in which to stitch so that you'll get good results. If you're one of these people who can assemble an Ikea bookcase without even glancing at the instructions, then bully for you. If you're like me, however, and need a little stitchy angel guide sitting on your shoulder, then take a few minutes to read read read. You'll really be better off. Trust me.
Reading a counted canvas chart is not very difficult once you get the hang of it. Just remember that the chart is representative of the actual canvas. If a line ends in the middle of a box, that represents a thread going into a hole in the canvas. And if you're wise enough to purchase a color printed chart, you shouldn't have any problems deciphering the designer's thread suggestions. (If you change colors, you might actually want to write those on the chart instead of forgetting to do this and then sitting in the Happy Chair for ten minutes wondering what the hell you did.)

That's it! Stitch away to your heart's content!

If you're like me and you want toys, buy yourself some lovely magnets to hold your needles. (I always put my magnet on the upper right of the canvas so that I know which way is top, but you could certainly write the word TOP on the top if that's the way you roll). You might also want to invest in some extra scissors for canvas work, especially if you're going to use metallic threads. I bought a cheapie pair and then put an "M" on the blade with a Sharpie so that I would know those are my metallic scissors and I don't ruin my fancy pants scissors by cutting things I shouldn't cut with them.

I hope that this was a little helpful to you if you're interested in trying a counted canvas piece. If you made it all the way through this and are still saying "Huh?", then send me a note and I'll try to help.

Thanks, as always, for all of your comments and questions and suggestions. When I sit down to write this silly blog each day I feel like I'm sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea...chatting with my bestest stitchy pals, so thanks for indulging me! Woo Hoo!

Here are some resources that I use for all of my counted canvas (and other stitchy) needs. If you have a LNS, then by all means, please support them! (And pass along their info so that we can all spread the love).

Laura J. Perin: http://www.laurajperindesigns.tripod.com
Nordic Needle: http://www.nordicneedle.com
Homestead NeedleArts: http://www.homesteadneedlearts.com
Tomorrow's Heirlooms: http://www.tomheir.com
Needle Delights: http://www.needledelights.com
Needle Nest: (574) 255-1805
City Stitcher: (312) 664-5499

*Jump the shark, you say? OK, hearken back to "Happy Days" and remember the episode when Fonzie takes on the dare to jump his motorbike over a pool with a shark in it. I wish I could tell you exactly how that's relevant to this discussion, but I wanted to pretend that I actually know stuff and could share some obscure pop culture reference and you'd think me to be a genius. So there.


  1. I really wanted to go to the City Stitcher while in Chicago, but just didn't have the time. Cool tutorial.

  2. Being able to count to ten is also a useful skill when doing charted work (which is why I avoid it like the plague).

    Everything you said makes perfect sense but I had 3 cups of coffee this morning, which helps the understanding a lot (even if it does nothing for the vibration of one's hands and brain).

    Nice job, Spinster. Want some more coffee? Since we're all sitting at the kitchen table anyway?

  3. Excellent explanation of counted canvas work. How about doing a similar write-up about cross stitch or whatever you call the lovely stitching you do on linen? Am I the only person in the world who started with canvaswork, fell in love with it, and hasn't done anything else?

  4. Thanks for the explanation. I've never done canvaswork but love the look of it. Maybe I'll try one :)

  5. The hardest part for me when switching from cross stitch to counted canvas was the counting of threads instead of holes. (or is it the other way around?) I still get confused and have to count, recount and recount again and again before I start stitching because I forget if I counted the threads or the holes. It's even worse in a class.

  6. Thanks for your information! I am very excited about it. I love all the work you do. I hate to ask a stupid question, but I really don't know, what is the difference between counted canvas and needlepoint. I have wanted to start stitching things like you stitch, I just didn't know where to start... I thought you were doing needlepoint. I am sorry for my ignorance.
    I read your blog everyday and laugh so much! Thanks for the fun!
    Amy from OK

  7. Nice tutorial and I always enjoy perusing your blog (& Stewie's too) but I have to break it to you: jumping the shark usually refers to "declining in quality" and I would never think of you as declining in quality.

    Keep up the great work!

  8. Love the Canvas work !! Love all your pictures of your work. I now have to try this canvas work. Can't wait to look for an easy start chart. Thanks, April in Alabama

  9. Thankd, just waiting for my supplies to arrive so i can jump in

  10. thanks for the tutorial
    have saved it to favorites
    for future reference
    have to brave a few more fancy cross stitches first
    i love having tea at your table or just watching stewey from your sofa
    he's a rascal

  11. Hi Coni,

    Actually declining in quality is the definition of "Jumping the Shark" though it is also meant to be the action that you take when the quality is declining. In other words, the show is declining so what can we do to keep it going, I know we'll jump a shark.

    After the last Indiana Jones film, "Jumping the Shark" has been replaced by "Nuke the Fridge". :-)

    Go to TV Trops and you'll see the TV definitions. lol...

    Another very easy way to mark the top of a canvas before stitching is to make a simple knot at the top outside of the stitching area. That way you know that that side of the canvas is "special" and it means the top, unless you rather that it mean the bottom, the left side or the right side. :-)

    Another pointer is the easiest way to find the center of the canvas is to take two pieces of thread. Lay the two pieces of thread from corner to corner so that they form an X. The center of the X where the two threads cross is the center of the canvas. I usually mark the center of the canvas with a small piece of thread that is stitched right over the center with both ends coming out from the front. In other words, the half cross is on the back of the canvas and the two ends are on the top so that I can keep an eye on them.

    Hope this helps!

    Windy Meadow

  12. Great tutorial!

    I am loving counted canvas these days. Seems so much more relaxing (and quick to stitch)!

  13. Thanks Coni, I had so many canvases ruined by masking tape before I learned about artist's tape.

    On the counting thing, I'm with Jane. more than 10 and I get confused.

    Keep Sttitching,

  14. Coni, you're the only person I know who could make a tutorial funny. I'm still laughing.