Learn To Embellish a Painted Canvas, Part One

Shelly Tribbey's Cowgirl Outfit

The link to my ANG article about how to do canvas embellishment is dead since ANG is updating their website.  So I am reprinting it here in full.  Many thanks to Shelly Tribbey for allowing me to use her Cowgirl Outfit canvas as the example of how I choose stitches for a painted canvas.

UPDATE:  This canvas is on Pocket Full of Stitches' sale pages currently.  Just FYI


It bothers me that there are so many people who are afraid to stitch a painted canvas. I want to help those with Painted Canvas Phobia, so here's my best shot at explaining how I choose stitches and threads for painted needlepoint designs. Remember, I am not a needlepoint professional; this is just how I approach the task myself. You get what you pay for; you'll learn a lot more taking a class from a nationally-known teacher than listening to me! However, I know that not everyone has the opportunity to take classes with the truly gifted teachers among us. So here goes.

I eased into painted canvases by starting with small pieces and getting stitch guides for canvases, so that I could learn from studying what the very talented people in this area do. More and more canvases have printed instructions you can buy that will tell you what threads and stitches were used for a stitched model. You can also hire people to write a custom stitch guide for your particular canvas, but this isn't cheap. Famous teachers and designers can be found teaching "How to Write A Stitch Guide" classes at shops, guild Chapter meeting programs or workshops, or seminars. There are cyber classes on stitching painted canvases. Take advantage of these if you can.

Read your needlepoint magazines carefully. They are full of projects that are worth studying to see what stitches, colors, textures and threads are used and where in a given project, and how those choices look in that project. Even if you aren’t moved to stitch every project in every magazine, you can always use the ideas you’ve learned from them on your own canvas someday. Tony Minieri and Amy Bunger might not be teaching in your area but you can read their magazine columns on how to stitch clothing, water, flowers, etc. and have the benefit of their talent for your canvas. Also, ask for help at your local shop and from your stitching friends. Stitchers are very generous people and will be delighted to help. Look for magazine articles on this very topic, too. Just one example is the article by Carole H. Lake and Kathy Kulesza called “How to Stitch a Painted Canvas,” in the March 2006 issue of ANG’s bi-monthly magazine, Needle Pointers.

There are books about stitching painted canvases that you might want to read. Needlepoint 101 by Ruth Dilts explains how to choose a painted canvas and pick threads and stitches for it. This is a small book with a lot of projects and pictures that I think beginners might find useful.   Ruth lists the exact brands and colors of the threads she used for each example, and she explains why she picked the stitches she did. You'll see before and after pictures of each painted canvas and a selection of diagrammed stitches. This is a very good book for beginners. However, it doesn’t cover texture, color, or how to use a variety of stitches on a large and realistic canvas.  (Ruth has a second book, Needlepoint 202, out now, which is equally helpful.)

Among other books that have been especially written about choosing stitches for canvases are the four titles by Suzanne Howren and Beth Robertson in the Stitches for Effect series. The three larger books (Stitches for Effect, More Stitches for Effect, and Even More Stitches for Effect) offer a lot of useful thread information in the front, followed by lots of diagrammed stitches that make nice snowflakes, sweaters, roads, hair, leaves, flowers, etc.  Each large book also has an index of effects so you can look up almost any item you want stitches for and choose a stitch using the authors’ recommendations. Often they will also recommend a thread that works well for a particular stitch. The smaller-format book, called Stitches to Go, has the stitch diagrams alone from all three of the large books. Its small size makes it easy to tote to classes. However Stitches to Go doesn't have the information about what stitch to use where that the larger books do.

There aren't any hard and fast rules for stitching a painted canvas. (If there were, I wouldn't be writing this.)  I have picked up a few tips here and there that I'll share with you. Stitchers who are really great at this suggest that you pick a small canvas without a lot of detail. A realistic canvas with lots of shading can be embellished, but it is going to be a lot harder to begin your journey with one of those than with a simpler canvas that looks more cartoon-like, with a lot of large, plain areas to fill in.

I think it'll be easier to talk about how to embellish a painted canvas if I can refer to an example as I go along. This is the example I've chosen — a cowgirl's outfit. This 18-ct. canvas isn’t too big (the design part is roughly 5" x 3") and there isn’t too much detail, plus I think it’s charming. It’s perfect for our purposes. (Designer Shelly Tribbey kindly has given permission for ANG to use the image of her cowgirl clothes canvas for this article on the ANG Web site. Thank you, Shelly! The image of the canvas is courtesy of The Needle Works in Austin TX. We want to thank them also for the use of the image.)

First, pick your focal point(s), the thing or things you want to emphasize. The way I pick mine is to put my canvas away where I can't see it and then draw what I remember about it on paper. I am not very good at drawing but you don't have to be. All you need to do is roughly sketch out what you remember. My drawing of this cowgirl outfit from Shelly Tribbey is just a long-sleeved shirt, some vertical lines to indicate a vest, and a skirt shape with a cactus on it. I didn't draw the gingham pattern of the shirt, or the belt, or the star. I didn't remember them. So they will be less prominent when I stitch the design. My focal points will be the parts I remember. This personalizes your canvas to some extent. None of us will remember a canvas exactly the same way, or stitch it the same way, either.

Once you have your focal points, you can get down to business. First, make copies of your canvas on a copy machine or scanner. You'll need one in color and maybe three in black and white. Enlarge some of the copies if you think you will need better pictures than the original size. You will refer to the color copy to see what goes where after something is stitched over and you can't see the original painted area to stitch on top of that already-covered area. You will mark up the black and white copies with notes. One of the black and white copies should be the same size as the canvas. You'll find out why you need this later.

Finish before beginning. By this I mean: think about how you plan to use an item when you are choosing thread and stitches. If this were a rug for the floor, I would choose wool and tent stitches, which are very durable and don’t snag. If this were going to be a Christmas ornament that needed to compete for attention with other ornaments on a lighted Christmas tree, I'd probably choose a lot of metallics and beads as well as traditional red and green colors. Maybe you'd coordinate your colors to the colors of the ornaments you use each year. You get the idea. My little cowgirl outfit will probably be hung on a bulletin board in my office (to stoke my inner cowgirl!), so I don't need to be careful not to use stitches that snag or delicate threads that won't stand up to wear. I can use just about anything I want for my cowgirl clothes. I won’t rule anything out because my end use of the cowgirl canvas means I don’t have to.

Let’s pick the first stitch! Take a careful look at the canvas, starting with the focal points I identified. I sketched the long sleeved shirt, the vest, and the skirt with the cactus plant design. So those are the things I want to emphasize. Let’s start with the shirt. The shirt has a red and white gingham pattern. Checkerboard patterns immediately bring Scotch stitch and mosaic stitch to mind. Look carefully at the canvas's red and white squares. Looks like they are three threads wide and three threads high, which most closely resembles mosaic stitch. I have my first stitch!

Now for the thread for that stitch. Light and/or shiny areas are more prominent on a canvas than dark and/or matte items. Remember this when picking threads. My other focal points are the vest and the skirt and the cactus, so I am going to have to pick light-colored threads for the shirt that won't fight with the darker vest for attention. How about cotton? Everyone is likely to have a little red and white cotton in his or her stash and it isn’t too shiny. Since I am going to use mosaic stitch, which is a diagonal stitch, I probably don't want to use pearl cotton because it may not cover the canvas well. How about cotton floss? I can experiment with the number of strands to use in the margin around the design and see if four or five strands will work, or if I’ll need six. I can also get fancy with my stitches by making all the red mosaic stitches slant one way /, and all the white mosaic stitches slant the other way \. That'll be a subtle way of putting motion and light play on the canvas without drawing too much attention away from the vest.

Now I’ve picked the colors and the type of thread I want to use for this first stitch. I write down "red and white cotton floss" on one of my black and white copies of the canvas, and draw an arrow to the shirt. This copy is my shopping list. You can easily refer to this kind of illustrated shopping list while pulling threads from your stash, or when you take it to your LNS (Local Needlework Shop) if you need to buy some threads, the color copy folded in your purse or pocket will help match colors. I write down “mosaic stitch” on another black and white copy of the design, with an arrow pointing to the shirt. That copy is my road map of stitches, to guide me through stitching the canvas. (You could use a colored copy as both your shopping list and your list of stitches but this canvas is small and I thought I wouldn't be able to write it all in legibly on just one xerox.)

As for the yellow cuffs, the blue trim on the collar and cuffs, the blue edge of the shirt where it overlaps, and the buttons, they can be in cotton floss, too. Those areas will probably all be tent-stitched, except maybe for the buttons. I'll reserve judgment on the buttons (are beads too big, how about French knots, or maybe just a cross stitch in a pearl thread to make it stand out), but I will add yellow and navy to the shopping list of cotton floss colors. I add this information to my shopping list and my stitch road map. Decisions on tiny details can wait until I know precisely what I’ll do for the main parts of the cowgirl outfit.

Moving on to the vest, it is painted black with a medium green collar and gold trim. My little brother had a cowboy vest when he was young and I remember it was some sort of suede. Rainbow Gallery's Petite Very Velvet has lots of greens and black available and it will look like suede when stitched. The thickness of Petite Very Velvet makes it a good choice for an 18-ct. canvas, too. But what about a stitch? I like to use stitches that echo the shape of the area I'm stitching. Thinking back to my focal point sketch, the vest was basically an H shape. Partly that's because my drawing skills greatly resemble my 5-year-old niece's, but also that is pretty much the shape of the vest, with a fancy collar and trim on top. What stitch is going to be basically horizontal and easy to compensate? I've got that fancy collar with the curves, remember. I will have to use vest and shirt stitches that compensate easily next to the collar and each other. How about brick stitch? Brick stitch over two threads will easily cover the black and green vest areas. Where the two colors meet I can couch down a long length of yellow or gold Petite Very Velvet with a matching ply of cotton floss to hide the seam and also do the trim on the vest collar.

I write down the stitches and the Petite Very Velvet color numbers that may work on my road map and shopping list, making a note on the shopping list that I'll need cotton floss in the same yellow as the Petite Very Velvet for the cording on the vest so I can couch it. You can always change your choices when you actually see the thread, or even substitute something else if the colors in the brand you thought you would use turn out to be wrong. I am in the planning stage and a choice I make now may change when I make another choice later.

OK, I have a plan for the shirt and vest of the cowgirl outfit painted canvas. I need to think about the skirt and its cactus plant next, and then I will have covered the focal points of this canvas. Even though I’m not dealing with the star on the skirt right now, when planning stitches for the skirt area, I need to take it into account. There's going to be compensation around the star and the cactus, so I am going to need a stitch that can be compensated without pulling out all my hair. In Ruth Dilts' book, Needlepoint 101, she says she always uses tent stitch somewhere on a canvas. I've heard other people say they like to include tent stitches in their pieces as a rest for the eyes. I'm sure you have seen embellished canvases that are a mishmash of stitches. The stitcher overwhelmed the canvas, using everything but the kitchen sink.

Looking at the skirt and thinking about resting our eyes somewhere, how about using tent stitch or basketweave stitch on the skirt? I hear groans from all those who hate boring, plain old tent stitch, but wait! There are ways to make tent stitch more exciting. Look at the skirt carefully. There is a blue line dividing it into three parts: an inverted triangle on top and a right and left side to the skirt. How about using tent stitch on the left side of the skirt (the side with the star), so the tent stitches go ////, and then using reversed tent on the right side (where the cactus is), so the stitches go \\\\? I can stitch the left side the normal way, then turn the canvas on its side so that the cactus is at the top and tent stitch the right side of the skirt around the cactus. When I turn the canvas right side up again, the cactus side will magically all be slanting \\\\. The two tent-stitched areas will meet at the blue line.

What about the top triangle of the skirt? Well, I could use tent stitches there, too, but it probably would be better to use another stitch so that the / or \ of the tent stitches below is balanced with a horizontal stitch. How about the brick stitch I used on the vest? I can vary it from the vest’s look by making it over one thread instead of over two threads. Easy to compensate, too — always a good thing. Now I am left with the blue line. I think a cross stitch will work here. It won't slant to the right or to the left and it will fit nicely into the small space. I write all the stitches I’ve come up with on my road map, with arrows showing what stitch goes where. It is easy to work things out beautifully, and then have Life interrupt your stitching. You’ll forget what you planned so carefully when you pick up the canvas a month later.

Now I need to think about skirt threads. The skirt is medium brown. I already have cotton floss for the shirt and Petite Very Velvet for the vest. It always helps me pick threads if I think about what a real version of something looks like. This narrows down the choices. Thinking about a real cowgirl outfit, I suspect the skirt might be a rather matte material, duller than the gingham checked shirt and less leather-looking than the vest. How about a wool thread? Wool threads are the workhorses of needlepoint. They are versatile, come in a huge range of colors, and don't stand out in a crowd. Just the thing for a cowgirl's skirt. A bonus benefit is that they do tent and brick stitches nicely. Not every thread does a great job on every stitch.

On 18-ct. canvas, one strand of Paternayan or two strands of Appleton crewel would work, but I could go a bit fancy and try a strand of a silk/wool blend if my cowgirl is married to a sugar daddy. Medici would look very nice as well, though I might need two strands of that to cover on 18-ct. Actually, any brown wool thread that matches the color on my color copy will be just fine. I write down the threads on the shopping list copy and the stitches on my road map of stitches. (The third black and white copy of your design is a nice place to carefully copy your stitch and thread choices so you have a clean copy of everything once you have the thread shopping and stitch planning all done. The fourth copy, the one that wasn’t enlarged, I’ll use in a bit.)

Lastly, I have the blue seam dividing the skirt sections. I already have chosen to use blue cotton floss in the shirt trim above. It'll work nicely, here, too, especially if I use six to eight strands in cross stitches, which will make it stand up a bit and contrast with the wool while fitting nicely over that small blue line. Or, I could find a wool that matches the color of the blue cotton floss in the shirt. Either way, I write down the choices on the road map and shopping list. Then I’m ready to tackle the cactus and the last remaining bits of the canvas: the star and belt.

The cactus is a green that is similar to the cowgirl's vest, and it has blue stripes that seem to be the same color as the blue trim on the shirt and the blue in the star. Designers unify their canvases by repeating colors, just as I am unifying my stitch choices by doing variations of tent and brick stitches. If you think about getting dressed for an important occasion, you might choose matching shoes and purse, or maybe your tie and your pocket square will be in the same pattern and/or color. Needlepoint uses the same principle. Similar things make us look pulled together. Painted canvases are no different.

But does using a similar color mean I have to use a similar thread, too? The cactus is one of my focal points. That means I want it to stand out. Will it stand out if I use green Petite Very Velvet and blue cotton floss? Are those colors and threads good choices for the stitches I want to use? Looking at the way the canvas is painted, the cactus has a fat green vertical stripe next to a thin blue stripe. I could just do long stitches from the top to the bottom of the cactus, starting from the left with two strands of Petite Very Velvet, then one six-strand length of the blue cotton floss, and continuing across to the right side of the cactus. That would work, but would it stand out? I'd guess the Petite Very Velvet would be higher than the cotton floss since it is fatter in diameter. I can fix this by switching from blue cotton floss to the same blue in Petite Very Velvet, if it comes in that color. If not, fortunately, there is a navy blue Petite Very Velvet. It doesn't match the blue cotton floss I chose, but there are a lot of color choices among the various brands of cotton floss. I can pick our Petite Very Velvet first, then match the floss to it. I make a note on the thread shopping list that the blue cotton floss needs to match the Petite Very Velvet.

OK, I am still thinking about doing long stripes on the cactus in two colors. Is this going to be a focal point? Will it stand out from the brown wool skirt? I think I want it to stand out. How about padding the cactus? That will make for a 3-D cactus that is a bit more eye-catching than a flat one. Remember that black and white copy of the canvas I made, the one that is the same size as the actual canvas? This is the one I said I’d talk about later. Now is the time!

I grab that copy and a pair of scissors. (Not my good embroidery scissors! Paper dulls them.) I cut out the cactus shape from the black and white copy. Next, I trim the paper cactus to make it a bit smaller than the one on the painted canvas. I trim away the outside margin a little at a time, laying it down on the real thing to check as I work. It doesn't have to be perfect, just a slightly smaller version, maybe shrunk on all edges by a stitch or two. Once I’m satisfied, I grab a cotton makeup remover pad from the bathroom. I use the plain ones, not the quilted, but it really doesn't matter. I put my paper pattern on it, trace around it with a pencil and cut out a mini cactus from the cotton. I lay the padding on the cactus and stitch it in place with one stitch in the middle, using a strand or two of cotton floss. Now when I stitch my long stitches on top of the padding, they will be slightly raised. I will use the color copy I made to tell me which color to use where.

I recommend starting in the middle of the cactus shape and stitching your way to one vertical edge of the cactus, and then going back to the middle and stitching out to the other vertical edge. This will help to keep the padding from shifting. If my long stitches are wiggling around and the padding is showing, I can couch each long thread of Petite Very Velvet in place with one strand of cotton floss in a matching color. I would just stagger the couching stitches, so that each long thread has a tie-down stitch in a different place than its neighbor does. A sharp needle instead of a blunt tapestry needle will be needed to stitch through the padding.

If you are scissors-challenged, or if you find that this cutting-out of the padding is just too finicky, don't worry. You can use thread for padding instead of cotton. Use a strand of the wool you chose for the skirt and make short horizontal (I repeat, horizontal — from side to side, not top to bottom) stitches inside the cactus shape. The general rule for padding with thread is that you lay the threads in the opposite direction from the way the final top stitches will go, so the top threads stay on top. Just like the cut-out cotton padding, you stitch your padding stitches well inside the painted cactus margins. Then do the long vertical stitches on top, the way I’ve planned with the Petite Very Velvet. Either way you go, you will have padding under the long stitches.

Now, what about the edges where the cactus stitches meet the tent stitching of the skirt? There may be a sort of ragged edge. The way to handle this is to stitch the cactus first, then the skirt, so I’ll know where I need to put an extra tent stitch here and there in the skirt to make the cactus look smooth. I pull out my road map and note on it that I need to stitch the cactus before I do the skirt “background” around it. The same thing will be true of the star; I'll also stitch it before I do its background.

Sometimes it is helpful to number your road map copy, so that it shows the stitching order you’ve planned for each area. Also, I often scratch right through my shopping list as I put stuff in my shopping basket. Or I might check off the threads that I found in my stash. All this marking-up makes it hard to read the stitches I plan for each area. That’s why it can be very helpful to combine the road map and shopping list information on that unused copy of your canvas and keep it with the project, to refer to as you stitch.

When it comes to stitch order, I generally stitch the things in the background first, then the things that are on top. But when I need to know where the two things meet, such as the skirt and its cactus and star, I like to do the top items first. On the road map of stitches and order of stitching, I'd do the shirt first, then the vest; on the skirt I’d do the cactus and star first, then the rest of the skirt. Some things are obvious — I will have to do the gingham squares before the blue trim and the yellow cuffs, etc. Whatever stitch I choose for the buttons will go on top of the rest of the stitching in that area. For the vest, I'll have to stitch the body of the vest, then the collar, and I’ll couch down the cording trim on top. Common sense is our guide here.

Back to the cactus. Once I have the cactus padded and stitched, I might want to fancy it up. I know the canvas isn't painted this way, but my cactus plant at home has spines sticking out here and there. I could take a sharp needle and one strand of my blue cotton floss and come up from the back side, out away from the plant, and go down into the body of the cactus, stitching some short, straight lines to make those hair-like spines. I know that the cactus on the skirt is a Saguaro cactus, and on a real one, the spines stick out of the narrow, raised ridges. I can figure out just where to place them by using one of my copies, making and erasing short, straight pencil lines until I have 10-12 of them sticking out from the cactus and it looks good to me. Then I can stitch the same thing on the real canvas. Of course, I am going to have to have both the cactus and its background stitched first. Adding spines would be the last thing I do in this area.

A fancier cactus might be stitched using a hairy thread like Charleston, if you can find a green and a blue in that thread that work with the green and blue you’ve already chosen. Or, instead of doing long stitches over padding, do a long stitch with your blue thread doubled in the needle and then do large cross stitches, two threads high and two wide, with your green Petite Very Velvet. This way you don't have to bother with padding, yet the cactus will still stand out as a focal point against the plain, tent-stitched background. There are lots of choices. Pick out some new threads that please you, or use threads you already have, or use threads that look the way you think a felt-appliqué cactus on a real skirt should look. Your own taste is your guide in the end.

I have finished planning all the areas I identified as focal points and their backgrounds; now it is time to do the last little bits. The blue star on the skirt looks like the same blue as the shirt trim and the cactus stripe. It also seems to use the same yellow as the yellow shirt cuff, the yellow cording trim on the vest, and the belt buckle. I have to decide if I want to stay with the blue and yellow cotton floss I picked earlier for those items.

In my own mind, I would expect a sheriff's star and a belt buckle to be gold, not yellow. However, this star isn’t an all-gold badge pinned to the vest, but a blue-and-gold part of the skirt decoration. The blue star’s border and the buckle aren't focal points for me, so forget about using Rainbow Gallery’s gold Fyre Werks or other extremely bright and shiny gold threads. I am going to have to find a rather dull gold, such as Kreinik's Vatican Gold or Golden Sand, for the buckle and the star’s edge. I like either #8 or #4 braid on 18-ct. canvas, but I’m going to pick stitches before I decide whether to go with the larger or smaller diameter thread for the gold bits.

I could use a navy Kreinik metallic for the inside of the star, but I think I want to use the same blue cotton floss I've been using all over this canvas, so as not to emphasize the star too much. I will use six strands of blue cotton floss and stitch the star with long stitches. First I'll come up at each point and go down in the middle. Then I'll work my way around the star, filling in each section with more long stitches from the edge to the center. It'll end up almost like an eyelet stitch, with each stitch sharing that central hole. Using a laying tool of some kind to keep all the threads in the needle lying straight and parallel on the canvas is going to be very important here.

Notice that I am ignoring the gold paint around the outside border of the star. Once I stitch the blue and then do the background of the skirt, I will go back and stitch long, straight stitches with my Kreinik gold color to outline the blue star. I’m thinking now that I’ll probably want to use the smaller #4 size of the gold. Once again, I'll come up at each point of the star, and I’ll go down in the valley between each pair of points. Using a sharp needle may help here, since I'll be stitching into those reverse tent stitches. This should give some interest to the star but not make it so flashy that the star is all you see on this canvas.

As for the belt, I like to do belts on painted canvases in simple vertical stitches. From the picture, it looks like the belt and the buckle are both six threads high. How about just vertical stitches in brown for the leather belt? Once again, I can use Petite Very Velvet in brown to do a leathery look. I would stitch the brown leather belt first, and then do the gold buckle in the very same simple stitch. This will give me a belt and buckle that look fairly realistic but don't detract from the vest, shirt or skirt that surround it. I guess I would stitch the belt and its buckle after the shirt but before the vest. Since I am using the same stitches for both areas of the belt, it probably is going to be best to use the Kreinik #8 gold braid for the buckle, because that is closer to the diameter of the Petite Very Velvet brown leather area. I think the #4 braid that I plan to use on the star will be too thin here on the buckle. Using the same gold color on both the star and the buckle will unify the design, but a different thread size is going to work better for me in this buckle area.

I make a note on my shopping list that whatever gold metallic thread I choose, I’ll need it in size 4 and size 8. Or, if I don’t want to buy both sizes of Kreinik, I could also get just the #4 and double it in the needle to stitch the belt buckle. It would be a little harder to handle, but cheaper, especially since there’s only a small area that will use the #8 Kreinik.

I still need to make up my mind about what to do about the buttons on the shirt. That has to wait until the end. Once everything else is stitched, I can see whether beads look OK with all the stitching or whether they are too big, or the wrong color. In my experience, beads don't come in nearly as many colors as thread does, and besides, I am not sure my cowgirl would have fancy buttons on her shirt anyway. I think I’ll write down "beads for buttons?" on my shopping list and take a look at what is available.

A stitch guide that you work out ahead of time is always subject to change, depending on what threads and colors you can find. Some of us are lucky enough to live in an area with a lot of needlework and bead shops but many of us aren’t, and mail ordering something you haven’t seen in person can be tricky.

Since I am going to finish this as an ornament, I took a final look at the piece to see if there was anything else I needed to add. There's no rule against stitching something extra that wasn't painted on the canvas, you know, and if I were a cowgirl, you can bet that I'd be wearing fringe. There are two logical places to put fringe: at the bottom of the skirt and at the bottom of the vest. I'm going to have a lot of leftover Petite Very Velvet in several colors that will make great fringe. I am not sure that this thread will look OK next to the wool at the edge of the skirt, so I think I'll put my fringe along the bottom of the vest, which I’ve already planned to stitch with Petite Very Velvet. To do that more easily, I am going to make a note on the vest section of my road map not to stitch the very bottom row of the vest. I will stitch all the way down to the next-to-the-last row and leave the last row empty.

Once the rest of the canvas is all stitched, I will come back and thread up my needle with a short length of Petite Very Velvet that’s a little longer than twice the length I want my fringe to be. I’ll sink the needle in the hole at one end of the vest and come up in the next hole. I’ll pull the thread halfway through, so that there are two thread ends, each about the same length, on top of the canvas. Next step is to remove the needle and tie those two thread ends in a square knot on top of the canvas. There are my first two pieces of fringe! Once all the holes are filled with fringe, I can go back and give the fringe a haircut to make all the ends even. Since the vest is at an angle, I’ll probably cut the fringe on a slant. I would just comb all the ends flat with my needle and trim cautiously, a little at a time, being careful to cut just the fringe.

You might also use Turkey work to do a row of loops that you’ll cut for fringe. The fringe is a place you can play with color. You can do the fringe in all blue (you have blue from the cactus), in brown to match the belt, in green to look like the collar of the vest, in yellow to match your cording, or in black to match the body of the vest. I personally would probably use black but if your cowgirl feels fancy, you could alternate two colors every three or four fringes, or use them all. Whatever suits your taste. But remember to write down on your road map that you are not going to stitch the last row of the vest's bottom edge, or it is absolutely certain you are going to be zipping along stitching and you'll forget to stop. There may not be many rules about how to embellish a canvas, but one rule is certain — write down stopping places or you will get to rip out later!

As you stitch your painted canvas, you never will be 100% certain of how something will look until you actually do it. Use the wide margins of your canvas to do a test drive of your stitch to see how it looks before you commit yourself on the canvas. If you are unsure about whether you like a section you’ve done, don't rip it out right away. Put it where you can see it during your daily activities and think about it a little. You can also hold the canvas up to a mirror and look at the image. Often the reflected image helps you make up your mind about a problematic area. Looking at it from the same distance as it will be seen once done also helps. Remember that while you’re stitching you see your stitching up close, often from less than 20 inches, but once it is done, very few eyeballs will be that close to it.

By talking you through my steps and thoughts as I plotted how to stitch a painted canvas, I hope I’ve helped you to see that this isn't nearly as hard as one might think. It is time-consuming, however. And it takes skill and practice to make accurate predictions about how the threads and stitches will work. Now you know why people who do custom stitch guides charge so much. It is complicated working out what to do. Typing it up in an understandable form adds a lot of time to the process. But working with your own painted canvases isn't astrophysics. You can do it, and with each canvas you stitch, it gets easier and more natural to do. I hope that the Painted Canvas Phobic aren't quite as timid about tackling a painted canvas now.


To read my other articles on Learning to Embellish a Painted Canvas, click on any of these links or use the tabs at the top of the page.




Pat Petri said...

Fabulous article! Thank you.

The Chilly Hollow Needlepoint Adventure said...

You are welcome. Hope it helps.