Circles Impossible? by Mary Duckworth

Originally published in Needle Pointers, Volume VI, Number 3, Fall 1978

Never! All you need is graph paper, compass, pencil, determination, a choice expletive or two and a BIG eraser. One of the most painstaking lines to achieve in needlepoint is the circle -- fitting a free curved line to the angular structure of the canvas or cleaning up one which has been painted on a canvas imperfectly. The secret is that EACH quadrant of the circle must be equal to the other. The second most important count is the number of stitches used at points a, b, c & d in the picture at right. The total number will vary, of course, with the size being prepared. If the circle is to be a single design element, an even number of stitches may be used. If the circle is to be interlocked in any sort of repeat pattern, as illustrated in the diagrams below, then you MUST have an uneven number of stitches. Notice that the center thread acts as the connecting agent which permits establishing equal regularity for each segment.

Webmaster's Note: The divergence between the circle drawn with the compass (red line) and the counted circle (black line) is due to the insertion of a center thread so the total number of stitches in the circle is uneven.

In the charts that accompany this article, one square of the graph correponds to a canvas intersection.

Now, to begin.

  1. Determine the diameter of the size circle you wish to make. With a compass, draw the proper size circle on the graph paper, using an intersection of lines for the center.
  2. With your pencil, divide the circle into equal quadrants. See dotted lines in the chart above. Then divide one quadrant in half.
  3. Now comes the work. The larger the circle, the greater the task. Holding to the compass circle as much as possible, pencil the stitch placement for the quadrant half (one-eighth of circle). Repeat the stitch order for the remainder of the quadrant.
  4. Repeat the first quadrant stitch placement on the adjoining quadrant. Step 2, in the chart above. Now, you have one-half of the circle prepared. Look at it carefully to evaluate the line it creates. It is entirely possible that an awkwardness of line will present itself. If so, just erase, juggle, correct, until the line looks as it should, making certain that all corrections are repeated to maintain the equal number of stitches with identical placement for both quadrants.
  5. Repeat the stitch placement of the first half on the remaining half of the circle. It should meet perfectly. If it does not, a miscount has been made. Look back to discover where the count went awry and correct. Regardless of the size of the circle and the number of stitches involved, EACH quadrant of the circle MUST have the SAME stitch count and placement.

Don't fret if you find yourself worry-warting and erasing to achieve the results you are seeking. On large circles, I have sometimes just about worn the paper out erasing and resetting to get the desired results. It is worth the time and effort to have it all worked out on paper before starting to stitch.

To carry the illustrations further than space would allow, with a sheet of tracing paper and colored pencils, explore the infinite variety of use the charts below present. Single design elements will evolve, repeat patterns will emerge, each different from the other with the way color is used. Bold patterns with strong colors for an all-over pattern. Think about using soft, subtle colors to create an interesting background for another design element.


Another simple thing I would like to share with you is a basic alphabet with numerals and a Chop (frame) which uses the minimum number of threads for initialing and dating your work. Remember, each piece you stitch is a potential heirloom and merits your identification.

It is my hope that the circle instruction and alphabet will bring you expanded horizons greater than a "design" design would have achieved. It's a delight to share with you. Keep on stitching and. above all, ENJOY!