Needlepointing a House by Yvette D. Covell and Nancy C Franklin

Originally published in Needle Pointers, Volume IX, Number 1, Fall 1981

The Salem Chapter hosted this year's Carolinas Spring Meeting April 3 and 4 in Winston-Salem, NC. One hundred twelve ANG members from North Carolina attended the two-day conference entitled "A Salem Scene." The focal point of the meeting was a design of member Rolfe Teague's, which featured the Christoph and John Vogler houses in Old Salem. This restored Moravian community, originally known as Salem, was founded in 1766. It merged with Winston in 1913, to become the city of Winston-Salem.

The design project was stitched from a graph on to #18 canvas with the completed size being 10" x 20". Conference workshops were devoted to techniques which were incorporated into the stitching of A Salem Scene. Participants received instruction in reverse appliqué, surface stitchery and naturalistic shading. The principles learned in these workshops are not limited in usage to historical structures such as the Vogler houses, but are applicable to any building.

The basic steps in designing and needlepointing a house are:

  1. obtain a good drawing of the house
  2. draw or trace the house onto transparent graph paper
  3. transfer the design to canvas
  4. determine your colors
  5. select your stitches
  6. plan your order of work

Step 1. Obtain a good drawing of the house. This should be the approximate size you desire your finished piece. The drawing may be done by using a watercolor or oil, an ink drawing or photograph.

A drawing made from a good photograph is probably the most frequently used method. If this photograph has been made from a "head-on" view, showing just one side, the proportions of the house will be fairly accurate. The picture can then be enlarged to the desired size and traced. Many times, however, a photograph has to be made from an angle, because of objects which obstruct the view of the house. Photographing from an angle will cause the proportions of the house to be somewhat distorted. Any three-quarter or perspective view has lines falling away from the horizon. These are difficult to portray on canvas with its strictly horizontal and vertical lines. To correct these distortions, it is necessary to draw from the photograph, rather than tracing it directly.

Step 2. Draw or trace the house onto transparent graph paper. Use graph paper with the same number of squares per inch as the canvas will have threads per inch. This is the best method of revealing what the finished needlepoint will look like. Necessary adjustments can then be made in the design before beginning the needlework.

Next determine the number of threads that the front door, windows, columns, trim, etc. will require. Two and one-half threads will never do! The division must work out equally for window panes and mullions - width as well as length. This is also true for door panels. There is much counting and erasing, checking and rechecking to be done. Note: Drawing between the graph paper lines instead of on them makes thread counting easier.

Step 3. Transfer the design to canvas. The design may be: (1) traced on canvas, (2) drawn on canvas, or (3) worked from the graph. If it is to be traced, first go over the main features and outlines of the drawing with heavy dark lines. It is important that doors, windows, sides, roof and chimney be outlined. These are the only lines necessary to have on the canvas. Details are easily worked within these areas without being traced. The canvas should be securely taped on top of the drawing during tracing. Use an indelible marker and be very careful with the thread count as you trace. A gray marker is preferable to black, as it is easier to cover when light colored threads are being used. Any mistakes drawn on canvas can be painted over with white acrylic paint.

Graphs and canvases don't always line up perfectly, i.e., #14 graph doesn't exactly line up with #14 canvas. Therefore, you may wish to work directly from the graph. Many needlepointers using a graph find it more efficient to outline the main features of their design on canvas with basting stitches before beginning their work. If a graph is intended for use by many people, its gauge should be large enough for the details to be easily read. This may involve transferring a design from #18 graph to a #10 graph, for example.

Step 4. Determine the colors. Most likely you will be attempting to duplicate the actual color of the house you are needlepointing. A wide range of values from light to dark will be needed to portray the difference between light and shade. This variation in values can be obtained by utilizing a variety of materials - floss, wool, perle cotton, silk, etc., rather than limiting your work to one medium.

Scenic post cards, architectural drawings or pictures in books can be used as guides for determining shadow placement or the use of colors in backgrounds.

Step 5. Select your stitches. Mark the stitch selection on your drawing. You will probably change your mind several times, but you do need a plan before you begin to stitch.

The architectural details must be studied to determine the scale and texture of stitches that will be used. How will areas be worked that recede? Those that advance? Using one strand less in a stitch or one strand more will help to produce these effects. Remember, you want windows and porches to recede, railings and columns to come forward.

Where will you place small flat stitches? Large texture ones? The roof will look heavy or tend to dominate your work, if care isn't used in the stitch selected for it. One of the smaller stitches with less texture and a subdued color is usually best for the roof.

Tent and reversed tent are very versatile and can be used most everywhere. They are the most frequently used stitches. If a variety of textured stitches has been used on the house and landscape, however, the tent stitch would then be a better choice for the background.

French knots and the chain stitch may be used as overlay. Backstitching may be used for emphasis and to suggest shaded areas.

Stitch Suggestions
window panes Cashmere, Scotch, Mosaic
  • louvered
Kalem, Straight Gobelin
  • paneled
Slanted Gobelin
door panels Cashmere, Scotch
trim, beams, pillars Straight Gobelin
roofs Encroaching or Slanted Gobelin
brick Single or Double Brick, Parisian, Mosaic, Cashmere
stone Checker, Cashmere Varied
clapboard, wood siding Straight Gobelin
wood planking Encroaching Gobelin
shrubbery, trees  
  • leaves
Rococo, Leaf, French Knots, Smyrna Cross
  • trunks, limbs
Kalem, Straight Gobelin, Encroaching Gobelin, Brick, Long and Short
grass Tent, Encroaching Gobelin, Parisian
walks, roads Herringbone Gone Wrong, Brick, Random Cashmere, Plaited
sky Sandy's Slide, Tent

Step 6. Plan your order of work. Always start with the architectural details, such as doors, windows, shutters, pillars and porches. Next, the roof can be done. Work it from bottom to top, so the stitching will work out evenly. Then, fill in the facade of the house. The finer details of the house, such as door knobs and light fixtures are placed last, usually with overlay stitches. Finally, the shrubbery, trees, grass and sky are worked. Obviously, if an object is located in front of a building, this would influence your order of work. It should be worked before that portion of the building which surrounds it.