As Fräulein Maria sings in The Sound of Music… “let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start!”
First of all, you may be wondering why you even need to know about stitch diagrams.
The short answer is that if you ever plan to use decorative stitches on your needlepoint canvases, you’ll need to understand what stitch diagrams are and how they work.
I like to think of them as little roadmaps. They tell you the order in which to work the stitches in a stitch pattern.
Here’s one of my stitch diagrams…
The gray lines on the diagram represent the vertical and horizontal canvas threads of a piece of needlepoint canvas. (Each gray line represents a single canvas thread.) Canvas intersections are where the vertical gray lines/canvas threads run into the horizontal gray lines/canvas threads at right angles.
And that brings me to a very important tip…
I recommend that you count canvas threads when working decorative stitches – instead of counting the holes. It is much easier to keep up with what you should be doing when you are counting an actual “thing” (i.e., canvas thread) instead of a negative space (i.e., canvas hole).
Now, back to stitch diagrams.
The colored lines on my diagrams indicate the individual stitches of the stitch pattern. The numbers direct you as to the order in which to execute each stitch in the pattern. In other words, begin at 1 and keep moving through the pattern in sequential order. Note that you’ll bring your needle to the front of your canvas on the odd numbers. To complete a stitch, you’ll take your needle to the back of the canvas on the even numbers.
If you have a stitch diagram with numbers and letters on it, that means it’s a “two-step” pattern. On my stitch diagrams, I always designate the stitches that you ought to work first with numbers. The stitches for “step 2” are indicated by letters. Again, work sequentially – from A – Z.
Here’s a stitch diagram with numbers and letters on it…
Sometimes, you’ll find stitch diagrams that don’t have either numbers or letters on them.
And those kinds of diagrams can be very confusing – especially for stitchers who are new to using canvas embroidery stitches (aka decorative stitches) on their projects. In fact, I recommend sticking with labeled diagrams, unless you’re an experienced stitcher. 😉
So, where do you find stitch diagrams? Great question! You can find them in lots of different places – for all kinds of applications. There are quite a few right here on this blog. We have some on our Pinterest page, too. And, of course, you’ll find them in stitch guides.
Stitch guides are detailed project guides. I wrote a blog post about them that you can read here.
If you want to practice working from a stitch diagram, my best advice is to get some blank canvas and mount it on a stretcher bar frame. I like to use 13 mesh canvas so I can easily see the individual stitches in the pattern. My favorite thread for practicing is Vineyard Merino Wool. It’s a single strand thread that has a tight twist. It’s very durable, so I can “reverse stitch” (i.e., pick out) without damaging the thread too much. DMC Perle cotton #5 works very well, too. 🙂