Monday, April 30, 2012

Tent Stitch - Part 4

In the last post I suggested using ending waste knots.  I have been asked by a few people to go into more detail about this technique.
An ending waste knot incorporates the same idea as does a beginning waste knot.  When you are near the end of your stitching thread, from the back of the canvas, pull your thread to the side, bring your needle to the front and either place a pin stitch or make a knot out of the end of the thread to hold it firmly in place.  Since most of the time you are dealing with a small piece of thread, a pin stitch usually works better.
Now, remember that you want the pull on the thread to match where you will place the next stitch so that the thread on the top lies correctly.  I typically place the thread in the line of my stitching so that it will be covered immediately with my new piece of thread (not possible with basketweave.)  Beginning and ending threads only in the current stitching area makes life a lot easier.  Consider this, you have been stitching for awhile and you decide that this one stitched area really needs to come out.  But you have ended other threads from different sections in this area and it is a real mess once you start cutting the thread out.  Now you have loose ends from other stitching areas that are rather short and there is no more tension on that thread keeping the last stitch with that thread taut.  If you only (I know that is isn’t always possible) end threads in the same area you are stitching with them, then when you rip out that area, no other area of your stitching is disturbed.
OK, so what is a pin stitch?  This is a stitch that is over one canvas thread.  Sometimes, longer stitches can cover the pin stitch and you don’t need to remove it.  However, with the tent stitch this is not the case and you need to remove the pin stitch.  It is simply used to keep the end thread taut until you can cut it (so in that way it is like a waste knot.)  Here is a diagram of a pin stitch that I use in place of an ending waste knot:
The books that I have that have information about the tent stitch, and basketweave in particular, are out of print.  These are the two books I have: Jane D. Zimmerman, The Canvas Work Encyclopedia, copyright 1989.  This is the first book she wrote in her encyclopedia series, and it is not the one with pictures of stitches.  The other book I have is: Davie Hyman, The Diagonal Basketweave, copyright 1973.  A fellow blogger, Elmsley Rose (she has her own very cool blog about historical embroidery at she has a book with good information about modern "half-stitch" - not basketweave, by Jaqui Carey, Elizabethan Stitches, copyright 2012.  On it says that it is out of print.  It is available at the author’s website:, she is in England if that matters to anyone.

If anyone knows of a book that is still in print and easily available that covers the basketweave stitch please leave the book title and author in the comments section.  It is a shame that most of the needlepoint books out today cover many different types of stitches, but do not have a lot of information about technique.  As a needlework judge, I can tell you, the lack of knowledge of correct technique really shows.
There are two schools of thought about how to stitch large areas of basketweave.  The first is by Jane Zimmerman.  Her technique is easy to explain but complicated to execute.  She suggests start stitching in the upper right hand corner, and stitch the whole piece from that point traveling diagonally, as the basketweave stitch does, until you reach the lower left hand corner.  This means that every time you come to a part of the piece that uses a new color, you start another needle of thread along with your first needle.  Here is a visual diagram to help explain:

One thing to remember with this diagram, it is a very easy example.  You start stitching at the upper right hand corner.  When you reach point A, you must start 2 new needles.  One needle for the green square and another needle for the background that has been interrupted by the green square.  You continue stitching with three needles until point B.  At point B you will need to add 2 more needles.  The yellow circle divides the green square into two areas now, and you still have 2 different background areas for a total of 5 needles.  At point C you will have 3 background areas, the red rectangle, the yellow circle, and two green square needles working simultaneously, seven in total.  You will drop the two needles for the green square before you reach point D.  At point D, you will need one needle for the red rectangle, one needle for the yellow circle, one needle for the blue oval and 4 background needles for a total of 7 needles being used simultaneously.  You can see how for an intricate design this technique can become extremely complicated.

With Jane Zimmerman’s technique, you may have quite a few needles of thread (think a dozen or more) going at the same time.  This requires working with your canvas in a frame (which is always a good idea, but I digress.)  You never have to bring your thread up in a hole that already has stitches in it, and in that way, it is nice.  However, most people, when they learn of this technique will roll their eyes, and go back to doing things the way they have always done them.  It is just so complicated to work.
The other way to approach stitching large areas of basketweave is by Davie Hyman.  She suggests stitching the design area first, which leaves the background unstitched.  This is the most common type of large area of basketweave that most needlepointers encounter.  Davie stitched a lot of church needlepoint, like kneelers.  She found that large pieces are difficult to stitch from the upper right hand corner, because you have to reach across a large expanse of canvas.  Here is her idea, preplan how you will stitch your background so that you will never bring two long rows of the same color of thread together (this may cause a shadow, or a streak, because no matter how consistent you are, the tension between the two long rows will be slightly different.)

For the above diagram, remember to start stitching each of these areas at the most extreme right hand diagonal row.  You will start at A, and stitch diagonally to the next line.  At this point you will start stitching area B, which is the background in the midst of the design.  After this little area is completed, you will stitch area C then area D.  Now, you will go back and stitch the little area that is background inside the design, Area E.  Then stitch area F starting where a diagonal line meets the oval shape.  Then you will turn your canvas 180 degrees so that the bottom is at the top and stitch area G.  For many, this will seem to be a more approachable technique than having a dozen different needles in play at the same time.  Stitch area G from the most extreme right hand diagonal.
The most important points to remember with this technique is that you do not want to bring two long rows of basketweave together.  That is why preplanning is necessary.  
Just what you do with this information is up to you.  Anyone, myself included, can improve their stitching by adhering to tried and true techniques.  However, stitching must be enjoyable for the stitcher or it loses its appeal.  You may want to incorporate some of these ideas but not all of them.  It is really up to each person and the only time it really matters is if you want to enter your piece in a competition and win.


  1. The book by Jacqui Carey should be available at Unicorn Books, in this country.

  2. I am fascinated by the information you are presenting! I am loving learning the correct way of stitching. It matters.

  3. Yet another wonderful post! Talk about a didactic streak a mile wide (that's what I say about myself....:-)

    Thankyou, sweetheart, for the wonderful mention. I've got a really interesting post to write. A wonderful lady discovered that I'm using the wrong stitch for my Heart of the Thistle project, and the information on the sampler in the V&A is incorrect by the look of it. It's a Trellis stitch filling. How wonderful that we are making these discoveries!

  4. Correction - J.Carey's book has information on historical vs modern "half stitch" - not on basketweave. :-)

  5. Joni, this has been a fascinating series. Thank you very much for talking technique. I think us painted canvas stitchers don't understand technique very well, so I appreciate this greatly.

  6. Joni, this is truly wonderful..keep adding your technique articles. I do appreciate your awesome work.

  7. This is just so wonderful. I am a new needlepointer. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to get details when I am trying to learn something. You have really done an excellent job of explaining!! Please write MORE.