Basic Needlepoint Terms to Know

I wanted to put together a glossary of needlepoint terms that you should know to help you on your needlepoint journey. Think of this as your guide and glossary to all things needlepoint.

Mesh Size // This is in reference to the canvas size. The smaller the mesh number, the bigger the size of the hole between the strands. So a size 13 mesh will be a lot quicker to stitch, will have a less detailed painting, and will require a thicker thread. A size 18 mesh canvas will take a lot longer to stitch, have much more detail, and will require thinner threads. 

The mesh size is equal to how many holes there are in every inch of a canvas. Look for lower numbers when starting out!

Mono Canvas // There are different kinds of needlepoint canvases available, but the most common one is a white mono canvas. It's the most durable and versatile option (in my opinion) since it can accommodate different stitches and techniques.

Tapestry Needles // When it comes to needlepoint, you want to use a tapestry needle. These are needles with a larger eyes for threading and a blunt points. 

Needle Size // This is totally personal preference, but here is a good rule of thumb to use:

Size 8-10 mesh -- Size 16 needle

Size 10-12 mesh -- Size 18 needle

Size 12-14 mesh -- Size 20 needle

Size 14-18 mesh -- Size 22 needle

I prefer working with size 22 needle when stitching on an 18 mesh canvas, and size 20 needle on a 13 mesh canvas. These are also the needle sizes that will be included in your kits.

Stitch Painting // There are a few ways to paint and needlepoint a canvas. You can stitch paint, chart, print, or paint your design. I personally am a stitch painter, which means that every intersection will be a specific color so there is no guessing when it comes time to stitch.

Stitch painting is the most time consuming of the bunch (and is usually why the canvases are priced how they are), but I believe it's truly the best way to stitch. 

LNS // This is an abbreviation referring to your Local Needlepoint Store. This is usually a brick-and-mortar store where you can buy canvases, threads, learn to stitch, get help with your project, and drop off for finishing.

WIP // This is an abbreviation for Work In Progress. This means the current project (or projects) that you are stitching. 

Thread Options // There are a plethora of thread options for stitchers out there! There is silk, wool, cotton, and novelty (like velvet, metallic, sparkly, fuzzy). Picking what you want can sometimes be the hardest part of your project! I personally like Silk and Ivory for 13 mesh, and Vineyard Silk for 18 mesh, but it's totally dependent on the project and personal preference.  

Skein // This is the name for a unit of thread. When you buy a thread and it's wound up, tied off, and packaged to sell, that is a skein. In each skein is a certain number of yards of thread. When you cut the skein to start working, each piece becomes a strand. 

Ply // Certain threads will have a ply number (3 ply, 6 ply) which just refers to the number of strands that make up a single thread. Some threads will also say if they can be plyed, which means you can separate them to make a thinner thread.

Dye Lot // All threads are specifically dyed a certain color in batches. When you stitch, you want to make sure you're using the same dye lot from skein to skein so the colors don't change. Most of the time, there are very subtle differences in color, but a good rule of thumb is to buy more than you need just in case. It's not fun chasing down a dye lot.

Waste Knot // A waste knot is a common way to start your needlepoint project to make sure your thread is secure. I don't use this technique, but you can learn how to do one here.

Tent Stitches // These are the most basic and commonly used stitches for all needlepointers that are made up of half-cross, continental, and basketweave stitches. They all look the same from the front, but the back and the thread usage is the main difference. Half-cross uses the least amount of thread and has the least amount of coverage. Continental (my personal favorite) used a medium amount of thread with a medium amount of coverage on the back. And basketweave uses the most amount of thread and has the most amount of coverage for your canvas. 

Frogging // When you mess up and need to rip and pull out threads. You rip it ... rip-it ... rippit ... get it?

Needleminder // A fun magnetic accessory that holds your needle when you're not using it. You'd be surprised at how often you'll lose a needle when working!

Blocking // When you're done stitching, you'll find that you (no matter how good of a stitcher you are) warped the canvas a bit while working on it. Before you go to finish it, you'll want to block it. This helps the canvas get back revert to its intended correct shape. You can DIY this process, but I leave it to the professionals. Whoever is finishing your canvas will block it before completing it. 

Finishing // When you're done stitching, you can either finish the canvas yourself or send it off to be finished. Finishers turn your flat canvas into whatever you request: an ornament, a frame, a keychain, an acrylic tray, etc. The possibilities are endless!


  • Sara

    Thank you for your “ list of terms” it’s great!

  • Sandy Suggs

    Once a piece is finished, should it be “washed” and blocked…much like knitting?

  • Debbie Hill

    I did cross stitch and needlepoint many years ago- about 30 years! I have recently had surgery requiring me to be non-weight bearing which leaves me in bed or in a wheelchair.
    Can you give me ready to purchase ideas for a 13 inch canvas that starts with a margin from the edge or seem.
    Before surgery, I bought a coin purse kit with tiny mesh – probably 18 with lady bugs and a very difficult beginning in a tight tiny corner. Not a good place to get back into a hobby I hadn’t done in 30 years! (BTW I love your article) Can you give me some ideas? It needs to be a complete package- all material supplied but not tooooo expensive. Thanks so much

  • Claire Masters

    It was really interesting to learn that some threads can have various strands that make up one thread. My mom said she wants a needlepoint canvas to be displayed along her staircase so I’m currently on the lookout for pieces that she might like. I hope I can find a shop that sells different designs so I can pick which one should like best soon.

  • Pamela Bayrak

    Thank you for the Needlepoint Terms summary. You are an excellent and captive writer.
    I can’t wait for the launch of your shop Sept 14. Good luck and congratulations on your gorgeous and easy to use website.

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.