Needlepoint versus cross stitch: what’s the difference?


cross stitch embroidery pattern

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While researchers have found sewing patterns dating back to 1500 BC. when the ancient Egyptians used the blanket stitch, chain stitch, and stem stitch, among others, the contemporary art of embroidery is more generally identified with the fashions of the 1600s. this is when artists began to sew on canvas, which allowed their finished works to be made into popular embroidered furniture of the time. If all the fiber arts tend to look the same to you, from your grandmother’s needlepoint sampler to your roommate’s cross-stitch pillow, look again: needlepoint and cross-stitch are made with similar tools follow the same basic principle – sewing on fabrics – but they vary in a few key ways. Here are three things that set them apart.

Related: An Introductory Guide to Needlepoint

The Web

“Tapestry is a form of needlework art where thread is pulled through a stiff, open-weave canvas, normally a woven cotton mesh,” says Jessica Chaney of boutique Lycette. Stitchers often use mono canvas, which has more holes than weave, while cross stitches use an open, even weave, called Aida, which has equal amounts of fabric and open space. Because mono canvas is more flexible, it’s great for projects that get under heavy use, like pillows and chair pads; the tighter Aida canvas allows for straighter, perfectly square cross stitches. Needlepoint is also often worked on dot-painted canvases – on which the design is printed as an easy-to-follow guide – while cross-stitching uses a blank canvas, counting the squares and referenced dots on a separate pattern.

The stitches

The wide range of decorative stitches used in embroidery offers many options for creativity. “Needlepoint can be sewn with a plethora of different stitches, whereas cross stitch only uses one,” Chaney explains. In cross-stitch, artists make rows of repeated X stitches, ending in rows of squares made of intersecting threads; Needlepoint Libraries include dozens of techniques for background stitches, decorative accents, traditional patterns, diamonds, basket weaves and lattice stitches.


Most cross-stitch projects require the use of cotton embroidery floss, an easy-to-find supply available at most craft stores. The larger holes in the needlepoint canvas, however, provide the opportunity for crafters to get creative. “Each fiber offers a different texture and is suitable for a different project and mesh size,” says Chaney. “For example, cotton and wool fibers are fabulous durable fibers for needlepoint projects like belts, key chains, or shoes that get a lot of wear and tear, whereas for a needlepoint pillow , a seam can incorporate more delicate fibers such as silk or a shimmering fiber, which will provide contrasting texture and shine.”


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