There are conflicting opinions as to the terms describing needlepoint. The differences may result from the fact that needlepoint has come down to us from various countries and in various stitches. Briefly, needlepoint is embroidery on canvas, the most common stitch is half of a cross-stitch, which is also called ‘Tent stitch’.
Needlepoint-tapestry is an often-used expression which shows the relation of needlepoint to the tapestry designs of the middle ages. This is especially true when the needlepoint is worked in an upright Gobelin stitch, which gives the effect of woven tapestry.
This early work was done on a loosely-woven material like coarse linen. Later, canvases were made specifically for the purpose; both in single thread canvas, or with threads arranged in pairs to make ‘double thread canvas’. This was often worked in needlepoint combining the fine petit point stitch, used for detailed shading, with gros point used for large flat design areas. To make this combination, the double thread canvas was ‘split’ – that is, the meshes opened with a needle or pin to form a single thread canvas for working in petit point.
As with all forms of embroidery it is very difficult to give exact dates, and even places where the technique originated. Canvas work dates back to the sixteenth century, but reached its peak during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Needlepoint was extremely popular in Colonial America where it was used for pictures, as an upholstery fabric, and for fashion accessories.
During the Victorian era, Berlin work came into popularity. It is often characterized by brilliant worsteds and combinations of geometric and floral designs. The majority of designs were developed as hand-painted patterns on squared paper, especially made for copying in needlepoint or cross-stitch on canvas. The best of these designs came from Berlin, hence the name.
It then became popular again in the late twenties, and continues to increase in popularity with a renewed interest in handicrafts. Designs and ready-to-sew packs are available in many speciality shops all over the country.