Stitching needlepoint in-hand can produce wonderful results for those experienced in the craft. But if you are pretty green at it, you may need to secure your needlepoint canvas firmly to get things going easily and neatly.
A frame is typically what you would need to provide this kind of support. Picture how an embroidery hoop or an artist’s frame holds fabric or canvas taut.
However, the tools above have shortcomings in holding needlepoint canvas. Since they are not intended for that use, needlepoint stretcher bars are the way to go for needlepoint stitching.
What are needlepoint stretcher bars? Needlepoint stretcher bars are wooden bars with notches at either end that assemble into a frame. This frame is specially designed to spread needlepoint canvas tight for effortless stitching.
If this is the kind of tool you have been seeking to step up your needlepoint game, then read on. Today’s post covers everything to do with needlepoint stretcher bars so you stop fiddling and start enjoying needlepoint.
Do You Need Stretcher Bars For Needlepoint?
Before diving deep into needlepoint stretcher bars, let’s start by addressing their significance in needlepoint stitching. Should you use stretcher bars for needlepoint?
You can definitely stitch without stretcher bars with great success, especially if you are an expert at in-hand needlepoint stitching. As long as you can maintain a consistent stitch tension, you do not need the bars.
While their use is a pure preference, there are multiple advantages to investing in needlepoint stretcher bars:
- Stretcher bars give you the freedom to stitch small needlepoint crafts on the go. Whether it’s on a long train or car ride, you don’t have to worry about motion interfering because the frame provides steady support.
- Steady support also means making remarkably even and neat stitches with equal tension. Tackling complex decorative stitches is much easier too, and the results are excellent.
- Your canvas will appear much cleaner in the end when mounted on stretcher bars. The constant physical touching with in-hand stitching soils the canvas ultimately, given palms are naturally moist. Plus, we love to munch between our hobbies, leaving debris on our hands that are passed to the canvas.
- The square or rectangular shape of the canvas is maintained when using stretcher bars as opposed to not using them, thus minimizing the amount of blocking needed. When not framed, it tends to steer towards a parallelogram shape. Consequently, you have to go through the tedious process of stretching it to correct warped stitches and major blocking.
- A stretched canvas provides you a complete view of your stitching as you progress. You quickly gauge how you are doing if you are a beginner in needlepoint.
So, if you are looking for more freedom with your hands, a full view of your design as you stitch, clean work, and most importantly, professional results, you should use needlepoint stretcher bars. It is one of those things that is not mandatory but good to have.
Choosing Needlepoint Stretcher Bars
Anyone familiar with embroidery hoops and art stretcher bars knows they work in a related style. And like many other individuals, you are probably thinking, can’t one just use these?
Embroidery hoops are not a good substitute for needlepoint stretcher bars. The embroidery hoop requires a significant allowance which is ok since embroidery is done on fabric.
Needlepoint canvas, on the other hand, is highly priced. Consequently, a generous allowance at the edges is non-existent. The margin limitation does not allow tight canvas fitting and enough space for the design. In addition, embroidery hoops tend to crush even stitches when moved. It is hard to remedy this situation.
What about art stretcher bars? Art stretcher bars can be used for needlepoint only that they are bigger, wider, and heavier than needlepoint stretcher bars.
Since they are intended to rest on an easel, holding one would be rather cumbersome. These are not suitable for small needlepoint jobs. Therefore, when selecting stretcher bars, ensure you are buying the right type for needlepoint work.
Typical needlepoint stretcher bars are wooden with grooves cut out on both ends such that two bar ends fit into each other in a dovetail-like joint.
They come in a set of two, so essentially you need two sets or two pairs to make a four-sided frame. The sets can be the same length to make a square or different lengths to make a rectangle.
When choosing a set, you must consider the size of your needlepoint canvas to select suitable-sized stretcher bars. You can determine the size you need by measuring the length and width of your canvas.
Say it measures 14 by 16 inches, then 14″ and 16″ sets will be the perfect match. The bars are available in any length between 4 and 36 inches.
Types Of Needlepoint Stretcher Bars
Needlepoint stretcher bars are not overwhelmingly diverse and can be classified by size into the following:
Mini Stretcher Bar
These are miniature stretcher bars with a thickness not exceeding ½ an inch. Being thin, they are lightweight, easy to carry and ideal for small needlepoint projects.
Regular Stretcher Bar
Regular stretcher bars are the standard stretcher bars and are very common. The width dimension is about ¾ inch. These are ideal for both small and medium needlepoint projects.
For extra-large needlepoint projects like banners, oversized pillows, seat covers, table runners, belts etc., stretcher bars are not the ideal frames to use. Usually, specialty frames are used.
These have an adjustable system that allows users to adjust the canvas to access the entire design space while still keeping it tight.
They do not follow the regular notch and groove fitting of stretcher bars. The specialty frames may have wing nuts and scroll bars where the canvas is stitched or attached using Velcro.
How Do You Use Stretcher Bars For Needlepoint?
To use stretcher bars for needlepoint, you only have to set up the canvas and get to stitching. It is very easy to use.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to set it up:
- Assemble two pairs of stretcher bars into a frame. Remember, they should be the same type to fit into each other and also have a uniform size as your needlepoint canvas.
- Place two bars at a right angle and wedge in the notches. There are two notches, one is extended flat (outer notch) and another is indented (center notch). The flat notch of one bar attaches to the indented notch of the vertical bar.
- Do the same for every corner making sure to align the outer notch with an inner notch of the adjacent bar.
- If brand new, getting the notches to fit in and align can be a real pain, especially when using your palm to knock them in. A craft mallet comes in handy for tapping the notches in place.
- Once the corners are fitted, and the frame is sturdy, lay out the needlepoint canvas over the frame such that it is face up. You can choose to put it under the frame as well, which is referred to as stitching in the well. The latter makes tying ends easier.
- Next, secure the canvas at the center of the top bar using a tack. Pulling the canvas tightly in the opposite direction, secure the middle of the bottom bar as well, and lastly, the two side bars. You now have four thumb tacks securing the canvas at the center of each bar.
- Pull the canvas towards the corners and secure them too. Then finish off all remaining spaces in between, ensuring you leave just a tiny gap between the tacks.
- Carry out a bounce test using something like a quarter. Drop it in the middle of the canvas. If it bounces, your canvas is ready for needlepoint stitching. If it doesn’t bounce and the canvas appears to sag where the quarter is resting, it isn’t taut enough. You can remove the tack pins, pull the canvas more tightly and reattach them.
- Mount the stretched needlepoint canvas on a stand if you wish, though it is not a must, and start stitching. If the canvas comes loose midway, you can remove the tacks, tighten the sheet and reattach the tacks.
- Once done with your needlepoint stitching, remove the tacks and store them safely for subsequent use. Stretcher bars are reusable too.
If you’re more of a visual learner, we’ve found a great tutorial from SBT Stitches on YouTube that may help to give you a bit more direction. Check it out below!
What Tacks Do You Use On Needlepoint Stretcher Bars?
Brass tacks, popularly known as needleworking tacks, are the best tacks for needlepoint. But you can use any tacks from a hardware store or quilting tacks. Paper or office tacks are too weak for this use and will not hold up.
Alternatively, you may use a staple gun and staple the canvas in place. The only disadvantage of going with staples is that they cannot be repositioned as quickly as with tacks if you don’t get it right on the first attempt.
Because stretcher bars are made from relatively thin and soft wood like balsa, you are more likely to chip or break them when using staples. We also recommend that you invest in a corjac kit. It has two super helpful tools for driving tacks in and out of stretcher bars, saving you sore thumbs.
The first one is a tack pusher, a rounded knob with a magnetic end that firmly holds the tack for you and provides leverage so you can press it in. The other is a tack remover. You wiggle it under the tack to extract it.
That’s everything you need to know about needlepoint stretcher bars. Remember, their use is absolutely optional.
However, once you get accustomed to them and the incredible backing they provide, you won’t want to go back to life without them. Happy needlepoint stitching!
Up Next: Best Cross Stitch Frames