Did you know it’s pretty easy to make your own needlepoint canvas, or to transfer your own drawing or photo onto a needlepoint canvas? I used to pick up odd creative and craft jobs when I first graduated from art school, and painting needlepoint canvases was one of them. You can take pretty much any image and convert it by hand onto a woven white grid for cross stitch. The key to how to paint needlepoint canvas is patience.
Needlepoint Canvas Painting Materials
Blank Needlepoint Canvas *
Acrylic Paint (I use Basic and Grumbacher, but any paint works)
Very Tiny Paintbrushes
Paint Palette (Plastic or Metal Tin, or a Paper Plate)
2 Water Cups
* I buy bulk needlepoint canvas from the local needlepoint store by the roll, but you can easily order it online especially if you work with wholesalers.
Needlepoint Canvas Painting Directions
- First, decide what you want to paint on the needlepoint canvas. You can use a pre-existing design, photo, drawing, or freehand. Try not to spend too spend too much time thinking about it, or you’ll never get to the actual painting. Cut the needlepoint canvas to size. You want to have a 2-3 inch border around your design for finishing.
- Lightly draw the design on the blank needlepoint canvas with a mechanical pencil. You can either draw it freehand, lay the canvas over your image, or tape the canvas on the wall and project the original image onto it. A light table can help if you have one, or shine a light through the bottom of a glass table to makeshift one. Needlepointing is detailed work, so as you’re transferring the design make sure to line the design up on the grid very clearly. Any questions about what to stitch will lead to frustration for the stitchers later.
- Next, you mix the acrylic paint to an opaque consistency. Acrylic paint is a water-based paint that dries permanently. Some acrylic paints have an opaque (not transparent) tendency, and others are semi-transparent. You want the paint to look solid on the canvas, so you may need to test mixing different acrylic paints together first, so that you don’t have to paint 2 layers on the canvas. For example, I like to paint with metallic colors. To achieve an opaque consistency, gold mixes well with naples yellow, silver mixes well with medium grey, and bronze mixes well with yellow ochre. Other transparent paints tend to be lemon yellow, alizarin crimson, pthalo and ultramarine blue.
- Finally, paint the canvas. Add a little water to the acrylic paint so it goes on smoothly, and carefully paint your design along the gridlines. I like to start in the center and work my way out, but it’s not against the rules to go another way. The two water cups are for cleaning the brush. One cup is for cleaning the brush, and the other is for clean water to use to paint with. Remember to completely clean off your brush by swishing it in the bottom of one water cup, then dipping it in the other to load the brush with water that can be added to the paint.
If you make a mistake, that’s ok. Blot it out if possible or paint over it with titanium white. The stitches will cover the canvas later, anyway. After the design is fully painted and dry with no white spots between weft, use an eraser to pick up any leftover pencil marks.
That’s it! Start your stitching, or sell your canvas. Here are a few fun needlepoint projects I painted:
And here’s a longer project I did of architecturally scale models of churches in Houston:
I actually haven’t needlepointed since I was a little girl, and certainly don’t know any of the cool fancy stitches. Interestingly enough, I find most people who needlepoint don’t paint canvases and vice versa. It’s all very careful and exact work, which can seem tedious to some. Stitchers do some of the coolest work on these canvases, though! Once you learn the basic cross stitch, it’s fun to get creative with what else you can do with thread.
Not looking to make custom needlepoint right now? Pretty much every stitcher I know does commission work, so reach out to any Etsy crafter and I’m sure they would love to work with you. Or, spruce up your home with one of these cool pillows: