Home Find a Shop Find an Artist Education Find a Blog Find a Stitch Contact Us
The History of Needlepoint
World of Needlepoint The History of Needlepoint
The History of Needlepoint

Needlework has been around almost as long as humans have clothed themselves. It goes back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians, who used small slanted stitches to sew their tents.  Howard Carter, of Tutankhamen fame, found some needlepoint in the cave of a Pharaoh who had lived 1500 years before Christ. Samples of the art have been found on ancient Maori costumes in New Zealand, and the Bible features numerous references to needlework. 

In 13th century Europe, a form of embroidery was done on coarsely woven linen fabric similar to canvas mesh. Tapestries, also popular in the middle-ages, were woven with vertical threads on a loom.  By the 16th century, people began to imitate these art forms using a canvas background and the recently invented steel needles that allowed for more intricate work than the fishbone or thorn needles previously available. Needlepoint as it is known today originated in the 17th century, when the fashion for furniture upholstered with embroidered fabrics prompted the development of a more durable material to serve as the embroidery's foundation.

Men at Work Woman in Heavenly pursuit
Men at work Woman in a Heavenly pursuit

Omar the Tent Maker
Omar the Tent Maker




Western culture tends to link needlework to women, but it was originally performed by men who spent years mastering their craft.

The list of historic needlepoint fans includes such famous names as Mary, Queen of Scots (who stitched extensively during her long imprisonment), Marie Antoinette and Queen Elizabeth I. During the reign of these royals, needlepoint was strictly a pastime of the leisure class. As time went on, its appeal gradually broadened to other parts of society.

Mary, Queen of Scots   Marie Antoinette
Mary, Queen of Scots   Marie Antoinette

Few examples exist of needlepoint from the Colonial period, as American women had little time for leisurely pursuits. Increased leisure time, along with the invention of printed charts called "Berlin Work", brought the art of needlepoint into wider popularity.

Although this technique broadened the reach of needlepoint, hand-painted canvases are preferred by experienced stitchers around the world. 
A Pleasant Pastime
A Pleasant Pastime

In more recent history, Princess Grace of Monaco, actresses Mary Martin and Loretta Swit, and even the famous football player "Rosey" Grier, all became avid collectors of hand-painted needlepoint, some of them publishing books on the subject.

Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier   Princess Grace
Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier   Princess Grace

Each hand-painted piece is created by an artist who paints the design directly on the canvas.  Upon selection of a specific design, your needlepoint shop will help you decide which fibers and embellishments to use to make the finished piece reflect your personality.  A stitch guide describing the techniques can be helpful and is often available through your local shop.

Antique needlepoint tapestry
Antique needlepoint tapestry

Needlepoint offers a wide range of possibilities for self-expression.  It can be used to create pictures, pillows, seat cushions and other beautiful items to decorate your home. You can also stitch belts, purses, shoes, vests and other clothing and accessories. 

Antique needlepoint chair, purse and footstool
Antique needlepoint chair, purse and footstool

Every imaginable theme is available, from traditional holidays to the most contemporary.  A host of specialty fibers and an endless supply of beautiful, hand-painted canvases all add excitement to the experience we call Needlepoint.

 


The World of Needlepoint is sponsored by the Needlepoint Group,
a part of The National NeedleArts Association. Copyright 2010, all rights reserved.
Site designed and maintained by Devon Nicholson Design.
The National NeedleArts Association The History of Needlepoint Needlepoint in the News Market Buzz Finished Work Featured Artist Featured Shop Frequently Asked Questions