We chatted to contemporary needlepoint designer Felicity Hall about cross stitch, needlepoint and her book, Stitch Alphabets & Numbers…
When did you learn to cross stitch, and what’s the first thing you made?
“I was taught to cross stitch at primary school initially at a very young age – we were lucky enough to have a lady come and teach us all different kinds of stitching and embroidery. The first thing I made was a little sampler with my initials in big letters and all the things I liked around the outside; I remember there was a book, a bumblebee and a pot of flowers! My mum still has it!”
For those who don’t know, could you briefly explain the difference between cross stitch and needlepoint?
“This is actually quite tricky, as needlepoint is really an umbrella term that covers both tent stitch (often referred to as needlepoint or also tapestry in the UK), which is a slanted stitch, and cross stitch, a stitch in the form of a cross, as well as other stitches like long stitch etc. Needlepoint is basically a stitch that uses the point of the needle to stitch through an open weave fabric.
Generally tent stitch is used on quite a stiff open weave canvas in wool and all of the canvas is covered with stitching, whereas cross stitch is usually used on finer linen based fabrics where you can leave the background fabric unstitched. However, in the book I use wool to stitch a canvas with cross stitch, so you can used both types of stitch on different mediums – it really doesn’t matter and depends on the overall effect you want to achieve.”
What do you love about contemporary needlepoint?
“I love the fact that you can create a ‘fabric’ from a single stitch, that you can then turn into a bag, slippers, cushions, pictures, etc. There is a fantastic array of colours available in 4ply tapestry wool which enables really contemporary colour combinations. So many new designers have decided to use needlepoint as a medium, which I think is really exciting and helps to generate a whole new interest in the craft.”
Why did you decide to launch your own business?
“I have always loved textiles and painting, so I wanted to find a career that could potentially cover both areas. I originally worked for a bespoke needlepoint company in London, which created hand-painted designs. It was there that I spoke to clients and realised there was a big gap in the market for contemporary printed kits that were at a competitive price, so I decided to take the plunge, found a printer and started designing my own!”
Why are numbers and letters such good motifs to stitch?
“Typography works very well for counted designs as you are essentially using a grid to produce a pattern, so the straight edges and bold outlines work really well once stitched. I think that when you decide to spend so much time stitching something it is really lovely to create a piece that is personal and that means something to someone. We have been stitching samplers for centuries as a way of recording a special date or event, so the letters and numbers featured in the book are an updated way of doing this.”
Which is your favourite alphabet or number style from the book?
“I naturally really like all of them, but I think my favourite has to be the woodblock alphabet. It’s versatile and can be made to look very modern if stitched in bright colours, but stitched in more muted tones will also suit a traditional interior. The fact that the letters all fit in the same size square means you can create a number of different designs by placing them in a grid to spell out different words or phrases.”
How long, on average, does it take you to complete a design?
“This is a difficult question to answer as it really depends on the size of the design. On average I can stitch a 40cm x 40cm cushion in a few months by just picking it up when I feel like doing some stitching. If a design is printed on canvas I can usually complete it quicker as there is not so much need to concentrate!”
What have you stitched for your own home?
“Most of the pieces that I have stitched for my own home are actually kits and charts that I sell on my website – it’s quite a selfish process really as I only design things that I like myself! I am currently learning how to upholster as I really want to start designing bespoke pieces for armchairs and stools. I have an old armchair that I am itching to cover in a needlepoint design – I just need to find the time to work on it!”
What’s the best project you’ve ever made?
“Erm… this is tricky! I’m hoping it’s the project I am working on at the moment. As mentioned above, I am working on designing a cover for an armchair and stool, which is going to take me forever to stitch, but I’m hoping that it will be a real statement piece once it’s finished. The other projects I am most proud of are the clutch bags that I’ve designed, I get a lot of use out of them and am always complimented when I take them out!”
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
“Everywhere! Sometimes even a walk around where I live can trigger an idea. I am addicted to Pinterest – I find it great for inspiring colourways and love how it’s so instant. I shamefully spend at least half an hour a day getting my fix! I also love going to the V&A museum – there is so much to see that even though I have visited many times before I always find something new and walk away inspired. I also love reading interiors magazines, as I like to try and visualise an interior before I start creating a design.”
Aside from the obvious needle, thread and fabric, are there any other essential tools you’d recommend?
“I would always recommend a metal needle threader – they save so much time and frustration! Especially when stitching with wool! I include one in each of my kits as I think they are as important as the needles themselves! Also good lighting is really important – daylight lamps are great because they allow you to stitch at any time of day and during the winter months!”
Do you prefer cross stitch or needlepoint, and why?
“I don’t particularly have a preference for either one; however, tent stitch is much quicker as cross stitch is effectively double the work. I prefer using wool to stitch with. I don’t particularly enjoy stitching using stranded cotton, so you’ll notice in the book that I use a lot of Perle cotton for the projects and thicker threads, so I only have one strand to think about!”
Do you have any tips for cross stitchers who have never tried needlepoint?
“Try to completely forget about how you cross stitch! It’s very alien to cross stitchers as you actually stitch in diagonal rows instead of horizontal for the basketweave technique, which can be confusing. If you find it tricky you can use a half cross stitch instead of a tent stitch, which looks exactly the same from the front, but just uses less wool and has straight stitches at the back as with cross stitch. The main reason why tent stitch is used is because it makes a more robust finished fabric as the stitches at the back are diagonal as well. Also, if you usually use charted designs and are working on a printed canvas for the first time, just be confident in your decisions for placing stitches and don’t worry too much about whether it is accurate or not – there really is no right or wrong and the finished outcome will be lovely!”
What are you working on at the moment?
“I am just finishing off some fold-over clutch bags that I have designed as charted PDFs. I’m designing the instructions sheet at the moment with the aim of uploading them to my website shortly. I also have lots of PDF charted designs that I need to upload – some of them I have had designed for ages! I will also be launching some smaller coin purse kits very soon.”
Buy your copy of Stitch Alphabets & Numbers or download the PDF eBook to get instant access to all of Felicity’s alphabet and number charts! Find out more about Felicity and browse her range of PDF charts on her website at: www.felicityhall.co.uk.