How Do Needlepoint and Crewel Differ in Embroidery

Fabrics decoration art has immensely diversified over the years, leading to many fantastic fabric embellishment techniques for various projects. Some of the common fabric decoration methods are needlepoint and crewelwork.

Both these techniques come in many patterns and stitch types you can employ in your fabric decoration art. It’s best to use wool yarn for crewelwork for better results. Needlework can be done with any wool, but the stitching fabric should be a canvas for an elaborate and more durable piece.

Distinguishing these two fabric crafting techniques isn’t always easy, especially if you’re new to embroidery. While they’re all a type of surface embroidery, they result in varying decoration outcomes and use different techniques to create them. 

This article comprehensively elaborates on crewelwork and needlepoint embroidery to help you familiarize yourself with these two embroidery methods. Read to learn how these techniques differ, when to use them, and their embroidery process to know which is the best choice for your project.

What is Crewel Embroidery 

Crewelwork describes a surface art decoration technique that uses wool and a pointed hook to embellish upholstery and drapes. It’s a non-counted embroidery design and doesn’t require a consistent pattern to create it.

This method’s name comes from its unique embroidery method that utilizes 2-ply wool threads know as crewel. Crewelwork differs from other embroideries because of the material it uses. The embroiderer requires to use specifically a wool thread or yarn. 

Crewel embroidery has been in existence for over a thousand years now. In the older days, this technique was widely used to embellishing pricy drapery and bed hangings. Today, crewelwork can be done on cushions, lampshades, clothing, upholstery, handbags, and more. 

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What is Needlepoint Embroidery?

Unlike crewelwork, needlepoint is counted-thread sewing that uses even patterns to elaborate fabric. Until the 19th century, needlepoint was referred to as canvas work, where it was created by stitching wool yarn through a firm, open, and even weave canvas. 

Today, an embroiderer can use several kinds of threads on needlepoint embroidery, including silk, cotton, wool, metallic, and ribbon cords, to make an array of textures. It has many different stitches you can use based on your coverage area and how long you expect your final piece to last. 

Usually, it’s best to consider durability. In ancient times, needlepoint was mainly used in decorating upholstered furniture, but today, many people use it to elaborate things like purses, keychains, belts, eyeglasses, jewelry, wall hangings, and more.

Needlepoint methods can vary depending on the holes per inch the embroiderer puts in canvas. For a more detailed design, it’s best to include more holes for every square inch, although it will require more time. 

Creating needlepoint design on canvasses with 16-20+ mesh holes per inch is called petit point embroidery. Canvasses with 7 holes or less usually make a needlepoint embroidery called quick point. If the holes are 7-16 per linear inch, the embroidery is called gros point. 

Difference Between Crewel and Needlepoint

Needlepoint and crewelwork vary both in embroidery technique and the final finishing of the decorated fabric they produce. Here’s an elaborate detail of how these two techniques differ in terms of material needed, patterns, stitches, and fabric.

1. Material needed

The primary materials essential for most forms of embroidery are threads, fabrics, and needles. Both creel and needlepoint require different types of these materials.

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While needlepoint can use almost any type of thread, crewelwork requires only a wool thread. Wool yarns used for crewel are easy to detect since they’re usually labeled and can be either 2-ply or 1-ply. They’re generally thin compared to tapestry wool and comes in many brands.

It’s more recommendable to use wool yarn too during needlepoint embroidery, but silk can also work for contemporary needlepoint. You can also use crewel wool during petit needlepoint projects. Most needlepoint yarns are 3-ply, which you can separate if you need a specific thickness.

Using yarn skeins from different brands may cause your stitching to have different textures, which is okay if that’s what you want. But for a more uniform texture, it’s best to use yarns of the same brand.


Canvas is the best embroidery surface for needlework, and they come in many designs. Needlepoint canvases come in many forms, colors, and stiffness and can be single-thread or double thread canvasses with big holes for easy passage of heavy threads without unraveling.

Needlepoint canvasses can be hand-painted, trammed, charted, printed, and free-form. Painted canvases are great if you want guided stitching, while the blank ones are if you want a canvas that you can design yourself. 

Beginners wishing to learn needlework embroidery are advised to use plastic canvass, while the mono canvasses provide the best stitching fabric for hand-painted needlepoint projects. 

On the other hand, crewelwork can be done on linen twill and linen because of their closer weave to keep stitches together while at the same time open enough to allow the passage of more oversized wool. These fabrics are also stiff to act as a base for most wool stitches. You can also utilize other kinds of fabrics if you wish, but it’s best to try first and see if it produces the finishing you prefer. 

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Crewel needles are usually large and have sharp ends pointed, while needlepoint needles have blunt ends to pass through the canvas meshes easily. The sharp crewel needles allow the user to efficiently work through the fabric and penetrating through previous stitches’ wool. 

Stitches Patterns 

All these art decorating techniques can use various types of stitches, but the standard stitch used for needlepoint embroidery is the tent stitch. The stitches can use any preferred pattern on both crewelwork and needlepoint embroidery.

There’re several crewel patterns, but you can use any embroidery pattern if the crewel designs don’t excite you. However, using non-crewel designs usually result in thicker stitches, making it hard to create fine details. 

Crewelwork and needlepoint embroidery are ancient and most refined embroidery designs to consider for your art decoration projects. They result in elegant, detailed, and appealing fabric décor that can be done in many projects, including pillows, curtains, purses, keychains, belts, eyeglasses, jewelry, wall hangings, and more.

Both crewel and needlepoint differ in difficulty level and material used. Your decision of whether to use crewel or needlepoint embroidery will primarily depend on your type of project and the fabric finishing you desire.