Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier was born July 14, 1932 in Cuthbert, Georgia. He has had many roles including an actor, Christian minister, and professional football player. After his sports career he worked as a bodyguard for Robert Kennedy during the 1968 presidential campaign and was guarding the senator’s wife, Ethel Kennedy, during the Robert F. Kennedy assassination. Although unable to prevent that killing, Grier took control of the gun and subdued the shooter, Sirhan Sirhan. Rosey is known for his serious pursuit of hobbies not traditionally associated with men such as macramé and needlepoint. He has authored several books, including Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men in 1973. Rosey has had quite an eventful life. To learn more about Rosey’s life go to Today let’s learn a little bit about one of his passions:

Canvaswork (Needlepoint)

Ever since the beginning of the human race, people have sewn things together for shelter or clothing. Examples from Egyptian tombs include decorated arrow quivers that where made of a light tapestry material. Chinese craftsmen may also have had a hand in the development of needlepoint. What we know for sure is that many different techniques evolved depending on the culture, the climate, and the materials available. It is widely accepted that Canvaswork developed as a way to recreate the look of expensive woven tapestries. It is estimated to have begun sometime during the 16th and 17th centuries using coarse, loosely-woven linen.

Technically, needlepoint is stitching done on canvas that has even vertical and horizontal threads. Designs can be painted or printed on the canvas and stitches are made with color coordinated thread. There is also counted Canvaswork using a printed pattern just like counted cross stitch. Because the stitching is done on canvas, it should actually be called Canvaswork with three sub-categories: needlepoint, petit point, and Bargello.

Needlepoint is stitched on mesh canvas with a count of 16-18 holes per inch or less.

Petit point is worked on very fine canvas having 16 or more holes per inch. It is often done on materials such as silk gauze.

Bargello consists of a design laid out in a mathematical pattern using long and short stitches. There are two types of Bargello patterns: Florentine and Hungarian, however, their history is a mystery. It is thought the name originates from a series of chairs found in the Bargello palace in Florence, which have a “flame stitch” pattern. (reference link) Traditional Bargello consists of straight stitches that are worked vertically in a stair-step pattern to create a zig-zag or arch design. The stitch length can vary depending on the design. Bargello stitches should completely cover the canvas. 

Work Basket

CANVAS – Canvas is considered an open evenweave fabric that can be made from a variety of materials including cotton, polyester, and silk. Most of the canvas we carry is stiff. When canvas is manufactured it goes through a process to add starch (or sizing) to the threads. This gives the fabric the strength it needs for canvas or rug work. The basic canvas comes in three types: Interlock, Penelope, and Mono.

  • Interlock canvas has a double weft and single warp.
  • Penelope canvas has a double weft and warp. You can use the pair together or split them for specialty stitches so it is great for intricate patterns.
  • Mono canvas has a single thread warp and weft. It comes in a variety of colors and counts from 10 to 18. 

Silk Gauze is a fabric that you probably wouldn’t consider to be a canvas, but it technically is. This is a very fine, lightweight, single-thread canvas. It is sold as cut pieces or already in a mat. 

You want to use tapestry needles because they have blunt points with long, enlarged eyes, which keeps the thread from getting flat or worn. The blunt points keep you from splitting the threads or fibers as you stitch.

Many people use a frame or stretcher bars to help keep their canvas from distorting during stitching and helps to keep tension even and minimizes counting mistakes.

More designers are experimenting with a wide variety of threads and fibers to add color and dimension to the stitching. Don’t be afraid to try something new or change the color scheme to match your style.

A laying tool or a large needle is a must to get your stitches to lay flat. If you stroke the thread as you pull, it will also help to cover better. A laying tool is a very personal choice, so look around; ask other stitchers if you could borrow theirs to try for a stitch or two. Once you find one you really like, get two!! You’ll find they are something you cannot live without once you get used to using them. 

Preparing Your Work

You will want to cut your canvas several inches larger than your design area. How much will depend on the type of frame you are using and how you plan to finish the piece. Then get a frame or stretcher bars to fit the outside dimensions of the canvas.

Covering your raw edges will help keep your threads from getting caught as you stitch. Frame covers are excellent for this as they not only protect those edges of your canvas and prevent your thread from snagging, they also help keep your work cleaner.

TIP: When tacking your fabric to your stretcher bars, don’t skimp on tacks. The closer together you put them, the more even your tension will be. It is a personal choice on how you want to mount the canvas on the frame. Some prefer to have the front side of their canvas be inside the frame so that they are stitching down between the bars. That means the back of the piece will be the side flush across the frame.

Ready to Stitch?

You don’t want knots on the back of your canvas so use a waste or an away knot. Make a knot in the end of your thread. Go about 2 inches from where you want to start stitching and from the front side of your fabric go through to the back. This will put the knot on the front of the fabric. Come back up in the location you wish to start stitching. When you are done stitching, clip the knot and weave the end under the finished stitching. From then on, you can start your next thread by weaving it under the stitching on the backside. A great tool for working those ends back through is the Star De-Tailor. A Fiber Hider set is beautiful and functional: a great addition to any stitching basket.

If you are using a multi-ply thread, take the time to strip each ply out and then lay them back together. This will help them to lay evenly, side-by-side. Also, use shorter lengths of thread than you would for a cross-stitch project. The stiffening on the canvas will cause your thread to wear faster and it will loose its shape and sheen as it is dragged through the canvas holes. Be sure to use a needle that is larger than your thread as it will help open the hole up just a bit as you stitch. Don’t have a really large needle or it will open the hole too far and your thread won’t cover the canvas correctly.

Tent stitch

The basic stitch for Canvaswork is the “continental” or “tent” stitch. It can be worked vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. This stitch is worked in horizontal rows from right to left. It is worked in vertical rows from top to bottom and diagonal rows from the top left to lower right. Here is a great example by Beth Robertson from the American Needlepoint Guild website. Follow the numbers on the diagram, coming up at 1 and all odd numbers and going down at 2 and all even numbers. The Tent stitch provides a smooth effect, resulting in little pattern or texture.

Rosey Grier once commented that he was surprised to learn there was more than one stitch involved in needlepoint. So in his book, he outlined 10 stitches. Today there are actually hundreds of stitches that can be used for needlepoint. The American Needlepoint Guild has a “Stitch of the Month” series going back to February 1998 which featured the Tent stitch.

Gobelin stitch

Some designers like using just a single stitch, for example the Gobelin stitch. The Gobelin stitch is similar to the tent stitch, except that it goes over two or more intersection points on the canvas. (insert Gobelin from printwork) Nancy Buhl, From Nancy’s Needle, does a marvelous Quilt Series, accentuated with specialty buttons. Her designs are worked mainly with the tent and Gobelin stitches.

Some designs incorporate many stitches into their designs to add texture and interest. 


Then there are patterns that use a selected number of stitches and don’t cover the entire canvas. Many of Laura J. Perin’s designs use this style.

Least but not last are those designers who go all out with specialty stitches and innovative combinations. DebBee’s Designs has several designs resembling string art.


One of the really fun aspects of Canvaswork is experimenting with different threads and techniques. It certainly has come a long way from the needlepoint Rosey learned.


Read all the instructions the designer provides you before beginning to work, then refer to them regularly. You might not know you have miscounted until you are really quite along in the pattern. To borrow an old woodworking phrase… count twice, stitch once! Use counting pins, they are wonderful sanity savers!

Another trap one can fall into is thinking the pattern repeats. Many times it will change when you change directions. A great tip is to take a stitch in the upper right-hand corner outside of the design area and tie a little bow, then as you rotate your canvas you always know which way is up. Continually compare the pattern to your stitching.

Whenever possible you want to pull your needle up through a hole that doesn’t have any stitching already there and down through the hole that does. This way if you snag the thread or it gets tugged along with your stitch, it won’t show on the front of the project.


Canvaswork has something for everyone. There is no way to cover everything you need to know in just one newsletter. To hook up with folks who like to do Canvaswork or to check out their on-line resources go to American Needlepoint Guild.

Embroidered coat

In closing it is only fair to point out that the majority of professional embroiderers and needle artisans of long ago were male. A great example of their skill is the embroidery done on this coat from the late 1700’s (shown right). In fact, a statute of the Guild of Embroiderers in Paris provided that only men could become Master Embroiderers. There are still many men involved in the needle arts both professionally and personally.

What would we do for some of our beautiful metallic and silk threads if it were not for Doug Kreinik and his family?

Xu Chiguang

Don’t forget about the male artisans keeping their regional needlearts alive, such as Xu Chiguang, master of Guang (Canton) Embroidery in Guangzhou.

We hope these “helpful hints” make your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:

“The following article was published by Nordic Needle in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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