Needlepoint is the kind of embroidery known as canvas work until the early 19th century. In needlepoint, the stitches are counted and worked with a needle over the threads, or mesh of a canvas foundation. Either single or double-mesh canvas of linen or cotton is used. If needlepoint is worked on a canvas that has 16 to 20 or more mesh holes per linear inch, the embroidery is called petit point; if the number of holes ranges from 7 or 8 to 16 squares per inch, it is referred to as gros point; and if the mesh openings are fewer than 7, it is known as quick point.
From the 16th to the 18th century most needlepoint was the petit point with 20 to 45 squares per linear inch. There are more than 150 canvas embroidery stitches, most of which are a variation or combination of the long stitch, covering more than one mesh, or intersection of threads, and the tent stitch which covers only one.
Since the 16th century the most commonly used stitches have been the tent (or continental) stitch, the vertically worked Florentine sew (also called the flame, bargello, or Hungarian stitch), and the cross-stitch. In the 20th century the basketweave or diagonal, stitch has achieved widespread popularity. It produces a firmer material but also uses more yarn than the tent stitch.
Wool is usually used for needlepoint, though silk or yarn also can be employed for embroidering. For petit point, finer crewel yarns are used, while gros point is most regularly worked in two-ply Persian yarn or four-ply tapestry yarn. Needlepoint, as it is recognized today, can be said to have originated in the 17th century, when the fashion for fixtures upholstered with embroidered fabrics prompted the improvement of greater long-lasting material, canvas, to serve as the foundation for the embroidery.
Needlepoint or canvas work is a form of counted thread embroidery in which yarn is stitched through a stiff open weave canvas.