Stitching on Plastic Canvas

hand stitching on plastic canvas with title.

Stitching on plastic canvas is easy to do. There are only a few basic stitches to learn, but there are many different things you can do with them.

Plastic canvas is easy, inexpensive and versatile. Find out what you need to get started here.

Like all canvas embroidery, stitching on plastic canvas is done without knots. The end of the thread is woven into the back side of the stitches to secure it.

To begin stitching, hold the end of the thread on the back of the canvas and catch the tail in the stitches as you stitch. If this is too difficult, use a waste knot.

Waste knot

A waste knot is a temporary knot that keeps tension on the thread while you begin stitching.

Knot the end of the thread and take a stitch to the back of the canvas away from where you will begin stitching. The knot will be on the front of the canvas.

waste knot on plastic canvas.

After stitching a section, snip off the knot then weave the tail of the thread into the back of the stitches.

There are three main kinds of stitches in plastic canvas. Most patterns will use variations of these.

Diagonal Stitches

In needlepoint, diagonal stitches are often called tent stitch or continental stitch. This stitch is a diagonal stitch over one intersection of the canvas.

This type of stitch is often used to make pictures or other geometric designs.

diagram of diagonal stitches for plastic canvas embroidery.

There are different ways to do this stitch, but with plastic canvas the best technique is to use a half cross stitch. This eliminates unnecessary thread build up on the back. The plastic canvas doesn’t need the reinforcement.

The thread is brought to the front on odd numbers and taken to the back on even numbers. The reverse side will have vertical stitches.

diagonal stitches with stitch order numbered.

Vertical Stitches

Vertical stitches can be many different lengths. One of the most popular uses of vertical stitches is bargello designs.

diagram of vertical stitches for plastic canvas embroidery.

Stitching vertical stitches is very easy. The thread is brought up and taken down at the ends of the stitches. The stitches on the back will have a slight diagonal lean to them.

stitch diagram with numbers.

Overcast Stitches

Often the edge of the plastic canvas is stitched with overcast stitches to finish it off.

diagram of overcast edge stitches for plastic canvas embroidery.

This is stitched by taking the needle through in the same direction (back to front) for each stitch.

diagram with stitch numbers for overcast stitch.


In stitching, it is important to maintain a steady tension. Depending on the yarn and stitches you are using, the tension will help determine how full your stitches are.

The stitches in the picture below are the same size, and stitched with the same yarn. The top set is pulled tightly, and the bottom set is left a bit slack. You can see the difference in the final look.

tension differences in stitching on plastic canvas.

You might want different looks depending on your project, so find the tension that works. Being able to adjust tension will help you work with different weights of yarn.

Reading a chart

Plastic canvas charts are easy to read. They are usually just an exact representation of what the stitches will look like in the finished stitching.

When cutting out pieces, be sure to count twice and cut once. It is very difficult to fix a mistake in cutting.

Some people choose to stitch the pieces first and then cut them out. This is a good idea, as long as you remember to leave enough space for cutting. You need an outer plastic edge for each piece.

Usually, you will begin stitching at one end of the piece and work toward the other side. Weave the ends of the thread into the back of the stitches to secure them.

Just remember the basic stitching rules – diagonal stitches will be straight on the back and straight stitches will be diagonal on the back. Other specialty stitches will have instructions given with the pattern.


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Elizabeth DeCroos - Epida Studio.

Elizabeth DeCroos

Elizabeth DeCroos is the designer and teacher at Epida Studio. She loves to work in quilting, pojagi and embroidery and teach these techniques to others.
Learn more and get her to speak to your group.

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