Needlepoint Couching Techniques & Surface Embroidery

Bring Needlepoint Designs to Life with Couching & Surface Embroidery

Needlepoint Couching-Surface Embroidery
Example of Needlepoint Couching. Althea R. DeBrule

Couching is an excellent way to embellish plain needlepoint designs. There is something particularly satisfying about adding accents and highlights to needlepoint by working surface embroidery on top of completed stitches to draw attention to specific areas of a project.

Although commonly used in general embroidery on soft fabrics like silk or linen, “couching” can be equally effective in needlepoint when it is worked on top of basic tent stitches to emphasize a particular design feature.

Using Couching and Surface Embroidery in Needlepoint Projects

While you can couch threads on the surface of most tightly woven fabrics without any other stitching; in needlepoint, couching cannot be done directly on top of the canvas because most threads used for couching are either too textured, thick or delicate to pull through the rough fibers of needlepoint canvas.

Instead, threads used for couching must lay flat on top of the canvas and be secured at regular intervals with thinner more pliable thread that can easily move through the canvas.

Almost anything can be couched onto needlepoint canvas; however, metallic braids and cords, strands of metal commonly used in goldwork as well as certain ribbon threads are more common examples of fibers used for couching.

To create truly stunning effects, several strands of these threads can be placed side by side and couched together. Or, better still, they can be twisted, knotted and formed into interesting shapes as desired before being couched.

Types of Couching for Needlepoint

Couched threads can be tied down with simple or elaborate decorative needlepoint stitches. There are as many different couching techniques as there are needlepoint stitches—from straight to slanted to embellished stitches. Here are a few of the more interesting couching techniques.

  • Simple Couching – This is the most common form of couching that uses one ply of thin thread in the same color as the thread to be couched (see image above). Short regularly spaced stitches are worked over a single strand of non-stitchable thread to secure it to the top of the canvas.
  • Staggered Couching – Using the same method as in simple couching, more strands of non-stitchable thread are added at intervals in a staggered fashion to previously couched threads to add depth and thickness to a needlepoint motif.
  • Herringbone Couching – In this fun and decorative way of couching, the Herringbone needlepoint stitch is worked over the couched thread in either the same or a contrasting color.
  • Bokhara Couching – This needlepoint couching technique is actually an exception to the rule, in that it is used to fill in design areas that have not previously been stitched. Non-stitchable threads are placed over the entire design area first; and then they are couched in a particular pattern such as a brick pattern with thin thread of the same color.

When to Use Couching

Couching is simply tying down one or more strands of thread that have been placed on the surface of needlepoint canvas. Couching can be used wherever you wish to outline or add interest to a section of a needlepoint design.

Since it is a surface embroidery technique, couching can be used solo or over padding for three-dimensional effects.

Couching Instructions

  1. Prepare the non-stitchable thread for couching by wrapping it around a bobbin, wooden spool or Japanese Koma. If the thread comes already pre-packaged on a spool, it does not need to be wrapped.
  2. Place the thread to be couched on top of the needlepoint canvas along one end of the design line, leaving one-half to an inch for securing underneath the canvas once the entire strand has been couched.
  3. Thread a tapestry needle with one-ply of a finer thread in the same color or a contrasting color.
  4. Bring the needle up in the closest canvas hole that’s slightly under the laid thread. Go over the laid thread to the other side and down into the same hole. Do not pull the couching thread too tight for best results. Repeat this process at regularly spaced intervals until you reach the end of the design area. Secure the couching thread to the canvas and cut.
  1. Trim the non-stitchable thread, leaving an additional one-half to an inch for securing under the canvas. “Sink” each end of this thread with a tapestry needle or “sinking lasso” by gently pulling it through a canvas hole. Secure to the back of the canvas.