Search The Purl Bee
Sign up for our newsletter!

Idea Center
Follow The Purl Bee
« Whit's Knits: Bulky Baby Blankets | Main | Molly's Sketchbook: Woven Felt Placemats »

Announcing Charley Harper Needlepoint Canvases at Purl! 

For some time now here at Purl, we've been bursting with enthusiasm about the subject of needlepoint. We are so thrilled to announce that we now have a breathtaking selection of handpainted needlepoint canvases based on the amazing work of the renowned late illustrator Charley Harper. We've been anxiously awaiting their arrival since January, but because each canvas is meticulously handpainted, we had to contain our excitement until now. Finally they are ready to share with you!  (You can find our entire collection right here). The design above is our first completed sample, it's called Rainforest Birds. This sample was one of those all Purl projects that many people had a hand in. We had to fight over who got to start it! Our resident needlepoint expert, Nikki, (and the manager of Purl Patchwork) won and she stitched most of the birds. Then Joelle took over finishing the birds and starting on the background, and finally Molly stepped in to finish it up. We stitched it entirely in our new collection of Paternayan Needlepoint Yarn which comes in over 400 rich and stunning colors (please see below for a color key with the exact colors we used if you'd like to make one like ours, you can download and print the color key full size here.).

We are crazy over the work of Charley Harper (1922- 2007) and we're not alone! Harper was an American artist and illustrator whose primary subject was wildlife. He called his style "minimal realism" because he concentrated on pattern, color and shape rather than detail. Others have called him an American Modernist but to us his whimsical, beautiful work is simply timeless.

In the 1950's, Harper did a famous and highly collectible series of American bird portraits that appeared twice a year in the Ford Times. The series is stunning and we hope that someday they will ALL be available in needlepoint canvases! When the magazine was still in print, one could even order original silk-screens of these birds from the magazine. Some of Harper's work can still be found today at The Art of Charley Harper, which is a wonderful site that sells both the vintage prints and all the books that feature his work. Harper applied his talents to many other things as well, from illustrating the 1961 Giant Golden Book of Biology to over 50 ecological posters for nature centers, wilderness reserves, parks and zoos and more. The painting above is called Mystery of the Missing Migrants and it might be our favorite. The artist represented 45 different birds in this piece, and, we have the canvas available here for you to make.

We think that needlepoint canvases are an ideal display of Charley Harper's work since the bold designs and wonderful colors lend themselves to needlepoint's graphic quality.  The painting above is another of our favorites, it's called Gregarious Grosbeaks, we have this canvas too, you can find it here.

Handpainted needlepoint canvases are extra special because the artist takes extra care to paint the colors on the canvas grid in such a manner that it is perfectly clear what color each stitch should be. If this process weren't taken so seriously, colors would bleed from one hole of the mesh to the next, making it unclear what colors should be used for what stitches and therefore creating a much less satisfying result.

Needlepoint canvases are usually made of stiffened cotton, they come in a variety of mesh sizes which relate to the number of threads woven per inch. The sample above is a 13:1 canvas, which means 13 stitches per 1-inch. Canvases typically come in sizes of 10:1, 13:1 and 18:1. Depending on which mesh size you choose, different thicknesses of yarn should be used. The more threads per inch on the canvas, the smaller the holes and the thinner the yarn needed. If your yarn is too thick for the mesh it will shred, if it's too small, you will have show through on the finished piece. Yarn that is made specifically for needlepoint like our Paternayan Needlepoint Yarn comes in small skeins that are made up of 3 loosely plied strands of 2-ply yarn that are easy to pull apart. For our 13:1 canvas we stitched with 2 of the 3 strands, if we were stitching a 10:1 canvas we would have used all 3, or alternatively on an 18:1 canvas we would have only used 1 of the 3 strands. (Each skein of needlepoint yarn worked with 2 strands on a 13:1 mesh covered approximately 2-square inches.)  We used approximately 12 skeins of the background color, 2 skeins of the black, and 1 skein of each of the other colors.  Keep in mind that you can use any yarn you'd like as long as it's neither to thick nor too thin. A little experimenting is encouraged!

If you've never needlepointed before you may be surprised to discover just how fun and easy it is! We worked our Rainforest Birds sample entirely in the ultra simple basketweave stitch pictured above (If you need more in-depth instructions on how to needlepoint we highly recommend the TNNA How To Needlepoint Booklet).

If you'd like to get started with needlepoint, please check out our entire collection of Charley Harper Handpainted Needlepoint Canvases. You can find Needlepoint Needles here, the TNNA How to Needlepoint Booklet here, and our collection of over 400 colors of Paternayan needlepoint yarn here

The image at the left is called Phancy Pheathers, you can find it here.

Happy stitching!


Reader Comments (38)

These are beautiful! I love the work of Charley Harper and I've been interested in modern needlepoint projects for awhile now. Do you think that these will ever be available as stitch charts instead of painted canvases? I've created a few simple needlepoint patterns over the past few years and I've posted them for free on my blog if any of your readers are interested in trying out the technique before investing in a hand-painted canvas. the link is:

I also have a Modern Needlepoint Flickr group and I'd love to have some of these finished canvases added to that group!
July 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercarissaabc
These are so pretty!
July 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKris
Those are so beautiful!
July 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterClaire
Oh, these are so beautiful! I'll be saving up for one of these - I ADORE the work of Charlie Harper and have lots of the books, toys, etc. for my daughter. Thanks for this post!
July 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine
I find these to be so beautiful. Why do you have only a few. The first one displayed is beautiful, but I could not find it on your site?
July 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNORMA POND
Stunningly beautiful, and exactly what I didn't know I was looking for. Thankyou Purl Bee.
July 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterann-marie
EEK! These are beautiful! Last season Old Navy, of all places, had C. Harper books and puzzles for children. I became a fan of his work and am excited to see that you have these needlepoint projects available - Simply lovley!
July 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusannah @ art nest
absolutely stunning! If one duplicated your canvas, how much of each yarn does one need to buy? Could you put together a kit that includes the specific colors you used?
July 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpkett
Hi Pkett,
We used 12 of the background color, 2 black and the rest one each. If you'd like you can send us an email at our customer service address and we'll be happy to put together the colors for you. Here is a link to our email form:
July 20, 2009 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Hi Norma,
We have more of the Rainforest Birds available at our shop, and more on the way. We had no idea they would sell so quickly! If you'd like us to contact you when they come in, please feel free to send our customer service address an email. You can find our email form here:
July 20, 2009 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I can't believe how quickly these went! will you get another batch soon?
July 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkicki
Hi Kicki,
We can't either! We're in touch with the distributor right now, and will have more soon. (We have a few that aren't up yet, but will be today so check back). Please send us an email at our customer service address if you'd like to request a specific canvas.
July 20, 2009 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Love the birds! Thanks for sharing.
<a href=>Car Seat Blanket</a>
July 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkristi askew
Just an FYI there's a great book on all of Charley's work at and a less expensive edition coming this Fall
July 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpaul
in reply to Carissa's question above, you can find counted cross-stitch books with Charley Harper patterns on ebay. I once posted pictures of several of the books here:
July 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjenny
Wow! This is amazing stuff... if only I had extra time, would love to learn this technique...
July 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArlyna
Beautiful! I have not done needlepoint only cross stitch but this could easily make me take it up! (So many crafts too little time I am still learning to knit)
July 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstacey
Love, love, love! I've had my eye on several Harper posters for some time, but this is even better!
July 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
Gorgeous. Will you be getting more canvases? I think the 'gragarious grosbeaks' would be a good starter project-it's been years since I've done any needlepoint. I would like to order that, and the supplies, when you get more canvases in stock.
July 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan
Hi Susan,
We'll be getting more in next week with a couple of the Gregaous Grosbeaks, , and then a whole new order with lots of them in less than a month (and lots of others too). They sold so quickly, we were astonished!
July 23, 2009 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Wow! I love his work!
July 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterValerie Heck
Twenty years ago when my son was in grade school in Cincinnati he met Charlie Harper on a class field trip. He came home and talked about his new friend Charlie. Today, my son works around he corner from you in SoHo.....and sent me this link. I guess he still thinks of Charlie Harper as his friend.
July 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDonna
Hi Donna,
What a sweet story. We adore his work so much that we think of Charley Harper as our friend too, though none of us ever had the pleasure of meeting him. Thanks so much for sharing!
July 24, 2009 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
as a big fan of charley harper i really love this!!!
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdani
(thanks, jenny!)
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercarissaabc
I'm confused about the yarn colors. How do I know what colors to order with the printed canvas?
September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKerry
I love the Charlie Harper needlepoint.

One question, though. Did you have to obtain rights to use his illustrations for needlepoint? I'm in the art world and always wonder how this works with different artists, illustrators. . .
September 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLydia, Clueless Crafter
Hi Lydia,
The company that makes the canvases owns the exclusive rights to produce needlepoint canvases of all of Charley Harper's work.
September 17, 2009 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
i would really like to see the needlepoint designs by charlie harper done in cross stitch, is there a posibility that he will be doing this? the designs in needlepoint are something special but i have never done needle point and dont want to attempt this esp on his projects....
October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercharlie harper
Are you going to be getting the "Cardinals Consorting" canvas? I think that one might be my favorite of all.

Brenda Winter
November 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrenda Winter
My friend made a love-themed Charlie Harper shrinky dink mobile for my husband & me that I adore: Sadly I don't do much needle work but these pieces are beautiful!
April 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterania
I was wondering what color the background is on the rainforest birds sample that you included in this post? I didn't see it listed on the color key. Thanks!
June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJane
My 80 year old father is an avid countstitcher and also an avid Charley Harper fan. He has done all the Harper countstitch patterns that are on the market and would love to do more. Any chance that some of these needlepoints could be converted to countstitch patterns?
June 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkathy foerster
I vote for Charley Harper cross stitch patterns, too!
January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCamille
I would love to see holiday needlepoint or cross stitch ornament kits for Charley Harper's birds, esp. the cardinals!
March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenise
Oh my goodness, what a wonderful surprise. Mr. Harper's work is beautifully unique and exquisite. I haven't done any needlepoint for 35 years and I now I'm inspired to get busy.
February 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnne
Why would you not be able to do these existing ones in cross-stitch? Cross is just a different type of embroidery-stitch and looking at the detail of the printed canvas, would work just fine on this. Or am I missing something? I'm actually confused how you do a basket-stitch on this pattern! Seeing that you will not be able to fill in single holes with that. Say you would also want to stitch the hole below seven, right from 8 because that has to be the same color, but the ones around it are a different color? I see that happening on the canvas pattern. I'm probably completely clueless about needlepoint!
April 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSanne
Hi Sanne-

These canvases are all hand painted with special attention to the mesh grid and are painted with the diagonal basket stitch in mind and not the gridded squares of a cross stitch, but I'm sure you could make it work using a cross stitch with some experimentation.

This story is just a very quick overview of needlepoint, if you'd like a more thorough explanation you might want to check out this easy to understand book:

I also find that it makes more sense when you actually do it rather than just read about it and we have some great canvases on sale right now that you can see here:

In particular these very simple canvases would be a great place to start and they are only $11.43 right now:

Thank you so much for your question!

April 16, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.