Vintage needlepoint: Designs & dozens of ideas from the 50s, 60s & 70s

Vintage needlepoint design ideas and inspiration

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.


Created for one of the many traditional needlework crafts, these vintage needlepoint designs might just inspire you to get creative in all-new ways!

Needlepoint, your way: Blue & white pillow patterns (1976)

Here are 8 original pillows you can create yourself with fretwork-patterned canvases handpainted in colors to match your decorating.

The classic needlework basketweave stitch makes this an easy project, even for beginners. Large pillows take a few months to finish; small ones take shape in just a weekend. They look great on their own, or massed in a group.

Vintage blue and white needlepoint designs from the 70s (3)

Vintage blue and white needlepoint designs from the 70s (1)

Bargello: New-look needlepoint (1976)

Once there was a princess from Hungary who settled in Florence. When she unpacked her trunk, her draperies and pillows, her coats and her stitched slippers, were so beautiful that all the court ladies demanded lessons in that kind of needlework, and so bargello became popular.

At least, that’s the legend. Since the 13th century, a regular encyclopedia of traditional patterns has evolved, all using the single straight stitch that skips four to six holes in the canvas (making bargello a faster form of needlework than needlepoint).

But — “I forgot all the old rules,” says Gigs Stevens, whose Buffalo, N.Y. shop, Eye Squared, has become a center for free-form bargello. “It’s freedom and surprise. With each color change, the pattern can change. There’s adventure in it. You never know how it’s going to turn out.”

When Mrs. Stevens, who started working bargello when she stopped smoking, hung one of her first pieces, the rug shown [below], on the wall of her shop, people wouldn’t stop asking about it.

So now she has a large Formica chart (inset) on which she plots out the first steps in water-based ink, and her fellow needleworkers take it from there.

Vintage Bargello needlepoint ideas from 1976 (1)

Vintage Bargello needlepoint ideas from 1976 (2)

Vintage needlepoint designs: Freehand stitchery (1976)

Needlepoint is the ultimate in detail work, 196 stitches per square inch, a craft for people who love precision.

And not only precision of hand. The eye also finds something pleasurable in order, says Sol Kent, fashion director of Rich’s department store in Atlanta.

He started doing needlepoint three years ago when he was given a canvas for Christmas.

“First, I learned to thread a needle,” he says. “Finally I mastered one stitch, a basketweave — it’s all you really need — and since then I’ve done my own designs.

“I look on it as art,” says Mr. Kent.  “I’ve heard that Maillol did needlepoint before he went to sculpture.”

He begins in the middle and works rapidly, because he designs as he goes, and can’t wait to see how it will come out. From pillows, he has moved on to wall hangings 22 inches square.

Others also see his work as art. No two of Mr. Kent’s designs are the same, and once he has finished them, he doesn’t keep them around: “That would be boring.”

Only four, his wife’s special favorites, left, remain in his own living room. They’re geometrical relationships, lines, squares, and rectangles. Never, ever, a curve.

Vintage freeland needlepoint ideas from 1976

Simply elegant needlepoint: Pickup needlework for summer (1972)

This lustrous satin needlepoint, designed by Marcia Podell, is cool, quick and simple to work in spare moments between sun and barbeque.

The designs — Yellow Lily, Puzzlement, and Floral Bouquet — can be hung or pillowed.

Simply elegant needlepoint pillow ideas from 1972

In the ’70s, even The Brady Bunch did needlepoint!

Check out the vintage needlepoint designs they were all working on!

About The Brady Bunch: Meet the cast, see the opening credits, plus get the theme song lyrics

Brady Bunch needlepoint

Needlepoint: Surprisingly easy to do, easy to design yourself (1964)

Among the familiar decorative techniques that have acquired fresh fascination for us today is needlepoint. Suddenly it is showing up all over the house on chair seats and book covers, pillows and doorstops, benches and wastebaskets, rugs, love-seats, even sofas.

This new lavishness is quite the antithesis of the onetime touch-me-not display of a single needlepoint cushion on a single chair. And our approach to working needlepoint has changed just as much.

Instead of the old fill-in-the-background method, today’s needleworkers are creating their own designs to suit their own special purposes. The technique itself is so simple — one basic stitch on a gridwork of canvas mesh — that you can easily design your own needlepoint even if you cannot draw a line.

Vintage blue and white needlepoint designs from the 70s (2)

A variety of vintage needlepoint designs

As a starter, you might pick any one of the patterns in the sampler [below], and repeat it over an entire canvas for a pillow cushion or chair seat. In a few cases, the basic needlepoint stitch is accented by simple embroidery stitches — for instance, the straw-weave design, third from left, fourth row.

The others are worked in the basic stitch alone. For materials you will do best with medium double-thread canvas, a blunt-point large-eye needle, and durable yarn such as Paternay’an Persian rug yarn which defies the abrasion of stitching, the passing of time, even passing moths, and comes in a great variety of colors.

When you have completed one or two repeat-pattern canvases and have acquired the feel of the medium, you will be ready to try your hand at a freer design which you can trace or paint yourself on canvas — or have applied to canvas at a needlework shop.

Your inspiration might come from a fabric or china pattern, from an appealing design you find in a book or museum document, or from a photograph. All you have to do is supply the shop with a sample or a photostat. And if you wish, you can work the design in gros point or petit point, since the only difference between those and needlepoint is the size of the canvas mesh.

When you have completed your needlepoint, you may want to take it back to the shop for professional blocking and binding. But that is no longer essential in every case. You will find instructions for a binding stitch you can use to finish off flat needlepoint or to seam one piece to another.

Up close: Sampler of 30 vintage needlepoint designs from the ’60s

Needlepoint sampler (images below) by Louis J. Gartner includes thirty repeat patterns you can copy directly from page to canvas.

Using a magnifying glass, count the stitches that define each part of your pattern. Start at the upper right corner of the canvas, and, working with one color at a time, repeat until you have outlined and filled your entire canvas.

Vintage needlepoint designs from the 1960s (7)

Vintage needlepoint inspiration from the 1960s (8)

Vintage needlepoint designs from the 1960s (9)

Vintage needlepoint patterns from the 1960s (10)

Vintage needlepoint patterns from the 1960s (11)

Vintage needlepoint patterns from the 1960s (12)

Vintage needlepoint patterns from the 1960s (13)

Vintage needlepoint patterns from the 1960s (14)

Vintage needlepoint designs from the 1960s (15)

Vintage needlepoint patterns from the 1960s (1)

Vintage needlepoint designs from the 1960s (2)

Vintage needlepoint patterns from the 1960s (3)

Vintage needlepoint patterns from the 1960s (4)

Vintage needlepoint patterns from the 1960s (5)

Vintage needlepoint designs from the 1960s (6)

DIY milk carton candle how-to: Easy retro craft made with ice & wax

Retro ’60s needlepoint ideas for every room (1966)

Needlepoint is a wonderful means of introducing a contrasting accent into a room, but you can also relate the pattern and colors directly to your decorative scheme or work out amusing juxtapositions of the fake and the real.

In place of the static Victorian bouquets that used to prevail, today’s needlepoint designs are more apt to be yarn-and-canvas translations of fine arts, simulations of animal skins, or trompe-l’oeil renditions of other familiar materials.

All are easy to transfer to canvas by the photostat-tracing method, and some are available in pre-painted canvases. Here is a sampling of contemporary patterns used in contemporary ways:

1. Needlepoint chair cushions

Clearly visible through the glass tabletop: chair cushions in designs adapted from an Italian travel poster, an old German engraving, and a magazine science page. Furniture from John Vesey.

Needlepoint seat cushions - Designs from the 1960s

2. Three needlepoint pillows related by a classical sculpture theme

The designs — Michelangelo’s “David,” a Pompeian bronze, the Triton fountain in Rome — were traced on canvas from photostats.

Vintage needlepoint projects for the home - 1960s inspiration (2)

3. Book, pillow and trash can cover

Cane-patterned cover for address book and floral cover for a wastebasket — both worked on pre-painted canvases. Patchwork pillow on chair is the needlepoint sampler [above].

Vintage needlepoint projects for the home - 1960s inspiration (9)

4. Footstool needlepoint bird’s nest design

On a small Sheraton footstool, a loose pillow with a delicate nest-and-egg design worked in the needlepoint top. Binding and back are of durable silk faille.

Vintage needlepoint projects for the home - 1960s inspiration (8)

5. Cane-patterned needlepoint cover

For the foam-rubber cushion of a cane-seat chair. H&G’s instructions for making a cane-patterned needlepoint rug (see H&G, October 1964) served as a guide.

Vintage needlepoint projects for the home - 1960s inspiration (3)

6. Dalmatian bench

Bench upholstered, legs and all, in needlepoint simulating a Dalmatian’s spots. Pattern was worked on a pre-painted canvas which also comes in other shapes and sizes. Except for bench, all furniture and accessories from John Vesey.

Vintage needlepoint designs for the home - 1960s inspiration (1)

7. Leopard fantasies for a suede chair

Portrait of a cub worked in needlepoint for the top of a round pillow covered otherwise with real leopard skin, and a leopard-spotted cover for a square pillow drolly bedecked with a baroque pearl pendant and red ribbons. The square pillow in center is covered with the real thing. Furniture and accessories from John Vesey.

Vintage needlepoint projects for the home - 1960s inspiration (7)

8. Needlepoint bench

A bench covered with rose-strewn needlepoint, feminine as the traditional Victorian bouquets, but freer, lighter. Designed by Inman Cook and available on pre-painted canvas. Furniture from John Vesey.

Vintage needlepoint projects for the home - 1960s inspiration (4)

9. Faux marble doorstep

A lowly brick covered with needlepoint worked on a pre-painted canvas.

Vintage needlepoint projects for the home - 1960s inspiration (5)

10. Pillow cover

Inspired by painting over sofa of a boy with shell-and-driftwood mobile. The shell motif against a background of waves was designed by Hubbell Pierce, is available on pre-painted canvas. Furniture from Cumberland Furniture Corp. 

Vintage needlepoint projects for the home - 1960s inspiration (6)

20 retro DIY Christmas ornament craft ideas from the '60s that are just as awesome as ever

Collector’s Craft Book: Needlepoint pillows (1958)

Needlepoint, favorite hobby of queens, Colonial housewives and every new generation of Americans, adapts beautifully to contemporary colors and modern design.

Here, in a simple, traditional stitch, are pillows to make for every room of your home.

The bright, new look of needlepoint (1958)

How-to: Helpful hints on needlepoint

Needlepoint is done with wools on “Penelope” needlepoint canvas backing. When cutting your canvas, allow an additional 1″ to 3″ around the edges for shrinkage during working and blocking. After needlepoint is completed, trim unworked edges, leaving 3/8″ for binding.

Pillows such as we show are done with a half cross-stitch, in which you draw the needle through canvas at upper left of pillow; insert it into next mesh at right in row directly above, and draw it out through mesh below to form the first slanting stitch. Repeat, always moving one square to the right. Keep needle in a vertical position.

When a row is completed, turn work upside down and go to the right again. Make sure your pull is even, not too loose or too tight. It’s a good idea to have a needle for each color so you don’t waste time re-threading.

To get interesting textural effects, use varying weights of yarn or double yarn in the same color. Actually any, except very fine, yarn may be used.

Since most of the pillow designs we show are composed of repeat patterns, they can be extended to any desired size. The “Fleur-de-Lis,” for example, could be worked in various sizes to cover the back, seat and arms of a piece of period furniture. Few handcrafts have the adaptability of needlepoint.

Suggestions for your handiwork are: Wall panels, framed samplers, mottoes for a glass-covered serving tray, needlepoint covers for brick doorstops, for benches and chair seats worked in fresh color schemes adapted to modern living.

Five of our pillows have a velveteen backing. “Sunrise” is backed with jersey. You could also use felt, or wool flannel, and finish the covers with a zipper closing.

When you finish a piece of needlepoint, it must be blocked. Turn it over on the wrong side and sponge until wool and canvas are very wet, or roll your work in a very damp absorbent towel and leave it there until well-dampened.

Stretch piece into shape; tack it down on a board, using rustproof tacks, 3/4″ apart. Allow it to dry completely.

Before hemming and joining the piece to a fabric backing, you may want to press it. Cover wrong side with a damp towel and steam gently with a hot iron, never allowing it to touch face of work.

Pattern: Fleur de lis

The bright, new look of needlepoint (1958)

Needlepoint pattern: Squares

These pillows are all made with the simple half cross-stitch. Sections of designs are shown in diagrams on squared paper.

To copy: Transfer diagrams, square by square, on 10 squares to the inch graph paper; each of the blocks equals one stitch.

The bright, new look of needlepoint (1958)

Vintage needlepoint pattern: Polka dots

Needlepoint canvas backing, called “Penelope,” is available in 10 meshes to the inch or 1 mesh per stitch. Most needlework stores carry alphabetical letter and number transfers, so you can write mottoes in your own handwriting on the graph paper.

The bright, new look of needlepoint (1958)

Retro needlepoint patterns: Tiger motto & alphabet and numbers

“He who rides the tiger cannot dismount”

The bright, new look of needlepoint - Vintage inspiration (1958)

51 prize-winning quilt designs (1978)

Fresh field flowers vintage needlepoint idea (1973)

Vintage needlepoint designs with full-color transfer [printable]: Charming needlepoint pillow and embroidered picture are both made from the same transfer…

Field flower needlepoint-june-1973

Retro flower needlepoint from 1973

Notable women share their needlepoint (1953)

Loosely-woven canvas, a palette of colored wool, and a blunt needle are the simple tools that produced this imaginative needlework.

(1) On smooth highways driving west with her artist husband, Mrs. Emlen Etting worked on her first pair of pillows, designed by Mr. Etting in citrus color to blend with the colors of their living room.

(2) Mrs. George L. Degener, together with her husband, created a rug out of fifteen squares like this, each representing a different flower from their garden, in yellow, white, and green to harmonize with their living raccoon Millerton, New York.

(3) Miss Jessie Mann used four nostalgic designs by Vera, for needlepoint seats for side chairs in her Old Westbury, Long Island home.

(4) Mrs. Clarence L. Gans combined petit point with embroidery in an original design called Street Scene, one of forty-five pictures she has completed. She signs them with her own name. Sarah B. Gans.

Vintage needlepoint projects from 1953 (1)

(5) Miss Rosemary Kornfeld developed this handsome 9′ x 12′ rectangular rug from a 7″ x 5″ oval motif, designed by artist Felix Kelly, to harmonize with the living room of her New York apartment.

(6) In spare moments, Mrs. Richard Rodgers made a pair of pillows like this, a delicate fruit motif on pale pink background, which will be fringed in leftover yarn.

(7) Mrs. J. Cornelius Rathborne, of Westbury, Long Island, reflected her interest in hunting in a petit point and gros point fox head.

Vintage needlepoint projects from 1953 (2)

Macrame the vintage way: How to make 4 basic craft projects from the '70s

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 


You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.