Is Stylecraft Special DK a Good Affordable Alternative Needlepoint Yarn?

Tapestry needlepoint pillow with a river fishing boat design

Needlepoint can be an expensive hobby. With this in mind, last year I began a quest to find an affordable needlepoint yarn to make this addictive craft more accessible for all. Join me now to find out if Stylecraft Special DK yarn is a good, affordable alternative to use on your needlepoint when me and Jacky of Willow and Twist put it to the test on our collaboration, the River Fishing pillow.

This story begins last year when Stylecraft very kindly gifted me some of their Special DK and Chunky to add to my ever-increasing stash! I choose the three new shades of chunky and some shades in the DK. I'd been using the Special Chunky to stitch designs with for a little while and I was excited to expand my colour palette.

I wanted to try the DK after learning Kaffe Fassett's favourite way to stitch is with two strands, giving him more colour flexibility and texture. This really appealed to me, partly because colour's a very important aspect to my designs but also because there's only 88 shades to choose from in the Special DK range and a mere 39 in the Chunky. 

The most appealing benefit for my style of sewing is that one strand of DK can be used to stitch 10ct canvas and two can be used to stitch 7ct... which just happens to be my two favourite canvas counts and means I only need one set of yarn to stitch both.

Around the same time Jacky of Willow and Twist asked if I'd like to collaborate on a tapestry needlepoint pillow and it got me it possible to create a pictorial design with the Stylecraft Special DK range?

88 shades isn't a huge amount compared to DMC's 390 shades of tapestry wool and so I wondered how it'd hold up. Always one to relish a challenge, I jumped at the chance and awaited Jacky's artwork. 

River Fishing by Jacky of Willow and Twist
When I first saw Jacky's watercolour, River Fishing, two thoughts sprung to mind. One, it'd work beautifully as a cushion and, two, the translucent tones and blending of the watercolours would be tricky to capture with so few shades. 

In the spirit of collaboration, I wanted to add a little bit of my personality to the design and so I set about sketching a border. The cushion itself was commissioned for a keen fisherman and all round boat lover, and  I was keen to add this dimension to the design. Once I'd sketched the fishing rod and fish, I started charting and thinking about which shades would work for this piece. 

I had to make changes to the colours in the chart and the actual yarns because the yarn counterparts for colours I'd used on screen didn't work as successfully in reality. In the end, I settled for 26 shades and began stitching.

As we were working to a Christmas deadline I taught Jacky to pick up the needle and add some stitches. That's one thing I love about needlepoint, it's so easy to learn! Within 5 minutes Jacky was happily stitching away and after a few sessions her tension was matching mine. By the end of the cushion she'd even mastered threading the needles...a task I don't make easy by using the smallest ones possible.

The result of using the punchy Special DK colours in limited shades has given the design a very graphic, high contrast aesthetic which I love. While I could've got a more accurate rendering of Jacky's watercolour with more shades of yarn, I'm glad we didn't go down that route as it would've created a more traditionally styled design. Next time, I'd like to experiment with blending colours, Kaffe Fassett style, and seeing what effects can be created with that technique.

When choosing the shades of Special DK, I discovered that Greengage, a speckled yarn, provides an excellent rendering of trees and foliage in the background without needing to confetti stitch. Likewise, Waterfall proved a handy shade for creating movement in the water.

When I charted the design I realised a blue fish coming out of the blue-grey water wouldn't show
up very well so I decided to stitch the caught fish in Copper and Gold and inject a sense of humour into the piece... I'm sure we've all giggled together over fantastic fishing tales about catching whoppers that were really sardines!

My colour joy while stitching this piece was discovering how gorgeous Copper, Teal and Navy look together and I'm keen to incorporate those three shades into my stitching again at some point.

Needlepoint cushin and watercolour of a river fishing boat on a sunny day

This design marked the first time I've added backstitch and French knots to a needlepoint tapestry but these stitches worked brilliantly for depicting the fishes' faces and the fishing line. To make these stitches I separated the ply and stitched with two strands. The yarn was easy to separate but broke when I tried sewing with just one strand, so two is the minimum for these kinds of decorative stitched embellishments.

To prepare the canvas to finish, I steamed with a hot iron, taking care not to touch the stitching but to just let the steam pass over the surface. This helped relax and resize the canvas so it laid flat. Finally, I sprayed it with a fabric protector, pegged it to a hanger and let it dry overnight.

You've seen the results of the Stylecraft Special DK on our design and so now onto the million dollar question, is it a good affordable alternative needlepoint yarn?

Stylecraft comes in 100g balls, that's around 295m of yarn to stitch in the DK and 144m in the Chunky, all for a couple of pounds a ball. In comparison DMC tapestry wool is around half the price but for just 8m, if you double this up for 7ct you'll be able to stitch 4m per skein.

With so much meterage it's needless to say, I have loads of yarn leftover to create lots more designs with. As a colour confident stitcher this is a big bonus, it's also great if you're already a crocheter or a knitter and want to try a new craft with yarn you have or yarn you know you can use for all of your creative outlets.

Next is the question of wear. There's no doubt about it, DMC tapestry wool stands up to wear incredibly well. I made a phone pouch with it a few years ago and despite being handled daily, it looks as good now as it did the day it was finished. I've also tried stitching a phone pouch with Drops Karisma, a 100% wool knitting yarn, and after 6months of the same use it has a more fluffy, careworn appearance.

The verdict is, I don't know just yet. The River Fishing pillow was made for a gift but I'm currently stitching a repeat pattern pillow for myself so I can see how the yarn wears. Stylecraft Special DK is typically used for crochet blankets and toys so I'm optimistic it'll stand up well to wear and the best bit is, it's machine washable!

It's also smooth to stitch with. There's much less friction when pulling the stitches through than there is with wool and this was a bit of a blessing. While it's not the very best needlepoint yarn out there and perhaps won't provide the same sense of luxury DMC or Appletons lends to the experience, it never set out to be.

However, my experience of using it as one is very good so far! I'd recommend it as an affordable alternative and a strong option for those wanting to needlepoint on a smaller budget, younger stitchers and folks with wool allergies. If your needlepoint project is a gift for a youngster, this would also be a great option because it's so easy to care for.

We finished the cushion together. Jacky made a back panel with a zip set in following this tutorial showing how to sew a zip on a cushion cover.

Fred's Top Tip

Stitch a few rows around the outside edge of the design so that the stitched canvas passes through the machine more easily. I found three rows was perfect for  a 1/4" seam allowance.

I've really struggled to sew the fronts to the backs in the past but adding those extra rows makes it so easy. I know some may bulk at spending time needlepointing only to hide their hard work on the inside but I got a much nicer finish and, being only three rows on each edge, it didn't take long to sew.

The final step was adding the cording. This was another first for me! I'd seen cording on lots of professionally finished cushions and really wanted to give this beautiful detail a go.

Handstitching the cord edge to a needlepoint cushion with ladder stitch

I didn't have a lot of instruction to go on; my needlepoint bible helpfully said it was too complicated to include so I went on instinct. I left an inch gap in the bottom left hand corner when I stitched the cushion front and back together, tucked one end of the cording into the gap and hand stitched it in place. Then I used ladder stitch to secure the cording to the edge every few millimetres.

It was hard going! To end the cord, I simply overlapped it as neatly as I could, stitched it into place and closed the gap, again with a ladder stitch. Ensuring the cord began and ended in the bottom corner meant it's not particularly noticeable and both me and Jacky were really pleased with the finished result.

In hindsight, I wish I'd created a wider border so that the detail of the rod and fish didn't get lost over the edge once the cushion pad was put in. On the bright side, it does mean it's a cushion you want to pick up and look at more closely which is never a bad thing.

That said, I love how this design turned out, as does Jacky and the lucky recipient of this heartfelt gift. Jacky's found a passion for needlepoint and we're both keen to work on something else soon! Songbirds and flowers are a likely source of inspiration for our next attempt.

I love hearing from you! Do you know a fisherman who would enjoy this pillow? What is your experience of using cheaper yarn alternatives to needlepoint with? Pop your thoughts in the comments box below.

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I'll be back soon...until then, have a super time!

Shannan, Bobbin and Fred xX

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