What is Cross Stitch?
Cross Stitch is one of the easiest embroidery stitches to learn. It starts with a simple X shaped stitch that is commonly embroidered with floss on an evenweave fabric. The cross stitch is repeated numerous times to create a design. Counted cross stitch designs are made by following a grid or chart where each square that contains a symbol represents 1 stitch.
The Six Basic Stitches used in Cross Stitch Embroidery
Here's a description of each of the six different types of stitches commonely used in cross stitch designs;
Cross Stitch – A Cross Stitch is an x-shaped embroidery stitch
Half Stitch - The Half Stich is a diagonal stitch that goes from one corner of the fabric square to the opposite corner. Some designs use the half stitch to add interest and texture to backgrounds and shadows.
Quarter Stitch – A quarter stitch resembles a half stitch but is half its length and only extends into the center of the stitching square. Quarter stitches are often used to create details or to complete a three quarter stitch that has been stitched in a different colour.
Three Quarter Stitch –Three Quarter stitches are used to create curved design lines. This fractional stitch makes it possible to add detail to the otherwise “blocky” look of traditional cross stitch.
Back Stitch – A backstitch is a straight stitch used for outlining or lettering. These stitches form lines and are used to outline shapes or to add fine detail to your design.
French Knot – The French Knot is a popular decorative stitch used in cross stitch to add detail. French knots look great clustered together to create texture, or individually to serve as a center of a flower, or eyes to an animal on your design.
Half stitches, quarter stitches and three-quarter stitches are commonly called fractional stitches because they are divisions of the cross stitch. Fractional stitches are considered advanced stitches and are recommended for more experienced stitchers.
Get the basics! Counted Cross stitch is one of the easiest forms of embroidery – Warning! It is highly addictive!
The tools you will need to get started;
For most cross stitch projects, you will use DMC or Anchor Embroidery Floss. These brand of Embroidery Floss are the highest quality and most widely used threads in the world. They are made from long staple 100% Egyptian cotton and mercerized to give a beautiful sheen. There are over 450 colours of Embroidery Floss to choose from in both brands.
Each length of floss is composed of six individual strands, allowing you to adjust the thickness of your stitching by using a different number of strands. Charts and instructions commonly refer to a strand as a ply (i.e. 6 ply embroidery floss).
Other threads to use when cross stitching include: DMC Color Variations Floss, DMC Light Effects Floss, DMC Satin Floss Anchor Lame Floss and Anchor Multi-Colour Floss. All of these threads are made from the world’s highest quality fibers and are either mercerized or finely twisted so that the beautiful luster and brilliant dyes are consistent skein to skein, ensuring that your project will withstand the test of time. These Threads are all 100% colourfast and fade resistant.
Select an evenweave fabric for cross stitch projects. For beginners, it is best to start with 100% cotton Aida fabric. Its precise square-patterned weave with visible stitching holes, or squares, makes this fabric easy to use and allows the needle to glide easily through the holes. When a project calls for Aida fabric, it usually lists a count. The count indicates how many squares are available per inch of fabric. Each square or hole represents a cross stitch. Aida fabrics are available in a variety of different counts ranging from 11, 14, 16 and 18, with the holes being larger or smaller. The smaller the fabric count the larger the holes in the fabric. For example 11-count Aida fabric will have 11 holes per inch. This is why for beginner projects it is recommended to use 11-count or 14-count Aida fabric as the holes are larger making it easier to stitch and to count. Aida fabrics are available in a variety of colours and types.
A little more about fabrics and how to select the right one…
People often learn how to do counted cross stitch on Aida and later learn to stitch on linen or other evenweave fabrics as they become more experienced. The term evenweave refers to the fabric having an even number of weft and warp threads per inch. Warp threads run the entire length of the fabric, while the weft threads run side-to-side, from selvage to selvage. The thread count for evenweave fabrics is determined by this number – for example, 22-count linen has 22 vertical warp threads and 22 horizontal weft threads per inch of fabric. The higher the count number, the finer and closer the weave will be. Aida is worked with one X over one square, linen and other evenweaves are generally worked over two threads. The common term for this technique is simply called “over two threads.” Stitching “over two threads” on 28 count linen produces the same size design as one stitched on 14-count aida.
Some things to keep in mind when choosing fabrics:
Fractional stitches (quarter stitches and three quarter stitches) can be hard to execute on aida fabric as the needle goes through the middle of the square. Stitchers sometimes prefer to use another evenweave fabric such as linen as the needle simply goes between the two threads.
Most evenweaves have a soft feel and aren't as stiff as aida. This can be a plus or a minus, depending on your preferences. The difference in stiffness isn't usually a factor if the fabric is worked in a hoop or on scroll bars. Stiffer fabrics like aida can be worked without a hoop and still not get distorted while stitching.
The look of the cloth for the background of the design is also important when selecting a fabric. Both texture and colour should be considered.
There are a number of other fabrics and items you can use for your cross stitch such as Vinyl Aida, Waste Canvas, Soluble Canvas and ready-made Afghans.
For cross stitch projects, use Tapestry Needles. Tapestry Needles have an elongated eye for easy threading and a blunt tip that glides smoothly through the holes in your fabric. The number of the tapestry needle corresponds to the size of the eye and the thickness of the needle. The higher the number of the needle, the smaller the eye and thinner the needle is.
Keeping your fabric taut while stitching is the best way to keep your stitches even and the tension of your stitches consistent. Choosing the right tool depends on the size of your project and personal preference. The most versatile and inexpensive is an embroidery hoop while the more experienced stitcher may prefer the versatility of a scroll bar frame for larger projects and stretcher bars for smaller projects.
Round Embroidery Hoops are the most common shape available and they generally range in size from 3” to 12”. They’re made from either plastic or wood and come in various styles and screw locking systems. Select a hoop that is slightly larger than the design area. The fabric should extend about 2” beyond the edges of the hoop to allow you to position and secure the fabric properly.
Cross Stitch Chart (Graph)
Prep your Supplies
Separate your Floss - Stranded Cotton Embroidery Floss is composed of six strands that are twisted together and easy to separate. Many cross stitch designs stitched on 14-count aida call for only two strands of floss, so you will need to separate your floss. Refer to your design chart to see how many strands (or plies) of floss the design specifies.
Find the end of the thread on your skein of Embroidery Floss. Slowly pull the end out from the skein until you have an 18” length of floss and cut it off. To separate the floss into individual strands, pull one strand up and out slowly until it is completely separated from the remaining strands. Continue to pull out the number of strands you need to stitch with. To rejoin the threads, hold them together at one end then gently stroke the lengths to smooth and recombine them.
Estimating Thread for a Project
Thread amounts for a project depend on numerous variables; the tension of the stitch and where the colour is placed in the design are the two primary ones. A quick way to estimate the amount of thread you will need for a large project is to take one 18”, half yard length and in the correct ply, cross stitch the fabric until the thread is finished. You will then know the how many stitches per length of thread you can make.
Each skein of Embroidery floss usually has 8.7 yards. By counting the stitches on your chart and using a calculator you should be able to determine the amount you’ll need.
Most charts assume that one skein will be plenty but in larger projects like Afghans, the chart will list how many skeins of each colour are needed.
Preparing Your Fabric
It is important to locate the center of your fabric so that you can center the design on it. To find the center, fold the fabric in half and then in half again, the center of the fabric is located where the folds intersect. To mark the center point make a small dot with a Water Soluble Pen.
Every chart lists the finished size of the cross stitch design. Add at least 3” all around the design area for framing or more if your finishing technique requires it.
Do not wash your fabric before you use it. Washing will tighten up the holes and make stitching on the fabric more difficult as the squares become harder to see.
Embroidery hoops are especially helpful if you are a beginner. See below for a step-by-step on how to easily insert your fabric into an embroidery hoop.
How to Use an Embroidery Hoop
Loosen the screw or nut on the outer embroidery hoop and separate the inner and outer rings. The outer ring will hold the fabric over the inner ring once you have inserted the fabric.
Place the inner ring on a flat surface. Place your fabric over it, then put the outer ring over the fabric and press until the bottom ring is snug inside the outer ring. Tug the corners of the fabric slightly to make the fabric taunt – make sure this is as tight as possible so the fabric won’t slip out of the hoop.
Tighten the nut or screw securely. Your fabric is now in place and ready to embroider.
Never leave your work in the hoop for an extended period of time. This can cause creases in the fabric that are difficult to remove. It is best to take your work out of the hoop when you’re not working on it, as it only takes a moment to place it back in the hoop.
Preparing your Needle
To thread your needle, it is easiest to use a Needle Threader. To use a Needle Threader, slide the eye of the needle onto the hook, then loop the thread on the hook and pass the hook through the eye of the needle and pull the thread through. (Some needle threaders work slightly differently to this, but all have a similar way to use them).
Here are some other ways to thread your needle without the assistance of a threader:
Pinch and Poke
Pinch and Poke – Cut a clean end of thread and pinch it between your thumb and forefinger, leaving only a little of the end exposed. Holding the needle in your other hand, “poke” the eye of the needle over the tip and the thread into the eye, then pull the thread through. Pinching the thread gives you more control to guide the thread into the eye. You may have to “saw” the eye of the needle back and forth slightly to get the thread to enter the eye.
Loop, Pinch and Press
Loop, Pinch and Press – Loop the end of thread over the eye of the needle and pinch the loop tightly between your thumb and forefinger. Remove the needle from the loop and press the eye of the needle down over the thread. Pull on the loop to get the thread through the eye of the needle.
Tip: Make sure your hands and work surface are kept clean while you’re stitching. Make it a habit to wash your hands before you begin to stitch and keep drinks and snacks away from the area.
Reading the Design Chart (Graph)
Your design chart contains all the information you need to stitch your design. A thread colour key shows the symbols that correspond to each colour. The squares on the design chart correspond to the squares on the fabric. Every square on the design chart that requires a stitch will contain a symbol. It is important that you center your design. Follow the four arrows on the design, where they all intersect is the center point. It is easiest to start stitching from the center of the design, but choose a section where you feel most comfortable.
The most common stitch on your chart is the cross stitch. Where the square on your Design Chart contains a symbol taking up the full square, a full cross stitch is required. The second most common stitch is the backstitch. Backstitches are generally used as outlining or lettering. When a square contains a straight line or dotted line that join two corners, a backstitch is required. Less common stitches are half stitches, quarter stitches and three quarter stitches, also referred to as fractional stitches.
Lets start to stitch!
To create beautiful cross stitch designs, we recommend starting your stitching with one the methods described below.
In Line Waste Knot Method
This "beginners" starting technique is best used to start a new design or to start stitching in a new area of the design. Knot the end of your thread and take your needle from the front to the back, about 1” or so from your starting point, running the thread along the same line you plan to stitch. Bring the needle up to the front of the fabric at the starting point of your first cross stitch. Start stitching towards the knot, being sure to cross over the thread on the back with each stitch to secure it. When your stitching reaches the knot, pull the knot up and clip it off close to the fabric and continue stitching.
Away Knot Method
Another easy way to start a new design or to start stitching in a new area of the design is the Away Knot. Knot the end of the thread and take your needle from the front side onto the back several inches away from your starting point and start stitching. When you finish stitching with that thread, pull the knot up and clip it off. Turn your work over, re-thread the needle with the remaining thread and weave the thread through several stitches on the backside to secure it.
Stitching Over Method
Pull your threaded needle up onto the front side of the fabric, leaving a 1” tail of thread on the back. Hold the tail of thread against the back of the fabric in the direction you plan to stitch, and work the first 4 to 5 stitches over it to secure it into place. Be sure to check the backside to confirm that your stitches are covering the thread, and clip any loose ends before continuing to stitch.
Once you have started a project, you can secure new threads by weaving the thread under several adjacent stitches on the backside and continue stitching. Similar to ending a thread.
Tip: We recommend that you start stitching the design in the center of the fabric and work outwards towards the edges. Beginners and all stitchers alike, it’s best to start in the center and avoid a costly miscalculation only to find that you’ve run out of fabric to finish stitching the design.
Stitching Cross Stitch
The cross stitch is worked in horizontal rows from left to right. To make a cross stitch, bring the needle up at point 1, lower left hole of one square of the fabric and down at point 2, upper right hole of one square of the fabric. Bring your needle back up at 3 down at 4, up at 5 down at 6. Complete the row. The return row is stitched right to left, make crosses by bringing the needle up at 9 and down at 10, up at 11 down at 12. Complete the return row and repeat the stitching sequence until the area is stitched as charted.
When stitching make sure your stitches lie flat. If your thread becomes twisted while stitching, drop the needle and allow the needle to hang freely. The thread will untwist by itself.
Make sure all your stitches are crossed in the same direction.
Keep your tension on the stitches even while cross stitching the design.
Work the design area first and any plain background last.
Work the darker colours first, and the lighter colours last.
Sometimes you'll stitch only a few stitches in an area, than jump to another area with that same colour floss. Jumping can be easier than stopping and starting, but when you carry the floss along the back it can show through the fabric. Only carry thread to another area if the jump is short and the thread is a light colour.
Ending a Thread
To end a thread, run your threaded needle under the last few stitches on the back of the fabric, and clip off the excess thread. After rethreading the needle to continue, simply run the needle under several stitches on the back to secure the thread and resume stitching.
The half stitch is a simple diagonal stitch and is most commonly worked in horizontal rows. Usually when a design calls for a half stitch, it is listed under a separate heading in the colour key and indicated on the chart by a diagonal coloured line. Some designers use half stitches in patterns sometimes as shading to create a sense of depth in a cross stitch picture.
To stitch a half stitch, bring the needle up from the back of the fabric at 1, and down into 2. Up at 3 down at 4. Complete the row. The return row is stitched in reverse and stitched from the right to the left. Here the needle comes up at 11 and down at 12, then up at 13 and down at 14. Complete the return row and repeat the stitching sequence until the area is stitched as charted.
To stitch a quarter stitch, bring the needle up from the lower left hole of the square of the fabric and down into the center of the square. Quarter stitches may be stitched from any corner of the Aida square.
Tip: Use a smaller size needle when stitching quarter stitches. Do not pierce the fibers in the center of the square. Wiggle the needle to shift the fibers and slip the needle between them.
Three Quarter Stitch
A three quarter stitch is most often done by stitching the short arm first, like a quarter stitch. It is completed with a half stitch to make the other two arms. To stitch a three-quarter stitch, first bring the needle up at the lower left hole of the square of the fabric and down into the upper right hole of the same square in the fabric. Next, bring the needle up at from the lower right hole of the square of the fabric and down into the middle of the half stitch you created.
Three-quarter stitches may be stitched in any direction.
Tip: To make fractional stitches on Aida fabric can be made somewhat easier by using a small sized needle (number 26 or number 28).
The back stitch is worked from the right to the left. To start, bring your needle up at 1 and back down at 2. Move left and bring needle up at 3 and back down at 1. Continue the stitching sequence. A line on your design chart indicates a back stitch is needed. When there is a symbol over a square, and the symbol is the same on both sides of the backstitch symbol, make a cross stitch in that square, then add the backstitch last.
The French Knot is used in many counted cross stitch designs to add extra detail or dimension. To make a French Knot, bring the needle up at 1. Hold your thread taut with the other hand and wrap the thread twice around the end of the needle. Gently pull the thread so that the wrapped threads tighten and while holding it taut, insert the needle next to 1. Pull thread through onto the backside until the knot is formed and lies securely on the surface. A bold dot on your design chart indicates a French Knot is needed.
Tip: To make a larger knot, wrap the thread around the needle a couple of extra times or use a thicker thread.
There are a lot of fun and creative ways you can embellish your cross stitch design. A popular embellishment is to use glass seed beads. When attaching beads with cross-stitches, work all first diagonal parts of the cross-stitches, then attach the beads when you work back across the row. Bugle beads, crystals, charms and small buttons also create interesting touches on a cross stitch design. These 3 dimensional adornments add interest to any stitchery and are available in numerous colours and styles. Make sure to use good quality glass beads, as plastic beads can melt when ironed.
Washing Your Cross Stitch
Always take special care to keep your work clean. Wash hands frequently to prevent body oils from staining the fabric.
Keeping your project protected from dust, insects and an accidental spill is easy to do. Store your working project in a Needlework Project Keeper.
Always wash each cross-stitched piece separately. Do not wash with any other embroidery project or laundry items.
Wash in cold water (tap water is fine unless you have very hard water, then you will want to use distilled water). Make sure the sink and any containers you will use are clean.
Pre-rinse the piece under cold running water.
Mix in a small amount of mild detergent or dishwashing liquid. Do not use specially formulated wool wash, harsh detergents, or chlorine bleach, gently wash.
Rinse several times in cold water. Do not worry if water becomes coloured when washing, continue rinsing piece until water runs clear.
Roll the piece between two clean towels squeezing gently without wringing. Do not allow the embroidery to touch upon itself.
Unroll towels and spread flat to dry on a fresh towel or drying rack. Let the piece air dry until it is just damp but not dripping wet so that it can be ironed.
To iron your washed piece, place the cross stitch face down between two clean towels (the towels protect your stitches from being crushed) and press lightly with a warm iron. Never use a hot iron.
To remove creases or fold lines use the steam setting on your iron.
Do not use protective coating sprays or other products of this type on your cross-stitched piece as they may cause a chemical reaction with the thread dyes.
It is not recommended that your cross-stitched piece be dry-cleaned.
Here are some free cross stitch pattern from DMC for you to start practicing with!;
Other Stitching Techniques
When you have mastered the art of cross stitch why not try one of the other forms of counted thread embroidery such as Blackwork or Hardanger.
Blackwork is worked mainly using backstitch and is traditionally stitched using black thread on a pale background.
Hardanger is a cut thread embroidery originating from Norway. It is usually stitched using perle thread on either evenweave or hardanger fabric.
Lets summarize with some final Hints & Tips
- Stranded cotton is also known as 'silk' or floss, particularly in American kits or charts.
- Always choose a piece of fabric that is at least 3" bigger on all sides than the design area.
- Start stitching the largest colour area first followed by the smaller block of colour.
- Where possible, start stitching darker colours; leaving lighter colours until last will keep your work cleaner.
- Where a chart has a whole row of stitches in the same colour, stick a row of half crosses then go back and complete the crosses in the row. Always make the crosses lie in the same direction to give it a tidy appearance.
- Count your stitches regularly as mistakes are easier to put right if they are spotted early.
- To keep an even tension, don't pull the thread too tight.
- Always work in a good light.
- If your thread gets twisted let the needle hang down straight until it unravels.
- Blend a strand of metallic thread with one of stranded cotton to create subtle highlights to your design.
- To add beads to a design, select a single strand of cotton, usually in a colour to match the colour of the bead or in a colour to match your fabric. Do the first half of the cross stitch as usual, pass the needle through the bead before passing the needle through the fabric to finish your cross stitch in the usual way. This will secure the bead in place.
- Never leave a needle or hoop in your work when storing it as it may distort or mark the fabric.
- To prevent your work from creasing, roll it around a tube when putting it away.
- Cross stitch is not just for pictures. For example, it can be used for cards as well as inserts for pot lids, handbag mirrors and key rings.
- Use waste canvas to cross stitch any design onto clothing or accessories. This is a temporary canvas tacked to your finished product before you start. You cross stitch the design in the usual way them dampen and remove the waste canvas, leaving your design in place.