Cross-Stitch Beginners guide

Welcome to my Cross Stitch Beginners Guide. Cross-stitch has become hugely popular among modern crafters. It is easy to learn, requires little equipment and can produce stunning finished designs.  Cross-stitch is an old form of counted thread embroidery and it is one of the easiest forms to learn.  X shaped stitches are stitched into an open weave fabric, such as aida, linen or even burlap.  There is a huge selection of modern contemporary or more traditional patterns available nowadays, so there’s something for everyone.  Follow these Cross Stitch Beginners Guide instructions, and you’ll be creating beautiful pieces in no time.

1. Equipment to get started

If you’re using a kit, you should have everything you need.

If not the basics you will need are – 

  • Open weave fabric – our patterns use Aida 14 count
  • Floss
  • Embroidery needles
  • Sharp scissors (embroidery scissors are ideal as they are smaller than most scissors)
  • Seam ripper is also useful – just be careful not to rip the fabric!
  • Needle threaders
  • A little box to keep all the little items in is really helpful. A shallow metal pencil case is ideal. A magnetic strip inside the lid will keep your needles in place.

2. Understanding the chart

CROSS STITCH The cross-stitch chart shows you where to stitch and what colour floss to use. The cross-stitch chart grid corresponds to the grid created by the weave of the fabric, and each chart square represents one cross-stitch.  The chart may be presented as colours only, colours on symbols, or symbols only depending on the chart.  Either way, each symbol represents the coloured floss you need to use for that stitch. 

Each of our patterns contain a red vertical and horizontal line.  Where these lines meets is the central point of the pattern.  When you begin a new cross-stitch pattern, find the central point of the design and start stitching out from there.  It will ensure that your design is centred to start stitching in the middle of the design. Our patterns will give you the measurements of the finished design. Always leave an additional 2-3cm of fabric border all round the design, this will be helpful if framing. If you plan to mount your work, leave an additional 10-15cm border all around for stretching and mounting your work if you are working on a large piece.

BLACKWORK charts are laid out similarly to cross-stitch charts, except the stitches are shown as linear lines instead of blocks. The stitches are made using simple backstitch, but the results are stunning and so rewarding. Blackwork has been around for centuries, and was traditionally worked in black or sometimes red threads. Our patterns use a small palette of contemporary colours to create modern design that we hope you’ll love. Blackwork looks a lot harder than it is, but it’s not difficult and once you get going you’ll be hooked.

Similar to cross stitch, find your central point on the chart (where the red lines meet) and find the corresponding point on your fabric (see Cross Stitch Beginners Guide 3. Fabric below) and work out from there.

3.  Fabric 

Aida 14 count (14 stitches per inch) is the standard size fabric used in our designs.  The pattern will state the finished size of the design. Your fabric should be larger than this, an additional 3cm border is advisable if framing, or larger is you are mounting your work on canvas.

Press your fabric before you begin.  It will be easier to work with and will help with even stitch tension.

To find the central point of the fabric, fold the fabric in half and then fold again.  Alternatively, measure the fabric with a ruler and find the central point that way.  Mark the centre point with a water-soluble fabric pen or with a loose stitch that can be easily removed.

If you are stitching a large piece, it may be worthwhile to zig zag stitch around the edge of the fabric to prevent fraying. Our patterns will work with fabrics of smaller and larger counts but the finished size will obviously differ accordingly.

If you are working on a larger piece, you may wish you grid your fabric in blocks of 10 x 10. Use a water-soluble fabric pen or lines of tacking stitch (that can be easily removed as you stitch), to mark out your rows and columns. Only do this if you feel it’s necessary, it’s very much a personal choice.

4. To hoop or not to hoop?

A hoop is not necessary, some people like using them, others don’t.  It’s very much a personal choice.  In praise of hoops, they keep your fabric flat and they make it easier to see if your eyesight isn’t what it used to be! You can also get grime guards to sit around the edge of the hoop (or frame) to keep your fabric clean. These can also help prevent your non-stitching hand from stretching the fabric, if you’re holding it in the same position for a period of time.

If you choose to use a hoop, they come in two parts, an inner and outer hoop (this has the tightening screw).  Fabric is placed over the inner hoop, and then the outer hoop is placed over the fabric and secured by tightening the screw.  Ensure your fabric is flat and taut as you tighten the screw, but not so tight that the weave will become distorted. For larger pieces, you may wish to use a frame to hold your fabric. There are several varieties, some sit on the floor, some on your lap. Again it’s down to preference.

5. Floss

Most embroidery floss is made of six strands of thread. The number of strands you use depends on the fabric, but most patterns typically require two strands.  If your pattern uses two strands, it’s easier to thread up three needles at a time so the additional strands don’t knot up.

To separate the strands, hold the floss with one hand and gently lift away one strand with the other until separated.  Do this one strand at a time to avoid knotting.  Cut the strands you require 16 – 18 inches long or fingertip to elbow.  Any longer and the threads will undoubtedly get knotted – not fun!

Our patterns use DMC threads and our patterns indicate exactly how many skeins of each you will require for each piece. If you already have a stash of anchor of other floss that you wish to use instead, and you are unsure which will match the pattern, please drop us an email and we will be happy to help. Please bear in mind that DMC have an extensive colour palette so an exact match may not always be possible. Of course, you can always change the colours to suit your own decor or preferences.

6. Needles

Tapestry needles are ideal for cross-stitch.  They are round ended (the weave is loose so you don’t need a sharp needle to pierce) and have a wide eye so easy to thread. 

Size 24 tapestry needles are recommended for 14 count aida. 

When you’re cross stitching, don’t knot the end of your thread when threading.  Instead stitch over the thread end as you begin stitching, and when you come to the end of your thread, run your thread end behind a couple of cross stitches to secure.  Knotting can cause unsightly bulges in the design so are best avoided.  

For blackwork, the volume of stitching is less dense so it is advisable to knot the thread, but have the knot at the front of the fabric rather than the back. This is a waste knot, it is not permanent and will be cut off in due course. Insert the needle from the front side of the fabric close to where you plan to begin stitching and in a spot which will be disguised by blackwork. Stitch until you reach the waste knot and then snip it off.

7. Starting to stitch

  • Decide on your starting point.  
  • Bring your needle from the back of the fabric through desired hole at the front, leaving an inch or so of thread at the back  – this will be secured by other stitches as you work. 
  • Pass the needle through a hole diagonally across from where you started to make a slanted half cross-stitch.  Hold the thread at the back to ensure you don’t pull it through.
  • Start your second half cross-stitch by bringing the needle back up through the hole that is directly below the one you last used, ensuring you trap the thread end. 
  • Try to ensure that stitch tension is even.  Stitches should be flat on the fabric, with no gapping but not tight so that fabric is distorted.
  • When you get to the end of your thread, run it behind some complete stitches to secure. 
  • It may be easier to stitch in rows of half stitches and then stitch back to complete the stitches, but find your own style and do whatever works best for you – there is no right of wrong way!

And finally….

ENJOY!  Relax and embrace creating something beautiful, while taking some time from daily life.  Life is stressful, so don’t feel guilty about some valuable me time – the laundry will still be there later!

Hopefully you found this Cross Stitch Beginners Guide useful. Happy stitching x