How to Cross Stitch

Cross stitch is a popular and easy form of embroidery that is perfect for beginners and makes beautiful artwork. It is created by an X-shaped stitch on an evenweave fabric with embroidery floss.

Below you will find a beginner's instruction guide to learning this craft. Please note that there are varying ways to perform different cross stitch steps and those found below are simply my preferences as a cross stitcher. Best of luck to you as you learn this new craft--I know that you'll be great--and don't forget to relax and have fun!

Materials needed:

  • Fabric - as a beginner it is recommend that you start by working on fabric labeled "14 count Aida." The built in grid of this fabric makes it easier to transfer what you see on the paper pattern to the fabric. The "count" of a fabric indicates the size of the weave and therefore the size of your stitches. The higher the number, the smaller the stitch. Common counts of fabric are 14, 16, 18, 28, and 32.
  • Floss - every pattern comes with a color chart indicating which flosses are necessary to complete the project. Brand name flosses, such as DMC, have numbers assigned to each individual color to make identifying the flosses easy.
  • Needle - special blunt-ended needles are used for cross stitch. They may be labelled as inteded for "embroidery" or "tapestry". Similar to fabric, the higher the number, the smaller the needle. Recommended sizes are Tapestry 24, 26, or 28.
  • Scissors - these are required for cutting off the ends of your floss when you are done stitching. Small decorative scissors are common in the cross stitch community, however they are not necessary. While you are learning you can use any household scissor you have available. If you continue with the craft, you may wish to invest in embroidery scissors as their fine points are easier to use in this craft.

How to read the pattern chart:

  • Each square in the chart represents one cross stitch.
  • Every color of floss is represented by a unique symbol and should be used to fill that symbol's spaces on the fabric.
  • Empty squares with no symbol are to be left unstitched.
  • For your convenience, heavier lines are printed every 10 stitches.
IMPORTANT: To fit standard size paper for printing, patterns may be split across two or more pages. The first two columns and/or rows on the second page are shaded because they are a repeat of the last two columns/rows on the first page. Do NOT restitch these. They are provided to help transition between pages.

Preparing to cross stitch:

  1. Begin by finding the center of your pattern--the height and width centers are indicated at the top and left side by little triangles. Trace inward from these points until they meet and that is your pattern center.
  2. Using your color chart, determine the floss color of your center stitch and prepare a piece of floss for stitching.
  3. To prepare your floss, cut a length of about 40 inches from your skein. Rubbing your finger
    across one of the ends you will see that your piece of floss is actually made up of six smaller strands. Separate one strand to use for stitching--to do this, simply pinch your floss between two fingers near one of the ends and taking one of the single strands, pull upward until it has come free of the others. (Do this slowly to avoid tangling)
  4. Fold your single strand of floss in half and thread both ends through your needle. This will create a loop at the other end that will be used to anchor your floss to your fabric.

Creating the cross stitch:
  1. Cross stitches are made through a 4-point system and consist of two separate stitches, a bottom and a top. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN CROSS STITCH is that all of your bottom stitches go in the same direction and all of your top stitches go in the same direction. This will create a uniform look throughout the entire piece.
  2. Begin by putting your needle up through the first point of your first stitch.
  3. Pull a small amount of floss through the fabric leaving the rest on the back side.
  4. Put your needle down through the second point of your stitch. 
  5. Leave your needle inserted half way through the fabric and turn your work over.
  6. Place the loop that is at the end of your floss over the needle and then pull the needle and the full length of the floss through your fabric.
  7. DO NOT pull on the floss tightly. Too much tension will distort the fabric and leave visible holes in your work. Gently pull your floss until there is no more easy movement to it and then let it be.
  8. The loop has now secured the floss to your fabric. 
  9. Return to the front of your work for the remainder of your stitches.
  10. Put your needle up through the third point of your stitch.
  11. And finally, put your needle down through the fourth point of your stitch.
  12. Your first stitch is now complete.
Stitching a block of color:

When there are multiple stitches of the same color in a row, they can be stitched as a set rather than individually. To do this you will begin by stitching all of the bottom stitches of your row. Then, return across the row by putting in the top stitches. This process can also be done vertically. 

Finishing a piece of floss:

When you have finished stitching with a strand of floss, turn your work to the backside and run the needle under several nearby stitches. Pull the floss through and then clip it off leaving no loose tail.

Tips and Tricks:

  • When working with a color that has stitches near, but not next to each other, it is okay to skip over a few stitches to work with the same strand of floss. Avoid skipping over large areas or what will remain unstitched spaces with a dark color, as it may be seen through the fabric.
  • If you begin getting lots of knots, your floss is probably twisted. To avoid this, frequently hold your work in the air and let the floss and needle dangle freely. It will untwist itself.
  • If your stitches start looking really thin, your floss may be twisted. Along with "dropping your needle," try running the eye of the needle up and down the length of floss a few times.
  • Hoops are a great help when cross stitching, but will leave rings in the fabric that may be difficult to get out. If working with a hoop, always take it off when you are not stitching.
  • Cross stitch should only ever be hand washed with a delicate soap like Dawn and dried flat.
  • If using floss other than DMC, colors may run when wet. Do not wash if hand-dyed flosses were used. 

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