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Learn how to cross stitch

Posted by Embroidery Outpost Editorial Team on

With the kids going back to school, now is a perfect opportunity to indulge in some me-time and learn a new craft. Cross stitch is a relaxing and rewarding craft that can be done anywhere in your home. It does not make a noise, create a mess, or require loads of money to get set up.

This is the first blog in our series on learning about different types of thread embroidery techniques.

In this article you will learn:

What is cross stitch

Cross stitch is an ancient, cherished embroidery technique with a rich historical legacy. It has captured the hearts of artists and crafters through the ages across continents and cultures. Each stitch weaves a story of heritage and beauty, creating timeless artwork on fabric.

Cross stitch uses X-shaped stitches of different finished sizes and floss colors to create stunning images. Are you intrigued by the allure of classic motifs, traditional scenes, or whimsical charm? You can craft Christmas cross stitch patterns, bird cross stitch designs, animal cross designs, wedding cross stitch gift ideas, cross stitch designs for babies, and more. And, you can select images in any finished size, shape, and floss colors that spark your creativity.

What Do You Need To Get Started?

For a beginner, we recommend buying a beginner cross stitch kit that provides you with everything you need. You won’t have to shop around and risk buying the wrong products or forgetting something.

A cross stitch kit will usually contain the following:

Image - This is a printed representation of what your finished project will look like. The full-color picture is usually found on the front of the cross stitch kit.

Pattern or chart - This is a roadmap for your stitching journey, providing you with instructions on how to create the design step by step.

Cross stitch fabric - Aida fabric is the most commonly used material for cross stitch kits. It has a visible grid, which makes it easier to count stitches and keep track of your progress. The fabric count refers to the number of stitches per inch, with common counts ranging from Aida 14 to Aida 18. The higher the count, the smaller your stitches will be.

Needles - Your cross stitch kit will include one or more needles in the correct size. Cross stitch needles usually have a large eye to accommodate multiple strands of thread.

Embroidery hoop - The round wooden embroidery hoop for stitching helps keep the fabric taut while you work, ensuring neat and even stitches.

Thread - Cross stitch projects use embroidery floss, which is a divisible thread made up of multiple strands of floss. The floss comes in a wide array of vibrant thread colors that bring your design to life.

pile of cotton embroidery thread in different colors

Instructions - Beginner cross stitch kits include easy-to-read instructions to get you going.

How to read a cross stitch chart

The cross stitch chart acts as a visual representation of the design, indicating where each stitch should be placed and what color to use.

The chart is made up of a grid, with each square representing a single stitch. The horizontal rows of squares are referred to as the "count," and the vertical columns are referred to as the "rows." This grid helps you to keep track of your progress and ensures accuracy in your stitching.

Each symbol on the chart represents a specific color of your embroidery floss. The symbols may vary from one chart to another, but they are usually displayed in a legend that accompanies the chart. This key will show you the symbol used for each color of floss, making it easier for you to identify and select the correct color.

How to prepare your fabric and position your embroidery hoop

Prepare the piece of fabric in your beginner cross stitch kit by ironing it on a low heat setting, using a pressing cloth for protection. This will eliminate creases and ensure smooth, flat stitches.

To prevent fraying, you can "finish" the edges of your fabric. Do this by sewing a zigzag stitch along the edges or applying a fabric fray preventer.

Now position your embroidery hoop. The embroidery hoop helps keep the fabric taut and makes it easier to stitch. Place the inner hoop under the fabric and the outer hoop on top. Tighten the screw on the hoop to secure the fabric in place. Make sure the fabric is evenly tensioned, with no wrinkles or folds.

light blue aida cloth with a threaded needle securely placed in an embroidery hoop

How to prepare your thread

In your cross stitching kit, you will find skeins of different colored thread. Start by cutting a length of thread from the skein. Some stitchers prefer shorter lengths to minimize tangling, while others prefer longer lengths to reduce the number of times they need to rethread their needles. It is up to you!

Once you've cut your thread, separate it into single strands. Embroidery floss comes in skeins with multiple strands twisted together. Most patterns will indicate how many strands to use for each stitch. For example, a detailed pattern might use two single threads for full coverage or one strand for a lighter effect.

Gently hold the top of a piece of thread and pull one strand away at a time. Be careful not to tug or pull too hard, as this can cause the thread to knot or fray. Once you have the desired number of strands, hold them together and run your fingers down the length of the thread to smooth out any tangles.

Thread your needle

Insert one end of the thread through the eye of the needle. A needle threader is one of the popular options, especially when threading multiple strands of thread. Once your needle is threaded, leave a small loose tail of thread at the end, approximately one inch long. This tail will be secured in the back of your fabric to keep your stitches in place.

How to make your first stitch and many more stitches after that!

Take a deep breath and start with your first basic cross stitch! Bring your needle up from the back of the fabric at the bottom left corner of the first stitch in your pattern. Make sure to leave a small tail of thread at the back to secure the stitch later.

Next, bring the needle down through the fabric at the top right corner of the first stitch, making sure to pass through the hole diagonally opposite to where you started. This will form the first half of your cross stitch.

Bring the threaded needle back up through the fabric at the bottom right corner of the first stitch. Again, make sure to pass through the hole diagonally opposite to maintain consistency with the rest of your stitches. This completes the first half of the X-shaped stitch. Now, bring the needle back down through the fabric at the top left corner of the stitch. Congratulations! You have just completed your first cross stitch!

Continue making X-shaped stitches for the entire row, working from left to right. Try to maintain the same tension throughout your stitches to ensure an even appearance. You will notice that the adjacent stitches share a common hole in the fabric. This creates the cohesive texture of cross stitch and gives your design its unique characteristic.

Work row by row, stitch by stitch, and you will see the pattern start to emerge. Don't worry if your stitches aren't perfect right away. Cross stitch is a skill that improves with practice, and every stitch you make brings you closer to becoming a pro. Take a break when you need to rest, and give yourself a pat on the back!

How to end your thread

Crafters use different techniques to end a thread. For a beginner, this is an easy method. Bring your needle to the back of the fabric, close to where you want to end the thread. Carefully weave the needle under a few stitches on the back, creating a loop. Pass the needle through the loop, forming a small knot that secures the thread. Gently pull the thread taut, ensuring the knot is snug. Trim any excess thread, leaving a tidy finish.

Cross stitch kits to get you started

To get started, we highly recommend the Teach Yourself Counted Cross Stitch Leaflet from our Needlework for Beginners collection. This six page fold-out leaflet teaches you the basics about fabric, thread, hoops, and needles, and you get to learn several different stitches.

You can then make some fabulous designs from our beginner needlework kits. Craft a fun farm embroidery design of yellow corn for a country-style kitchen. Create a unique personalized cross stitch Baby Boy design, perfect as a baby shower gift. For the festive season, you can decorate your tree with a Christmas cross stitch ornament featuring a jolly Ho Ho Ho Santa that will delight both the adults and the kids.

FAQ - Learn how to cross stitch

What is cross stitch?

Cross stitch is an embroidery technique that uses X-shaped stitches to create images on cloth.

Is cross stitch easy for beginners?

Cross stitch is one of the easiest embroidery techniques and is ideal for beginners.

How to get started with cross stitch?

The easiest way to get started is to buy a beginner cross stitch kit that contains everything you need to make a small design.

What can one make with cross stitch?

The design that is sewn onto fabric can be finished as framed embroidery wall art decor, ornaments, pillowcase embroidery designs, or personalized cross stitch gifts. You can also decorate towels, napkins, sweaters, baby clothes, and scarves with cross stitch designs.