How to Cross Stitch

This cross stitch guide was written for complete beginners and those who might need a little refresher. 

If after reading this guide you still have questions about how to cross stitch, I'd be happy to help, just drop me a message here or on Instagram.

WHAT IS CROSS STITCH?

Cross stitch is a type of counted thread embroidery in which X-shaped stitches are used to form an image.

It’s one of the most satisfying and meditative embroidery techniques and it’s suitable for crafters of all skill levels.

TOOLS AND SUPPLIES

You’ll need just a few basic supplies to get started.

FABRIC: Cross stitch is generally worked on Aida canvas; a loosely woven fabric that appears like a grid of evenly spaced holes. Aida comes in a variety of ‘counts’. The ‘count’ refers to the number of holes per inch.

TAPESTRY NEEDLE: A blunt tapestry needle is used for cross stitch. Tapestry needles come in different sizes to suit the fabric count. For example, a size 24 tapestry needle works best for 14 count Aida. 

THREADS: The best thread for cross stitch is a six-stranded embroidery thread (also known as floss). The thread is made up of six thin cotton strands twisted together. In cross stitch, you’ll generally stitch with one or two strands at a time; I’ll explain how to divide your strands later in this guide.

EMBROIDERY HOOP: An embroidery hoop is not a necessity but many stitchers prefer to use one as it keeps the fabric taut and makes it easier to pass the needle back and forth. It’s also more comfortable to hold and helps keep your fabric clean.

EMBROIDERY SCISSORS: Small and sharp and perfect for snipping thread, special embroidery scissors aren’t entirely necessary but they do make stitching easier.

HOW TO READ A CHART

Your cross stitch chart (also known as a pattern) tells you exactly where to stitch and what colour thread to use. The grid on the chart corresponds to the grid created by the weave of your fabric.

Cross Stitch Symbols

Every symbol or coloured square on the chart represents a stitch. The colours and symbols on the chart also tell you which colour thread to use. 

The chart symbols match up with symbols on the floss palette (usually on the last page of your chart).

As you’ll see in the graphic opposite, small white square symbols represent the turquoise thread colour (DMC 3845) whilst black diamonds represent pink (DMC 3609). 

Below is a legend key; note how the symbols on the floss palette match the symbols on the chart.

OK, LET’S GET STITCHING! 

      1. START IN THE CENTRE

Centre of Cross Stitch Pattern

It’s generally recommended that you start from the centre of the pattern and work outwards. This ensures the finished piece is centred on the fabric.

First, you need to find the centre of the fabric. You can do this by folding the fabric in half and then half again. The point where the creases intersect is the centre of your material. Place a pin or draw a small pencil line as your marker.

Now find the middle of the pattern. You can identify this by looking for the black arrows at the top and left edge of the grid – where they meet is your centre point and your first stitch!

If there isn’t a stitch right in the middle, simply start with the nearest one.

    2. THREADING YOUR NEEDLE

Start by cutting a length of thread approximately 18” (45cm) long. 

Then, separate your strands. Pull one strand out at a time using a slow upwards motion. For patterns worked on 14 count Aida, you will stitch with two strands of thread. To rejoin the strands, hold them together at one end and use your other hand to smooth and recombine them. Thread your needle as you would for hand sewing but don’t make a knot in the end.

     3. STITCHING YOUR FIRST ROW

Starting from the back side of your fabric, bring your needle up through a hole in the centre.

Leave a thread tail of about 3 cm dangling at the back; you’ll stitch over this to secure it.

We’ll be stitching left to right, so pass your needle through the hole diagonally across from where you started. Hold on to the tail at the back so you don’t pull it through. This is your first half stitch.  

To start your second half stitch, bring your needle back through the hole directly below the one you just used and stitch diagonally across as before. Continue doing this until you reach the end of the row. You should end up with a series of half stitches that look like this:

Half Stitches
To make full cross stitches, bring your needle through the hole directly below the last one you used but instead of making another half stitch, travel back along the row; right to left.
Full Cross Stitches
Every row can be completed in the same way. Just be sure to keep track of how many stitches you need to make per row and any colour changes.

       4. MAKING INDIVIDUAL CROSS STITCHES

 

In some places on your design (including the centre), it may be easier to make a complete cross stitch before moving on.

Additionally, some stitchers prefer to work their rows in full cross stitches; rather than travelling back and forth.

Follow the numbers in the graphics opposite and below to create a single complete stitch or multiple complete stitches.

Cross Stitch

     

      5. ENDING YOUR THREAD

Continue stitching until you reach the end of your thread or until you need to change colour / have no more stitches to make. Be sure to leave yourself a 1.5” (3.8cm) tail of thread. 

On the back side of your fabric, pass the needle under at least three completed stitches to secure the thread. Trim any remaining thread, but don’t cut it too close - leave a little tail.

And that’s all there is to it. Now go forth and stitch!