First Steps in Cross Stitch
At its core cross stitch is a sewing technique used to embellish fabric with designs made up out of little squares. A big bonus of the technique is that simple designs are both extremely impactful and beautiful and easy to execute. Designs can also be scaled up and down just by choosing a different fabric making it perfect for beginners and even children learning to stitch. It has held the status of being one of the most popular embroidery crafts around and as such there are so many wonderful patterns available across all tastes and skill levels. Whether you want some subversive stitch or to reproduce classic samplers it’s all available with the same simple stitches!
Selecting Materials and Equipment
Cross stitch is always sewn on evenweave fabric so as to make nice even squares. An evenweave fabric is one that has the same number of threads per inch in both the warp and weft. The number of these threads per square inch is called the thread count and should be easy to find on any fabric being sold for cross stitching. Historically cross stitch is worked on linen but what you will find in most kits now, and what is most available in craft shops, is a fabric called Aida. Aida is very easy to use because the way it is woven creates small evenly spaced holes that make a very clear guide for where to put your stitches, one square is one cross whereas on linen you create your cross over two or three threads. This means that the size of the stitches 14 count Aida will be the same as on a 28 count linen where the stitch is made over two threads.
The thread used for cross stitching is cotton embroidery thread. The threads will come in one thread made of 6 smaller threads. To begin your cross stitch cut a length of thread around 30cm long, separate this into groups of 2 or 3 little threads. Whether the thread is separated into groups of 2 or 3 depends on the count of your fabric. If you are not working to a pattern which specifies your count and the number of threads to use you can always do a small 5x5 or 10x10 test section and pick the one that feels and looks best to you. The aim is not to see the fabric through the thread but not to make it tick or stiffen it up.
Tapestry needles are used for cross stitch, they are blunt with large eyes. The blunt tip is so that your stitches will always go into the gaps in the fabric rather than piercing the threads. Needles commonly range from size 18 to 28 with the larger the number the smaller and thinner the needle. Too big and the needle will push the threads apart stretching the holes which is not as nice on the finished piece.
Embroidery hoops are wooden hoops that hold the fabric taut while working they are incredibly useful for comfort while working and in getting a polished finish. Though hoops can be placed over stitching this can damage the work so trying to get a hoop that will contain all of the design is always a bonus. Keep what is comfortable for you at the top of your priorities for this item, fixing up a piece a little at the end is much easier than being uncomfortable all the way through making it.
Preparing Your Fabric
To avoid the fabric fraying as it is worked on treating your edges is important. If you don’t want to bother, give yourself a larger piece of fabric you can trim to size on compilation. To keep the edges tidy you can tape them with masking tape, apply iron on fusible tape, go around the edge with a wide zigzag stitch on a sewing machine or if you don’t have a sewing machine whip stitch or blanket stitch all around. Stitching is the easiest to do neatly if the edges will show when you are done.
Marking Center Lines
Marking the center of your fabric is essential to placing your design. Fold the fabric in half and pinch along the fold making sure that it is straight along the same thread all the way then mark this with a line of running stitch, fabric chalk or a marker that disappears with water. Repeat this folding the fabric in half in the other direction.
Putting in a Hoop
To place your fabric in the hoop, loosen the screw so it comes easily away from the inner ring but not so much that you see large gaps. Place the inner ring on a clean flat surface and pace your fabric flat over it. Try to position the center of the fabric in the center of the hoop. Place the outer hoop over the inner and push down evenly until the hoops level. The friction should stretch your fabric over the inner hoop. Tighten the screw, pull the edges of the fabric to tighten moreIf necessary or to tighten as you work.
Patterns will always be shown on a grid marked in 10 x 10 sections, each square represents a stitch. The center lines of the pattern are often marked by arrows or by heavier lines. Often patterns will come with two grids one in colourThe and one in black and white. The colour thread that is to be used will be marked by both the colour of the square but also a unique mark such as a dot. Depending on the pattern working from the black and white sheet where the marks are more clearly visible is a great help. To figure out your placement you find the central lines on you pattern and your fabric and then count your stitches out from there.
To start your thread make a long stitch from below where you are going to begin to the top right corner of the square you wish to start. Keeping a short tail of that thread sticking out of the top of your fabric is a good way to keep it in place until your sties cover the back of it keeping it in place. Continue to stitch from top right corner to bottom left down your row until you reach the point you want to stop. At this point you will have a series of diagonal lines, like /, on the front of your fabric and a series of bars, like -, on the back trapping the start of your thread. Then work back up that row from bottom right to top left in diagonal lines, like \, with the bars on the back thickening up, like =, it is important to work the squares in this order as otherwise it is impossible to start into your next row of stitching. In order to finish your thread, bring your needle through to the back of the fabric and thread it under the, =, bars of your stitching, it should look the same as when you are starting a thread.
How to Order Your Approach
The easiest way to start cross stitching is to take every 10 x 10 section of your pattern and finish it to completion before moving on. Start on the top left of the pattern and move along to the right until you reach the first stitch indicated in the pattern. Look at the 10 x 10 section it is in and start with the colour that is in it most and fill in those stitches then go in with the rest of your colours until the section is done. Move on from right to left and top to bottom in the 10 x 10 sections. A system like this is a way to make keeping track of where you are in a pattern easier and to make any mistakes that do happen easier to fix rather than having to unpick a lot or live with it being wrong.
Making mistakes is very common and learning to pick where your line is between what you let go and what you will take time to undo is an unfortunately central part of the cross stitch experience! This order is just a guideline, there are other systems of approaching patterns that work better for different people with different experience, but starting into cross stitch without one would be making your life much harder than it needs to be. Modifying this as you go along in ways that suit you is recommended and hopefully you will enjoy your journey into the craft.
Kits are a great way to pick up cross stitch, they come in all different shapes, sizes and difficulties for every taste. All the material and threads are prepared for you along with the pattern. Keep a lookout on the back of the packs to see what else is included before you leave the shop as most kits contain needles and some contain hoops it’s better to find out they don’t while you're still in the place you can add them to your shop. Browse our range of cross stitch kits by clicking here!