How To Cross Stitch

A hail and hearty welcome to you! If you’re here then you’re curious about cross stitching or you want to advance your skills. Kudos to you! I’m here to give you all the help you need. If I haven’t covered something, just reach out and ask. I’m willing to share my knowledge and help you love cross stitching as much as I do. So I’ve broken down the information into three types of direction to give you – rules, guidelines and preferences.

Let’s get into some “rules.”

  1. Make sure you leave enough fabric past the design size. This one SOOOOOO got me the first time I was working a pattern outside of a kit. If you don’t add selvage edges, you will NOT be able to take the finished pattern and make something out of it. Not to mention you won’t be able to stitch to the very edge of the cloth. Cloth frays. Even if you use fray check or baste the edges of the cloth, you’ll still get some fraying. And your time and effort is so worth a beautifully finished pattern. So pay attention to whether the dimensions say pattern dimensions or fabric dimensions – there is a difference. Fabric dimensions mean the designer actually figured out for you how to cut your fabric to properly to get the pattern to fit. This could be tricky since your preference for a selvage may be different from what the designer thinks the selvage to be. This is why I always list the pattern dimensions. This is what the dimensions of the finished stitched area is. You’ll have to decide how much of a selvage you need and add to dimension size to get your final fabric size.
  2. Do something to your edges. This one could be more of a guideline to some but I definitely consider it a rule. Once you start snagging you floss on those loose edges or have it fraying and getting in the way of your stitches, you’ll be grabbing for something to tame those edges in. If it’s a quick stitch project, you could get away with using masking or painters tape. I used to do this but as my projects got bigger, the time to finish took longer and well…tape residue on your hard worked project just puts a damper on it. You’ll either have to cut it off or try washing it and hoping it doesn’t get over the rest of the project. I’ve taken to “quick basting” my edges. I take the edge of the fabric and turn about a quarter inch under, then fold it another quarter inch under so that the edges are now in the middle. Then I take a needle and thread and do a long basting stitch through it to keep that “sandwich” of an edge in place.
  3. Hoop it or frame it. This one might seem obvious to some and not to others. Some people like to stitch without a hoop or q-snap on their fabric but it is important, especially to newcomers to cross stitching, to have it. This will help keep the fabric taut so that you can more easily apply the correct tension to your stitches. A loose fabric tends to make for uneven tension in your stitches. You don’t have to go for the most expensive frame and/or stand. Get a hoop or q-snap frame that feels comfortable when you hold it and has enough of a work space for you to stitch in.
  4. Tension is only for your floss work, not for you. There is a zen to cross stitch, from the counting to the actual needlework. So don’t stress. Someone out there has experienced what you are currently and you can always find guidance out there. But I digress. The point here is how tight to make your stitches. You want them loose enough that you could run a needle under it on the back side of your work but tight enough so that the front doesn’t look messy. It’s a balance that you’ll get a feel for. Too tight of a tension will also draw your floss under the “squares” of the fabric. So that’s also something to be aware of. You don’t want to lose any stitches by pulling then under the fabric square.
  5. Start and end with a tail. Knots on the back of a stitched item can be a nightmare when it comes to finalizing the piece into the glorious artwork you made. It can leave bumps and that will prevent it from lying flat. There are such things as French Knots but those as additions to the pattern to give it a bit more detail to the design. We’ll cover speciality types of stitches later. What you want to do is take your threaded needle and on the first pull through on the fabric, leave about an inch or so of the end of the thread back there. Now take the needle back down through the fabric so you have your first part of the X. Flip your fabric over. Take the needle and place it in the next hole to make the next part of the X but make sure that the tail is caught beneath the floss as you make that next stitch. Place your thumb on the that loose inch or so of floss to hold it in place as you gently pull through the rest of the floss. Remember, not to tight and not too loose on that tension. now flip to the front and finish making the X. Congratulations you just made your first of many cross stitches! Work according to the pattern and make your next X of that color floss. I tend to try and anchor that floss tail a few more times just to ensure that its nice an solid and not going to slip away. Trim off the rest of the tail after you are satisfied that you have enough tacked under.
  6. Stitch only until there’s about two or three inches of a floss tail left in your needle. I admit, in my early years when I started cross stitch and I was only getting an allowance, I would try to squeeze every last stitch out of my floss. A young girl on a limited budget didn’t allow for a lot of floss in my stash you know. And that was a hard lesson to learn. If you do that, you leave yourself open to not being able to finish off the thread. It’s very hard to try and get your needle under the threads on the back to end it if you can’t even bend it to get to the threads on the back. It ends up making a bunch of tension related issues as well. So trust me, leave enough of a floss tail so you can end it well. So when you’ve reached that point, flip your fabric over so you can see the backside of it. Take your needle and gently lift the straight stitch close to where your floss is. You’ll want to slide the needle under that straight floss line and few more in line with it. Once you have done that, keep sliding the needle until it’s clear and then continue pulling until the floss is nice and flat and there’s nothing loose near your end point. Viola! you’ve finished your floss neatly.
  7. Always have your stitches lying in the same direction. While this seems to be simple in concept, some people struggle with it. You will want to have the stitches looking consistent and what that means is the floss should lie in the same direction. Your bottom crosses should always lean the same way, your top crosses should always lean opposite of the bottom. So if your bottom stitch goes from the lower left corner to the upper right corner, then your bottom cross should go in the opposite direction from the lower right to the upper left. In the same consideration, if you start the bottom stitch from the upper left and goes to the bottom right, then your top stitch should cross over it from the upper right to the lower left.

Now…let’s cover things that are more like “guidelines“.

  1. Use threads of a specific length. You’ll see the benefit in this as soon as you start getting your floss knotted or tangled. There is such a thing as optimal length in my humble opinion. If you’re using the double up method, then it should be about XXX inches long – about four pulls of the floss from the floss bundle. If you’ve placed the floss on bobbins, then you’ll need to go by measurement at first or by eyeballing it. What I used to do when I did have my floss on bobbins was to hold the loose end of the floss between my thumb and forefinger, and then unwind enough to get to my elbow. I never let my floss be longer than to my elbow because I noticed it tended to knot a lot more. Once you’ve done it a few times you’ll get the hang of cutting your floss to the length that works best for you. If you’re not doing a double up method, then about 2 pulls from the bundle will work well.
  2. Use a needle that works for the fabric you’re working and you’re comfortable with. There are needles for everything it seems but does that mean a cross stitch specific needle is what you need? Not necessarily in my opinion. Cross stitch needles tend to have a more rounded point then traditional needles. That works well for cross stitch specific cloths. They have larger holes between the squares so you don’t need to pierce the cloth (unless of course your pattern includes half or quarter stitches but we’ll get into that later.) If you’re working on linens, then you might want to consider a needle that has a sharper point. I say this because in all likelihood, you’ll be working “over 2”. What that means is that you’ll be using 2 threads on your cloth on both horizontal and vertical to create a “square”. A more blunted needle may not be able to work on linen as well as it does Aida or Evenweave. I tend to use a sharper needle on linen in order to help draw the linen threads apart to get the needle through. I also tend to use a sharper needle on the higher count fabrics like 20 count and above.
  3. Speaking about cloth counts… So obviously there’s more than one count of fabric out there. Which is right for you? It comes down to what finished size of the pattern do you want and how comfortable are you stitching on it. The smaller the count on the fabric, the larger the finished product. The higher the count, the smaller the project will be. Although this last part comes with a caveat. The higher the count goes, the smaller your actual stitch will be. So on the higher counts, you may want to consider stitching “over 2.” As I mentioned earlier, stitching “over 2” means that you are picking up two threads on linen fabric or two squares on cross stitch specific cloth on both the horizontal and the vertical to make one square to stitch. So on the cross stitch specific cloths, you are actually using four squares for one stitch. 20 count cloth is my “borderline” for whether I end up using one square or “over 2”. If you stitch “over 2” on 20 count or higher then you need to be aware that what you are actually stitching is the fabric count DIVIDED by 2. So 20 count would actually be a 10 count fabric if stitching “over 2”. So you need to make sure you adjust the amount of fabric you need for the pattern.

Lastly, let’s cover “preferences.” Preferences are ways you’ll prefer to do things. Everyone is unique so don’t stress over right and wrong. You’ll get into a natural flow. And if you don’t, that’s ok too. I’ve change up my own habits more times than I can count and I still do because for that particular pattern, it just felt right.

  1. Start in the middle. Start in the upper left corner. What should I do? There’s a division among cross stitchers in where to start a project. Some prefer starting on page one, square one. Others prefer starting in the middle of the pattern and working out from there. I have always gone from the center point and worked out. This way the pattern is exactly centered on the fabric. That will give you the same selvage size on the left and right, and the same selvage size on the top and bottom. Most charts will show you the center point. Starting in the upper left (or upper right if you so choose) just means you need to be more precise in where you are setting your first stitch. Neither is right or wrong in my opinion so don’t get hung up on it if someone says its wrong. This is YOUR hobby and you aren’t in the professional cross stitch rodeo where it would matter. 😉
  2. Use the number of floss threads that gives you the coverage you like. This again is a preference thing. Some like a thicker coverage and that’s ok as long as you are willing to work with more floss in your need and on your fabric. The best suggestion I can give you is to going into a corner of your fabric where you know the pattern would not touch and stitch yourself a 4 by 4 section with the number of floss threads you think you want. You’ll see a small snapshot of how the floss will look. Don’t like it, then stitch another 4 X 4 set of stitches using one less floss thread or one more floss thread. This is YOUR project, so make it something you will be thrilled with.
  3. Floss bags, floss bobbins, floss sorters, keep it loose and free. I’ve done all of these and currently I prefer the floss bags. So let’s cover these individually
    • Floss Bobbins. These are either small cardboard or plastic pieces that you wind your floss around. It looks like a two dimensional spool. This gives you some small place to mark the floss number on it so that you can identify what color it is. Problem I have with bobbins are first off, putting your floss on bobbins takes time. A lot of time if you have a lot of colors. Time I see as detracting from my actual stitching time. It also tends to leave bends in the floss from being wound on the bobbins. Plus if you need multiple floss skeins, its not easy to put multiples on one bobbin and its a bit distracting is you have multiple bobbins of the same color in the collection. Now I will give you a plus or two for bobbins, it does keep it neat if you have a floss bobbin caddy and it may save you some storage space.
    • Floss bags. These are like small ziplock bags. Some have holes punched out at the edge opposite the seal so you can put them on metal rings in a binder like fashion. the ones specifically for floss will give you an area to write the floss number on it. I’ve actually gotten ziplock type plastic bags in the jewelry section and used those instead. I store them either in a plastic caddy with all my project supplies for that particular project, or in a plastic tote in a notecard type fashion where I can go through them to find the floss I need. No winding involved here. Quicker to actually starting your project.
    • Floss sorters. These can be paper, cardboard or even plastic. Think of it as a list of the floss colors needed with a hole punched next to it where you can thread through your floss. Some patterns come with the paper or cardboard versions. The plastic ones can be bought at craft stores or online.
    • Loose and free. Oh this one is hard for me to say and do. This method just has you putting all you floss loose in a bag or box and using as needed. This tends to be a tangled mess the longer you work on a project so I definitely recommend NOT doing this.
  4. Digital or hard copy. Most of the older patterns will only be hard copy. With the ever growing expanse of the internet, more designers (yours truly included) are out there giving you digital copies so you can print as you need or even upload onto your Android tablet or iPad so you can use them digitally. It also helps on storage space…and once you’re truly addicted, that will make sense to you. 😉 But with either option, you’ll want a working copy so you can mark off what stitches you’ve stitched to help track your progress. If you’re working with a paper copy, I recommend using highlighters to mark off your completed stitches. This way you can backtrack IF you find you’ve made a mistake. On your electronic devices, make sure you use a color that you can see through for the same reason.

Now that we’ve had fun with rules, guidelines and preferences (oh my!), you’ve gotten a good understanding of what you need to consider and do for your cross stitching. If you don’t think I’ve given you enough, drop me a comment and I’ll work on getting you and everyone visiting even more information.

Need to revisit the supplies information?

What Supplies Do I Need To Cross Stitch

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