The Beginner Guide to Cross Stitch

Are you a cross-stitching newbie? Here’s the beginner guide to cross stitch, a compilation of everything you need to know to get started. Cross stitching has been around for centuries and like everything else developed with time, but the basics are still the same. It is very easy to learn and is enjoyed by men and women from all ages. It is one of the easiest crafts to pick up and you can end up with masterpieces on your hand just by learning the basics!

This article may be long but it contains everything you need to know in order to start so make sure to bookmark it so you can get back to it.


Why is it called cross-stitching?

The reason this craft is easy to pick up is because you can learn the basic stitch and be able to start creating beautiful projects.

The basic stitch consists of a cross shape on your canvas or an x and progressively covers the cloth with multiple tiny x’s of different colors until an image takes shape. There are of course other different types of stitches you can learn and master progressively, but even learning the basic stitch is enough to get started.


What supplies do I need to get started?

Usually, the basic supplies you need are your fabric, floss and needle. There are multiple other tools that help you stitch better and sturdier like a hoop for example. But if you have just those three items at hand you can already start practicing.


The Fabric

What are the fabric types?

There are different types of fabric you can use when stitching, the important thing is to have the fabric have equal “squares” to that your stitches are even and don’t distort the final appearance of your fabric.

The most common one is the Aida fabric but you can also stitch on linen. The reason Aida is more beginner friendly is due to the obvious holes so it is much easier to spot where your needle should go next. Linen is better left off for more advanced projects as you gain more experience but the results for both are just as good.

While fabric you see in pictures is most commonly white, it’s pretty common to choose a different color of fabric such as navy blue or black to have a better contrasting effect.


What are the different cross stitch fabric sizes?

When you’re looking into buying your first piece of fabric, you definitely have noticed the products are accompanied by a number count such us 14 count Aida or 18 count linen.

The fabric count number represents the number of stitches in an inch of fabric. The more the number goes up, the more stitches you will need per inch and the more difficulty will increase.


What is the best Fabric for a cross-stitch newbie?

For an absolute beginner starting out, a 14 count Aida fabric is the best to start, followed by the 11 count if you have eye problems or are worried about eye strain.


The Cross Stitch Needle

Do I need a specific type of needle?

The difference between a needle for cross stitching and any other type of embroidery needle is its blunt tip and a larger eye. You can’t use any needle you already have and the reason for this is that, with a regular needle, you risk piercing the fabric. Since the holes in the fabric are rather large, your cross stitch needle would slip easily where it’s supposed to go in.

You may need to use your regular needle sometimes when doing partial stitches on Aida fabric but a sturdy cross stitch needle is more than enough for an absolute beginner.


Are there different needle sizes?

When shopping for a cross stitch needle, you will notice that, just like for fabric, there are different needle sizes.

The needle size will be dependent on the fabric count you will choose. This is also important because a large needle on a small fabric count can mess up your piece.

A larger number of needle size leads to a thinner needle. So the smaller the fabric count, the thinner the needle you will need.


What cross stitch needle should I get?

If you end up going with our previous recommendation of fabric, the best needle size you should choose is a 24. If your fabric count is higher than 14, your needle size should go  up as well and vice versa.


The floss (or threads)

Are there different types of floss as well?

The most famous floss brands are DMC and Anchor but there are multiple different types available on the market. The 6 strand cotton floss is the most common but you can also find on the market several color options that you can use for a more spruced up cross stitch such as metallic threads, glow-in-the-dark threads etc…


Which type of floss should I get as a beginner cross-stitcher?

When it comes to the floss brand, I am a bit biased towards DMC since it’s what I used first. For an absolute beginner, the 6 strand cotton floss is the best and easiest to work with. When shopping for floss, make sure you get all the different colors you need. If you’re using a pattern, it should usually be accompanied by a color chart that would indicate the floss colors you need to get.


Any other supplies needed?

If you have your fabric, floss and needle you can already get started. There are a few additional things you might need to get if you are absolutely new to crafting.


A good pair of embroidery scissors

Do not underestimate the importance of embroidery scissors. Cutting with precision is essential for delicate crafts like cross-stitching. A good pair of scissors has to be sharp and strong. You can find plenty of options on the market. If you’re left-handed (like I am), make sure that the scissors would work for you as well!


An embroidery hoop

Embroidery hoop can be wooden, plastic or metallic, come as two pieces with a clamp in oval, square or round, in different sizes… The options are endless but you need one that you would be comfortable holding.

The size of the hoop doesn’t depend on the size of your patterns. It doesn’t all have to fit within the hoop area. When used properly, they will not mess up the stitches you’ve already done.

A hoop’s purpose is to keep your fabric in place to make for easier stitching: grab the hoop in one hand, stitch with the other.


This is too confusing, what can I do?

If all these numbers and sizes are too confusing for you, there’s an easier way to get everything at once. Cross-stitch kits are packages containing everything you need for your first cross-stitching project including the pattern.

When choosing a kit, make sure it’s not too complex for a first project and that the items listed in it cover everything you need.


I got all the supplies, how do I start?

So you got everything at hand, great. Now what?


Study your design

Whether you got your design from the Internet, from a magazine, from a kit, or created your own, it is crucial that you take a good look at it before you even touch your fabric or thread your needle.

Look at the different stitches, the colors, the large areas using one thread. Understand your pattern chart, the symbols. If you’re still not sure how to read a pattern chart, check out this article.


For absolute beginners, focus on getting a design that only has full cross stitches rather than partial stitches. Better leave those for when you’re more advanced in the craft and that you mastered the basic one. Don’t worry about it though, designs with only full stitches are just as good and will look as beautiful as any!


Prepare your fabric

Before even touching your fabric, go ahead and wash your hands from any oil residue, creams etc… These can seriously stain your fabric. Be careful as well not to have any wine, tea, liquids nearby as these can also ruin your work.

To learn more about fabric care, check out this article.

Time to prepare the fabric. Your pattern will usually contain the size of the finished canvas. Make sure it’s being reported according to the fabric size count as it will affect the end result.

Since the fabric frays and taking into consideration future finishing, you should leave a couple of inches free from all four sides before cutting the fabric and stitching.

Once you have the total piece ready, secure the edges so it doesn’t fray any further while working on it.


Where to start that first stitch?

There are two different types of stitchers, the ones who start in the middle and the ones who start on the top left (maybe that’s just me).

Find the center of your design then find the center of your fabric. That’s where you should start. From there on, it’s all a counting game. Your stitches will follow the chart: every stitch is a symbol on the chart along with its corresponding color of thread.


Prepare your floss

Choose the right color for that stitch according to your chart. If you’re following our recommendation and using the 6 strand cotton floss, you’re going to have to separate the strands.

My first cross stitching project went straight to the trash because I had no idea I wasn’t supposed to use the thread as is!

Cut up an arms length of the thread and look closely to identify the individual strands.

For a regular full stitch project, you shouldn’t need more than two strands. Grab two of the strands and slowly separate them from the rest of the piece of thread.

Thread your needle and you’ll be ready!


Ready to start stitching?

Now that you’ve found your starting point, it’s time to learn the basic stitch.

The full cross stitch is done in three easy steps. As we said earlier, each stitch covers one square on your fabric.

Here are the steps to make a full cross stitch:

For more details, check out our full stitch tutorial article.

Once you’re done with the thread, gently pass the needle under already existing threads in order to keep the stitches in place and avoid knots and using your scissors, give it a little snip. And there you’ll have it! Your first few stitches!


Is that it?

Yes! Once you know how to do your full stitch, you can simply follow the rest of the chart, choose the color, thread your needle and count away.

The faster you stitch the more you will be able to pick up on new techniques to stitch faster as well as learn and experiment with all the different types of stitches.

For your first project, don’t take on the largest design you see just because it’s nice. Choose something small with a few colors so you can keep track. Leave the big designs for later!


If you liked this post, don’t forget to share it with your friends and family who want to learn how to cross-stitch as well!

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