The Beginner’s Guide to Cross Stitch

Are you a cross stitching newbie? Here’s everything you need to know to get started.

Cross stitching has been around for centuries and is enjoyed by men and women of all ages. It is one of the easiest crafts to pick up, and provides a gentle, meditative break from busy timetables and too many screens.

Bookmark this article to reference any time and we hope you enjoy your new hobby!

Why is it called cross stitching?

Cross stitch has one basic stitch consisting of a cross shape, or x, on your canvas. As you progress, the cloth is covered by tiny x’s of different colors until an image takes shape. There are a few different types of stitches to learn but 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 (coloured embroidery thread) and needle. There are other tools to help you stitch faster and easier, like an embroidery hoop, but you can start practising with the first three any time.

The fabric

What are common cross stitch fabrics?

Generally the standout feature of cross stitch fabric is equal “squares” in the weave. It helps your stitches to be neat and even so they don’t skew or distort the finished work.

The most common fabric is cotton Aida which was developed especially for cross stitch. But you can also stitch on linen or other evenly woven fabrics. The reason Aida is more beginner friendly is the obvious holes where your needle should go. Linen is better left for advanced projects as you gain more experience.

The cross stitch fabric you see in pictures is often white, but you can also choose different colored fabric such as navy or black for a contrasting effect.

What are the different cross stitch fabric sizes?

When you’re buying your first piece of fabric, you’ll notice the products are accompanied by a number count such as 14 count Aida or 18 count linen.

The fabric count number is the number of stitches in an inch of fabric. As the number goes up, you’ll need more stitches in each inch of sewing, which means smaller stitches and/or longer sewing time.

What is the best fabric for a cross stitch newbie?

For an absolute beginner a 14 count Aida fabric is a good starting point. 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 cross stitch needle and any other type of embroidery needle is a blunt tip and a larger eye. Normal sharp tipped needles can pierce the fabric in the wrong place. Blunt tipped needles slip easily into the correct hole.

You may need to use a regular needle sometimes when doing partial stitches on Aida fabric but a sturdy cross stitch needle is perfect for a beginner.

Are there different needle sizes?

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

The needle size depends on the fabric count you choose. This is important because a fat needle on fine fabric can mess up the weave.

Higher needle size means a thinner needle. So the higher (or finer) the fabric count, the thinner the needle you will need.

What cross stitch needle should I get?

If you end up going with our recommendation for 14 count Aida, the best needle size is 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 cross stitch floss?

The most famous floss brands are DMC and Anchor but there are many types on the market. 6 strand cotton floss is the most common but you can also find speciality threads such as metallic or glow-in-the-dark.

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

When it comes to floss brands, we are biased towards DMC simply because we used it first. It’s readily available, colorfast, fade resistant, and the company has been perfecting mercerised cotton (treated for extra strength and lustre) since the early 1800s.

For a beginner, 6 strand cotton floss is the easiest to work with. When shopping for floss, make sure you buy all the colors you need. If you’re using a pattern, it should be accompanied by a legend of color numbers or names.

NOTE: Make sure you check how many strands the pattern uses. 6 strand floss is often split into single or double strands for stitching. See more about preparing your floss below.

Any other supplies?

If you have your fabric, floss and needle you can get started. There are a few additional things you might need if you’re totally 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 and there are plenty of options available. There are even left-handed scissors if that makes a difference for you.

An embroidery hoop

Embroidery hoops can be wooden, plastic, metallic, oval, square or round, in different sizes… The options are endless but you need one that you are 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 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 touch your fabric or thread your needle.

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

For absolute beginners, focus on a design that only has full cross stitches rather than partial stitches. Leave those for when you’re more advanced and have mastered the basics. Designs with full stitches are just as good and will still look beautiful.

Prepare your fabric

Before touching your fabric, wash your hands to remove any oil residue, creams etc… These can seriously stain your fabric. Be careful also not to have any wine, tea or liquids nearby that could 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 reported according to the fabric size count as it will affect the end result.

Since the fabric frays (and you’ll need to finish edges later), leave a couple of inches around all four sides before cutting the fabric.

Then secure the edges with zigzag stitch, or a fold and quick running stitch, so it doesn’t fray while you’re 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.

We recommend finding the center of your design, finding the center of your fabric, and starting there. (This is the simplest way to ensure the design sits evenly on the fabric with enough room for finishing.) From there, it’s all a counting game following 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 each stitch according to your chart. If you’re following our recommendation and using 6 strand cotton floss, you’ll 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 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 together and slowly separate them from the rest of the piece of thread.

Thread your needle with this double thread and you’re ready to go.

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 snip off the excess with your scissors. And there you 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 looks pretty. Choose something small with a few colors so you can keep track. Leave big, complicated designs for later.

Happy stitching 🙂

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