How to Read a Cross Stitch Pattern

Early in your cross stitching journey it helps to follow a pattern that shows you every colour and where it goes. You’ll find patterns in ready made cross stitch kits, as pdf downloads from other crafters, or you can build your own with pattern making software.

These pages of squares and symbols look difficult at first glance, but reading a pattern is relatively easy.

Your pattern will consist of two parts: the printed pattern and the legend.

The cross stitch pattern

The pattern is usually a grid of small squares just like your fabric. Each square represents a single stitch. The number of squares in the pattern will give you an idea of the size of fabric you’ll need for your project.

Here is an example of a pattern we created using Stitch Fiddle. It’s a simple six color pattern in an 11×11 grid. In this case, we have one stitch in red, surrounded by eight stitches in orange and so on.

A pattern is also helpful because it shows you where to use the same color thread to avoid switching colors every few stitches. For example, you can see that the first line will need 11 stitches with the color purple. So no need to keep looking back and forth at your pattern after every stitch.

The pattern legend

The pattern provides a visual layout, but to understand it correctly we need the legend. The legend will show you the thread color to use for each square.

Here’s that same pattern with the corresponding legend. In this example, I chose DMC colors. So, for the red stitch, we will need #606, for the orange #741 and so on.

All you need to do now is get the corresponding colors and follow the pattern square by square.

Feel free to use the above pattern to practice.

Sometimes, the pattern will include symbols instead of colors. Don’t worry. The legend will also include symbols. 

Note: Patterns sometimes include different types of stitches, such as quarter or three quarter stitches. Make sure you understand the legend and how it works before getting started.

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