Beginner’s Guide to Cross Stitch

Fabric

Thread Count

This term comes from the textile industry and indicates how many threads go in a square inch. The higher the thread count, the less space between the threads and the lower the thread count, the more space between the threads. Fabrics with a high thread count (left) are called tightly woven and fabrics with a low thread count (right) are called loosely woven.

If you want to start cross stitch embroidery, it is extra important that you choose the right fabric. The reason for this is that you cannot cross stitch on all fabrics.

Cross stitch fabric is a fabric especially made for countable cross stitch patterns. This fabric is often not suitable for free-motion embroidery unless the thread count is very high. There are several cross stitch fabrics, of which the most famous and widely used are Evenweave and Aida.

Aida

Aida is the fabric most commonly used for cross stitch embroidery. This fabric is also ideal for beginners!

Aida is a 100% cotton fabric with a kind of square pattern. The holes you need to insert into are clearly visible and allow your needle to slide through easily. The squares on the fabric correspond to the squares on your cross stitch pattern.

Aida is also available as ribbons in various sizes, which you can add to towels, bags and clothes!

It is available in a variety of sizes and colors. You even have Aida fabric with glitter in it!

Evenweave

These fabrics have the same amount of threads in the horizontal as in the vertical directions and the threads are of the same thickness.

You can embroider cross stitch or free stitch on evenweave because the thread count is higher than Aida fabric.

Usually with evenweave fabrics you embroider over two threads at the same time instead of 1 as with Aida fabric.

Evenweave is a good fabric for bed linen, tablecloths or napkins and is available in all sizes and colors.

Thread Count of Cross Stitch Fabric

The thread count of Cross stitch fabric is indicated in with ct. (Count) or sq / in (squares per inch).

The more crosses that can be made per inch, the higher the number and the smaller your project becomes. It is therefore important that you consider which fabric fits best in, for example, the photo frame you have chosen before cross stitching.

Start with 14ct white Aida

Floss

Cross stitching is done with embroidery floss.

What is Embroidery Floss?

Embroidery floss is made up of 6 loose threads that are wrapped around each other. So you can split your floss and use the strands separately. This floss is also called divisible floss to distinguish it from non-divisible yarn such as DMC Pearl Cotton.

So you can choose how many of the 6 threads you want to use. Most patterns indicate how many of the 6 you need. For cross stitch, a good rule of thumb is 2 threads for 14ct fabric. 

The best-known brands that sell Embroidery floss are DMC and Anchor. I always use DMC floss and this is also included in all Stitchonomy kits. The thread is of good quality, the color is always the same (unless you have some vintage threads) and it is made of 100% Egyptian cotton with a nice sheen.

You can order DMC from many (online) stores, but you can also take a look at your local thrift store or browse around your Grandma’s or Auntie’s house.

Separating Embroidery Floss

You may think “oh, I can just take two or three threads and pull it out!”

Unfortunately, the floss is twisted so that it inevitably causes your entire skein to tangle. Instead, it is better to take out 1 thread at a time and then put them back together.

  • Cut about an arm’s length from your skein. It is easier to embroider with a short thread, but if you make the thread too short you will often need to thread your needle again. For me, an arm length works best and you don’t need a ruler!
  • Take the end of the thread between your thumb and forefinger and roll the thread between your fingers so that the individual strands separate a bit and you can more easily tell which thread to pull.
  • Then take 1 strand with your other thumb and index finger and gently pull on the strand while holding the other strands firmly.
  • Repeat for the amount of threads you need.
  • Bring the threads back together by putting the points on top of each other. And you are ready to thread your needle!

Needles

There is not one answer to the question “which needle do I need?” There are (unfortunately and luckily) a lot of different types of needles, however I will give you the tools to choose the right needle!

Sizes

Needles have different sizes. The rule is that the higher the number, the shorter and finer the needle is. When embroidering on loosely woven fabrics you can use a larger needle, when stitching on tightly woven fabric choose a finer one!

If you are cross stitching, always use a blunt embroidery needle. These needles are also called tapestry needles.

The most common needle size for cross-stitch embroidery is 24. Cross Stitch needles usually also have a larger eye than sewing needles to make threading easier.

Threading your Needle

Most people bring the thread to the needle, but it is much more convenient to bring the needle to the thread.

In any case, make sure that the eye of the needle is large enough for the thickness of your thread or the number of threads that you want to use. The thread should be able to move freely in the eye of the needle while embroidering.

If the end of your thread is (or has become) slightly frayed, cut a piece off. If necessary, wet the end of your thread a little or run your thread along a piece of beeswax to make a point. This ensures that several threads stay together and that you can easily press the whole thing flat with your fingers.

Place the end of the thread between your thumb and index finger. Pull the thread down with your other hand until only the tip of the thread is visible. Place the eye of the needle on the tip of the thread and gently slide the needle down between the skin of your thumb and index finger.

Voila!

Your needle should be threaded!

If not, don’t give up, sometimes it will take even the most experienced embroiderer a few times to make it work. But if it really doesn’t work at all, and if the thread is not too big for the eye, you can also use a threader. These threaders are put through the eye of the needle. Now put the thread through the metal eye and pull it through!

Embroidery Hoop

When cross stitching you will get the most beautiful stitches with an embroidery hoop, but for speed you can also do cross stitches without a hoop.

Which Hoop do I need?

There are several aspects that take into account how long the fabric stays in an embroidery hoop: the Purpose and the Material.

Purpose

An embroidery hoop is primarily intended to keep your fabric taut while you embroider. In the past, you embroidered in the ring, you took the project out and you had it professionally framed. But it has been very trendy for some time now to hang your embroidery in the embroidery hoop. So you can use most hoops for both purposes. However, some hoops are better suited for cross stitch than framing and vice versa.

Material

Bamboo

There is a lot of difference in the quality of bamboo rings. Not only the ring itself, but also the metal fitting can sometimes be very disappointing. Most bamboo rings, on the other hand, are of excellent quality and very affordable.

I actually only use them for hanging embroidery, because I prefer cross stitching in wooden rings, but you can certainly use them for cross stitch. In addition, bamboo is a very environmentally friendly material that grows very quickly.

Wood

Wooden hoops are of the best quality and therefore also the most expensive. They often have a nice bronze fitting (instead of metal) and are a lot sturdier than bamboo rings. I therefore use these rings to cross stitch and to frame cross stitch projects.

While cross stitching, the fabric stays taut longer despite the smooth interior because the better fitting ensures that you can close the ring much tighter.

Plastic

Plastic rings are the least environmentally friendly option, but also the rings with the most grip. This is because many plastic rings do not have a smooth interior but a groove. This makes the fabric much tighter. Another advantage is that they are cheap and last a long time.

I do not recommend these rings for framing your project. It is more difficult to finish these rings at the back so they do not hang flat against the wall. The bright colors are of course nice, but I would rather give a bamboo ring a lick of paint!

Reading the Pattern

A cross stitch pattern is actually nothing more than a grid consisting of small squares. Each square on the grid represents a square of your cross stitch fabric. For cross stitch, you usually work with countable fabric.

The grid lines on the pattern are usually divided into sections of 10 x 10 squares with every tenth grid line (both vertical and horizontal) being a bit thicker to make counting easier. There are also numbers at the top to make counting easier.

Remember: Count Twice, Stitch Once

Most cross stitch patterns contain all the information you need to create the cross stitch project on the pattern. The most important thing is: which color should I use where?

It is best to start in the middle of your fabric to make sure you have enough space on all sides. You can find the middle by following the arrows at (1) where they intersect is the center of the pattern.

Where a symbol is in a square there should be a stitch. So every square with a symbol is equal to one stitch. The square (2) contains four stitches in three different colors.

A thread legend (4) or floss list is included with each cross stitch pattern. This shows which symbols belong to which floss color. If in doubt, you can often see from the example which color should go where. Sometimes the color name is also included.

Most patterns are black and white because it is most convenient to print, but if you prefer a color pattern you can often request it from the seller or designer.

Attaching your thread

To start stitching, your thread must be attached to your fabric. This can be done in various ways. 

The Loose Tail Method

  • Don’t tie a knot in your thread and thread your needle. Insert the needle from back to front but do not pull it all the way through. Make sure that a tail of about 1″ hangs loose.
  • Hold the tail of the thread with your fingers on the back side of the fabric in the direction you want to embroider.
  • Make your next stitch and make sure to cross over the thread at the back so that it gets secured.
  • Make the first 4 to 5 stitches over it to secure the thread in place.
  • Check the back occasionally to make sure your stitches cover the thread. If the thread is secured you can continue embroidering undisturbed! You can cut off any long pieces of thread so that it does not become messy.

Loop Method

This is my personal favorite because this method gives the best effect on the back. There are no knots to be seen! In addition, it saves embroidery floss.

The disadvantage is that you can only apply this method if you are stitching with an even a number of threads. If you are going to embroider with an odd number, use the loose tail method.

  • Cut twice as much thread as you would normally use.
  • Separate the floss. The amount of threads is half of what you would normally use: if you want stitches with 2 threads, use 1 thread, if you want to stitch with 4 threads, use 2 threads etc.
  • Fold the thread or threads in half and thread the needle with the loose ends of the threads.
  • You now have a loop at the bottom and 2 or more threads through the needle.
  • Insert your needle from back to the front BUT don’t pull the thread all the way through.
  • Make your first stitch without pulling the thread through.
  • Turn your work around; the loop is now at the back.
  • Insert the needle through the loop.
  • Now you can tighten the thread and your thread is attached!

You can now stitch without knots at the back!

Attach a thread to an existing thread

If you have already started, you can also attach your thread to the back of an existing thread by passing your needle through a few stitches at the back.

Ending your Thread

When you have finished with a thread or part of your pattern, you just need to secure the thread. If you do not do this, your last stitches will not be fastened and they may come loose.

You can secure the thread easily and quickly by threading your needle under a number of existing stitches. Do not pull your thread too hard, or your last stitch may become distorted.

This method works for both cross-stitching and hand embroidery and ensures that your work also remains neat at the back! Again try to avoid knots and do not tie threads together.

Cross stitch

  • Bring the needle up at 1, the bottom left hole of a square of the fabric.
  • And down at 2, the top right of a square of the fabric.
  • Bring the needle up at 3 down at 4.
  • Complete the row.
  • The back row is stitched from right to left. Make crosses by bringing the needle up to 9 and down to 10, etc.

Washing & Ironing

Perhaps a more important question than how should I wash my cross stitch project is:

Should I wash my cross stitch project?

The answer is: not always.

If you have been working on a project for a very long time or you can see that there are stains on it (due to the grease of your hands, for example), it is not a bad idea to wash your embroidery project. However, embroidery is delicate and can be ruined or deformed by washing it.

Therefore, always make sure your hands are clean when embroidering – so put the crisps and nuts away and wash those hands!

NEVER PUT YOUR PROJECT IN THE WASING MACHINE

Hand Washing

So, not in the machine, but you can gently wash your embroidery by hand. For best results, follow these steps:

  • Wet your project under cold running water.
  • Mix a small amount of soap or detergent* in cold water. Gently push your project into the soap mixture several times. *DO NOT use heavy soap, chlorine, or other chemicals!
  • Then rinse several times in cold running water. Keep going until no more soap comes out of your project.
  • Place your project between two clean towels and roll up. Push it gently but don’t wring it out!
  • Unwind the towels and place your project on a new dry towel or on a drying rack. Allow to air dry.

Ironing

After your project is dry, you may want to iron it. This is also not always necessary because many folds disappear automatically if you put the project tightly in the embroidery hoop. But if you want to iron the project, NEVER use a hot iron.

Place your embroidery with the embroidered side down between two clean towels and iron very gently with a warm (not hot) iron.

Do you have stubborn creases? Then very lightly spray some water on the fold and gently brush over it.

After washing and ironing, your project is finally ready to frame!