Learn to cross stitch

Photo: Monstere
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Think about embroidery like a big umbrella. Under this umbrella are a myriad of sewing techniques and types that each have their own unique look, all while involving needle and thread. Cross stitch is a facet of embroidery that is one of the most popular approaches. In fact, you’ve probably seen it without even realizing it; a cross stitch looks like a pixel and looks like a small “x” on the fabric.

Due to the inherent structure of cross stitch, the technique is easy to learn. Essentially, you’re just making small diagonal stitches on an open weave fabric. As you change colors, a stylized design forms with bold graphic appeal. This is best represented in contemporary cross stitch projects with a modern sense of humor.

Scroll down to find out more about the materials you’ll be using, essential information and tips, and helpful videos that show you how to cross stitch yourself.

Want to learn how to cross stitch? Scroll down for essential information and helpful videos.

materials for cross stitch

thread colors

Photo: Mel Poole

If you’ve embroidered before, you’re in luck; supplies used in other types of embroidery are applicable to cross stitch.

Fabric — The biggest difference you will see between cross stitch and other embroideries is the type of fabric you will use. If you’ve ever really looked at cross stitch before, you’ll see that the fabric is very textured and has a heavy weave. It’s called uniform weave fabric, meaning there is an even number of vertical and horizontal wires per inch. The higher the thread count, the finer (and therefore tighter) the weave will be.

Aida fabric is most popular for sewing, although other even weave fabrics are also suitable.

embroidery hoop — The embroidery hoop allows you to embroider your design. By stretching the fabric over a circular or rectangular hoop, it will stay taut and you can embroider without discomfort. To find the embroidery hoop that’s right for you, check out our guide.

Thread — Embroidery floss, also called embroidery thread, is another essential material. After all, you can’t embroider without it! DMC six strand yarn is the most popular type of dental floss and comes in over 400 colors. This offers a lot of variety if you’re working on a design you’ve created. If you follow a pattern, the designer will likely have a set of yarn recommendations for you.

Needle with rainbow colored thread through the eye

Photo: John Anvik

Needle — Cross stitch usually uses a blunt edge tapestry needle. (That’s great news for your fingers!) Your needle size will vary depending on the fabric you’re sewing on. Again, if you’re following a pattern, the instructions will tell you what to use.

The scissors – Scissors may seem like an afterthought, but having a small pair of sharp scissors can make a big difference when cutting thread. You don’t have to break the bank on a pair to get something great quality. See what we recommend as the best embroidery scissors.

How to Complete Essential Cross Stitch Stitches

Although cross stitch is known for its diagonal marks, there are a few types of stitches that you will see in the patterns. Using them will give your work visual variety and help bring your subject to life.

Embroider a cross stitch

Cross stitch techniques: English method versus Danish method

Creating Fractional Points

How to Sew a Backstitch

How to read a cross stitch pattern

Unlike other forms of embroidery, a cross stitch design comes with its own detailed chart that shows you when and where you will use a certain color or stitch. It may seem confusing at first, but once you learn how to decipher a pattern, you’ll find its instructions a snap.

Tips for successful cross stitch

Cross-stitch portrait of Frida Kahlo

Photo: Olga Kalina

Now that you know supplies, stitches, and how to read a pattern, here’s what you need to know before you start cross stitching.

Prepare your fabric before you begin. Before you begin any project, you’ll want to set yourself up for success by properly preparing your fabric. It’s not difficult and only involves a few steps. The first is to make sure it doesn’t fray. You will notice, especially with woven fabric, that the edges come undone the more you handle it. To stop this, sew a zigzag stitch around the edges, either by machine or by hand. This will stop the fraying. (Alternatively, folding tape around the edges will also work.) When you’re done, iron your fabric so it lays flat.

Start in the middle of your fabric. Make sure you have enough space to complete your design by starting in the middle of your fabric. You can find the center by folding the fabric once and then in the opposite direction. Make a small stitch or place a needle or pin in the folded corner. When you open the fabric, it should be the center.

Find the center of your pattern. Once you have determined the middle of your fabric, find the center of your design. Fortunately, it’s easy to find. On the cross-stitch charts, it is delimited by an arrow, a “0” or triangles.

Keep an even tension with your yarn. As you work, be sure not to tug your stitches too hard as you pull them through the fabric. This will distort the material and cause it to wrinkle. If the thread is too loose, it will create gaps in your design. Aim for an evenness so that your stitches lay flat against the fabric.

Follow the pattern. The good thing about cross stitch is that it has a simple technique; follow the instructions exactly and you should have a nice design when you’re done. So sit back and enjoy your time away from the screen and on a craft.

Cross-stitch portrait of an insect

Photo: Olga Kalina

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Everything you need to start sewing your own embroidery

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