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Cross stitch is a fairly easy type of embroidery. Pictures or designs are created from lots of tiny crosses, a little bit like a pixelated image.
Cross stitch is one of the oldest forms of embroidery, you can find examples from all over the world dating back centuries. It’s a very soothing craft, once you get the hang of it, the stitches are repetitive and therefore it’s quite calming. There is some counting involved, if counting is really not your thing then cross stitch may not be for you. For most of us though it is a soothing and relaxing pastime, plus you get to make pretty things - yay!
Samplers were used ‘back in the day’ as a way for young girls to learn and practice stitches, to record alphabets and designs that they could then refer to all their life.
Cross stitch had a massive revival in the 1980’s when it suddenly got cute. The wonderful late author, Jo Verso, published a series of books with ideas to make fun modern items with cross stitch, I even have a signed copy of one of her books.
These Jo Verso books are showing up as very expensive to buy on Amazon these days, but if you poke around a bit you can find second hand ones much cheaper sometimes and they are well worth checking out I think.
I’ve done a lot of cross stitch in my time. In the late 80’s and 90’s I was a regular contributor to magazines like Cross Stitch, Cross Stitcher, Needlecraft and Needlework with my cross stitch designs.
This one even made it to the front cover in May 1998!
Cross stitch fell a little out of favour in the 2000’s but it seems to be back in vogue again, and you can see it used in lots of interesting a different ways.
I’m not going to go through a cross stitch lesson, there are loads of great tutorials already in existence, this is a list of what you’ll need. There is a great article on ‘how to cross stitch’ over on Imagine Gnats that is worth checking out. The Yarn Tree have a great 5 minute guide too.
So, what do you need to get started with Cross Stitch?
A Cross Stitch Kit
Honest and truthfully I’d recommend starting with a kit. There are loads out there to choose from, they are not massively expensive and they will contain pretty much everything you need.
What is essential, if you choose a kit though, is to start small. Some kits for huge, and absolutely beautiful pictures and cushions are available. THESE ARE NOT FOR BEGINNERS!!!! Do not be tempted. You’ll start and never finish. Trust me - I speak the truth! Start with something small, that you can finish in a few sittings. If you get the bug then, and only then, can you even consider a big project.
Of course little kits are not just for beginners, they are still great even when you become a more experienced cross stitcher. They make a perfect little “in between the big projects’ projects!
If you’ve seen a design you love and what to go it alone instead of the kit route then you’ll need:
There are 2 main types of fabric used for cross stitch.
Aida comes in all different sizes and loads of different colours. It’s a fairly stiff fabric that is made up of squares. When you are cross stitching on it each of your crosses covers a square.
Its size is measured by a ‘count’ and that’s how many of the little squares in the fabric there are per inch. The bigger the count, the bigger the squares are and the easier it is for beginners. There’s a really big count, often called Binca which us older folks will remember from primary school.
An 11 count is a nice size to work with when you are starting out, 14 is good too. 16 and 18 count is when things get MUCH smaller and I’d recommend leaving that until you have more experience.
Evenweave refers to a fabric, usually linen, that has - surprise surprise - and even weave! When you use this for cross stitch your crosses cover 2 thread x 2 threads. It’s still measured with a count but a 28 count evenweave is the same size as a 14 count Aida (‘cos you go over the 2 threads to make your crosses) An evenweave fabric gives a more traditional look and is my preference usually, there are LOADS of choices and a big variety on prices.
My advice - start with an 11 or 14 count Aida.
To embroidery anything you need embroidery threads. If you get into cross stitch or any other form of embroidery you will accumulate LOTS of threads. You only need to pop into a craft shop and see the array to get excited about the possibilities.
For cross stitch you need a basic 6 strand embroidery thread. You can then divide these 6 strands into however many you need for your project. How many strands you need generally depends on what fabric you have chosen.
For an 11 count Aida I would expect to use 3 strands, for a 14 count I would use 2 and for an 18 count AIda I would probably only use 1. The smaller the square, the less strands of thread.
I’ve always used DMC thread but I believe Anchor is just as good. I’d avoid the cheaper threads you might see in a £ shop or $ store, I wouldn’t trust the colours not to run if the work needed washing.
You do really need some decent embroidery scissors. They are little and sharp. You might get away with some cheap and cheerful Ikea scissors from the kids pencil case but you deserve some nice pretty little scissors really.
Warm Crochet also have some really pretty scissors that are SO sharp, I’d highly recommend them.
If you start with small projects on Aida you don’t really need an embroidery hoop. If you work on a soft floppy evenweave fabric then they are an essential.
For cross stitch you need an embroidery needle that has a long eye and is blunt. You want to go through holes in the fabric that are already there ie between the threads of the fabric, not splitting them so your needle should be blunt. The long eye will make it possible to thread the multiple strands of embroidery thread easily.
A Cross Stitch Design
A cross stitch design will be on what looks like graph paper. Each square on the graph paper represents a cross on your embroidery fabric. This is what makes cross stitch an easy embroidery to design yourself.
However you should start with a design from someone else. If you have an artistic flair you’ll soon move on to designing your own, but start simple.
As I said at the beginning when talking about kits, my top tip would be to start small. You want a design that is a little picture or card. You will be able to finish it in one or two sittings and will feel the essential sense of accomplishment before you move on to bigger and more complex things.
I was quite surprised to find that over the years I’ve only every shared two cross stitch projects, both are good for beginners though. Just click on the photos to see the full project details, tutorials and patterns.
I have a cross stitch section on my embroidery board on Pinterest too, which you might find a good source of inspiration too. Or ask a friend who you know likes to cross stitch, I’m confident that all cross stitcher have a great selection of designs they’d be happy to share. Or maybe pick up a cross stitch magazine, they are a good and inexpensive way to get a whole load of designs to get started with.
I’ve got loads of cross stitch designs knocking around the place, I’m going to get them organised and start sharing them here for you all now and again.
If you do find a cross stitch design that you want to try it’s important to work out how big it will turn out, so you know how big you fabric needs to be etc. Yarn tree have a great calculator which will help you work out all that out depending on what fabric you use, such a useful resource.
Any cross stitches out there who think I’ve missed anything out? What are your cross stitching essentials? Leave your top tips in the comments