Whether you’re a beginner who is just getting into the craft, or an experienced stitcher, cross stitching is easy, addictive, and really fun! Here are some general guidelines to help you create a beautiful finished project. Once you’ve caught the cross stitch bug, you’ll find many more Satsuma Street designs to keep you busy in our Etsy shop!
HOW COUNTED CROSS STITCH WORKS:
Unlike embroidery patterns that are printed on the fabric, with counted cross stitch you are transferring, by eye, the design onto the fabric by counting. The cross stitch chart is a grid, and each square on the grid represents a square on your fabric. By counting the symbols on your chart, you determine the number of stitches of each color and where to place them on your fabric. Check out the video at the bottom of this page for a demo!
The physical size of the cross stitch chart does not represent the size of the finished project, the grids are usually magnified to make them easier to read. The actual size of the finished stitching will be listed in the pattern.
Each color of embroidery floss is represented on the chart as a different symbol, and the symbols are listed in the color key along with the manufacturer’s color number, so that you can purchase exactly the same floss colors that were used for the sample.
Cross-stitching can be done on many fabrics, but the easiest for beginners to use is Aida cloth. When you purchase cross stitch fabric, pay attention to the threads per inch, or “count” of fabric that is called for in the pattern. Aida is generally available in 9, 11, 14, or 18 count versions.
Using a different count than what is called for won’t change the design at all, but it will change the size of the stitched area. Using a higher count Aida will create a smaller design, and vice versa.
Some of my designs are stitched on linen instead of Aida. When purchasing linen for cross stitch, you will see that the thread counts are higher than Aida cloth. That’s because on linen you generally stitch “over two”, meaning over two threads in a diagonal direction. Other fabrics that are described as “evenweave”, such as cotton or burlap, are treated like linen and are also generally stitched “over two”.
You cannot use just any linen for cross stitch, it should be linen described as “even weave” or made specifically for counted needlework. “Dress linen” or upholstery linen will not usually state the thread count, and the holes between the threads may not be easy to see.
If you’re a beginner, I recommend starting with Aida rather than linen. A design stitched on 14 count Aida will be the same size as one stitched on 28 count linen over two threads.
There is no need to wash the fabric (or threads) before beginning, and in fact washing will remove the starch which gives the fabric its body and make it more difficult to stitch on.
I use DMC cotton embroidery floss for my designs. This type of embroidery floss is made up of six strands, which can be separated into individual strands by pulling them apart gently. Most of my designs are worked using only two strands of floss at a time. If more or less strands are used, the pattern will state this. You should work with pieces of floss that are no more than 18” long, as floss will tangle and get weakened the longer you stitch with it.
DMC makes several types of embroidery threads, some of which use the same color numbers. Make sure you are buying “six strand embroidery floss” (also sometimes referred to as “Mouline” floss) rather than Pearl cotton skeins or balls, as these threads are thicker.
I recommend using a tapestry needle, which is a special type of embroidery needle used for counted thread embroidery such as cross stitch, as well as needlepoint. Tapestry needles have a blunt tip which slides easily between the threads of the fabric rather than piercing them.
Tapestry needles come in many sizes, generally cross stitchers use sizes 24, 26 or 28. If you’re a beginner, try several sizes until you find one you are most comfortable with. Size 24 is larger and easier to thread than a 26 or 28, but may stretch out the holes on finer fabrics.
HOOPS & FRAMES:
When stitching on Aida fabric, you may not need an embroidery hoop or frame, as the fabric is stiff and doesn’t stretch easily. Linen is floppier and therefore some type of frame is recommended to keep the fabric taut and even.
Wooden embroidery hoops are cheap and easy to find in a variety of sizes, but can leave creases in your fabric if they aren’t removed frequently. Plastic frames such as the popular Q-Snap frame are great for stretching the fabric very tight without leaving creases. Whichever type of hoop or frame you use, buy one that is at least 8” diameter, which will mean moving it less frequently. If you need to place the frame over an area that’s already been stitched, a piece of flannel or t-shirt fabric between the hoop and cloth will help prevent snagging or flattening your stitches.
The basic cross stitch is very simple. The most important thing to remember is to keep all your stitches going in the same direction across the whole project, which will give it a nice even appearance. In Fig. A below, you can see that you will do all your bottom stitches for one row, then go back the other direction for your top stitches (Fig. B). When you look at the back of your work, the stitches shouldn’t look like crosses, just rows of short, straight stitches.
Fractional stitches, also called half-stitches or three-quarter stitches, are sometimes used in more advanced designs. They are indicated on the pattern with a smaller stitch symbol, in the corner of the square that is to be filled in. In Fig. C you will see that you start by making the short half of this stitch, piercing the fabric in the center of the stitch instead of going through one of the holes. Then you complete the long part of the stitch as usual.
Back stitches (Fig. D) are often used for outlining parts of the design or adding detail. They are indicated on the pattern with a solid line in the color of the floss to be used. Back stitching can also be done diagonally across a square, as you would do for one half of a cross stitch. Back stitching is sometimes done with only one strand when finer lines are desired, so make sure to read the notes on the pattern.
Long lines of back stitching can be done by breaking the line up into several short stitches as shown below, or by just making one long stitch. I tend to prefer the look of longer back stitches, but for items that will get more use, such as pillows or clothing, long stitches are more likely to get snagged.
STARTING YOUR PROJECT:
Start by finding the center of your fabric. Then locate the center of the cross stitch chart. My charts have small arrows on the top and left edges that indicate the center. Start your stitching at the center of the design and work your way out to the edges.
When starting to stitch, there is no need to knot the end of your thread. Simply leave a tail of ½” or so at the back of your work, and then catch this tail under the stitches as you work the first row. A few stitches will be enough to secure it. When you are finished with a section and are ready to cut your thread, first slip your needle under a few stitches on the back side, pull your thread through them, and cut the thread close to the fabric.
Don’t carry your thread across the back of the work for more than the length of 2 stitches, as long threads may be visible from the front. Instead, secure and cut your floss and start again in the new area.
FINISHING YOUR PROJECT:
Once you’re done stitching, you may want to wash your project before displaying or framing it. Simply hand wash very gently using cold water and a few drops of dish detergent. Lay flat to dry, and iron with the stitching face-down on top of a terry cloth towel, which will prevent the stitches from being flattened.
If you need more help, check out YouTube, where you can find lots of tutorial videos that will guide you step by step! Find a method that works for you and enjoy your new hobby!
And don’t forget to visit the Satsuma Street Etsy shop to see our full range of digital PDF charts, printed charts, and kits!
Here’s a simple video tutorial I frequently recommend: