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A beginner's guide to cross stitch

What is cross stitch? 

Cross stitch is a form of counted thread embroidery which is a traditional craft, and easy peasy to learn. You’ll love its meditative and repetitive nature: let your mind drift to a peaceful place as you create something beautiful with just a needle, thread and some special fabric!

Which fabric is used for cross stitch?

Cross stitch is made up of X-shaped stitches on fabric with an even and open weave; this type of fabric is called Aida, but you can also stitch onto linen. Aida fabric has a defined number of holes per inch – for example 11, or 14 holes. The bigger the number of holes, the smaller the stitches will be. This allows for a detailed, intricate pattern. If you’re a complete beginner, opt for Aida with a smaller number of holes per inch.

What does cross stitch fabric look like

How do you read a cross stitch chart?

A cross stitch chart is a representation of the image that you’ll be creating, presented on a grid. Each square on the grid represents one complete stitch on the fabric. Sometimes the chart will be black and white, with each square containing a symbol, but often the chart will be in colour, with each coloured square corresponding to a stitch. In addition to the grid, there will also be a chart legend so that you can match up the symbols and the colours of thread.

Example of a cross stitch key

The image on the chart is not printed to scale. The bold grid lines on the chart separate the printed pattern into 10 x 10 squares to help you count.

The triangular markers at the side of the grid mark the half way points on the chart. It’s usually best to start a cross stitch design in the middle of the fabric to ensure that you don’t run out of space for stitches.

How do I find the centre of the fabric?

The easiest way to find the middle of the fabric is to firstly fold the fabric in half lengthways, pinching the fold in the middle with your fingertips. Then open out the fabric and fold it again in the opposite direction, again pinching the fold in the centre. Aida fabric is quite stiff and you’ll find that the folded mark remains after you open out the fabric.

How to find the centre of a cross stitch fabric

Do I need to use a hoop?

You might find it easier to work with a hoop in place as you stitch; this is up to you. The hoop stretches the Aida fabric which might make it easier for you to see the holes. To attach a hoop, loosen the screw and separate the two pieces. Place the hoop without the screw flat on a table or work surface. Lay the Aida over the hoop making sure the centre of the fabric is in the centre of the hoop. Place the other hoop with the screw over the fabric and press it down so the fabric is sandwiched between the two hoops. Gently pull the fabric taut as you tighten the screw on the hoop. Be careful not to over stretch the Aida as you might distort the weave of the fabric.

Do I need to use a cross stitch hoop

How do I prepare the thread?

Most embroidery thread (or floss as it’s also known as) comes in six strands. You’ll need to separate the strands. Firstly, select the colour that you’re going to use. Cut no more than 50cm of thread. If you try to work with a longer piece of thread, you may find that it gets knotted and tangled. Select a single thread from the bunch by pinching near the end of the thread and gently pulling out one single strand, or two if you’ll be working with two strands. Now thread the needle in the same way that you would an ordinary sewing needle. You don’t need to make a knot in the end of the thread.

My Aida’s fraying!

This is quite normal. Try not to pull at the loose pieces of fabric. If you have some masking tape, bind the edges of the Aida. This will help to prevent it fraying as you stitch.

I’m ready to start – how do I begin?

Cross stitch is usually worked in rows from left to right. It’s up to you where you begin, but as a general guide, start near the middle of the fabric, at the beginning of a row of colour. It’s best to work all of one colour in one area before moving on to the next colour.

How to cross stitch step 1

Bring the needle through the starting hole (1) from the back of the fabric towards the front. Leave around 2cm of thread at the back. This tail thread will be covered by stitches as you go. Now pass the needle through the diagonally opposite hole in the row above (2) through to the back. Hold the tail of thread at the back of the fabric as you do this. You’ve just made a half cross stitch.

How to cross stitch

To begin the next half cross stitch, bring the needle from the back to the front, through hole 3. Make sure to catch the tail thread in the stitch at the back of your work.

How to cross stitch

Continue in this way, making halfcross stitches along the row. Don’t pull the thread too tight as you stitch. If your thread starts to twist as you work (this will definitely happen!) just let go of the needle – it will untangle itself.

Finally, return along the row from right to left, completing each stitch with a half cross stitch going in the other direction. You can make individual complete cross stitches in the same way.

How do I finish off or change thread?

Keep stitching until you run out of thread or finish the area on the pattern. Don’t be tempted to keep going until you have a very short piece of thread left – you need to leave enough to weave it under at least 3 stitches at the back of your work. After weaving in the tail, carefully snip the end with a pair of sharp scissors. To start stitching with a new thread, you can weave it under a few stitches at the back of your work before making the first stitch.

How to finish off your cross stitch

How to display your cross stitch in its hoop

You might decide to leave your cross stitch work in the hoop to display it. First of all, trim the Aida all the way round, leaving about 3cm of fabric. Sew a long piece of embroidery thread all around the excess Aida, leaving a long tail. Pull both ends of the thread tight to draw the Aida in, and make a secure double knot. Trim the thread, not too close to the knot.

Racoon cross stitch finished

Help – I’ve made a mistake!

If you’ve just made the mistake, you can ‘frog’ your work. Take the needle off the thread and use the needle to carefully unpick the stitches, ‘frogging’ back to the errant stitch, then redo the stitch and carry on. If you spot the mistake in the middle of your work, you can choose to leave it and think of it as adding something unique to the design, or you can stitch over it to correct it – but beware of creating a lump in the design if you do this.

Tempted to try cross stitch?

Why not start with one of our cute Woodland Animals, or gorgeous new Christmas cross stitch kits

Or, if you already have cross stitch fabric supplies and looking for a project, why not download one of our pdf patterns and start crafting straight away!


And please share your cross stitch creations with us on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter!

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Great by all means and a very informative blog. I’ve learned something new today, keep up the good work!

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