General Stitching Information
Cross-stitch is more popular than ever, and we are so happy that you are here! The intent of this guide is to give new stitchers a place to start with some simple and light-hearted instructions. Solid stitching basics will help you stay engaged and make quick progress on your charts. It is cost effective to try with minimal initial investment making it the perfect activity if you aren’t sure what your next hobby is going to be.
A Brief History
Cross-stitch is one of the oldest forms of embroidery out there dating back to as early as the 6th century. In the early days, stitching was traditionally used to embellish household items like doilies, handkerchiefs, and table cloths. Cross-stitch was also taught to young girls as a part of their education. You may have heard of samplers. Samplers are still exceptionally popular today, but they originated back when girls were learning how to stitch. These projects helped them learn cross-stitch alphabets and other motifs they could use in their household stitching. They were named “samplers” because the girls could always refer back to them as a “sample”.
Cross-stitch has come a long way since then, but the humble roots of this heritage fibre art are deep and meaningful.
There are a few cross-stitch basics you’ll need to learn before we get to the fun stuff. Here we list some basic supplies and help you prepare your fabric, floss, and needle.
Here is what you need to get started:
A pattern – There are loads of free charts online, but we’ve included a freebie in this guide to help get you started!
A needle – Look for information on needle sizes in the appendices.
A hoop – We recommend using a hoop when getting started. They are relatively affordable and will make starting your first project much easier.
Note: You can stitch “in hand” (without a device to make the fabric taught) or use one of the many options available. Options include a hoop, Q-snaps, scroll rods, or stands made specifically for cross-stitching.
Some fabric – Fabric can make or break your project. You want to make sure what you choose is manageable for your skill level and will give you the right effect when the piece is complete.
Some floss (thread) – All cross-stitch patterns have a legend that is associated with specific colours of floss. The number listed beside the symbol corresponds with a product number of the thread (typically DMC).
A few notions – Some accessories are a must. Scissors and a needle threader will make your life a lot easier!
You can find beautiful accessories on Instagram, Facebook, and Etsy: Needle minders, needle tins, cute scissors, hand-dyed fabrics, just to name a few. You don’t need these items to start, but as your cross-stitch collection grows you will probably end up with at least one of everything!
Remember, the stitching community is full of wonderful people! Many of them have side hustles creating the items we use daily. Be sure to look around and support those who you think are exceptionally talented! Buying from the little guy or girl, or your local needle shop, is one way we can keep needle arts localized and community based!
There are hundreds of cross-stitch designers out there these days. More than ever! After a bit of research, you are bound to find someone whose designs inspire you to stitch. Make sure you choose your pattern according to your skill level. We also suggest starting with a small pattern to start. Larger patterns can take years even for advanced stitchers, so starting with something smaller is what we always recommend.
If you have no idea where to start, here are a few of our favourite designers who offer small stitch patterns:
The Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery - https://www.thefrostedpumpkinstitchery.com/
The Tiny Modernist - https://www.tinymodernist.com/
Velvet Pony Designs - https://www.etsy.com/shop/velvetponydesign
Another good option are kits made by a company called Dimensions. You can find these at your local craft store and at most Walmart stores. These are convenient because they come in kit format and include everything you need to start for a small cost. If you want to get started quickly, grab one of these and you’ll be on your way in no time.
A good needle will be your best friend. Needles are just as important as the thread and fabric you stitch with and can save you a ton of headaches if you have a good brand. The needles used in cross-stitch are called tapestry needles. They have blunt ends and come in a variety of different sizes. Common sizes include size 24, 26, and 28. Needles are typically made of nickel but are also available in gold plating. Those with known allergies to nickel should purchase gold needles to save their hands from irritation. We recommend Bohin for good quality needles that will last.
Needle size and fabric count go hand in hand and will give you the best and most consistent stitching result when you have it right. We have provided a handy chart here that will tell you what size of needle to use on what count of fabric.
Breakage and Burs
The two main problems you will likely encounter with needles are breakage and burs. Breakage typically occurs with cheaper brands of needles as they don’t have the structural integrity that the good brands do. There is nothing more annoying than going through a couple of broken needles when you are trying to make some progress on a piece.
Burs can take a while to figure out if you are new to stitching. A bur is a small imperfection, often unnoticeable by eye, that can shred or cut your thread. You might be wondering why your thread seems to be breaking so easily for no apparent reason. If this is happening to you, switch your needle out and the problem should resolve itself. Throw the needle with the bur in the garbage so you don’t have the same problem next time.
Hoops and Options
There are many different options when it comes to how to hold your fabric. Like everything else, this will come down to personal preference. We recommend you try out every method possible to get a feel for what you like the most. A great way to do this is ask someone from the stitchy community if you can borrow from them. Stitchers typically have multiple hoops, Q-snaps, etc. and are typically more than willing to help others who are just learning the craft.
Below we have listed the most common types of hoops and frames, but please note, this list is not all inclusive.
Stitching in hand: Perhaps the rawest and cheapest form of stitching. Stitching in hand means not using any type of frame or device to pull the fabric taught while you are working. Aida is usually the easiest fabric to support stitching in hand, but you can work any project on any fabric in hand if you are comfortable with it. Some stitchers find it difficult to keep their stitches consistent and tidy without the assistance of a hoop or frame to keep the fabric tight.
Regular embroidery hoops: The most common type of hoop available on the market today. These hoops are most commonly made from plastic or bamboo. To use a hoop, the inner circle is removed, the fabric is laid down, and then the inner circle is replaced. This pins the fabric between the two hoops. The top of most hoops has a screw like device that you can tighten to increase the tension on the fabric.
Tension hoops (tension darning hoops): Good tension hoops are tough to find these days, but they are worth it if you can find them. Unlike regular embroidery hoops, the inner hoop of a tension hoop is metal. To remove the metal hoop, you squeeze the two end pieces together letting off the tension between the two hoops and then pull it out. When you put your fabric between the two, the tension of the infer hoop flattens and tightens the fabric nicely without the need adjust the top screw like regular hoops.
Q-snaps: These frames are typically made of white PVC tubes and come in square and rectangular forms. There is a plastic piece (technically called a ribbed clamp) that snaps over the tubes to keep the fabric taught. You can mix and match the tubes depending on the size and shape of the piece you need to frame. Sizes come from 6”x6” to 20”x20” so they are exceptionally versatile depending on what you require. Stitchers love these frames because they hold fabric tighter than any other option.
No matter what you choose, make sure you are comfortable. The more comfortable you are the more you will want to stitch, which is always the goal!
As you get further into cross-stitch as a hobby, you will learn that there are hundreds (if not thousands!) of choices when it comes to your projects. Fabric is no exception!
First, we will cover the different types of weave you can choose from. The three most popular categories are as follows:
Aida cloth: Typically provided in kits and a good fabric for the beginner stitcher. Its slightly stiffer weave makes it easy to stitch on without a hoop if you aren’t ready to invest yet. Most common counts are 14 and 16, but Aida is available in a wide range of size counts for you to choose from. Aida is stitched “over 1”.
Evenweave: Beautiful and lovely to work with. There are many different types of evenweave fabrics including Lugana and Jobelan, and its application is very versatile. More experienced stitchers will swap out Aida for hand-dyed evenweave. Most common counts are 28 and 32 and this fabric is usually stitched “over 2”.
Linen: The most natural and irregular fabric listed here, linen offers a more rustic look that can look gorgeous with the right chart. We don’t recommend starting with linen, but if you really want to and love the look of it, go for it! Like evenweave, linen is also usually stitched “over 2”.
We can’t cover fabric without covering count. Each of these types of fabric comes in different counts. Fabric “count” simply refers to the number of threads of the weave of fabric per inch. When stitchers chat (and we do this a lot!), you’ll hear “28 count” or “14 count”. This refers to the number of threads per inch in said fabric. The count also directly relates to the finished size of your project. Count is like gauge in that the higher the count, the smaller the result.
One of the most fun decisions is choosing the colour of your fabric. There are three main options when it comes to colour:
Solids: Cross-stitch fabric is available in almost every solid colour you could imagine. Basics like white, ivory, and cream are always a good place to start and will go with almost any pattern you choose.
Patterns: There are lots of patterns to choose from. Cute patterns look adorable on tan coloured fabric with white polka dots. Stripes, chevron, you name it and you can probably find it. There are also some companies who print on one side of the fabric. These prints are more complex and look gorgeous with the right stitching placed on top of it.
Hand dyed: There are lots of artisans that make hand dyed fabric for stitching these days! There are different techniques (ice dying, etc.) all which give a different effect when the fabric is dry. Etsy and Instagram are both great places to find hand dyed fabrics for your projects. When in doubt, ask another stitcher and they would be happy to tell you where they got their hand dyed fabrics from.
When choosing fabric, stitchers sometimes use what’s called the “floss toss”. A floss toss is when you take every colour of thread called for in a pattern and toss it onto the fabric to get an idea of how all the colours go together. This is a great option as sometimes colours can fade out when your fabric is too close to the charted colours of thread. This method really gives you a good idea how everything will go together before you even start your stitching.