Cross Stitch ! A starter Guide

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This is probably the most well known and easiest form of embroidery and a great way to start your journey. There are a huge number of kits and patterns available for this style of embroidery from key rings to portraits. And it’s totally addictive!

If you’re after a quiet and relaxing hobby you can’t go wrong with cross stitch. You can take it anywhere and I often embroider when watching my children at sports. I’ve seen people doing it in all sorts of places too, for example last week I witnessed a bus driver cross stitching on his break. It can bring utter peace and calm and engage the mind all at the same time.

X Marks the Spot

Cross stitch is a form of counted-thread embroidery in which X-shaped stitches in a tiled, raster-like pattern are used to form a picture. The stitcher counts the threads on a piece of even weave fabric in each direction so that the stitches are of uniform size and appearance.

This form of cross stitch is also called ‘counted cross stitch’ in order to distinguish it from other forms of cross stitch. For example, stamped cross stitch already has the design printed over the fabric and you simply stitch over the printed pattern.

Choosing Your Fabric

Most beginners start on aida fabric, which is loosely woven in a grid pattern.

Fabrics for cross stitch come in different sizes and are categorized by threads per inch, so the number of stitches that can be stitched in one square inch. This is commonly referred to as the ‘count’ and sizes range for 11 to 40 count.

aida 22 count
40 Count Linen

Aida fabric has a lower count because it is made with two threads grouped together for ease of stitching. [it would be good to illustrate with labels the two threads grouped together, just for clarification for dummies like me]

Cross stitch projects are worked from a gridded pattern and can be used on any count fabric. The count of the fabric determines the size of the finished stitching if the stitcher counts and stitches over 2 threads. The finished stitching size is reduced by half if the stitcher counts and stitches over one fabric thread.

Choosing Your Pattern!

Fortunately, there are numerous patterns available that don’t feature kittens or equally saccharine subjects. There was a time when finding anything other was a challenge!

Once you’ve chosen your design, it’s simply a matter of matching up the grid of the pattern with that of your fabric. People regularly grid the fabric they work on to make the transfer easier, this can be done with thread or vanishing pen. You can also purchase pre-gridded fabric for projects that have a higher stitch density where the pattern of threads will naturally conceal the grid.

Beginner patterns tend to be smaller with just a few colours to ease you into things. However, once you’ve mastered the basic techniques you can expand with more complex patterns or even make your own!

Other Tools

I cover the essentials in greater detail in my post on Beginner’s Embroidery Equipment,however as a quick reference, when choosing your needles for cross stitch always opt for tapestry needles. They have a rounded point and a good sized eye, making them perfect for weave fabrics like aida cloth.

Your Method of Stitching

There are different methods of stitching a pattern, including the cross-country method where one colour is stitched at a time, or the parking method where one block of fabric is stitched at a time and the end of the thread is “parked” at the next point the same colour occurs in the pattern. If you’re purchasing a comprehensive beginners kit it will include threads, needle, basic instructions and the chart . If in personal tuition is your preferred way of learning, I also demonstrate different methods as part of my courses for beginners.

A Short History

Cross stitch is the oldest form of embroidery and can be found all over the world. Many folk museums show examples of clothing decorated with cross stitch, especially from continental Europe, Asia, and Eastern and Central Europe.

Samplers have also been found as far back as the 15thcentury. A sampler is a practice piece, generally stitched by a young girl to learn how to stitch and to record alphabet and other patterns to be used in their household sewing. These samples of stitching could be referred back to over the years.

In the United States, the earliest known cross stitch sampler is currently housed at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The sampler was created by Loara Standish, daughter of Captain Myles Standish and pioneer of the Leviathan stitch, circa 1653.

Traditionally, cross stitch was used to embellish items like household linens, tablecloths, dishcloths and doilies (only a small portion of which would actually be embroidered, such as a border).

Modern Cross Stitch

Today cross stitch is often used to make decorative pictures, greeting cards, pillow tops or as inserts for box tops, coasters and trivets. This may sound rather twee, but innovations and the influence of art, popular culture and other forms of stitching have done a great job in making cross stitch a contemporary craft.

Multicoloured, shaded, painting-like patterns as we know them today are a fairly modern development, deriving from similar shaded patterns of Berlin wool work of the mid-nineteenth century.

Besides designs created expressly for cross stitch, there are now software programs that convert a photograph or a fine art image into a chart suitable for stitching. One stunning example of this is the cross stitched reproduction of the Sistine Chapel, charted and stitched by Joanna Lopianowski-Roberts.

So, whether you’re looking to embellish doilies or recreate Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, cross stitch offers numerous choices!

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