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Cross Stitch FAQ

What is cross stitch?
How do you make a cross stitch?
How do you choose floss and use strands?
How do you thread a needle and then start a thread?
How do you end a thread?
How do you choose a pattern?
How do you read a cross stitch pattern?
How do you choose fabric for a cross stitch project?
What needles do I need?
what scissors do I need

What is cross stitch?

Cross stitch, or counted cross stitch, is originally a stitch used in the embroidery of days gone by.  The stitch is composed of two diagonal stitches, one crossed over the other.  The most important thing to remember about cross stitch is to cross the "x" in the same direction.  The second most important thing to remember about cross stitch is never, never knot your thread.  Instead, run your needle behind your stitches when you come to the end of your thread or when you begin a new thread.

In its early days of commercial sales, the individual "x's" of cross stitch were stamped onto fabric.  This was called stamped cross stitch.  This myriad of "x's" created a picture or made a saying.  There were also household items in stamped cross stitch, such as towels, quilts, and pillowcases.  Kits with floss and a stitching diagram were sold and the stitcher stitched the "x" where indicated on the fabric.  As time has passed, these kits have become more and more rare.

Later, in the 70's, counted cross stitch became the norm.  Cotton fabric was milled that provided square at set intervals, such as 11 or 14 squares to the inch.  This fabric was called "Aida" (pronounced "I-eeda" or "Ay-da") and came in different colors and qualities.  As the skill of both designers and stitchers grew, additional fabrics came on the market such as Jobelan and linens that had finer thread counts and different textures.  This finer thread count allows the stitcher to create finer details, such as details of faces.

The thread used for cross stitch is usually a 6 strand embroidery floss, such as that sold by DMC or Anchor or J&P Coats.  Nowadays, though, it is common to use silk and overdyed floss to add dimension to one's work.

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How do you make a cross stitch?

It's very simple.  Come up through a hole in your fabric (and hold onto the end of your thread on the back of your work).  Go down on the diagonal into the hole that is catty-corner to where you came up.  Then come up in the hole next to where you did your first diagonal, and cross over your first diagonal stitch with your second diagonal stitch.  That's all there is to it!

If you think of it as a grid, such as this one:           

4

2

1

3

then you come up at one, go down at 2, come up at 3 and go down at 4.  Remember to always, always cross your stitches in the same direction, so even if you have to come up at 2 and go down at 1, you'll then come up at 4 and go down at 3 (the right-to-left cross is always over the left-to-right cross).

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How do you choose floss and use strands?

Choosing floss is a matter of personal preference.  The more you stitch, the more you'll know what floss you like.  Originally, floss was manufactured by three companies:  DMC, Anchor, J&P Coats.  It was a six-strand cotton floss in solid colors.  Now, though, there are silk flosses and overdyed cotton flosses that can give your work a beauty that few could have imagined 20 years ago!

The designer of your counted cross stitch pattern has chosen floss to create her (or his) picture.  At the bottom or on the side of your graph is a table listing floss colors.  If your local needlework shop sells DMC floss, then you can choose the thread colors from the DMC table; ditto with Anchor floss.  If the design you are preparing to stitch is a complicated one with lots of shading, for example, it is best to stick with the shading the artist has chosen.  Remember, s/he has spent hours with many, many colors of thread to choose exactly what pallette of colors would look best! 

However, if you want to change a big red rose into a big pink rose, here are some steps you can take:

  • Pull all the colors of red that the thread list calls for
  • Pick colors of pink that follow the colors of red in hue, shade, and intensity
  • If the rose has 3 colors of red (light, medium, and dark), then pull three colors of pink that are light, medium, and dark

If you have a simple saying that the artist designed in blue, and you want a little more variation to your own piece, then consider choosing an overdyed thread.  Using thread with variation in its coloring can make a dramatic impact to your final piece - it can go from midnight blue to moderate blue and back again, all without rethreading your needle!  Make certain that you read the manufacturer's label, though - some of these threads are not waterproof, and if you wash them, then their color bleeds away.

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How do you thread a needle and then start a thread?

The simplest way to thread a needle is to fold the thread around the point of the needle.  It's not like threading a sewing needle, since you're working with two or three threads, and the eye of the cross stitch needle is a lot bigger.

So fold the thread around the point of the needle, and pull the needle out.  You'll then have a very tightly folded loop.  Put the loop through the eye of the needle - it goes in a lot easier this way!

You can also take a small piece of paper and wrap it around the ends of the threads.  Then you can push that piece of paper through the eye of the needle (yes, that's why I said "small!).  Pull the paper with the threads all the way through the eye, and you'll have a threaded needle.

Finally, there are needle threaders on the market - the best ones look like a disk with two "wings" on either side.  If you want to use these, I recommend tying a length of ribbon onto one end so that you (or your cat) can always find it, even if it falls into the side of your chair.  When you use a needle threader, put the eye of your needle on the "wing" end, all the way up to the disk, put your thread through the open part of the wing, then pull your needle off the wing.  You now have a threaded needle!

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How do you end a thread?

When you come to the end of your thread, turn your work over.  You'll see the backs of your stitches.  These provide the anchor for your finished piece of thread.  With your needle, weave it into the backs of several stitches - I like to go through 5 or 6 to make sure it's well-anchored.  Then pull your needle off your thread and clip your thread close to your stitches.

Do not tie a knot when you end your thread!  It will provide a bump that will show through the front of your work and can often come undone.

A tip on ending your thread:  to make your work look good from the front, avoid running dark thread through a light stitching area, and vice versa.

If you're doing lettering, it's OK to run your thread between letters.  If you run your thread between words, though, you will have an unsightly piece of thread that will mar the beauty of your work.

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How do you choose a pattern?

Choose a pattern based on several things:  your personal taste; the taste of the recipient; the time frame you have to stitch it; and your own skill level.

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How do you read a cross stitch pattern?
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How do you choose fabric for a cross stitch project?
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What needles do I need?
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what scissors do I need
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