There are a few easy steps to learning how to cross stitch and starting out with a small sampler will make all the difference. Cross-eyed with this stitch – no never! It is a great simple stitch, useful for many different projects and always looks good. When you have your fabric and a design, practice a few stitches to get into the rhythm of cross stitch embroidery.
How to Cross Stitch - History
Cross stitch is the oldest form of embroidery and has traveled across countries and over many centuries to become a versatile stitch used today. It is more than just an embroidery stitch, it is a craft that has been integrated into all sorts of needle and thread art forms.
Because it is a simple stitch, different fabrics and thread textures add variety to the outcome of the item you are making.
Initially, cross stitch was used to decorate bed linen and tableware, but nowadays cross stitch can be used to decorate many things. Cross stitch is used in crewel embroidery, needlepoint, tapestry and even rug-making. It looks stunning on peasant blouses and creates an interesting border for a skirt with a country look.
Over the years cross stitch has had new techniques added to its definition. There are now reversed cross stitch patterns and a double cross stitch known as the Leviathan cross stitch. It is worked with a normal cross stitch combined with an upright cross stitch and is very effective.
How to Cross Stitch - Best Fabrics
When learning how to cross stitch, beginners should try Aida fabric with a thread count of 14. Aida fabric is simply an open weave fabric commonly used for embroidery and cross stitch. The higher the thread count, the smaller the weave and so the smaller your stitches will end up. The numbers represent the number of stitches in one inch (2.5cm).
Unlike many embroidery fabrics, it is quite stiff and therefore can sometimes be sewn without an embroidery hoop. Personally, I prefer the stability of an embroidery hoop for all projects. The advantage of using Aida is that you can count the threads, enabling you to get more symmetrical stitches.
See in the photo below how the open weave of the fabric works like a grid. You can count across accurately reproducing designs without drawing them on the fabric.
There are other fabrics and different counts available and you may want to use a more practical fabric if you are embellishing clothing. For my samples, I used an unbleached calico which is a cheap and easily available fabric. If you are looking to sew perfectly symmetrical designs on calico, just mark lines in lead pencil or chalk that you can follow.
Aida and many very open weave fabrics fray easily so you may want to finish the edges before you start larger and more time-consuming projects. Edges can be finished with a simple zig-zag stitch or serged edge. If you don't have a sewing machine, then masking or painter's tape can be stuck along the edges. Just make sure you have large seam allowances so you can cut off the tape when you are finished.
How to Cross Stitch - Best Threads
You will need some embroidery thread (floss) for your cross stitch project. Most brands have 6 strands of thread twisted together to form one. You can choose how thick your threads will be.
DMC is one of the major embroidery floss brands, but there are many cheaper alternatives to consider particularly if your final product doesn't need to be washed.
You will usually use a tapestry needle with an eye size to match the thickness of the threads you are using. A needle threader can help you thread more easily if you find the strands are separating and making it more difficult.
How to Cross Stitch - Patterns
Cross stitch patterns can be purchased online and from haberdashery stores. You will often receive a chart with a grid showing you the position of stitches and the color combinations. This is why using fabric with an open countable weave like Aida is best. You can just copy the chart and stitch positions onto your fabric by counting.
Many designs can be purchased in kits so you have the correct colors rather than purchasing them individually.
How to Cross Stitch - Stitches
If you are completely new to embroidery, have a read of my article on how to embroider before you start. This will go through threads and tools and give you a good basis to build upon. Start by centering your fabric in the hoop.
Step 1 - First Stitch
When you have knotted your thread or let your first thread hang at the back to be included later, you are ready to start.
When you are learning, it may be easier to draw some little squares to practice in. The size of the stitches will be determined by the size of the square.
Push your needle from the back to the right side of the fabric at the top left of your imaginary square at(1).
Step 2 - Diagonal Across
Your first stitch is from the upper corner (1) diagonally across to the bottom right corner (2).
Now you have made the first diagonal line you are ready to begin the second part of the cross.
Step3 - To the Left
Push the needle in a straight line at the back of the fabric and come up at the bottom left (3) which is in line with your first stitch (1).
Look at the photo below. It is much easier than it sounds! See 1,2,3.
UP-DOWN-ACROSS & UP
Your needle should pop out the bottom left of the cross at a point parallel to where the thread entered the fabric at (1). The first part of the cross is complete!
Step 4 - Back to Top
Take your needle diagonally across from the bottom left corner (3) to the top right corner (4). Your thread will cross the thread from the first diagonal forming the cross stitch.
If you only plan on a single cross stitch, then stop there and turn to the back of your work to finish off.
Step 5 - Repeat
If you plan on further stitches then take your needle at the back of your work and bring it up at the top corner of your next stitch (5) and follow the same pattern you stitched for the first cross.
You can start to see a rhythm as you sew from left to right and side to side. Always have the symmetrical square in your mind’s eye or even draw a little diagram on paper to remind you while you are learning how to do cross stitch.
How to Cross Stitch - Alternate Method
When doing larger block rows of stitches in the one thread color (like my red cross sampler), I find it easier to do this alternate method.
First, you do one direction and then reverse back to complete the cross.
One word of warning on using this method - Don't pull the stitches too tight or it can result in your fabric puckering and not lying flat. It is best suited to really stiff fabrics that won't pull. If your fabric is thinner, put it in a hoop making sure the fabric is very taut and rechecking it during stitching.
See how areas can quickly be covered using this faster method. Look at some of the green stitching which is half done. Once the needle is rethreaded with green, it will complete the crosses in those parts.
How to Cross stitch - Double Cross Stitch
An attractive border design can be created by using a double cross stitch.
In addition to the diagonal crosses, it has a second layer of horizontal crosses. This can be done in a contrast color or matching color. I have done my samples with a smaller horizontal cross but you can get a star-like shape by making them the same height and width.
Start by making your regular cross stitches. These may be touching or separated like in my sample.
To start the second cross, bring the needle up at point (1) which is midway on the side of the cross. If you want a smaller cross, then bring point (1) in a bit.
Move the needle to the right and put it down at point (2) which is midway on the other side.
Exit at (3) at the top.
Put the needle back down at point (4) and you have a nice looking double cross stitch.
Experiment with different sized cross stitches.
How to Cross Stitch - In Conclusion
Learning how to cross stitch is a bit like learning to conduct an orchestra.
Say to yourself there are 4 beats to the bar and four stitches to the cross – one, two, three and you have the cross done then four leads you onto the next cross and away you go to making a masterpiece with a needle and a thread.
More Embroidery Stitches
- Blanket Stitch
- Buttonhole Stitch
- Chain Stitch
- Chevron Stitch
- Couching Embroidery Tutorial
- Cross Stitch
- Double Herringbone Stitch
- How to Embroider
- Faggoting Embroidery
- Feather Stitch
- Fern Stitch
- Fishbone Stitch
- Fly Stitch
- French Knots
- Hand Embroidery Stitches
- Herringbone Stitch
- Lazy Daisy
- Running Stitch
- Sashiko Embroidery
- Satin Stitch
- Seed Stitch Embroidery (Rice Stitch)
- Stem Stitch
- Straight Stitch
- Web Stitch | Embroidery Tutorial
- Whip Stitch