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Cross Stitch Guide

This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of cross stitch, from its beginnings all the way through to the specialist materials required to stitch a design, how to read a cross stitch chart, and what the process actually involves!

Cross Stitch Fabrics

What is the 'Count'?

Before we begin looking at the different types of cross stitch fabric, we should clarify what the 'count' is – a word you'll often come across. The definition of the count differs for particular fabric types, so we'll define as such. ForAida, it refers to the number of square holes a piece of fabric has per inch. One hole equates to one stitch, so the higher the count, the smaller and closer the holes are in an inch of fabric, meaning that the fabric can hold morestitches. For Evenweave, it refers to the number of weft and warp threads a piece of fabric has per inch – the higher the count, the finer and tighter the weave will be in an inch of fabric.

Aida Cloth

Designed for cross stitch, Aida Cloth is a canvas material with evenly woven threads that form tiny squares, or visible stitching holes, to allow easy stitching. Aida is available in a variety of sizes - the higher the count, the more square holes it has per inch. For example, 14-count Aida has 14 holes, or stitches, per inch.

Aida is often the fabric of choice for those starting out in cross stitch. Purchasable in a range of colours and sizes, this stiff fabric has consistently spaced stitching holes which makes it easy to see where to stitch. It's best to begin your first project on a relatively low count cloth - although the design will be less detailed, it means that the stitching will be less complex and will allow you to practise your stitche

Evenweave Fabric

Evenweave Fabric has the same number and thickness of threads going across (weft) in an inch as it does going down (warp), resulting in square stitches. Differing from Aida, the threads are counted instead of the squares in the fabric to determine the count. For example, 25-count evenweave fabric has 25 weft threads and 25 warp threads per inch of material.

Evenweave isn't recommended for the cross stitch novice, however is the perfect platform to advance onto with experience. A softer fabric, it's ideal for making cushions and typically comes with a higher count than Aida, meaning that it's usually worked over two threads, unless you're adding finer details.

Linen Cloth

Linen Cloth is constructed from flax – the natural cellulose fibres grown in flax plant stalks. Although it has similar properties to Evenweave fabric, Linen has natural irregularities in terms of thread thickness. This means that although it generally has the same number of weft and warp threads in an inch of fabric, like Evenweave does, the thread thickness across the whole length of cloth may be a little inconsistent – which gives it an antiqued appearance. Linen often has a higher thread count, reaching up to 40-count, which means that it's ideal for detailed stitchwork.

Waste Canvas

If you want to embroider a design onto clothing, a towel or a pillowcase of regular plainweave fabric, this may prove difficult without a count. Cross stitch fabrics lack the soft, wearable quality that fabrics like cotton hold, and aren't favoured for use in dressmaking – so what should you do?

There is, in fact, a clever alternative to creating garments from these specialty fabrics: using a Waste Canvas. Providing a suitable base for counted cross stitch, this temporary canvas is attached to your fabric, stitched onto, and then removed once stitching is complete. The canvas is simply dampened and the threads are pulled away, leaving your design embroidered onto your plainweave fabric.

Cross Stitch Needles

Using the correct needles in a cross stitch project is extremely important – you can't just pick out a random set! There are countless types of sewing needles, each of which could damage your counted fabric, stranded cottons or cross stitch designs.

Fundamentally, there are only three types of needles you'll need for cross stitch: Chenille Needles, Crewel Needles and Tapestry Needles. These needles have larger eyes than sewing needles and are specifically designed to work with and protect stranded cottons and counted fabrics. Tapestry Needles are used for general stitching, while Chenille Needles and Crewel Needles are used to stitch intricate details.

The key thing to remember when buying cross stitch needles is this: the larger the stated size of the needle, the thinner the needle and the smaller the eye. This means, for example, that a size 20 needle is thinner than a size 14 needle. As a general guide, you should choose needles that are a tad smaller than the square holes or thread spaces in your fabric.

The key thing to remember when buying cross stitch needles is this: the larger the stated size of the needle, the thinner the needle and the smaller the eye. This means, for example, that a size 20 needle is thinner than a size 14 needle. As a general guide, you should choose needles that are a tad smaller than the square holes or thread spaces in your fabric.

Tapestry Needle

Tapestry Needle

Tapestry Needles are used for general counted cross stitch due to their blunt, round tips with large eyes. Cross stitch fabric has large holes to stitch into, so piercing with a sharp needle isn't necessary – the blunt tip simply passes between the threads or finds the square holes for a more even stitch. These needles are available in a range of sizes between 14 and 26.

Chenille Needle

Chenille Needle

Chenille Needles are long, thick and sharp with large eyes, identical to Tapestry Needles in terms of length and diameter, but far more pointed. Available in sizes between 14 and 26, these needles are especially ideal for ribbon embroidery, as well as techniques using heavy thread and surface embroidery that requires a sharp point.

Crewel Needle

Crewel Needle

Crewel Needles (or 'Embroidery Needles') are sharp and pointed, similar to Chenille Needles, however are shorter and thinner with slightly lengthened eyes. Available in sizes between 1 and 10, these needles are ideal for crewel work and surface embroidery that involves piercing through fabric threads.

Stranded Cottons and Embroidery Scissors

Cross stitch fabrics need to be worked on with a specific type of thread, stranded cottons, which are much thicker than general sewing threads. Following on from this, these threads also need specific embroidery scissors to prevent fraying.

Stranded Cottons

Stranded cotton (or 'Floss,' as known in America) is often referred to as '6 Strand Cotton' because each length of mercerised cotton is made up of six smaller strands, which are then separated when required for use. Put simply, it's the embroidery thread you use to create your cross stitch designs.

Stranded cottons come in skeins – a specific way that the lengths of thread are wound up, loosely coiled and knotted. There are hundreds of cotton colours available to allow you to find a match for a whole host of projects, however a certain thread colour is often recommended in your chart's key.

Not only does a chart suggest colours, but it also tells you how many strands you need to use for each section of the design – the more strands used, the heavier and bolder the stitch. The fewer the threads, the more refined and detailed that section of the design can be.

Embroidery Scissors

Thread cutting in cross stitch requires specialist scissors, commonly referred to as embroidery scissors. These small, thin and sharp scissors are designed to trim threads quickly, cleanly and very closely to the fabric, and are available in a whole host of shapes.

For example, you may come across straight embroidery scissors, bent embroidery scissors (for use with embroidery hoops), or spring-loaded embroidery scissors, to name a few. But ultimately, the ones you choose depend on the qualities you personally require in a pair of embroidery scissors.

Embroidery Hoops and Tapestry Frames

Embroidery hoops and tapestry frames are designed to pull fabric so that it remains stretched tight whilst stitching, keeping the tension even.

Embroidery Hoops are round wooden frames that consist of an inner ring and an outer ring, ideal for smaller designs – the fabric is placed over the outer ring, then the inner ring is clipped on top. Tapestry Frames are rectangular wooden scroll frames that are ideal for larger designs – the fabric is stitched onto the rolls, then pulled taut and tightened to secure.

It's entirely possible to complete a cross stitch project without the use of a hoop or frame, but as a beginner you'll find that it's so much easier to have one – they ensure neater, much more even work. If using a hoop, you should choose one that's bigger than that size of your design as you'll be able to continually stitch without having to reposition it. Once your stitch session is up, you should remove the hoop or frame so that your fabric doesn't become stretched and tired.

How to use an Embroidery Hoop

Wooden embroidery hoops have two rings, with an adjustable screw on the outer ring. To use an embroidery hoop, simply:

  1. Loosen the adjustable screw and pull the two rings apart.
  2. Put your fabric on top of the inner ring, remembering to centralise the design, then push the outer ring on top.
  3. Smooth out the fabric, making sure there are no creases or sagging.
  4. Tighten the adjustable screw, ensuring that your fabric is tight and secure, however not stretched enough to alter the composition of the weave.

How to use a Tapestry Frame

Tapestry frames often come with two rollers and two crossbars to hold the rollers together. To use a tapestry frame, simply:

  1. Mark the middle point of your roller, then the middle point on your fabric.
  2. Place your fabric on top of the roller with both marks pressed together, then attach the elements to one another with pins.
  3. Thread both elements together all the way along with long, temporary basting stitches. Remember to take the pins out when you reach the middle point!
  4. Once fully basted, turn the fabric around 180 degrees and repeat the process with the second roller.
  5. When your fabric is sewn onto both rollers, it's time to attach the crossbars. Take the first bar and push one end of a roller into the opening, remembering to keep the butterfly screw facing upwards (the same side as the front of your fabric).
  6. Take the second bar and push the other end of that roller into the opening, again, remembering to keep the butterfly screw facing upwards.
  7. Turn the frame around and push each end of the second roller into the other side of each bar.
  8. Roll the bottom roller to tighten your fabric in the frame, ensuring that it's extremely taut – the tighter, the better!
  9. Whilst holding the bottom roller to ensure you don't loosen your fabric, twist the butterfly screws to keep your fabric tight in place.