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!
Now that you know about the tools and materials used to cross stitch, let’s move on to the cross stitch process itself. This page takes you through the basics of cross stitch, starting with how to find the centre of your fabric and make your first stitch. We’ll then explain how to complete a variety of stitches and knots, and how to end your thread.
It's important to always begin stitching a design in the centre of your fabric to make sure it's centralised. To find the centre, gently fold your fabric in half and then fold it in half again, marking the centre with a needle or fabric pencil. Once you've marked the centre, cut your desired amount of stranded cotton, separate the strands as your chart suggests, then thread it through the eye of the needle. As previously discussed, your chart uses black markings to indicate the centre of the design – so that's how you know what to begin stitching at the centre point of your fabric!
There are several ways in which you can start a stitch, but below we've included the best three methods for beginners. Whichever method you choose completely depends on your personal preference – there isn't only one correct way!
The In-Line Waste Knot Method is ideal when beginning a new design. Begin by knotting the end of your stranded cotton. Push your needle into the front of the fabric, about one inch away from the start of your design but along the same line, pulling your cotton through to the back. Bring your needle back up to the front of the fabric, but this time at your starting point. Begin making your full cross stitches, stitching towards the knot. Ensure you cross over each stitch on the back of the fabric to secure the cotton. Once you reach the knot, simply pull it up and cut it off very close to the fabric, then continue stitching your design – your stranded cotton will remain secure.
The Away Waste Knot Method is fairly similar to the In-Line Waste Knot Method in that it involves creating a temporary knot, and is equally as good for beginning a new project. Begin by knotting the end of your stranded cotton. Push your needle into the front of the fabric several inches away from the start of your design, but this time away from the stitching line, pulling your cotton through to the back. Continue stitching your design. This time, it's only when you've run out of thread or want to change thread colour that you pull the knot up and cut it off close to the fabric. Turn the fabric over and rethread your needle with the excess cotton, then run it under a few of your stitches on the backside of your fabric to secure.
The final beginner's starting method is the Stitching Over Method. Begin by pulling your threaded needle through from the back of the fabric, so that it's now on the front – remember to leave around an inch of stranded cotton at the back. Hold this strand up against the backside of your fabric, pointing it in the direction that you'll stitch. Create your first few stitches along this strand, thus securing it to the fabric. Similarly to ending a thread, if you've run out of cotton or want to change colour, you can secure the new stranded cotton by simply running the threaded needle under a few of your most recent stitches on the backside of the fabric, then continue stitching your design.
Full Cross Stitch
The most important stitch you'll need to know is the Full Cross Stitch – it is, after all, where the name derives from! This simple x-shaped stitch is worked from the left and repeated multiple times to form a design. To begin, bring the needle up through the bottom left square (1), then thread it down through into the top right square, diagonal to it (2). Instead of crossing over right away, stitchers will often complete a row of half stitches, then work backwards to cross them over. So, simply repeat the first step in the square to the right (3) and so on. Finally, repeat the process again, but this time working to the left to form full crosses.
Used to finish off stitched areas, the Back Stitch outlines completed cross stitch designs in a different thread colour to add definition and detail. Instead of working from the left, this simple stitch is worked from the right. To begin, bring your needle up through the first square (1), then move horizontally to the right and push your needle down into the next square (2). This time, bring the needle up through the square to the left of the first square (3), then push it down through the first square (1) to form a line. Continue this process – up through 4, then down through 3, and so on.
'Fractional Stitches' is a group term for Quarter Stitches, Half Stitches and Three-Quarter Stitches. Basically, they're specific fractions of a stitch. These stitches allow much more detail within a design as you can form pronounced curves and finer features, so an evenweave fabric is recommended as it's easier to pierce through the threads. These Fractional Stitches are as follows...
A Half Stitch is half of a whole cross stitch, so only one diagonal line – instead of a cross. Bring the needle up through the bottom left square (1), then thread it down through into the top right square diagonal to it (2).
A Quarter Stitch is half of a half stitch – punching between squares or threads. Bring the needle up through the bottom left square (1) and instead of threading down into the top right diagonal square, stop halfway and pierce down through the fabric threads (2).
A Three-Quarter Stitch is a half stitch then a quarter stitch, forming a T-shape. Bring the needle up through the bottom left square (1) and push it down through the diagonal top right square (2). Then, take it back up through the hole directly below (3). To finish, bring your needle up diagonally to the left, but stop where the half stitch meets the middle point and pierce down through the centre (4).
Stitching Over 2 Threads
When you Stitch Over 1 Thread, you simply stitch diagonally from hole-to-hole. So, Stitching Over 2 Threads means that you skip a hole for every stitch you make – you stitch over two threads instead of one. Evenweave and Linen fabrics are often stitched over two threads due to the thread structure (unless stitching highly defined features), whereas Aida fabrics are mostly stitched over one.
Used to embellish cross stitch designs, French Knots are, as suggested, tiny knots often used for eyes, little flowers or other defining details. The size of the knot depends on how many cotton strands you use in the needle – the more strands, the bigger the knot.
To complete a French Knot, bring the needle up through your fabric, then hold it firmly with your left (or non-stitching) hand. Hold the needle facing away from the fabric with your other hand, then wrap the stranded cotton twice around the needle with your left hand. If you'd prefer a bigger knot, wrap the stranded cotton around your needle three times at this stage.
Whilst holding the cotton tightly with your left hand, point the needle downwards and insert it into your fabric, directly next to where you brought the needle up – but not in the hole you came up through. Gently pull the cotton all the way through the back, until your knot is sitting on the front surface of the fabric.
Usually when you use multiple strands of cotton in a stitch, you use strands of the same colour in the needle at the same time, thus thickening the stitches. Tweeding, on the other hand, means that you use different coloured strands in a stitch – usually one strand of each colour – to embellish your design.
Blending Filament is often used in Tweeding, and is a delicate, metallic, thread-like substance that's combined with stranded cottons to add sparkle, producing a unique shimmer effect in your stitching.
If you've run out of stranded cotton in your threaded needle, want to change your cotton colour, or just want to call it a day, ending your thread is very simple. With the stranded cotton still attached to the needle, simply run it under the last few stitches you made on the backside of your fabric, then cut the excess off. If you want to start the thread again, rethread your needle then run it under those stitches again to secure the cottons.