Cross Stitching is a relaxing and rewarding hobby. However, it can be a bit overwhelming to begin with.
There are tons of neat tricks that will help you master the art of cross stitching in no time. Soon enough you will be tackling that long-awaited design you’ve had your eye on for ages but not the confidence to start.
So, my friend, read on for some fab top tips to make your first foray into the world of cross stitch smoother and more enjoyable.
Avoid the tangles and frustrations and become an expert quick as a trick.
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Invest In Some Books
Stock up on a book or two to get you started. You can buy books with full patterns or if you are creative, grab a book with motifs, fonts and borders to create your own designs.
- Subversive Cross Stitch: 50 F*cking Clever Designs for Your Sassy Side
- Feminist Cross Stitch: 40 Bold & Fierce Patterns
- Jo Verso’s World of Cross Stitch: 1001 Motifs, Borders and Pattern Ideas
- 500 Alphabets in Cross Stitch
- Cross Stitch Motif Series 3: Borders: 300 New Cross Stitch Motifs
- Do-It-Yourself Stitch People (2nd Edition)
- Mega Mini Cross Stitch: 900 Super Awesome Cross Stitch Motifs
Start With a Kit
A cross stitch kit can save a bit of hassle trying to find the correct floss, fabric and other bits and bobs that you will need to complete a pattern. It is a good way to dip your toes in the water to see if you’re actually going to like your new hobby before you spend up large.
You can find kits on Etsy, Amazon or in your local craft store and they range from very simple beginners designs to larger, more complex designs.
Cross stitch kits usually come with:
- A precut piece of Aida in the correct size
- The pattern
- A needle
- Floss cut into smaller strands, usually on a card with either the symbol or colour number
- Any beads or embellishments needed
Sometimes kits will come with a hoop but not all will.
Choose Your Fabric Wisely
Your fabric choice can affect your whole project from the ease of stitching to the look of the finished product.
The higher the count of the fabric, the smaller the stitches are. It will also be slightly trickier to stitch as well.
The most common fabric to start with is 14 count Aida.
If your fabric is hand-dyed, prewash it before starting.
Grid Your Fabric
If you want, you can grid your fabric, this will make it easier to keep track of the pattern and help lessen mistakes.
Always make sure that whatever you are using to grid your fabric can easily be removed (either by wash or pulling out your basting stitches).
You can find a handy tutorial on gridding your fabric over on YouTube
Be Aware of Thread Coverage
As well as fabric size, there’s another important factor to take into consideration when stitching. Thread coverage. This simply means how many strands of floss you use for each cross.
The guide below gives a visual overview of how your stitches will look with different amounts of strands per stitch. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the fabric, the less number of strands will be needed.
Floss coverage from left to right: 18-count, 14-count, 11-count, and 9-count (18-count over two threads). Get the full guide on Better Cross Stitch Patterns.
Organise Your Threads
If you are buying full skeins of floss, I would highly recommend winding them on bobbins and labelling them with the colour number. This will prevent them from tangling and getting caught up together.
Keep them in a little box lined up like soldiers. It’s very satisfying.
Cut Your Thread to Size
When you are ready to use your floss, measure your floss strands using the length of your fingertips to your elbow. This length is perfect for reducing the number of tangles in your thread.
Although it seems like a smart idea cutting long lengths (less having to rethread, right?), it really isn’t. The thread tangles much more readily in long lengths in use.
Untwist Your Thread Regularly
As you stitch, you will naturally rotate the needle slightly with every stitch. This will make your floss start to twist.
To counter this, untwist your thread every so often. Simply drop your needle and let it unwind. You can untwist it manually but I prefer to just let my needle drop and it do it naturally.
If the floss is twisted, it will create an odd texture in your stitches, they won’t be even and more of the fabric underneath will show up.
Stop Your Edges From Fraying
As you stitch the edges of your fabric will naturally fray. You can stop this by overlocking around the edge (if you have access to an overlocker), stitch around the edges with a blanket stitch or use masking tape.
I tend to use masking tape, it is just as effective as an overlocker.
Stitch With a Hoop or Frame
Using a hoop or frame to keep your fabric taut is much much easier than stitching without one. Trust me on this.
It also helps prevent distortion as you stitch as your work will be even.
However, make sure you take your work off the hoop in between working on it. This will help decrease indents and creases.
Use a Blunt Needle
Blunt needles are best, they work their way through the holes in your fabric much easier than a sharp needle. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the count of the fabric, the thinner the needle should be.
Wash Your Hands
Wash your hands before you start to prevent marks on your fabric. Such a simple thing to do yet it will save you a headache later. White Aida attracts dirt and dust like a magnet.
Plus, washing dirty cross stitches is a pain in the arse.
Read All Instructions
Be like a boy scout, prepare! Read all the instructions before you begin to save yourself any surprises later on.
The instructions will tell you how many strands of floss to use, what speciality stitches are used and any other bits of information that will help you stitch the design successfully.
Check Your Supplies
Make sure that you have the correct supplies to finish before you even start. Stock up on all the floss, fabric, needles etc so that you don’t run out halfway through your project.
There is nothing worse than sitting down ready to start working on your project only to find out that you have run out of that all-important DMC 939 (this happened to me last week, doh).
Count seven times, stitch once
You know that saying measure twice, cut once? That is certainly relevant in this context. Always double check your counting so you don’t have to frog (unpick) it later.
Doing an extra count to double check saves much more time than finding out you mucked up and having to frog it and start that section again. Who knows how much you would have stitched on before realising you’re out by 2 stitches and now the whole design is off? (speaking from many experiences!)
Keep Track of Your Progress
If you are using a paper pattern, you can mark off where you have stitched with a highlighter, pencil or pen.
I highly recommend this when you are first starting as it can take a bit to get your head around where you are up to on your pattern.
Learn the basic stitches
There are several basic stitches that you will come across. These are the stand “X”, fractionals, back stitches and french knots.
Most beginner patterns will just use regular cross stitches and backstitching.
Grab a scrap piece of Aida and practice the basic stitches until you have the hang of them, then let yourself loose on your project!
Learn how to:
Below I have linked to some tutorials on YouTube that can help you master the basics of cross stitching.
Start in the Centre
Starting in the centre ensures that you won’t run out of fabric in any direction as you stitch.
The Aida cloth included in kits is often very stiff, which means that just by folding the piece into quarters and creasing with your fingers you can see where the lines intersect to indicate the centre of your fabric.
Use a washable marking pen to mark that spot (alternatively, pop your needle in the centre while you count). Then, count on the pattern where the centre point falls and mark that with a pen.
The centers of the top, bottom, left and right edges are marked on the pattern with an arrow, which means you can easily find this point using those markings as your reference point.
Snip Loose Threads As You Go
Snip the loose thread at the back as you go to stop them getting caught in your new stitches and have a little pot handy to put them in.
More Helpful Stitching Posts:
- What is an ORT Jar?
- The A to Z of cross stitch terms
- 15 places to find free cross stitch patterns
- Cross stitching on a budget
Don’t Pull Too Hard on Tangles or Knots
Pulling gently yet firmly is the key to releasing tangles in the floss that might occur as you stitch. Inserting the tip of the needle down through the tangle and then pulling with gentle pressure almost always does the trick and prevents having to trim the floss and start again.
Try not to pull too hard on your stitches as you pull them through the fabric. This will make them uneven and can be hard on the fabric underneath. However, don’t make your stitches too loose, this will make them bumpy and uneven.
Be like Goldilocks, not too hard, not too soft. A happy medium.
Grab a scrap piece of Aida and practice doing a few lines until you have found your happy medium.
Ironing Your Piece
If you are going to iron your finished piece, put a towel on your ironing board and put your Aida right side down so you are ironing the back. This will stop your stitches going flat.
Or try and iron around your stitches if you can.
Last But Not Least
Don’t stress about how other people stitch, or what the “right” way to stitch is. Cross stitch is meant to be relaxing. Just do what you like, experiment, and don’t worry about what anyone else tells you is the “right” way to do cross stitch.
So there you have it, lots of tips to help you master the art of cross stitch. Cross stitching is a relaxing and satisfying hobby.
Remember to start small and as you get more confident, try bigger, more complex projects to avoid disappointment and frustration. However, I have no doubt that you will be tackling tricky designs in no time!
What tips would you add? Pop ’em below and help a newbie out.