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How to Cross Stitch ( A Beginner’s guide)

Learn how to cross stitch with this simple tutorial ; Basic types of stitches used in cross stitching
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Cross stitch embroidery is a passion for some people – the idea of transferring a design and turning it into an abstract art on fabric with colorful thread triggers their creativity big time – as it is for me. And people were cross stitching from about 500 AD. 

The best thing about cross stitch is that you can fill in and complete any design you have with just one simple stitch. You can experiment with colours and colour combinations extensively with this embroidery.

The usual way to do cross-stitch embroidery is to transfer the pattern on the fabric, then count the number of stitches on the pattern and work it on the fabric. This is why it is called the counted cross stitch.

All of this maynot sound very easy. But cross stitch is not at all complicated. You can do the work free hand and it will still be a beauty.

Stamped cross stitch – this is how you can do cross stitch more simply and easily – i.e., here you have a design that is printed on the fabric. You do not have to count the stitches in this case.

Just do the work where the colored design is printed- cross-stitching on clothes where the Xs are stamped on the fabric. Easy.

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How to calculate the size of a design as it will appear on a fabric?

This is considering you have a design at hand with the number of stitches marked and you have selected the fabric with clear knowledge of the thread count.

Divide the number of stitches in both the height and width by the fabric count of the fabric you have.

For e.g., if you have a design that is 40 stitches by 50 stitches and you have decided to use fabric with a thread count of 14, then the size of your design will be 2.8 inches by 3.5 inches in dimension.

Which fabric is best suited for doing cross stitch?

Most beginners passionate about cross-stitch must be familiar with cross-stitch kits and pre-stitched fabrics. They have cross stitch charts printed on them with even the colors printed so that the starting cross stitch enthusiasts have a clear guideline for making the stitches.

You need a suitable fabric for cross stitching to do the actual cross stitch without this guideline already printed. Beginners usually start with a 14-count Aida fabric. If you have trouble with that, use an 11-count Aida.

For a beginner, another easy cloth is a Gingham fabric with suitable checks ( 1/4 inch checks).  When you are starting these checks can emulate the look of the grids and make your work relatively easy. You have to make your crosses on each check square. One disadvantage is that the individual crosses will be larger than on other cloth.

 The following fabric are mostly used for cross stitch.

• Linen
• Aida
• Needlepoint Canvases
• Painted canvases
• Blank Canvas
• Interlock canvas
• Mono canvas

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Using Aida

Most beginners start their cross-stitch projects on Aida fabric. Aida is a loosely woven fabric meant for cross stitches with prominent threads; it looks like a fabric made of threads grouped. It is also very inexpensive but unsuitable for functional things because of the holes in the fabric. 14-count Aida is universally the most popular cross-stitch fabric.

Aida is one of the best fabrics for cross stitching for beginners because of the readily available weaves. You may need to interface the cloth if it needs to be tight enough.  

Fabric for cross-stitching is referenced with the number of stitches possible in an inch. 10- 14 are the best for beginners; it will be tough for a starter to do cross stitch on  fabric with 20 or more stitches per inch.

Once you have got the hang of cross-stitch techniques, you can use other fabrics to do cross-stitch designs, like a woven fabric with an even weave. Even weave means the number of threads will be the same per inch horizontally and vertically, making perfect squares to do your cross stitch. You get cotton, even weave fabric suited explicitly for cross stitch in the stores.

Linen – The best fabric for cross stitching other than even weave fabric and Aida is Linen. Linen and evenweave look almost the same. Linen has small slubs on its surface, but this would not look so obvious once cross stitches are made. Linen has unparalleled beauty, and the weave is very apparent, making it the best for this embroidery.

Hardanger fabric – Some people use this fabric for cross-stitching projects – this has more threads per inch than Aida.

Cross-stitching on Waste Canvas / soluble canvas

With this method, you can cross-stitch any fabric, even though the weave is not prominent on the fabric.

The way you do it is to keep the waste canvas on the garment and work the design. After the work is done, the waste canvas is pulled away thread by thread after slightly wetting it. The result will remain on the garment. Soluble canvas will wash away when soaked in warm water.

You may want to draw gridlines on your cloth if you want accurate stitching without counting every stitch. Recently pre-grid fabric has become available, which is a blessing for cross-stitchers.

Checkout the post on the 10 best fabric used for embroidery for more details

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When doing the cross stitches on garments the waste canvas can be used. 

How to use Waste canvas when doing cross stitch

Baste the waste canvas onto the right side of the regular fabric. Work the cross stitches through both layers of fabric. The waste canvas is cut away around the design, after all the stitching is done.

Soak the design in water. This will dissolve the starch that holds the threads of the waste canvas together. What is left of the waste canvas can then be pulled out from under the stitches, one thread at a time, with a pair of tweezers. 

Plastic/fabric canvas: This is another way cross-stitching is done. Beautiful cross-stitch designs on home decor and accessories are made this way.

The canvas used here is an open mesh. Fabric canvas is finer than plastic canvas. You may need to apply interfacing to the back of the fabric canvas to use it for anything functional.

What needle to use to do cross stitch

You should only be using tapestry needles ( blunt tip) to do cross stitches. The tapestry needle’s large eye and blunt tip are ideal for this embroidery. Use Tapestry needles of number 24 & 26.

  • Aida ( 8 threads per inch) use a 20/22 size needle.
  • Aida ( 11 threads per inch) use 22 /24 size needle.
  • Aida (14 threads per inch ) use 22/24/26 size needle.
  • Aid ( 18 threads per inch ) use 24 or 26-size needle.

The needle should not be so big that there are holes in your fabric. Checkout the different ways to thread a needle here if you have difficulty. A safe bet is to use a 26-size needle, generally.

Which thread to use for cross stitching projects?

Embroidery thread (mercerized cotton floss) is used to do the cross stitch. Ensure that the thread does not bleed if you intend to wash the item.

Checkout the post on the 12 different types of embroidery thread. 

If you are using a cross stitch kit you may get floss with it. Check that the thread is good quality. Some of them that come with the kits are not.

How many strands are used will depend on the fabric you have chosen. Most often 2 strands are used. Another guideline says the following.

  • Aida ( 8 threads per inch) use 3 strands of embroidery thread
  • Aida ( 11 threads per inch) use 2 strands of embroidery thread
  • Aida (14 threads per inch ) use 2  strands of embroidery thread
  • Aid ( 18 threads per inch ) use 1 strands of embroidery thread

You can disregard the above guideline and do as you like. Try two strands and see if they look good; if you think they do not, increase them to 3. Simple.

All the experts who cross stitch always separate the strands of embroidery thread, then recombine them again before threading for the work. They say it prevents tangling and twisting.

How much thread is needed to complete a design

You will have to guestimate this. I have read this somewhere that with two strands of thread 18 inches long, you can make about 45 stitches on an 18-count fabric. From one floss you will get 51 such 18-inch lengths.

How to get designs for cross-stitch work

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As a beginner, you should initially choose simple designs with a single color ( or a few colors) and then progress to more complicated designs.

You can buy design charts for cross stitch at the stores. These are designs drawn on graph paper with a set number of squares per inch, each representing a cross stitch.

When you cross stitch, each symbol on the chart represents one stitch on the fabric. Each stitch will fill a square. This can be transferred to an even weave fabric by counting the squares.

You can make your own cross stitch designs as well.

Checkout the 10 different inspirations for designs for your work.

More like this:

Prepare your fabric for the cross stitch work

You should finish the edges of the fabric you are working with before embroidering. This is especially important if you are working a very fraying cloth like aida.

Checkout the different fabric edge finishes you can do. I do a machine zigzag after ensuring I have 4 inches of extra fabric around the edges.

Iron any creases out.

Most experts recommend prewashing the fabric before you start stitching the designs. Some even wash the floss. If you suspect that the floss will run, it is better to be safe than wait till all the hard work is over for it to start bleeding all over the work.

Correct Tension is an essential component in making a beautiful work. You do not want the crosses to look pinched, nor do you want them loose. Hoop the fabric just right for starting cross stitch.

Checkout this post on the different types of hoops used in embroidery.

Starting the cross stitch

Most people start stitching the design from the center. You can find the center of the design by folding the design lengthwise and crosswise. Finger press and find your center – Mark this. Even if you do not start stitching from the center, it is good to know.

Aida is worked with one cross stitch per square, while linen and other evenweaves are generally worked over two threads.

On linen and even weave, you usually go over two thread.

Basic stitches used in cross stitch embroidery

An essential rule in cross stitch is for all the top halves of the stitches to have the same direction across all your stitches the same way.

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The best way to do a cross stitch is to do the first half of each stitch in a row, then go back and finish the next half. This way, you get all the stitches slanting in the same direction. The slant must be in the same direction for the top thread and the bottom thread of the cross stitch for all the stitches.

But there are expert cross stitchers who do individual cross stitches ( stitching the full cross stitch as you go) and do a very good job. So each to their own.

You can make the stitches go from the bottom half of the stitch from lower right to top left and the top half from bottom left to top right (right to the left) or the bottom half of the stitch from the bottom left to the top right and the top stitch from bottom right to top left ( left to right) – your preference. I have done it right to the left. But if you are doing it one way, you have to be consistent throughout. 

This way you are making stitches vertically on the back of the fabric.

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Stand-alone cross stitch ( English way)

Here you will complete one stitch at a time and get horizontal stitches in the back. The needle will be inserted horizontally.

If you are using variegated thread, you cannot make cross stitches in a row. You will have to make single cross stitches, or the colors will not come right. 

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Partial cross stitch

This refers to 1/4 and 3/4 cross stitches; They are  mostly used in making rounded corners, outlines etc.

1/4 stitch is when you make 1 of the 4 arms of the cross stitch ie. you come up at one corner and go down at the center. You need this stitch mostly to complete some corners of designs where the full cross-stitch would not do.

3/4 cross stitch – To work this stitch, make the 1/4 stitch first, then do the slanting stitch.

Small Cross stitches

These stitches are used to brings some specific details of a design into prominence. You can also use lesser strands of embroidery thread on the needle for the same effect


Back stitches are commonly used in cross stitch patterns to make outline of a design.

Half cross stitch

This is a half stitch with just the one way diagonal stitch done in a row. It is used on the periphery of designs, where there is no need for the full cross stitch. 

Extended cross stitch

This is a cross-stitch done over more than one square. You can make this an asymmetrical cross stitch by extending only one stitch, leaving the other diagonal stitch the regular cross stitch length.

Checkout the post on different types of cross stitch for 10 different variations of the cross stitch.

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Using Blended threads and Variegated thread

You can use different colored thread strands simultaneously for a different look. The variegated thread will give the cross-stitch design a beautiful gradation and depth. 

Other embroidery stitches used in cross stitch

You usually see frenchknots and back stitches in counted cross stitch patterns.You can embellish your work by adding Beads  Buttons & Charms. Checkout the post on Stitches of Bead embroidery 

Ending the cross stitch

Slip the needle under the stitches, thread it with the thread, and pull through. This is also the best way to start a new row. Try to avoid knots. Getting the back of the work neat  is an important criterion of a quality cross stitch masterpiece.

Related posts : Checkout this post on how to make your own cross stitch pattern when you donot have access to any cross-stitch design software or cross stitch kits or How to turn a photo into an embroidery design

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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
3 thoughts on “How to Cross Stitch ( A Beginner’s guide)”
  1. IdiyPaint
    Great information!! I really enjoy reading this blog information. Thanks for sharing this information. Reply
    • Sarina

      Hi IdiyPaint
      Thanks for reading and commenting

  2. helen rogers
    in a cross stitch pattern you have a like an triangle maybe 2 in a roll and then the next stitch is blank but the same color do you cross stitch in that one or leave it blank Reply
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