Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cross Stitch How-To's

I wanted to post some basic cross stitch how-to's that I have learned over the years.  I think experience is the best teacher and hopefully my 30+ years of experience will allow me to write something that will be of benefit to seasoned as well as beginning cross stitchers.

Counted cross stitch is a great form of needlework.  It is easy - you can get great detail with it and it is a lot of fun.  It is inexpensive to do the actual needlework part - framing can get expensive but there are a lot of creative ways to frame that can fit into even a tight budget.

When I first started cross stitching - my husband Jeff would cut my mats for me and my dad would make my frames.  So the years we were in school - whenever we came home to visit we would make oak frames for my latest cross stitch designs.  I had an amazing dad!!

Some of my first big cross stitch projects were all of the Disney characters.  I did Lady and the Tramp, Pinocchio, Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, Micky and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck - to name a few.  I also did a lot of precious moments designs and made them into birth samplers for my boys.

I stitched this picture 25 years ago.  I took it out of its original frame and had a new mat cut for it.  Obviously I have never reframed it - but I love it!!
The same goes for this picture.  I stitched it 25 years ago - took it from its original frame and had a new mat cut but have never gotten it framed!!  One of the dangers of cross stitch is stitching lots of project which is not too expensive - but framing is!!
This is a birth sampler for my son Jeremy who is now almost 31.  I made it 20 years ago and got a mat cut but have never blocked it, stretched it and finished it.
 This is my 2nd son Bryan's birth sampler - not stretched or framed but I had a mat cut.  Bryan turns 29 this year!!

This is my 3rd son Chris's birth sampler - it is in the same condition as Jeremy and Bryan's - oh well, at least I have the cross stitch done and some day I will frame them and put them in my guest rooms!!

So back to my journey of cross stitch.  When I first started stitching, I basically cross stitched anything I could get my hands on.  The girl who taught me to cross stitch told me that if I would learn to do it without a hoop I would enjoy it so much more.  So I started without a hoop and would just roll my fabric a little if it was a large project.  I have never used a hoop and with a little practice developed a nice tension just by feel. 

1.  To begin a cross stitch project - decide what size and color and type of cloth you are going to use.  Aida cloth is a nice fabric for beginners as it is stiff and very easy to see the weave of the fabric.  I would recommend it if you have never cross stitched before.

When you have decided what size you want your design to be cut your fabric 6 inches bigger dimensionally.  For example if the finished size is 8 x 10 - cut your fabric 14 x 18.  I cut my fabric 6 inches bigger because that gives me plenty to work with for framing.

The way I kind of figure it is that I usually like 1/2" space around my picture before I put the matt on so that is 1" extra and you want to have enough to be able the stretch your fabric so that you can frame your picture nicely.  If you are making a sachet or something smaller and know the finished size you can get by with 4 inches extra or less but just take into account how you are going to finish it.

A lot of cross stitch patterns recommend putting tape on the edges so that your cloth won't fray - I don't do this.  If you do and don't finish the project for a long time the tape gets hard and makes a mess.  I have never found fraying to be a problem.  So that is just my humble opinion derived from cross stitching over 800 projects!!

2.  Find the Center.  The next step is to find the center of your pattern and the center of your cross stitch fabric.  The patterns have arrows on the outside edge of the design and you can follow these to the middle of the pattern where they intersect and I usually take my needle and poke a hole in the pattern.  Then take your fabric and fold it in half and then in half again.  Take your needle and mark the center point.

I put my needle in and twist it around a little to make the hole just a little bigger so I can see it.  Anyway, this is where you begin your first stitch.  You begin in the center and work your way out.

The advantage of this is that if you get off at all if you begin in the center it is easier to fix a mistake. If you work all over then something might not match up when you go to connect the design and it can be very confusing to try to fix. 

3.  A word about floss.  There are several different ways to organize your floss.  There are little cards you can wind your floss on and you cut a length off when you need it and I have seen many use this method.

I use the big card method.  When I first started cross stitching I bought a kit that had a DMC color card in it and project cards to put colors on that you were working with.  I took that system a step further and made my own cards, punched holes in them and then when I bought a skein of floss - I cut it into lengths and put it on the card.

The advantage of this system is that it is very easy to get 1 or 2 strands of a desired color very quickly.  I have used this system for 30 years and have loved it.  It is a little more work up front but the ease with which I can get my floss is well worth it to me.

This is my thread card - all of the DMC floss numbers are on this master card and then I write by each number which floss card it is on.  I love this method.  This is my 2nd card - I wore out my 1st one!!

I made these floss cards from the backs of notebook pads.  You want to use a heavy cardboard or they will bend and tear.

4.  Ready to Stitch.  So you have your floss ready, you have found the center of your cross stitch fabric and your pattern and you are ready to stitch.

If I am just doing a few stitches of a color I use a quick and easy method of securing my floss in the back.  I pull out 1 strand of floss and double it and put the ends through the eye of my needle.  Bring the needle to the front of the fabric so that the loop is on the backside.  As you take the needle to the back, go through the loop to anchor the floss.  This way you won't have any tails.   I use this method all of the time.

The other way is to put your needle through from the back and leave a tail.  As you stitch catch the tail in your stitching until it is covered.  When you end your floss run it under the stitches on the back.  You never want to tie a knot!!

5.  Strands of Floss.  Most people stitch on 14 count Aida cloth over 1 thread or on 28 count Linen over 2 threads.  For this size of cloth use 2 strands of floss for your cross stitches.

Stitch all of the cross stitches in your pattern first and when you have finished them go back and do any backstitching.  The reason for this is that you want the backstitching to outline your design and you don't want to break up your lines by cross stitching through them.  A standard rule of thumb is to use 1 strand for backstitching.  You want to outline but not overwhelm with backstitch.  Sometimes you may want to use 2 strands if your outline does not stand out enough but generally you use just 1 strand.

When doing lettering sometimes I use 2 strands of floss - it depends on the size of the lettering.  If it is small 1 is plenty but sometimes on large lettering 2 strands looks better.  It all depends on how delicate or heavy you want the look to be.

Sometimes when I am outlining if something doesn't stand out enough I will just go back and do another backstitch over it.  There are all kinds of tricks - just let your eye be your guide.

Another thing I do when back stitching is make sure that my stitches lay on the outside of the cross stitch - not on top of it.  You want to accent the stitch not cover it.

Most patterns will give you the number of strands of floss for different sizes of Aida cloth.  The smaller the count the larger the design and you will need to increase the strands of floss.  But the most common size is 14 count Aida or 28 - 32 count Linen and the 2 strands for cross stitch and 1 strand for backstitch works great.

6.  A Stitching Don't!!  Another thing you want to be aware of is that threads on the back show through to the front and if you have large blank spaces of cloth and you carry your floss across those spaces that it will show through.

This is especially true of lettering - if you are stitching words to a saying - it is tempting to carry from one word to the next but you will be disappointed when you frame your piece and you can see shadows behind those areas.  It takes a little extra time to finish off and start again but well worth it in the long run.

Believe me - I speak from experience.  I have cross stitched something - had it framed and then the threads showing through bugged me so much that I took it apart and fixed it.  How much easier it would have been if I had just taken the time in the first place to not carry my dark thread between words.

I guess as they say experience is the best teacher!!  And wisdom is listening to that teacher!!  Please be wise and learn from my experience!!

Stitching words to a saying is a perfect way to use the floss method of taking 1 strand and doubling it as this helps keep the threads on the back to a minimum!!

7.  Finishing.  So - now you have finished stitching your piece - what to do next?  It is generally a good idea to wash your finished project.

I wash in cold water with a mild dish washing soap.  Rinse well, gently squeeze out excess water and then lay out a thick towel on your ironing board and iron your design dry.  I use steam at first but then use a dry iron.

If you let Aida cloth dry naturally it will be all wrinkly.  Iron on the back of your piece and stretch it out and block it so that it lies nice and flat. Some people say not to iron the front.  I do, but not at a high temperature.  Make sure that your iron is clean as you don't want to iron spots onto it. If you prefer put a dry pressing cloth onto the top and iron.

With Aida cloth after I have ironed it I let it sit for a while and then iron it again.   If you have ever just let it dry you know what I am talking about!!  It dries wrinkled!!

One word about specialty threads.  Only iron them on a low setting.  Many years ago my sister in law did a beautiful white horse with gold specialty thread accents.  I was showing her how to block it and iron it and never having had experience with this type of thread I had my iron on too hot and melted the gold filament.  It was devastating to say the least.  So I learned a hard lesson about a hot iron.

I am giving these instructions for Aida cloth - I will talk about Linen next.

8.  Framing.  If you are going to have it framed - take your ironed piece to your framer - pick out mats, a frame and in a couple of weeks go pick up your finished piece!!

I cross stitched this picture of Jesus holding the children many years ago.  I had it professionally framed by my friend Mary Jo and I have it hanging on my wall. I took a closeup of the saying on the bottom.  I absolutely love this picture!!

Linen:  I love Linen - a friend told me after I had stitched probably 700 projects on Aida cloth that if I started stitching on Linen I would never go back to using Aida cloth - Guess what - she was right!!  I love working on Linen and the finished look is very beautiful.  Linen adds a very classic feel to any cross stitch project.

Another fabric that is stitched like Linen is Evenweave.  With Linen you stitch over 2 threads and you do the same with Evenweave.  The difference between the fabrics is that the threads in Linen tend to be somewhat uneven and the threads in the Evenweave are very even and uniform - hence the name.  Linen adds a more vintagey look but both fabrics are nice to work with and look beautiful.

I will show you a couple of designs I have stitched.  One is on Linen and the other 2 are on Evenweave.  They both have a very lovely look and the nice thing about Evenweave is that the uniformity of the threads make it very easy to stitch on.

I stitched this quite a few years ago - have never framed it but I have it hanging on my wall.  This is stitched on a beautiful taupe colored linen.  I love this saying!!
I love this saying also.  This is stitched on Evenweave and I have it hanging on my wall in my sewing room just as it is!!
This is another project done on Evenweave.  I absolutely love these 2 children gardening.  I love the beautiful rich colors in this design and have it hanging on my sewing room wall!!

I hope that some of what I have shared here will help you as you stitch beautiful projects for your home.  Counted cross stitch is a lot of fun and is a great creative outlet as well as a way to add beauty to your surroundings.  If you have any questions about this medium feel free to contact me at  I will be happy to help as best I can.

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