HOW TO CROSS STITCH
Here's a little quick-start guide to get you going with your first project!
Click to skip to:
A series of videos, originally posted on the TikTok account, detailing how to cross stitch from start to finish. Click '[Captions]' link just above each video for text transcripts. I haven't been able to add captions to the videos themselves, so please feel free to drop me a line if you know a way; my skills do not lie in tech-y areas, I'm afraid.
French Knots video coming soon!
Never stitched before? Here's a list of things you'll need:
Cloth: the fancy cross-stitch cloth called 'Aida' is your best bet as it has nice big holes, evenly spaced for perfect little crosses. There are different sizes, called 'counts' - the bigger the number, the more squares per inch, the smaller the gap between holes, and the more fiddly it is to work with. For most of my patterns I recommend 14ct, but children might find 11ct easier to work with. It also comes in a load of funky colours, if plain white isn't your bag. It looks like this, check out those holes:
Needle: you don't want a sharp pointy one! Tapestry / cross stitch needles have nice blunt ends. For 14 ct aida you'll want a size 24, for 11ct a size 22, although it doesn't make much of a difference
Thread: you can, of course, use any thread you like, but embroidery thread (or 'floss') is best suited for this sort of project. There are many brands to choose from; the colour codes I use in my patterns are from the brand 'DMC', but you don't have to stick with them. It usually comes in little skeins like this:
Each of those threads is made up of 6 strands. You usually only use 1, 2, or 3 of those strands to actually stitch with; your pattern will tell you how many.
A pattern! Of course you can freehand it, but it's probably best to follow a simple pattern first until you get the hang of it. Don't be intimidated! Cross stitch is basically a grid system; you're making pixel art! We've got loads of free patterns available, or you can visit our Etsy store and buy some others. There are even kits if you don't fancy assembling all this stuff yourself.
scissors: You'll also need something to cut with (you can get embroidery scissors if you're feeling fancy), but any scissors will do.
Hoop: Something you don't need, but might find useful, is an embroidery hoop to help hold your fabric taut while you work. They look like this:
All these items can be ordered online from a whole range of different craft shops, so there's no need to leave the house.
Now you're ready to start! Here's how to create each of the stitches you might need:
Part 1: Downloading a free pattern
Hi there! I’m going to talk you through how to stitch up a cross stitch piece from start to finish so come with me! First we’re going to need a pattern so I thought we’d do a freebie today. Head on over to fandomcrossstitchery.com, go to freebies, free patterns, and then scroll through until you find one you like. Today we’re going to do the vintage sewing machine. Click on the PDF icon to download it, and there’s your pattern! If this was a paid-for pattern you’d have 3 different versions but this is a freebie so it’s got one.
Next we’re going to open our Pattern Keeper app, now if you buy through the website you get a pattern keeper-specific version but this one isn’t specific to pattern keeper so we’re going to have to input or thread numbers here. The software can get a little bit confused sometimes. It also doesn’t recognise backstitch or fractional stitches so they’re going to show up a bit strangely on here. If you want to view them, you have to go to ‘view pdf’ on pattern keeper.
If you don’t have pattern keeper that’s fine, you just need a pdf reader and you can follow the pattern along from there. So next we need to gather our supplies.
Part 2: Setup & Supplies
First up you’re going to need something to stitch on, now this is specialised cross stitch fabric called aida and you can see it’s got little holes already in it. This helps make sure that your crosses are going to be proper squares. And you’re going to keep everything in nice straight rows. You can get it in different sizes, this is what’s called 14 count which means there are 14 of these little squares per inch of fabric. You can get it in different colours; I’ve decided to use this one for our vintage sewing machine.
Next you’re going to need something to stitch with: this is specialised embroidery floss, this one is from brand DMC but there are lots of different brands out there. This is special because it’s actually made up of 6 strands, and we’re only going to be using 2 of those to stitch with. So I’ve got my black for my machine, I’ve got my brown for my base, pink for the threads, and gold for the outlining and trim and backstitching and then there’s some silver there as well. You don’t have to use the thread colours in the pattern you can replace with anything you like, so if you wanted orange thread you could use that. These should actually be metallics according to the pattern but I didn’t have any metallics on hand so I’m just going to use grey and orange instead.
Then you’re going to need a needle. A specialised cross stitch needle or tapestry needle. You can see that it’s got a blunt end there so you’re not going to be stabbing yourself in the finger. You don’t’ need anything sharp because you’re not actually piercing the fabric, you’re going to be going through the holes here. so cross stitch needle is there.
Then you’re going to need something to cut with. You can use any old scissors, I’ve got embroidery scissors there. That’s all you need but you might find these things useful: I’ve got an embroidery hoop here which keeps the fabric taut which makes it easier to stitch. And I’ve got a magnetic needleminder which is going to hold on to my needle and keep it out of the way, and safe when I’m not using it. It’s got a magnet on the back and a magnet on the front and you just pop one either side of the fabric and it holds your needle in place.
Now we’re going to get ourselves ready to start stitching. First thing you’re going to do is find the centre of your fabric. So you’re going to fold it in half in both directions to find the centre and we want to make sure it’s centred in the hoop. The hoop comes in 2 parts: this has a screw for tightening; we’re going to start with this ring here and put it behind our fabric. Try and make sure that the centre of the fabric is in the centre of the circle and then we’re going to pop our hoop down on top of it here. Might take a little bit of juggling. You can see I’ve got a bump in my fabric there so you’re just going to pull all around to make sure it’s taut and even. And then screw it tight.
And there we go, we’re ready to start! I’m going to get my needleminder there and in the next video we’re going to be decoding the pattern.
Part 3: Decoding the Pattern
Now we’re going to talk about how to decode your pattern. I’ve printed off a copy of the pattern here in black and white and you can see our centre line in the middle.
Now this might look a bit confusing because you’ve got all these different lines and symbols but we’re just going to be concentrating on the full-size symbols here which are full crosses. These teeny tiny ones here are fractional stitches (we’ll come to those later) and these thick lines which are showing up as coloured on your actual pattern (but obviously black & white on my printout here) these are the backstitching so we’re going to come to that later as well. But for now, we’re just going to be concentrating on these full-sized symbols.
With a pattern this complex, if you bought it from my website you’ll actually have several different versions of this often one without the backstitching and one with just the backstitching. That makes it a bit easier for you to see what’s going on. But for this one, as it’s a freebie, it’s all on one page and we’re going to work from it as-is.
Part 4: Loop Start
Time to start stitching! Now, as our first colour is going to be black, we’re going to start with black thread. You’re gonna take a length of thread about twice as long as what you’re gonna be stitching with. so I usually go for just over a metre. And then what we’re gonna do is isolate one of the 6 strands. You can see that this thread is made up of 6 different strands and we’re gonna get one of these.
Now it will tell you in your pattern key how many strands you need but usually if you’re stitching over 14-count you need 2 or 3. We’re gonna go with 2 just because it’s easier. Now you can see that I’ve separated my single strand and what we’re gonna do is fold it in half so you’ve got a loop. this is what’s called a loop start. It’s a lot easier. This was absolute magic when I discovered this. So we’re gonna dot hat and thread our needle now you can see I’ve got both threads through the needle. You don’t want to be threading with one, you want to be threading with both. So on one end we’re got the loose tails, on the other end we’ve got a loop.
Now we’re gonna look at our pattern and see where we’re starting. You can see in the centre there’s no actual stitch so I’m gonna go…. Up one and across one. So my centre is here, and I’m gonna come up from the back through one of the little holes. Now don’t pull your thread all the way through cos you wanna keep this loop on the back here . I’m gonna hold it in place with my fingers there.
Now, cross stitching is making little crosses. It doesn’t matter which way you make the crosses but it will help you be neater if you make sure that they’re all in the same direction each time. So the way I like to do it is bottom left to top right. So every one of my ‘X’s is gonna start with a bottom left to top right. So you can see I’m gonna come down in the hole diagonally across from the one I came up through. Pull it through. Again, don’t pull it tight because you don’t want that loop slipping through. Flip it over to the back and what we’re gonna do is pass the needle through that loop and then we can finally pull that tight. And you can see that the loop has helped lock in place that thread. So now we’re ready to carry on with the rest of the stitching which I’ll show you in the next video.
Part 5: Stitching
So we’ve done our loop start, we’ve secured our thread, and now we’re gonna carry on stitching the pattern. So we’ve made half of our first cross. Now what you can do, you can do each cross one at a time but I like to do little lines of them.
So I’ve started on my pattern with this stitch here, now I’m gonna do 1, 2, 3, that’s 4 stitches, in this colour. So I’m gonna go across 4 which means I’m gonna make 4 half stitches so where I come up is gonna be at the bottom left of the next stitch. That’s 2 stitches… now I’ve got my 4 half stitches, we can go back and finish off the crosses. So we’re going bottom right to top left. And you can see I’ve got a little cross there!
Let’s finish the rest of them off.
And there we’ve got our first 4 crosses done. Now you can mark them off on the pattern, you can scribble them out, you can use Pattern Keeper to mark them off, but that’s our first 4 crosses done.
Then we’re gonna continue on until we run out of thread. So I’ll join you again when I’ve run out of thread… so now I’ve come to the end of that thread. Join me in the next video to see how we secure the stitches.
Part 6: Finishing Off a Thread
So we’ve come to the end of our first length of thread and now we need to secure it because we don’t want it coming undone. Now, we pull through the last stitch and you can see we’ve got all these little stitches on the back here.
Now what we’re gonna do is pass our needle under these, pull our thread through to anchor the thread in place so it doesn’t come undone. It can be a bit fiddly and you might find it easier if you take the fabric out of the hoop to do this. but you can see I’m just wiggling underneath the stitches here and the more stitches you pass it under the more secure and anchored it’s gonna be.
Don’t pull it too tight cos you don’t want the stitches or the fabric to warp. I’m gonna go under a few more here just ‘cos I’m a bit paranoid. And then we’re gonna turn around and head back the other way. So you’re gonna do exactly the same thing you’re gonna pass the needle under the stitches that you’ve already made and then pull to secure.
Now that thread is going absolutely nowhere and you’re just gonna trim off the excess. And now you’re ready to rethread your needle and keep stitching. You can see it’s starting to take shape and starting to look like the pattern now.
Part 7: Fractional Stitches
So now you know how to do full crosses, we’re gonna move onto something a little more complicated. Now, on the pattern, full crosses are marked as these full sized symbols, here, but there are also quarter-sized symbols which are our fractional stitches, which means we’re gonna be splitting each one of our fabric squares into 4. Bear with me, I will explain!
Now this little stitch here is the bottom left of a square so that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna find the corresponding square on our fabric and we’re gonna come up through the bottom left-hand hole. And then we’re gonna go down in the centre of that square. Now if you look closely at Aida you’ll see that each square consists of 4 separate strands. So what you wanna do is part them, gently wiggling your needle to make sure your needle goes down right in the centre. It can be a bit fiddly until you get used to the idea but I promise, it is possible, and it does get easier.
So you’re just gonna wiggle it until your needle goes right in the centre of that square and then you’re gonna pull through as a normal stitch. And that’s all there is to it! Some patterns call for a diagonal line to finish off the other part of the stitch but we’re gonna go over this with backstitching so we’re literally just gonna leave it at that, a quarter stitch.
And then I’m gonna carry on stitching the rest of the pattern. We’ve got 4 crosses here and then we’ll come to another quarter stitch in a moment and I’ll show you again how it works.
So you can see on the pattern we’ve got another bottom-left stitch to do, so let’s do it! We’re gonna come up in the bottom left hole and go down in the centre, remembering to wiggle the needle about gently to part those threads to come down right in the centre of the square you can see there that there are threads either side of the needle both horizontally and vertically. And pull it through and we’ve got a little quarter of a stitch there.
And that’s all there is to it! If you’ve got one that’s in the top right hand corner of a square, for example, then you come up through the top right hole and down through the centre, just follow the pattern, square for square until you’ve done all of the black. I find it easier to work one colour at a time, unless it’s really spread out.
So you can see now that I’ve finished all of the black stitches, and I’m gonna move onto the next colour which is this open circle here, which is my brown base. Nice and simple: 3 rows of full crosses. And then I’m just going through, colour by colour, until I’ve finished all of the full and fractional stitches in the pattern. We’ve done the grey there and we’re gonna move onto the pink thread on top.
And that is all of our cross stitching done! Next we’re gonna move onto the backstitching so I’ll see you in a minute for that.
Part 8: Backstitching
Now it's time to learn about back stitching. So what we're going to do is go to our pattern. And if you zoom in, you can see all these colourful lines here. These are the back stitches. And the way we stitch them is just a little bit different to the cross stitching. So let's get started.
I'm going to start with black. So once again, I'm going to take the length of thread, and I'm going to separate out one of the six strands. Check your pattern because some patterns call for two strands at a time, but this one only needs one. So that's what we're going to take. Then we're going to thread our needle but this time we're going to thread it with a single strand. We're not going to double it over like we did for the cross stitching. We're just going to have one single strand through the needle.
Now let's get to stitching! As always, you come up from behind from the back of the fabric, and I'm going to go two squares at a time. You can do a single square at a time. I wouldn't recommend skipping over more than three because the thread tends to get a bit wonky then but you can see I've skipped over two squares here. Don't pull thread all the way through, leave the tail loose and secure it with the fingers for now, because we're going to come back to it in a minute.
Now we're going to come up again two squares from where we just went down and go back down through that hole (hat second hole that we went back down through before). Then we're going to flip it over and we're going to tie a knot. So we've got our loose tail there and then we've got our working thread and just do a simple double knot. Don't pull it too tight where you might warp the fabric. And the reason I skip a stitch (so I do two stitches before tying a knot) is just to stop it pulling. If you just do one stitch and then tie a knot often it can pull on the fabric and make the holes a bit bigger than you want. So that's the reason. So, snip your tail (leave a little tail there, you don't want the knot coming undone) and then proceed as before. You're basically just following the line in the pattern and translating that to a line on your stitching. You can do it a single stitch at a time. I'm doing two at a time here. So I will see you when I have finished this row.
Now I'm going to do a diagonal back stitching on the right hand side of the machine there. It's exactly the same as before, you're just going to go across diagonally, following the pattern and translating that onto your fabric. So you can see I finished off those two little fractional stitches we did earlier and they look nice and tidy.
So when you finished your back stitching or just come to the end of the piece of thread, you're going to want to secure the thread on the back so it doesn't come undone. So what we're going to do this time is tie a knot. So first of all, you're going to thread your needle under some of the stitches you've already made one or two doesn't really matter. And then you're just going to tie a little knot. And I like to do two knots to make sure that it's secure. But that's all there is to it. Again, don't pull it too tight in case you warp the fabric and make the holes all big and saggy. But that's it, that's backstitching! Well done. You've done it!
Part 9: Stitching between Holes
Next up, we're going to do stitching between holes. Now this is similar to the fractional stitches we did earlier but we're going to do it with backstitching.
So I'm going to do the little corner of the same machine on the right here and I need to come down between the two arms of this cross directly between the two holes. So once again, you're going to find the centre and you're going to spread apart the little strands on the cloth fabric there. It's not the centre of the square, it's the centre between those two lines. Sometimes it will be the centre of the square. Sometimes it will just be between two of the holes like this.
So there you go. You can see I've made a backstitch that ends in between two holes. Let me show you with some other stitches.
We've got this little grey cross here; you can see that the vertical part is a normal stitch, but the horizontal part starts and ends in the middle of a square. So that's exactly what we're going to do, I've stitched my vertical and I'm going to come up in the centre of the right hand square, and I'm going to go back down in the centre of the left hand square. Again, take it slowly spread the threads apart, and you'll soon get the hang of it.
Last but not least, we've got the needle here. Now this one skips across two stitches and starts and ends in the middle, horizontally between two holes. So that's exactly what we're going to do. We're coming up at the top in between two holes and I'm just gonna go straight down two squares and go in between two holes to make a straight line for my needle. And that is stitching between holes.
Part 10: Framing
So now we've finished our stitched piece, it's time to frame it. You could put this in a square frame but I like to frame them inside hoops. So that's what we're going to do with this one.
First things first I'm taking it out this frame. This frame was part of a defective batch I got that's actually a bit bigger than three inches and it's a bit wonky so I'm gonna put it in a true three inch hoop first of all.
You might want to consider giving it a quick press before you reframe it. You don't have to but it depends how wrinkly or folded it's got during stitching. The main thing to remember with that is iron on the reverse and only press very lightly because you don't want to mess up any stitches. And also, if you're using metallics, make sure that you check whether they're suitable for ironing or not because you don't want things melting after all your hard work. So centre your piece in your hoop, fiddle around with it until you're happy with the positioning and then tighten the screws. Then make sure that you've pulled the fabric taut all the way around (you don't want any lumps and bumps), and retighten the screw. Make sure that it's all secure and ready to go.
First thing we need to do is get rid of all this excess fabric so trim about an inch from the edge of the hoop. It doesn't have to be perfect, because it's going on the back and you're never gonna see it. And truly you could just leave it at that, you could glue it down at the back. Some of my hoops are just folded at the back. It's perfectly acceptable, but I'm going to show you some ways to finish the back. This is the way we're going to be doing it today. I've posted a full tutorial on this before but I'll do a brief one today. Then we've got the felt backing circle. My large kits all come with this felt backing and you just cut it to shape and blanket stitch it on.
So the way we do this method is to take thread, tie a knot in it come up from underneath, and then you're going to go around in a triangle coming from inside to outside (or underneath to on top) and then going about a third of the way round and pulling it tight. Not too tight but just tight enough and then when you get back to the start, you're gonna go just to the right of the first stitch and carry on in this way until you've completed the whole circle. Then you're going to tie a couple of half hitch or friendship bracelet knots and you're finished. The fabric is pulled taut, but you can also reframe it at a later date if you choose. And there we go. We've finished! That is 'how to cross stitch from start to finish'! The world is your oyster. Now go download all the free patterns and happy stitching
Additional - String Back Framing
Today I'm going to show you my favourite way to finish an embroidery hoop. Sometimes if I'm feeling fancy, I'll cover the back with felt, but I like this way better because it's quick and fun. Let's get started.
First things first, we're going to trim the excess fabric. You want to leave about an inch around the outside so it's a sort of vague circle like this. Next, we're going to choose a complementing thread colour. I've just got my cheapest threads here. Just pick one that matches. Now you're going to measure out about a metre, a metre and a half (quite a long thread) thread your needle and tie a knot at the end of it. We'll be using all six strands for this so nice and simple. I like to start at the 12 o'clock position and you're going from the back of the fabric to the front and pull it tight. We're going to be working in a triangle. It doesn't have to be exactly accurate. And to be honest, it doesn't even have to be a triangle. You can use any shape you like, but I like to do a vague triangle. And you're just going to be coming from the back to the front each time and then pulling it, not too tight, but pulling it tight. So it folds the fabric in on itself like this.
And you're just going to work your way around in the triangle until you get back to your 12 o'clock position. And then instead of going through the same hole, you're just going to go just to the right of it. So we're working clockwise. And then each time you're coming from ... from underneath, from the back to the front, and working just a little bit offset each time. And work that until you've got about four to six inches left on your thread.
Now to tie off what we're going to do is go back down right next to a stitch we've just made and we're going to be tying a friendship bracelet knot (I believe it's called a half hitch). So, you go over your top thread and then come under it and through that little loop in the middle, and then just slide the knot down. It will slide down under the fabric and be hidden nicely. And I like to do a second one just to make it extra secure. And then after that you can trim it.
Get your next thread ready and just continue the pattern all the way around. Just continue on in this way. And then when you come back to your 12 o'clock position when you've finished the whole circle, you're just going to do another one of those little finishing knots. So I'll show you again, it's under, over, and then slide the knot down. Try and keep the tension a little bit there so it doesn't get all loose and floppy, and come undone. Double knot for extra security, trim it and you done!
Nice taut fabric on the front and pretty threads on the back. I did this one with subtly variegated thread and I think it's really pretty. I actually ran across this method on a Facebook post by someone called Julia Waddell. I'll tag her in comments. Thank you Julia!