Cross Stitch ( A Beginner’s guide)

How to do cross stitch

how to do cross stitch

Cross stitch embroidery is a passion with some people – the idea of transferring a design and turning it into an abstract art on fabric with colourful thread is something which triggers their creativity big time – as it is for me. But people were cross stitching from about 500 AD. 

The normal 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. This simply sounds complicated . 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 in a simpler way – ie if you have a design which is printed on the fabric. You donot have to count the stitches in this case. Just do the work where the coloured design is printed- cross-stitching on clothes where the  X’s are stamped on the fabric . Easy.

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 eg if you have a design which 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 who are passionate about cross stitch must be familiar with cross stitch kits and pre-stitched fabrics ; They have cross stitch charts printed on it with even the colours printed so that the starting cross stitch enthusiasts have a clear guildeline on how to make the stitches.

For doing the real cross stitch without this guideline already printed, you need a suitable fabric for cross stitch.

For a beginner the best cloth is a Gingham fabric with suitable checks ( 1/4 inch checks).  When you are starting these checks can emulate the look of a graph paper and make your work relatively easy. You just have to make your crosses on each check square. One disadvantage is that the individual crosses will be somewhat bigger 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

Aida – Most beginners start their cross stitch projects on Aida fabric. This is a somewhat loosely woven fabric meant for cross stitch with prominent threads; looks like a fabric made of threads grouped together. It is also very inexpensive but not suitable for functional things because of the holes in the fabric. 14 count Aida is universally the most popular cross stitch fabric.

For beginners Aida is one of the best fabric for cross stitch, because of the readily available weaves. You may need to interface the cloth if it is too loose. 

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

Once you have got a hang of the techniques of cross stitch you can use other fabric 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 as well as vertically, making perfect squares to do your cross stitch.You get cotton even weave fabric specifically suited for cross stitch in the stores.

Linen – The best fabric for cross stitch other than even weave fabric and aida is Linen. Linen and evenweave look almost the same. Linen has small slubs in its surface but this wouldnot look so obvious once cross stitches are made. Linen has a beauty unparalleled as well as the weave is very apparent which makes it 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

This is a method of doing cross stitch on a particular type of fabric which will tear off after the work is done- this way you can cross stitch on any type of fabric, regardless of the fact that the eave 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 tread, after slightly wetting it.The work will remain on the garment.Soluble canvas will wash away when soaked in warm water

If you want accurate stitching without counting every stitch you may want to draw gridlines on your cloth. Recently pregrid fabric has become available which is a blessing for the crossstitchers.

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

 .best fabrics for embroidery

When doing the cross stiches on garments the waste canvas is 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. When all the stitching is done, the waste canvas is cut away around the design. Soak the design in water. This will disolve 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 medium on which cross stitching is done.This is used for doing beautiful cross stitch designs on homedecor and accessories. The canvas used  here  is an open mesh. Fabric canvas is more finer than the plastic canvas. You may need to apply interfacing to the back of fabric  canvas to use it for anything functional

You can experiment with colour and colour combinations extensively with this embroidery.

What needle to use to do cross stitch

You should only be using tapestry needles ( blunt tip) to do cross stitch. The large eye and blunt tip of the needle is ideal for this embroidery. Tapestry needles of number 24 & 26 are usually used to do cross stitch

Aida ( 8 threads per inch) use 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

Whatever needle you choose it should not be so big that there are holes on 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?

The regular embroidery floss (mercerized cotton floss) is  used to do the cross stitch also.Just ensure that the thread would 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 it looks good; if you donot think it does increase to 3 strands. 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 for completing a design

You will have to guestimate this. I have read this somewhere that with  2 strands of thread which is 18 inch 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

As a beginner you should be choosing simple designs with a single colour ( or few colours) initially and then progress on 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 square representing a cross stitch.

When you cross stitch, each symbol on the chart represent one stitch on the fabric. Each stitch will fill a square. This can be transferred to an evenweave 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.

Prepare your fabric for the cross stitch work

You should finish the edges of the fabric you are working with prior to 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 just do a machine zigzag after making sure I have some 4 inches extra fabric along the edges all around.

Iron any creases out.

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

Correct Tension is an important component in making a beautiful work. You donot 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 donot 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

The most important rule in cross stitch is for all the top halves of the stitches having the same direction cross all your stitches the same way.

cross stitch

The best way to do cross stitch is to do the first half of each stitch in a row done first then go back and finish the next half. This way you get all the stitches slanting in the same direction. It is very important that the slant is 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 of it. So each to his/ her own

You can make the stitches go from bottom half of the stitch from lower right to top left and the top half from bottom left to top right (right to left) or 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 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.

Stand alone cross stitch ( English way)

Here you will complete one stitch at a time and you will 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 colours would not come right. 

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 crosstitch 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


Backstitches are commonly used in cross stitch patterns to make outline of a design

Half cross stitch

This is a stitch with just the one way diagonal stitch  done in a row.

Extended cross stitch

This is 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.

types of cross stitch

Using Blended threads and Variegated thread

You can use different coloured thread strands at the same time for a different look. Variegated thread will give a beautiful gradation and depth to the cross stitch design. 

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 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 or How to design letters for cross stitching.

  how to make a cross stitch pattern


Updated on October 25, 2022 by Sarina Tariq

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3 thoughts on “Cross Stitch ( A Beginner’s guide)”

  1. 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

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