A Beginner's Guide to Cross Stitch

Have you ever wanted to learn how to cross stitch, but ALL those little “X” stitches were just too intimidating? Well, do not fear! This basic cross stitch guide breaks it down into simple steps that make it easy to understand and will get you stitching in no time.

Let's get started!

1. Gather supplies

  • Aida fabric (most common size used is 14). Want to know more about Aida? Check out THIS blog post about Aida fabric.

  • A sharp pair of scissors. (These are my favorite!)

  • Embroidery floss

  • A needle (the most common size used is 24). Most beginners don’t realize just how many needle options are available for cross stitch. I recommend a tapestry needle size 24 for beginners OR whatever needle comes in your kit. If you’d like more information about different needle options, you can check out this blog post HERE.

  • Embroidery hoop. What is an embroidery hoop and how do I use it? Well… an embroidery hoop is made of two hoops, held together by tension. The outer hoop has a screw and eye hardware while the inner hoop does not have any hardware on it. For beginner I suggest a 5 inch or 6 inch hoop.

2. Optional supplies

  • Keeping your supplies organized will help you in immeasurable ways as you’re learning to cross stitch. Good habits now will only benefit you as you become a more experienced stitcher. I like THIS container to organize my floss.

  • Grab a small cardboard box or even a zip lock back for an inexpensive way to keep your things organized.

  • I use this bag from Amazon to organize my project supplies

3. Prep the embroidery hoop

  • I suggest a hoop that is at least 1 inch wider than the widest part of your finished project. So… if your finished size is 4 inches x 5 inches, you’ll want your hoop to be 6 inches in diameter.

  • Now, you’ll need to loosen the hardware on the outer ring of the embroidery hoop in order to separate it from the inner hoop. Don’t force it; just keep loosening until they easily come apart.

4. Prep your fabric

  • If you are using a cross stitch kit, it should come with the appropriately sized fabric for your project.

  • If you’ve purchased fabric and need to cut it to size, I recommend that you cut your fabric 4 inches bigger (in each direction) than the size of the finished piece.

  • So for example, if your finished project will be 4 inches x 5 inches, you will want your fabric to be at least 8 inches x 9 inches in size. Feel free to start with a larger piece of fabric and then cut it down to size after you’ve finished stitching if that makes you more comfortable.

  • Now, you need to find the center of your fabric. I suggest folding your fabric horizontally and then vertically. Where the creases intersect is the middle of your fabric. You can mark the center by erasable marking pen or pencil.

5. Secure the fabric in the embroidery hoop

  • To secure your fabric in the embroidery hoop, place the inner hoop down on a solid surface like a tabletop or desk.

  • Place your fabric on top of that hoop. Try your best to center the fabric over the hoop. (It doesn’t have to be perfect).

  • Place the outer hoop (the one with the hardware) on top of the fabric. Make sure to check that the hardware is loosened. Then press down.

  • The outer hoop will slip over the inner hoop and secure the fabric in between the hoops.

  • Once you have it firmly in place, carefully tighten the hardware to secure.

Pro tip: You can gently pull the fabric taut around the hoop as you tighten but, don’t pull your fabric too tight as it might distort the weave of the fabric.

6. Thread the needle

  • Most patterns identify floss colors by number. DMC threads is a popular floss brand used in many cross stitch patterns and their color numbers are often referenced on pattern keys.

  • Floss comes in a skein about 8 yards long. The thread is made up of 6 individual strands.

  • Cut embroidery floss approximately 12-18 inches long.

Pro tip: The longer the thread, the greater risk to getting it tangled.

  • Most cross-stitch patterns use two strands at a time. Read your chart carefully to see how many strands you will need for your project. If you’re just practicing, I recommend carefully separating 2 of the strands and thread them through the needle.

  • Do not make a knot at the end of the thread.

7. Find the center of the pattern

  • The center of the pattern is usually marked by an arrow at the top of the pattern grid and an arrow on the side of the pattern grid. Where the arrows intersect is the center of the pattern.

8. How to read a cross stitch pattern

  • Cross stitch patterns are essentially a map. Each small square or icon represents one “X” shaped stitch and when each stitch is put together… you have a beautiful image!

  • Most patterns include a key that identifies all the colors used by a number (DMC threads are commonly used for reference) AND the key will tell you how many threads to use.

  • If there are any specialty stitches, these will also be listed on the key.

9. Where to place your first stitch

  • Start by working from the center of your pattern and identify which icon will be your first stitch. It is usually helpful to pick a stitch that is close to the center and has a lot of the same color stitches close together.

  • Count from the center of your fabric to this first stitch location that you picked (step above). Feel free to mark your starting stitch with a removable fabric pen or pencil.

10. How to make a cross stitch ( X )

  • Start by finding the bottom left hole for your first cross stitch. (See step 9 to find placement of your first cross stitch)

  • Bring the needle through this hole; from the backside to the front-side of the fabric.

  • Hold the last 1-2 inches of your floss on the back side of your fabric. Try not to pull the floss completely through the fabric.

  • Next, place your needle through the top right hole and pull the thread through while keeping the last 1-2 inches secure with your finger on the back. You have just made your first half-stitch ( / ).

  • Next, place your needle, from the backside to the front-side, into the bottom right hole in the fabric. Don’t pull your thread tight just yet. Pause for a second and flip over your fabric.

  • On the backside of your fabric, make sure the thread tail (that you have been holding on to) goes under the loop you just made. Now, pull your thread tight to secure the tail.

  • Flip your fabric back over so you’re looking at the front again. At this point you should have one half-stitch ( / ) and your thread coming up from the bottom right corner.

  • Lastly, place your needle through the top left hole and pull the thread through. You have now completed your first cross stitch!! ( X ) Congratulations!

As you continue to stitch, you should continue to check the back to make sure you are stitching over the tail and securing it under these loops. Do you see how I stitched right over the tail in this picture to secure it to my fabric? You only need to stitch over the tail about 3-4 times, then feel free to cut off the excess thread.

(If it were me, I would cut this extra tail length now that it is secured under 4 stitches)

Continue making “X” stitches and placing them according to the pattern you are using.

11. Securing the end of the thread

  • When you’ve run out of thread on your needle OR when you want to switch strand color, it is important to know how to secure the floss to the back of the fabric.

  • When your needle and thread are on the back-side of the fabric, simply slip your needle under some of the finished stitch loops along the fabric surface to secure.

  • I recommend going under a minimum of 3 stitches to secure the end of the floss, then cut your excess thread.

12. Keep going!

  • Now, Re-thread your needle and start again…

  • Go back to number 9 on this list if you need a refresher

  • Keep following your pattern for placement of each stitch until your beautiful piece is all done.

And… that’s a wrap!

Congratulations, you can now

consider yourself a cross stitcher!

Please, please remember every new skill takes time to master. So practice, practice, practice!

Even the best, most experienced stitchers make mistakes and they occasionally have to tear out stitches and stitch it again.

Don't be too hard on yourself. Remember, cross stitching is a fun and relaxing craft. So don't stress.

Once you become comfortable stitching… here are a few more pro tips:

  • As you stitch, sometimes the threads become twisted or get tangled. Occasionally, let your thread and needle dangle to “unwind.” (Like we used to untangle telephone cords).

  • Try to keep the tension on your stitches even, but not too tight. Having different amount of tension on your stitches can distort the fabric and ultimately distort your final image.

  • It is tempting to skip long distances on the back of the fabric if the current color you are using is needed in a different area… but avoid doing this because sometimes you can see these strands through the fabric on the front side. When you are moving to an area more than 3 or 4 stitches away, it is best to secure your thread on the back (see number 10 on the list above), cut it and start in the new location with a new strand.

  • Uniformity of each cross stitch is essential for a beautiful finish. What I mean is… each cross stitch ( X ) is made of two individual stitches… ( / ) followed by ( \ )… right? So, each stitch must be uniformly stitched meaning the backslash ALWAYS lays ON TOP of the front slash. Or visa versa.

  • Made a mistake? Miscounted? That's okay! To be completely honest, most people won't notice your error... so just keep on going and enjoy the process.

Don't forget to check out some of the other posts on the blog for tips, tricks and advanced skills.

Happy Stitching!


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