How To Cross Stitch

Cross stitch is a type of embroidery that employs usually only one stitch, the cross stitch, an 'X' stitched across the threads of the underlying fabric. It can be simple and primitive, with the x's clearly visible as crossed thread, as in the primitive samplers of colonial days, when young girls would show their stitching skills by cross stitching an alphabet, a simple flat scene, and perhaps a meaningful saying. Or it can use a finely woven cloth, a large number of shades of various hues, and 'paint' a scene in elaborate, fully shaded and articulated detail.

Cross stitch supplies can either come in kits, which include everything you need to make the featured pattern, or 'open stock', in which you purchase a pattern, cloth, embroidery thread and needles.  Embroidery thread used in cross stitch comes in hundreds of hues, and a particular hue--say peach--might come in ten or more shades to allow you to form images of three-dimensional objects with a simple stitch. Cross stitch comes in three main types:

  1. Stamped cross stitch  The pattern is stamped in x's on the fabric you are to embroider; simply use the correct color when making the cross stitch and you can't go wrong. These are usually household linens such as sheets, pillowcases or decorative towels. The designs are usually geometric or floral and fairly simple.
  2. Printed cross stitch  Printed cross stitch, also confusingly called stamped or sometimes 'no-count' cross stitch, features the pattern printed directly on the fabric. You cover the colored area with the appropriately shaded thread and you are done. These are sold in kits, and the thread is doubled up so that the underlying fabric is not visible under the stitched area.
  3. Counted cross stitch  Available as kits or patterns alone, counted cross stitch is the king of cross stitch. The pattern is printed on paper, using symbols to denote the various colors--you decide what color fabric to use, what gauge, and how many threads to use together, and follow the pattern by counting. A row of five orange symbols means a row of five x's in orange, for example, and then you switch to yellow for the next row of x's.

Common Concepts

  • Cloth  Although using a counted cross stitch pattern, you can stitch on almost any fabric, cross stitch is usually done on a type of cloth called Aida cloth. It is designed specifically for cross stitch, and woven so that it is clear where to insert your needle for even-sized stitches, with small gaps in the four corners of the square you are going to cross with your needle.

  • Gauge  Aida cloth comes in various degrees of fineness, indicated by a number. The number is the number of stitches in an inch, so the finer the stitching, the higher the number. 14-count Aida is perhaps the most used, with 11-count being a close second. For covering large areas with jumbo stitches, use 8-count and triple or quadruple your threads. 18-count and 22-count stitched with a single thread are for very elaborately detailed and shaded scenes, when you want the different shades to visually blend with one another in a painterly effect.
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