How To Read a Cross Stitch Graph

Cross stitch is a fun, easy craft to learn.  It enables those of us without a single artistic bone in our bodies to create beautiful, intricate designs.  There are two kinds of cross stitch:  pre-printed cross stitch and counted cross stitch.  In order to do counted cross stitch, you'll need to know how to read a cross stitch graph.  It's really not at all difficult.

  1. When you look at your cross stitch graph, you'll see several different kinds of information.  To the far left, there is a table.  The first column will list many symbols.  If you look at these symbols, you'll see that they correspond to different squares on the graph.  The next column will list the number of the embroidery floss that you need to use for each symbol.  Most graphs list the numbers for two major embroidery floss manufacturers:  Anchor and DMC.  There may also be a column listing a common name for the floss color.  In order to complete the design, you will need to purchase floss in each of these colors.  One skein is usually sufficient, unless the design is quite large.
  2. Under the table, you will see specific directions for the design.  For example, it may tell you what color to use for back stitching, how many strands of floss to use for different types of fabric, as well as any specialty stitches that are used.
  3. You will also find a list that tells you what size the finished design will be, depending upon the thread count.  Always buy a piece of fabric at least two inches larger on each side than the completed project to allow for framing and matting.  Use an evenweave fabric--a fabric in which the thread count in both directions is the same.  If you were to cross stitch on a fabric that didn't have an even weave, the X's would b be longer in one direction or the other.  You can purchase a fabric that is especially made for cross stitch, such as Aida cloth, but any evenweave fabric will work perfectly fine.
  4. If the size of fabric that you're using isn't listed, the graph also lists the stitch dimensions of the piece.  With a simple formula, you can determine how much fabric you will need:  If the stitched design is 150 stitches wide by 120 stitches tall and you would like to use a 15-count fabric (meaning there are 15 squares per inch), just divide 150 by 15 for the width and divide 120 by 15 for the height.  Therefore, you would buy a piece of fabric that is approximately 14 inches (150/15 plus four inches) by 12 inches (120/15 plus four inches).
  5. When you look at the actual graph, you will see an arrow on each side.  These arrows show you where the middle of the design is.  This is very important so that you can center your design on the fabric.  To find the center of your fabric, fold it crosswise and crease it, then fold it lengthwise and crease it.  If you like, you can baste a line along each of these creases as a reference.  Be sure to use a light-colored thread so that it doesn't stain the fabric.  Remove the basting when the design is complete.
  6. Now you're ready to stitch!  It's easiest to start near the center and work outward.  Following the table, complete all cross stitches with the appropriate color, then go back and complete the back stitching and any specialty stitches.

Now you know all the secrets of reading a cross stitch graph!  In no time at all, you'll be cross stitching like a pro.


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