Embroidery vs Cross Stitch – What’s the Difference?

Embroidery vs Cross Stitch

What’s the difference between embroidery vs cross stitch? This question is a common one. There are so many different types of needle crafts that it can get kind of confusing as to what things are. Here are some defining characteristics of both to help show the difference between the two of them.

Cross Stitch

cross stitch
Cross Stitch with a hand embroidered rope border.

Cross stitch is technically a form embroidery, but it’s a kind of counted needlework. This kind of needlework is normally worked on even weave fabrics such as Aida, which is a stiff fabric that has visible holes in it. (It’s almost like graph paper in fabric form.)

Stranded cotton embroidery thread is the most ideal to use for cross stitch. 2 of the 6 strands are normally used, which gives this style of needlework a very flat and neat finish.


The cross stitch, half stitch, and back stitch are the stitches used most frequently. The most common, the cross stitch, forms a little “x” on each square of the fabric.


A pattern is normally followed that shows you how many “squares” or cross stitches to do of each color. Patterns usually come as charted designs or hot iron transfers.

Charted designs seem to be the most common these days, and they are best to use in conjunction with fabric that has a natural grid to it like Aida. The design, therefore, doesn’t need to be transferred to the fabric because the gridlines of the fabric can be counted and stitched corresponding to the chart.

Hot iron transfers can be used and placed directly on fabric that is more solid and tightly woven. (You see this kind on a lot of vintage pillow cases, tea towels, and linens.)


The finished product of cross stitch generally lays flat onto the fabric, as opposed to hand embroidery that normally has a bit more dimension and texture to it. You don’t really blend colors together when cross stitching. In order to create the affect of colors blending together, different shades of color are used side by side of each other to create a color gradient.

If you’d like to try your hand at cross stitch, I have a beginner cross stitch tutorial here!


embroidery vs cross stitch

Embroidery is a more general term for any sort of embellishment stitched onto fabric. However, when people refer to hand embroidery, they’re normally referring to the kind of needlework that is worked on top of the fabric in a free form fashion (aka surface embroidery).


You can follow a pattern with this kind of embroidery, however it doesn’t rely on counting stitches to complete the design. The most common way to complete an embroidery is to transfer the design to fabric and use a variety of different stitches to fill it in.

Embroidery Stitches

There are hundreds of different stitches and knots. Some common stitches include: back stitch, satin stitch, french knot, herringbone stitch, lazy daisy, etc.

Techniques and Appearance

Surface embroidery can appear to be more dimensional and textured than cross stitch. For example, stitches like the herringbone stitch, cast-on stitch, and pinwheel rose are more 3-dimensional. Each stitch has a unique look to it. Many can resemble flowers and leaves and some have a rope or chain-like appearance.

Blending color together, or “thread painting” is easier to accomplish with hand embroidery. A series of long and short stitches help to blend the colors together, and when done well, it can be very realistic looking.

If you’d like to read about more forms of of embroidery, I’ve posted about them here: Types of Embroidery and I have a Beginner’s Guide To Hand Embroidery as well that you can check out.

Everything You Need To Learn Embroidery In One Place

Any new skill can leave you feeling overwhelmed with where to start and let’s face it: your time is limited.

I created this guide with you in mind!

It has everything in it that you need to know to get started stitching. Comes with tips, material recommendations, and 6 fun projects that will build your confidence and allow you to not just learn the art of embroidery but have something to show for it!

Pinwheel Rose

Is embroidery harder than cross stitch?

These two needlecrafts are challenging in different ways, and I wouldn’t say that one is necessarily harder than the other.

Surface embroidery offers hundreds of different kinds of stitches you can learn to use. Some are very beautiful but rather complicated. However, don’t let this intimidate you! There are a lot of stitches that are very easy to learn. You don’t have to know very many stitches to make an embroidery.

If you’re wanting to stitch a detailed image, cross stitch patterns can be a bit more complicated to plan out. However, there are plenty of premade designs that you can choose from so you don’t have to make the pattern/chart from scratch. Cross stitch can also take a lot longer than embroidery because you’re not able to cover as much surface area as fast. The great news is that there are only a select few stitches you’ll need to learn to get started. A lot of people enjoy cross stitching because it can be very meditative.


Is cross stitch thread the same as embroidery thread?

Yes, cross stitch normally uses 6 strand cotton embroidery floss, which can also be used for surface embroidery. However, surface embroidery can use many other kinds of thread as well including Perle cotton floss, ribbon, wool, and more.

Is cross stitch the same as embroidery?

Cross stitch is a form of counted embroidery that commonly uses a stitch that forms an “x” on the fabric to create a design. The term embroidery is more of an umbrella term for embellishing fabric with thread. There are many types of embroidery, including but not limited to crewel, ribbon, hardanger, drawn thread, stumpwork, whitework, and blackwork.


Well, I hope this clarified things regarding embroidery vs cross stitch. They’re both really fun and rewarding to learn. Give both a try and see which one you like the best!

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what's the difference between embroidery and cross stitch

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