Cross stitch is a form of counted thread embroidery that is worked on even weave fabric such as linen, or more commonly Aida fabric. Each stitch is counted and the cross stitches are essentially worked in a grid-like way to complete a design. It has a very unique appearance, and up close it looks “pixelized”. From afar, more intricate patterns can look like a painting.
This tutorial is for beginners and will show you all of the basics of how to do cross stitching.
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Cross Stitch Supplies
I’ll be going in depth about what you should choose for cross stitch supplies, which I highly recommend you read! But I also have a more condensed list with links to product recommendations you can also check out!
Cross stitch is best worked on fabric with a completely even weave such as linen or Aida because the patterns are designed on a grid. You’ll want to choose a fabric that has a weave that is visible so the cross stitches are able to be counted.
Cross stitch fabrics, just like fabrics in general, come in different thread counts. The next few sections will go over common fabrics you can use and the thread counts that are ideal to use.
What’s Thread Count?
Thread count is the amount of threads that are woven together in one square inch of fabric. These threads are referred to as warp (threads that run the length of the fabric) and weft (the threads that run perpendicular to the warp threads, i.e. run the width of the fabric) threads. The higher the thread count is, the tighter the weave of the fabric will be.
Most cross stitch patterns will specify what fabric thread count you should purchase.
Aida is the most popular choice for beginners because it has a very visible weave with holes in the fabric and squares that are easily counted. (One cross stitch fits over one square.) This fabric is generally made of cotton and is less pliable and a bit stiffer than most fabrics. There are many different colors to choose from, and it is available in most craft stores to purchase as well as online.
Aida comes in “counts” which is the thread count per square inch. The most common counts that are available are 11, 14, 16, and 18. The higher the number, the smaller the holes and visible squares of fabric will be.
Lower count Aida fabric, such as 11 and 14 count, will be the easiest to visibly count and use when you are first starting out.
How To Measure Aida Count
If you already have Aida fabric and you’re not sure what count it is, you can simply measure an inch of the fabric and count the horizontal or vertical squares. This will determine the thread count!
Linen is a natural fabric with an even weave. It is more pliable than Aida fabric and is commonly used by more experienced stitchers. Even weave fabrics are generally cross stitched over two threads (instead of one like on Aida fabric). The thread counts for even weave linen go generally all the way up to 28 count, which is a tighter weave.
It’s a great choice for patterns that require stitches such as French knots or fractional stitches (stitches that go through threads instead of across a square) because the fabric is easier to stitch into.
It is possible to cross stitch on other types of fabrics such as quilting cotton and clothing. However, the fabric’s weave will be too tight to use as a guide for stitching. This is where waste canvas or printed patterns come in!
Waste canvas can be used for fabrics that are “plainly woven” to serve as a temporary grid for cross stitching. It can be removed after you are finished stitching. Waste canvas comes in counts just like Aida fabric and other even weave fabric. Check out this guide for how to use it.
Some cross stitch kits will have patterns printed onto the fabric that will serve as a template. You can sometimes purchase these at craft stores with the pattern printed on dish towels or pillow cases.
Embroidery hoops help to stabilize the fabric and prevent is from puckering while you are stitching. It also keeps any extra fabric out of the way and gives you something to hold while working.
If you’re using Aida fabric, it will be stiff enough and the weave will stay in place enough that you don’t necessarily need an embroidery hoop to cross stitch with, but it really comes down to preference.
However, if you’re using a softer, more pliable fabric such as linen you may need an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric in place while you are stitching.
Try both ways and see what method you prefer!
There are two different types of needles you’ll want to have on hand for cross stitch: tapestry and embroidery needles. Both of these kinds of needles come in different sizes, and you’ll want to choose them according to the thread count of the fabric you are using.
DMC has a needle size guide that is very helpful for determining which sizes to choose.
The most commonly used needle you’ll use for cross stitch when working on Aida or evenweave fabrics is the tapestry needle. This needle has a long, oval eye and a blunt tip so that it doesn’t snag the fabric as you are making stitches. You’ll be going into the holes between the weave of the fabric for the most part when you are making basic cross stitches, and you don’t want the needle to go through the individual threads of the fabric.
There are a few instances where you’ll need to use an embroidery needle for cross stitch.
An embroidery needle has a sharp tip and larger eye. DMC needles size 8 or 9 should be adequate to use since cross stitch normally uses 2 strands of embroidery floss.
If you are working with fabrics that are not Aida or even weave (i.e. tightly woven fabrics / clothing) you’ll want to use an embroidery needle to pierce through the fabric. French knots and fractional stitches will also require a sharper needle to go through the threads.
Types of Stitches
Cross stitching only requires a handful of stitches to complete projects. Some projects only use one, which is of course the basic cross stitch! All of the examples below use Aida fabric so that it is easier to see how each stitch is worked.
A general rule of thumb is to use 2 strands of embroidery floss when stitching.
How To Do A Cross Stitch
The basic cross stitch is of course the backbone of cross stitch. It is the most commonly used stitch and it is super easy to do!
- Make a diagonal stitch across one square in the fabric.
- Then make another diagonal stitch across the first stitch to form an x.
Variations of the cross stitch
There are a couple of variations that are similar to the basic cross stitch. The following variations are known as fractional cross stitches. I have a whole post that goes a bit more in depth about learning and remembering the different types of fractional stitches in cross stitch.
- The 1/4 stitch is one diagonal stitch that starts at the edge of a square and goes down through the middle of the square.
- The 1/2 stitch is simply one diagonal stitch that starts and ends at the edge of one square
- The 3/4 stitch is one 1/4 stitch and one 1/2 stitch.
- The full stitch is the basic cross stitch.
How To Back Stitch In Cross Stitch
The back stitch is a common stitch used for text / words in cross stitching. When worked on aida fabric, you can follow the natural holes of the fabric to keep the stitches even.
- Come up through a hole in the fabric.
- Make a stitch into the next hole in the fabric and pull the thread through.
- Come up with your needle through the next hole in the fabric.
- Go back down the hole where the last stitch ended.
- Repeat desired length
You can work the back stitch with holes that are directly above, below, beside, or diagonal to your last stitch.
How To Make a French Knot In Cross Stitch
The French knot is a stitch you will see pop up from time to time in certain patterns. It can be challenging at first, but with practice it’s fun to do!
When forming a French knot, wrap your thread around the needle 2-3 times. While holding tension on the wrapped thread, bring your needle down through the fabric and pull tight. This should form a small knot.
The biggest tip I have for working a French knot is to make sure you don’t go down through the same hole your thread came up through. Otherwise, you’ll pull the knot to through the hole to the back of the fabric.
As you can see in the diagram, the initial thread is coming up through a hole, and the needle is going back down in the middle of the square right beside the hole.
Starting And Finishing Stitches
You can tie a simple knot or quilters knot (see photo above) in the end of the thread which will secure the end of the thread when you start stitching.
Another way is the looping the thread. Fold your floss in half and thread your needle. Make a half stitch and place your needle through the loop in the back of the fabric. This will secure your thread to the fabric.
Check out an in depth tutorial on starting with a loop.
You can simply tuck the tail underneath stitches you’ve made to end stitches. Then trim any leftover thread!
Calculate Cross Stitch Fabric Size
The first thing you’ll want to do, even BEFORE starting your cross stitch pattern, is to determine what size fabric you’ll need to use. You can use a cross stitch calculator such as this one by Yarn Tree. This calculator is great because it not only takes into account how many threads each cross stitch covers, but you can also add in any border or area you need to finish the project later.
Once you’ve determined how large of a piece of fabric you’ll need, you can grab your supplies and get started!
How To Start A Cross Stitch Pattern
Now you’re ready to get started. You’ll need to determine where the middle of your pattern and your fabric is. The easiest way to do this is to fold the fabric in half and then in half again. This will give you approximate crosshairs of the center of your fabric.
Many cross stitch patterns have the middle of the pattern marked out. If your pattern does not, you can take the total number of graph squares for the length and divide that number in half. Then repeat for the width of the pattern.
Starting in the center of the fabric and pattern will ensure that you won’t run out of room on your fabric!
Reading a Cross Stitch Pattern
Patterns will have a color key as well as symbols for different stitches / colors that the pattern requires. There will be a key that shows you what each symbol represents. Depending on the pattern, symbols will represent colors and / or types of stitches used.
Check out this post all about How To Read Cross Stitch Patterns to learn more.
You’ll want to pay close attention to these symbols and colors and also where you are stitching, especially in areas with large amounts of the same color. It can be easy to lose track of where you are, so a general rule of thumb is to start in one area and then work your way out.
Don’t jump around in the pattern! Skipping around will most likely result in you making stitches in the wrong place and getting lost!
Beginner Patterns and Kits
IT is possible to make your own cross stitch patterns, but when you’re first getting started, the best way to practice what you’ve learned is to use a pattern or kit! Below are a few that are great to get started with or check out some of my Etsy favorites.
Beginner Skull and Candle Cross Stitch Pattern by Crewel Ghoul
Cactus Kit by Leia Patterns
Geometric Forest Kit by Pigeon Coop Designs
Now that you know the basics, I recommend you take a look at some cross stitch techniques that everyone should learn! Even as a beginner, it’s great to learn these or even keep them in mind to learn about later.
You May Also Like
- Want to learn even more about what makes cross stitch unique? Take a look at these two comparison posts on how it differs from embroidery and needlepoint.
- Learn how to finish cross stitch in a hoop
- Check out these common cross stitch mistakes
Amanda is a hand embroidery artist and teacher. With over 15 years of experience in the craft industry and embroidery, she owns and runs Crewel Ghoul, sharing tutorials and patterns to help inspire fellow crafters to get inspired and creative. In addition to running this website, she teaches on Skillshare and Youtube.