How To Read a Cross Stitch Pattern

When you first start cross stitching, patterns may look a little intimidating with all of their different symbols and colors.

The good news is that once you are familiar with the different parts of a cross stitch pattern, they are relatively simple to work with!

This post will show go over the basics of what a typical pattern includes and show you how to read a cross stitch pattern with ease!

If you’re completely new to cross stitch, I recommend also checking out my Beginner’s Guide To Cross Stitching that will go over everything you need to know to get started stitching.

What Comes In A Cross Stitch Pattern

Every pattern will be slightly different depending on where you purchase it from. However, most of them have some common information included in them.

A pattern normally includes the following:

  • a color chart
  • a black and white symbol chart
  • a legend or key for stitches and thread colors
  • stitch diagrams
  • the finished design size ( this will depend on what fabric count you choose, but most patterns will recommend a particular count to work with)

Some patterns may even come with additional suggestions:

  • how many skeins of thread you’ll need for each color
  • how many strands of thread to use for each stitch

Each pattern will normally specify which brand of embroidery thread you should use, because each brand will have their own unique number for each color. Make sure you pay attention to this so that you purchase the right colors!

Color Cross Stitch Chart

how to use a cross stitch pattern - color chart
Color chart with numbers on the side of the chart

The photo above shows a color chart that only has colors filling in the squares.

Most patterns will come with a color chart similar to this, which is basically a graph full of squares that are colored in to show you where each color goes in the pattern. Depending on the pattern, there may or may not be symbols on each square as well. The symbols will correspond with a specific color or type of stitch (i.e. cross stitch, fractional stitches, French knots, etc.).

Number Markings

Cross stitch charts normally have numbers on the horizontal and vertical axis, commonly in increments of 1 or 10. And as you may already know, this is because cross stitch is a form of counted counted thread embroidery.

These numbers make it easier to do a couple of different things:

  • Use them as a shortcut so you don’t have to count every individual square
  • Use them as a helpful and quick guide to keep track of where / how many stitches to make.
  • Find the middle of the pattern, which is where you normally start cross stitch.
  • It makes calculating the size fabric you’ll need for the pattern easier.

Tip: You may find it easier to sync up the paper pattern with your fabric by marking the grid on your fabric. Check out this tutorial to learn more.

Additional Lines or Symbols

At times, patterns will use stitches other than a cross stitch, such as back stitching. Lines will normally represent back stitches on the chart.

Most charts will also have arrows that will point to the center of the pattern.

Reading a Cross Stitch Chart

Each square on a cross stitch chart represents one cross stitch. ( Or one stitch if you are using a back stitch or French knot)

If you are using Aida fabric, a cross stitch is made over one “square” on the fabric, so everything you see on the chart is basically exactly how you will fill in the pattern on the fabric!

Aida fabric is the best to start out with when you are first learning because it has more visible “squares” which makes it easier to work with.

If you are using a cross stitch fabric with a higher thread counter/ tighter weave such as linen, one cross stitch is usually made over 2 threads. So one square on a cross stitch chart still equals one cross stitch, but the stitch will be made over 2 threads instead of one.

Black and White Symbol Chart

cross stitch symbol chart
Black and white cross stitch chart with symbols

Additionally, patterns may come with a chart that looks very similar to the color chart. The difference is that this one is black and white and only includes symbols in each of the squares.

Just like a color chart, these symbols correspond with whatever color or stitch you should use.

These black and white symbol charts are great for when don’t have a color printer or if your pattern uses similar shades of colors that are hard to differentiate.

Color and Symbol Key

Example chart with legend

The color and symbol key will act as a guide that you will use alongside the cross stitch chart. It will show the specific colors used and stitches that the pattern requires.

The example above shows how a chart uses colors and symbols to show which colors to use. The lines and dots represent back stitches and French knots.

If there are no stitches noted in the legend or key, then you can most of the time assume that the pattern only uses full cross stitches.

And those are all of the basic parts of a pattern! I hope this guide helped you learn how to read a cross stitch pattern. Now go start stitching!

Now that you know how to read a pattern, you’ll be able to design your own cross stitch pattern if you want to!

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