Starting Out With Cross-Stitch

A Relaxing and Rewarding Craft

Cross-stitch is a rewarding and relaxing craft. It is a very old form of embroidery. Throughout the world, different cultures have developed different styles. In China, the tradition has been for cross-stitch to be worked in a dark blue thread on white cloth. In India, the stitching is spaced out by sight rather than by counting threads. Native Italians from Assisi fill in only the background, working a sort of reverse form of the craft.

Because the stitch itself is so simple, it is a very versatile building block. With a little experience it becomes reasonably easy to graph and stitch familiar objects as gifts. Birth and marriage samplers are quite common and are treasured by those who come after and inherit these tangible reminders of their roots.

Cross-Stitch PortraitCredit: Wikimedia - Author Abbedabb

In years gone by, embroidery was part of every girl's schooling and was a genteel way for the more affluent ladies to fill in their leisure hours. It is still a relaxing pastime with the opportunity to create some really wonderful items.

In what is known as counted cross-stitch, a pattern is transferred from a graph to a piece of fabric. Cross-stitch uses the quality of the fabric to enhance the design. The colour and form of the fabric plays a large part in how pleasing the finished item will be.

Fabric used for cross-stitch has an even weave. An even weave fabric is one which has the same number of threads over a given distance both vertically and horizontally. Embroidery linen is ideal for cross-stitch and is woven in single threads. The size of the stitch will vary according to the number of threads over which you sew and by the number of threads per inch of fabric. This (the number of threads per centimetre of fabric) is known as the fabric count. So Linen 10 has ten threads per centimetre of fabric and a stitch covers two threads thus there will be five stitches per cm. Linen 14 has fourteen threads thus 7 stitches per cm. The larger the fabric count, the smaller the stitches.

Preparing the fabric
To prevent the fabric from fraying, it is a good idea to zigzag the edges. Locate the centre of the fabric by folding it in half then in half again. Mark the centre with a pin then use a coloured thread and tack from side to side and top to bottom, passing through the centre each time. Your fabric is now divided into quarters. When beginning your design, ensure that the centre of the design matches the centre point on your cloth.

Embroidery cotton has six strands. Stranded cotton can be pull apart into a combination of threads. The number of strands used is dependent on the size of the fabric. Large stitches might look better done with two or three strands so that less of the background fabric will show through. As general rule, the more threads used the more vivid and colourful the finished piece.

It is best to use a blunt needle as this will not split the fabric threads. A small tapestry needle is usually a good choice. Match the needle size to the size of the fabric holes. You'll need a small pair of scissors for cutting the fabric thread. If you're using a few colours and splitting your threads it is easy for everything to become jumbled. It is worth taking the time to make a simple thread holder.

Cross-stitch Christmas CandlesCredit: Wikimedia

Making a thread holder
Take a length of sturdy card, punch holes at regular intervals and thread your excess cottons through the holes. Mark the colour number alongside the hole. While an embroidery hoop is useful for larger pieces it is not necessary for small designs. If you use a hoop, it needs to be large enough to hold the whole design; otherwise it may damage existing stitching.

Tips to help you on your way

  • It's important to keep your work clean and fresh. Remove work from an embroidery hoop if you're likely not to get back to your work for a day or two. Leaving material in a hoop can distort and mark the fabric.
  • Always leave your needle at the edge of the work so that it will not leave rust marks, distort the threads or enlarge the fabric holes.
  • Do not fold your work between sessions. Roll it in tissue paper.
  • Cut cottons into 50cm lengths. Longer strands are awkward to manage and will start to fray as you get towards the end.
  • If the thread starts to twist after a series of stitches, let the needle hang so the thread can unwind.
  • When moving between patches of the same colour, don't jump the thread across the back if the gap will not be covered. Later, when your work is framed, such 'jumping' will be visible from the front.
  • If you make an error when counting, cut your losses and discard the used cotton. Use a pair of small, pointed scissors and carefully pull out the strands before using a fresh piece of cotton to re-stitch.
  • Don't start or end a colour with a knot. There will be an obvious bump when the work is laid flat. Instead, run your needle through the back of four or five stitches and trim the cotton close to the cloth.
  • Always work horizontally rather than vertically. Do not change direction and the result will look much neater.
  • Complete each block of colour. Short distances can be jumped but always secure the thread at the back by running the needle under the existing threads. Start with a new thread if blocks are too far apart.

Cross-stitching is an ideal way to decorate a home and instil your personal signature on your surroundings. Cushions, table-cloths, traycloths all look stunning when cross-stitched with one of the many beautiful patterns available. The biggest challenge will be trying to choose from the many lovely designs. Hand-towels, napkins, bibs and aprons can be lifted above the ordinary by even a small motif placed in a corner.

As gifts, samplers commemorating a marriage or the birth of a baby are sure to be gratefully received. Smaller gifts include brooches, bookmarks, greeting cards and pot pourri sachets. The world of cross-stitching is limited only by your imagination.