Sunday, 14 November 2010

A beginner’s guide to Cross stitching - Part 2


If part 1 sounded like a lot to think about, don’t worry. My advice is to go and purchase a kit. These are sold all over the web and at most craft shops. The picture on the front shows the finished image and often gives an idea of difficulty. Inside you’ll usually find (but check on the back of the packet) a needle, a piece of aida the right size, silks all the colours you’ll need and the chart. The chart will be a picture of the image you’ll be stitching, made up of lots of symbols. These symbols will appear somewhere on a key, which tells you which number of thread to use. I find it handy to check every so often that the symbol, code and thread not only match each other, but the picture too. It’s not unknown for there to be a small typo on the pattern and for you to colour the sky in pink. If you buy a kit, you’ll only need to make sure you have scissors and maybe a frame. They start out very cheaply and vary enormously in style, size and difficulty. I’d recommend starting with something small and with a few colours. Samplers can be a good first project, and usually were a girl’s learning piece in ‘Ye Olde times’.

You can also buy the charts on their own. These are much cheaper and some can be downloaded free, but you will have to source your own aida and threads, based on what the pattern recommends. If you do go down this route, thread conversion charts can be found all over the web which tell you which companies’ threads are equivalent to each other. This means you can use an Anchor chart and sew it with DMC threads without ending up with odd colour combinations.

Stitchers, start your engines…

So, you have your kit, you have a cup of tea (or wine, I don’t judge) and you have a sofa on a wet day. How on earth do you get started?
The first thing to go is find your centre. No, not your spiritual centre, the middle of your project. If you look at the chart, you’ll most likely find 4 arrows or heavier lines pointing to the centre of your chart. Get a ruler and a pencil and make a little mark in centre square so you know where this is without having to work it out 4 times because David Boreanaz took his top off in Bones and you got distracted. Learn from my mistakes people. Next, you find the centre of the aida. You can do this by folding the aida into quarters and putting a little pencil mark in the centre, like me. Or, if you’re doing it properly, count the little holes until you find the centre and do a big running stitch all the way down, then turn it round and do the other side so you get a big cross with ‘x’ marks the spot. I prefer to draw on my aida, but remember to make this bit the back!

Next you need a piece of thread. Take the little wrap of embroidery thread and find an end. Holding the wrap in one hand by the loops, gently pull out about 20-24” of thread from the wrap. In theory, this will come smoothly and easily but in reality you may need to take the paper bits off and untangle the thread.

Once you have your cut piece, take a look at the thread. It’s made up of 6 smaller threads. You only need 2 of these. Fray the ends out and take hold of one of these little threads. Now, holding the rest of the string, pull that thread straight out. It should slide out, pulling its friends behind it until it pops clear. Now do that again and put your 2 threads back together. Keep the remaining thread safe and together. Now is a great time to use your thread sorter!

Now thread your needle. There are a couple of ways to start a stitch, and I’ll describe 2 good ones – one easy and one tricky. The easy one involves you tying a small knot in the end of your thread. Find where your first stitch will be and where the rest of the shape will be sewn. From the FRONT of the fabric, sew a few squares away from your start point, somewhere that will be covered by stitches in a minute. Then bring your first stitch up from underneath in the right place and stitch your shape.
The idea is that the bit of thread that’s attached to your knot will be sewn over at the back and held in place by stitches. When it’s firm, you can carefully snip the knot off the top and your’re left with a neat front and back. The harder way to do this is to start sewing from underneath and hold the little tail of thread in place underneath, while you catch it with stitches. I find this a nightmare to do.

The stitches you’re making should all be the same, so the same direction of thread should always be on top. This keeps the work looking a lot neater. The easy way to do this is to sew your whole shape, or one row of it with half crosses and then go back over it, sewing all the other half stitches. I like to do my whole shape in half stitches because then I can abandon the pattern and just go back over my own work, but you might like to finish what you start!
Once you’ve sewn what was in the centre, you can branch out to neighbouring shapes by counting squares outwards on your chart and matching them to squares on your fabric. This is an easy one to get wrong and I suggest counting twice, then once you’ve done the first couple of stitches, counting again! As with everything, the earlier you catch your mistakes the easier they are to rectify!

Once you’ve finished with a colour and need to change to another, turn your work over and sew your remaining thread under a couple of stitches, then snip.

Congratulations, you’re cross stitching!

Branching out

There are lots of fun things you can do with cross stitch. I’m now staring to design my own charts. For this, all you need is some grid paper - just fill in the grid squares in different colours to make your shapes. You can use parts of charts you already own to enhance your own designs, and you can use software to help you. Some even convert photos into cross stitch charts!

Beads can also be added to your ‘top’ stitch to give some more decoration to your work, and there are kits available which include these.

You can use cross stitch to make gifts and enhance other craft works. Embroidery on bed linen, towels and clothes can really add a wow-factor and items like cushions, book marks or even simple pictures, framed can be beautiful gifts. There are 1001 books around to give you ideas, but once you get going you can cross stitch anything!

I’m planning on adding some embellishment through cross stitch to a pashmina I’m buying for my Mother in Law this Christmas!

And if all of this seems too old-ladyish, check out Subversive Cross Stitch


  1. Another excellent post. I was thinking of doing of these myself - but now I have no need! Which is a bit of a blessing in disguise to be honest as I was only going to use my post to distract me from a project I am loathing at the moment and need to get finished. If you have not ever experienced that feeling of dread when you know you have to get something done cross stitch wise - don't fret. Your time will come!

    A good tip I learnt many moons ago to split thread is to cut your length, fray the end, grabd the two bits, pop the other end between your teeth and pull :) Works every time.

  2. Great post :-).
    I've been cross stitching since I was 7 years old and find it a great way to relax. These days I never seem to get my own projects done because I am always finishing or re-doing things for the ladies at my mother's Age Concern group!

    Could I add that you should do a over stitch around the edges of your aida on larger work or it will fray too much.