How to Do Counted Cross Stitch

    by Kay Dean

    About the Author

    After attending Hardin Simmons University, Kay Dean finished her formal education with the Institute of Children's Literature. Since 1995, Dean has written for such publications as "PB&J," Disney’s "Family Fun," "ParentLife," "Living With Teenagers" and Thomas Nelson’s NY Times bestselling "Resolve." An avid gardener for 25 years, her experience includes organic food gardening, ornamental plants, shrubs and trees, with a special love for roses.


    Whether it's an old-fashioned sampler or a pillow, many people find cross stitching to be a fun and relaxing hobby. One advantage of cross stitching is that it doesn't require years of sewing skill. Basic cross stitching involves creating rows of X-shaped stitches in different colored floss. Once you have the basic technique down, you can move on to more complicated patterns.

    Things You'll Need

    • Counted cross stitch kit
    • Tapestry needles
    • Embroidery hoop or stand (optional)
    • Masking tape or no-fray liquid (optional)
    • Crafter's magnifying glass (optional)

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    Getting Started

    Get all the counted cross stitch supplies at once. Beginners should start with a kit that has a smaller design because this will make it easier to learn how to cross stitch. Begin with Aida cloth that has a large thread count per inch; for instance, 14 count Aida has fewer threads per inch than 18 count Aida and for this reason is easier to cross stitch. Some beginners even start with 11 count Aida. The color of the fabric can affect the difficulty; it is harder to see the holes in dark fabric. Even if the kit comes with the tapestry needle, you should buy extra in case it gets lost. A size #22 needle is generally used for fabric that is 14 count, while size #24 or #26 needles are used for 18 or larger count. Using an embroidery hoop or stand is totally a matter of personal preference. They will keep the fabric taught, but your hands will tire more quickly.

    Prepare the fabric. If it is dark and you are not sure whether it is colorfast, rinse in clear water. If dye comes out in the water, continue to rinse until the water runs clear. Allow the fabric to almost dry and press with an iron to finish drying and remove any creases. Trim off any selvage edges to prevent uneven stress on the fabric. Finish the edge by either folding masking tape over the edge or using a no-fray liquid. Finishing is optional as fraying will be minimal.

    Find the center of the fabric by folding it in half and then fold it in half in the opposite direction. The inside corner is the center of the fabric. Mark it with a safety pin or insert a thread of contrasting color. Find the center of the pattern and mark it as well.

    Thread the needle with the color floss that is in the center of the pattern. Beginning to cross stitch at this point will make sure the design is centered. Separate the floss completely. Although you cannot prevent the floss from twisting, separating the floss helps. Check the instructions that come with the pattern to determine how many strands are to be used. Measure approximately 18 to 20 inches of the floss and thread the needles. Do not put a knot in the end of the thread.

    Beginning Your Cross Stitch

    Insert the fabric in the embroidery hoop or stand, if you are using one. Whether the fabric is pulled taut or not is also a personal preference. Look at the center of the pattern and determine how many cross stitches of the color floss that is on the needle will be in that section. Insert the needle from the underside of the fabric, coming up next to the center mark. Pull the thread almost out, holding approximately one inch on the underside with a finger of your opposite hand. You will secure the floss by looping several stitches over it as you make the first four or five cross stitches.

    Cross stitch by one of two methods. You can cross stitch each X completely before moving to the next one. Or you can cross stitch all the bottom parts of the Xs on one row, stitching from left to right and then cross stitch the top parts of the Xs by moving right to left. Continue until all the Xs in that color for that section are done. If the color is used again nearby--no more than three or four squares away--move over and begin cross stitching there. Don't move more than three squares to cross stitch another section with that color of floss, as it might show through the fabric.

    Finish the thread in the similar manner as you began it. When you have about two inches of thread left on the needle, turn the fabric over and feed the thread under four or five stitches to secure the end. Cut off the excess.

    Do any outlining after all the Xs are stitched. Thread the needle with the appropriate color and do a backstitch. Bring the needle up through one hole and go back to the left and down through the hole. Then move the needle two holes to the right of the first hole and come up.

    • To help with twisting floss, release the needle and hold the fabric up so that the floss will untangle itself.
    • Use a pencil or highlighter to mark each row and section on the pattern as it is finished.
    • If your kit comes with dark fabric, place a sheet of white paper on your lap and sit near a lamp so that the light will hit the cloth and paper. This makes the holes easier to see.
    • Cross stitching for a long time can cause eye strain. Look up every few minutes and rest your eyes. If you begin to experience eye strain, try using a crafter's magnifying glass.
    • Cross stitching can fatigue your hands. Put the fabric down approximately every 10 minutes and flex your hands.

    Photo Credits

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