Cross Stitch Over One Thread

When we cross stitch over two threads or on Aida fabric, we make sure the top leg of our crosses slant in the same direction, but how we achieve that doesn’t matter. When we cross over one thread on a plainweave fabric, it matters.

The warp and weft fibers of plainweaves are not “interlocked” at intersections; they simply pass over and under one another. As a result, when stitching over one thread, some stitches can slip and disappear. Yikes!

Being the clever needleworkers that we are, however, we’ve found solutions to this problem, enabling us to stitch tiny, delicate embroideries over one thread on linens and other evenweave fabrics. Come on, I’ll show you.

  • The problem with stitching over one thread: disappearing stitches.

    The Problem with Stitching Over One

    Look closely at the diagram. The warp fiber (that’s the vertical one) is on top in the intersection being stitched. The loop made by the working thread in going from 2 to 3 (dashed line, behind the fabric) has nothing to keep it from sliding up that warp thread, right over the weft (horizontal) thread, until all we see is a tiny stitch between 1 and 4. It’s possible for that tiny stitch to keep slipping and disappear altogether behind the weft thread above it. Oh no!

    There are a number of ways to prevent disappearing stitches. We’re going to look at two here: long arms on the back side and smart loops.

Solution 1: Long Arms on the Back Side

Stitching over one solution: long arms on the back.

The needle comes up to the surface at 1 and goes down at 2. It comes up at 3 and goes down at 4. And on and on.

The long arms (dashed lines) mean you’re stitching over two threads on the back side, and stitching over the long arms on the return journey further prevents slipping. You don’t strictly have to make long arms on the return trip, but doing so creates a thicker fabric which can be nice. Try it both ways—with and without long arms on the return—and see which you like.

  • Solution 2: Smart Loops

    Solution 2: Smart Loops

    Take a look at the first diagram again. Do you see how it differs from this one? Here, the loop created by the working thread as it moves from 2 to 3 goes under the lower thread in the intersection, which happens to be the weft thread in this case. Imagine that loop sliding along that thread (it would slide to the right, the direction it’s being pulled). It won’t go far: The top thread prevents the stitch from slipping under the intersection.
    You could also make this stitch by going 2-1-4-3. The important part is that the loop goes under the bottom thread of the intersection.

  • Solution 2: Smart Loop, next in the sequence.

    Smart Loop, next in sequence

    Now consider an adjacent stitch. Now the weft thread is on top. Notice that the loop here runs in a different direction from the loop in the previous diagram. This is necessary for the loop to pass under the bottom thread in the intersection.

  • Smart loops in series.

    A Row of Smart Loops

    A whole row of over-one stitches might be stitched by following the numbers in this diagram. The needle comes up at 1, goes down at 2, and so on. Of course, there are other patterns that will work, too.

    Note that in the Smart Loop method we’re completing each stitch before moving to the next. If you’re stitching with an overdyed or variegated thread and want to keep both legs the same color, this is the method to use.

Tips for Cross Stitching Over One Thread

Almost any pattern cross stitched over two threads can be stitched over one for a smaller, more delicate piece. While fractional stitches cannot be worked over one, it is possible to adjust the pattern by ignoring them or making whole stitches of them. When two colors occupy two halves of a stitch, consider which color belongs to the object “in front.” For instance, if half the stitch is part of a red flower, and the other half is part of the blue sky, make that stitch red. The flower is “in front of” the sky from the viewer’s perspective, and so is the dominant stitch.

For fabric thread counts of 27 and higher, use one strand of floss for crosses worked over one thread. For counts 25 and lower, try two strands. If backstitching over one with a single strand of floss seems too coarse, try sewing thread instead.

Above all, have fun!

Related Articles
How To Cross Stitch Over Two Threads
Cross Stitching with Overdyed Threads
Cross Stitch Embroidery Fabrics 101

9 Responses to “Cross Stitch Over One Thread”

  1. Jackie

    This is a great tutorial. I am going to print it out to guide me. Thanks so much.
    I love your newsletter and the designs.
    Jackie Soliongco

    July 7, 2011 @ 7:48 am
  2. Lorie

    Thanks for this tip, Jen. If I would have had something like this when I first tried stitching over 1 thread, it would’ve been so much easier. I self-taught myself and didn’t have many resources at that time.

    July 7, 2011 @ 10:56 am
  3. Ruby

    I never considered the weft thread! I’m so glad i stumbled upon this before i started stitching. Thank You

    July 20, 2011 @ 8:05 pm
  4. […] of canvas threads. That’s like trying to stitch a fractional stitch when you’re stitching over one thread on linen. It can’t be […]

    November 2, 2011 @ 2:21 pm
  5. […] Articles How To Cross Stitch Over Two Threads How to Cross Stitch over One Thread on Linen and Evenweave Fabrics Cross Stitch Embroidery Fabrics […]

    May 20, 2012 @ 12:23 pm
  6. Debbie

    I have been teaching needlework for years and have never been able to explain this method easily. Your diagrams are superb! You are a wonderful resource. I had to learn this the hard way as I am self taught. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge.

    May 26, 2013 @ 4:23 pm
  7. Jen

    Wow, thanks, Debbie! I’m so glad you like the diagrams and find them useful–even if they were too late for you. You are very welcome!

    May 26, 2013 @ 8:23 pm
  8. Paula

    This is so very helpful. I am self-taught as well and could never figure out how to cross-stitch on 25 count fabric without the thread rolling to the back. These tips will definitely help reduce the amount of fabric I will need for the big projects I like to cross stitch.

    October 7, 2016 @ 4:38 am
  9. Jen

    Hooray, Paula, I’m glad you found this helpful!

    October 7, 2016 @ 5:26 am

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