Getting Started in Cross Stitch

The Letter L that Penny wants to stitch on a cushion.I received an email last night from Penny in Australia:

I want to learn how to cross stitch fairly simple designs onto a plain linen cushion. How can I go about doing this? I want to do my first one with a capital “L” on it.

Penny, I’m going to guess that you’re new to embroidery. That may or may not be true, but that’s where I’m starting.

Next, I wonder if you have your materials already, or if you have yet to purchase them. If you have the linen already, is it “countable”? That is, how fine is the weave? If it has 40 or fewer threads per inch, it is fairly easy to count the threads to make consistent cross stitches. Fabrics with more than 40 threads per inch can still be counted, but it gets harder and will probably require magnification, unless your eyes are your secret superpower or something.

Where Do You Start?

The only proper answer to this question, in my opinion, is “anywhere you like.” Unhelpful? Maybe. True? Definitely.

If I knew nothing about embroidery, I’d start by threading a needle and stitching. I can give you countless examples of how I jump in blind and learn by doing. It’s how I learn most things: It’s how I learned Hardanger; it’s how I’m learning to make fudge now.

If, however, Mike knew nothing about embroidery, he’d start by reading everything he could find on the subject. He wouldn’t start stitching until he had a clear plan and had some sense of the “proper” way to begin. Both are legitimate ways to start.

If you’re already fidgety, Penny, and eager to get going, find some fabric and thread and start stitching. Give us a shout when you run into a problem, and we’ll help you through it. If, however, you’d like to make a general or detailed plan before you start stitching, read on.

Start Here: Cross Stitching 101

I recommend taking 10 minutes to watch our Learn How To Cross Stitch video. It was made for a specific project, but it covers the basics.

Then, because you want to stitch on linen, I’d recommend reading the post about cross stitching over two threads, as this is what you will likely be doing.

Depending on how fine your fabric is, you might stitch over four threads instead of two, or you might not count threads at all.

Creating a Pattern

I can think of three ways to create the L shape that you will stitch on your cushion:

  • Draw, trace, or baste an outline of the letter on the linen surface itself.
  • Create a pattern on graph paper or with computer software and follow it by counting the squares on the graph and stitching them onto the linen.
  • Winging it. You know what an L looks like, and it’s a fairly simple shape, so just start stitching.

You can use a specialized fabric marker or pencil (sometimes these are permanent; sometimes they fade over time; sometimes they wash out), transfer paper, or a regular writing pencil to draw or trace an L onto the fabric.

You can outline the shape with a running or basting stitch, which you can remove later, stitch over, or leave in as an outline. Or use a backstitch as described in the video.

Diagram of a running stitch for use in cross stitch

Execute a running stitch by bringing the needle up at 1, down at 2, up at 3 (and all odd numbers), and down at 4 (and all even numbers). This makes a sort of dotted line. The diagram shows the stitches going over 2 threads, but you can go over as many as you’d like.

You can draw your pattern on graph paper and transfer it to the fabric by counting your stitches. You might be able to use printable graph paper with the same number of squares per inch as your fabric has stitches per inch, reducing or eliminating the need for stitchy math to determine finished design size. (We have a tutorial for calculating design size in cross stitch.)

In the introductory video, we talk about how every symbol on a chart equals a stitch on the fabric. Every square you fill in on the graph paper becomes a stitch on the fabric.

This is the method I’d use. If you need help creating a pattern or figuring out an appropriate size, give me some more information (fabric count and the size you’d like the cushion and/or letter to be), and I can provide more detailed help.

Alternatively, you can skip drawing a pattern on the fabric or graph paper and just start stitching. If you have a lot of fabric, or if you don’t care about the finished size, you can center or place the stitched L after it’s stitched by cutting the fabric accordingly.

That’s my advice at this stage. Is it enough to get you started, or does it raise other questions? I’m happy to help, so ask away!

3 Responses to “Getting Started in Cross Stitch”

  1. Ellen Lindow

    What a great intro to cross stitiching. The only thing I would add is choose your thread carefully to make sure it will fit through the holes in the fabric. The finer the weave, the smaller the thread needs to be. I know that sounds obvious, but sometimes you just have such a yummy thread, and it just won’t fit through the fabric without a lot of wrestling. So make it easy on yourself and make sure you use just the strands you need to make the stitches.

    February 14, 2013 @ 4:43 am
  2. Jen

    Great advice. Fibers can be confusing since some are meant to be separated into strands and used in different quantities while others are not “strandable” at all.

    Never hesitate to ask!

    February 14, 2013 @ 6:38 am
  3. loved your sight very helpful advise.

    October 24, 2013 @ 1:24 am

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