How to Teach Yourself Cross Stitch

Updated on June 1, 2014

How to begin cross stitching

Cross stitch is one of the most pleasant of the embroidery techniques and very easy to learn. In this article I'll give you the steps to take to get you cross stitching in no time. The kits and the items you can decorate with cross stitch are endless, catering to every taste from the traditional to the ultra modern.

Not only can you decorate your home with beautiful cross stitch pictures and designs, but making numerous gifts and keepsakes for family and friends is great fun. Cross stitch is also a technique that you can build up your skills fairly quickly and kits are graded from beginners to highly skilled. In addition to a kit you can also buy all the items you need individually. To begin with it is better to start with counted cross-stitch.

Items you can make using cross stitch are varied and interesting


What is cross stitching?

Cross stitch is a type of embroidery that uses 'X' shaped stitches to build up a picture or design on cloth. There are three main types:

  • Counted cross stitch
  • Stamped cross stitch
  • Free style

Ideally beginners are better to start with counted cross stitch that is worked on cloth such as evenweave and aida. These fabrics are distinguished by the number of holes per inch on the cloth ranging from 14 to 40.

For beginners, choose a kit that has fabric hole count of 14 per inch as they are easy to see. This type of cloth with holes makes the stitches all the same size and even. Stamped cross stitch needs a little more skill as this involves placing your cross shaped stitches onto a stamped pattern on cloth. Freestyle usually requires a bit of experience to do and can be worked on many different types of cloth, many of which don't have the distinctive holes of aida or evenweave.

Cross stitching fabrics - Aida is one of the most popular and note that the holes used are easily seen.


Fabrics used for cross stitching

(click column header to sort results)
11 - 22 count  
one of the most popular fabrics for cross stitch and beginners. The holes in the fabric are easy to see and so easy to work with  
18 - 32 count
Another popular fabric for cross stitchers and beginners but with an 18 count some find this just a little difficult to see when working
25 - 36 count
Beautiful fabric but very expensive and can be hard to work on unless your experienced
22 count
A good fabric but with a 22 count can be difficult to see and work with

Cross stitch design fabrics - these are the most common used


Cross stitching equipment - a wooden embroidery hoop


Items you need to start cross stitching

There are a few items that you will need before starting your cross stitch. I would advise - just from personal experience - to buy a ready made kit for your first couple of attempts. They usually have everything you need except a hoop, scissors and masking tape. A kit will normally have:

  • The fabric for working the design on, already cut to an appropriate size
  • The threads you will need to complete the whole project
  • The pattern and other information including tips for beginners
  • A needle - a common needle used for cross stitch is a tapestry needle.

Other items you will need in addition to the kit above or if you are buying everything separately are:

  • Masking tape - this is binds the edges of your fabric to stop it from fraying and breaking up through handling. Not every stitcher uses this but I've found it very useful.
  • Embroidery hoop or frame. If your design is very small then use a small hoop and vice versa. There are many types of hoops and frames to choose from and you really have to work with a range to find the ones that you like best. I tend to work with the traditional wooden embroidery hoop, as I find I get the tension in the fabric I need. The fabric needs to be tight in order for the stitches to be even and it's easier to work the fabric with tension.
  • A good pair of embroidery scissors - these are not only useful for obviously cutting threads, but also for helping to undo mistakes in your cross-stitch.

Now you will have to buy a kit or purchase the individual items you need. Choose a picture design, ornament, decoration or whatever you fancy making, that is suitable for beginners. If there are no embroidery shops near you, purchase your items online. I've used online sites for all my cross stitch needs and Ebay have some of the best as well as great prices.

How to stop your cross stitch fabric from fraying at the ends - use masking tape


How to make a cross shaped stitch - diagram 1


How to make a cross shaped stitch - diagram 2


Starting Cross stitch - once you get going it won't be long before you can try more complex patterns


Starting cross stitch - instructions

Now you're ready to start your project. Firstly sort your threads out if they haven't already been pre-sorted for you. I tend to use small clear plastic bags to keep my floss in and use white sticky labels on the front identifying the colour and the corresponding symbol on the pattern.

  • You will need to find the centre of your pattern by following the two black arrows from the top of the pattern and the side of the pattern. Trace the row with your fingers or pen/pencil and where they meet is the centre stitch. I now mark off the centre stitch with a highlighter pen. Other folks mark the centre with a pen or pencil.
  • Next by folding your fabric lengthwise and across, where all four fold lines meet is your centre point on the cloth. Mark this centre point with an odd piece of coloured thread or your needle.
  • Place masking tape around your fabric.
  • Next put your fabric on your hoop or frame and ensure you have a good tension.
  • Look at the symbol at the centre of your pattern and find the colour of thread that corresponds to this symbol. Every square on your pattern with a symbol in it has to be stitched. If a square is blank, then no stitches are needed in that square.
  • On your fabric, you will see small woven squares consisting of four holes one in each corner, one square on your pattern represents one of these squares on your fabric. If you are not sure, don't worry, you can watch the video at the end of this hub that will give you a better idea what to look for.
  • Thread your needle with the coloured thread required. Threads come in hanks, separate the hanks out and you will see less thick strands. Normally floss/thread used for cross stitch is 6 stranded cotton, this means that within the thinner strands you will find 6 individual threads. Pull two individual threads out and thread your needle with both threads. Cross stitch usually consists of two threads unless the pattern tells you otherwise.
  • Go to your centre square on your fabric. Now I always start my work from the centre stitch and work outwards. Some people just count the amount of pattern squares from the centre to the edge and the same number on their fabric so that they are starting at an edge. It's up to you what way you want to do it, but if you are counting your squares to start at an edge you need to make doubly sure that you start stitching in the right square or your pattern will not work out.
  • Starting from the back of your work - the following techique is how I stitch cross stitches, but find out what way suits you - bring your needle up from the back at the top right hole of the centre square and leave a short length of thread behind the work. Bring your needle down and into the hole on the bottom left. Then bring up your needle through the hole at top left and put down through the hole at bottom right. You have made you first cross stitch. Ensure that your length of yarn left at the back is secure. You shouldn't tie knots in threads as they can tear at your fabric and they show through the finished design.
  • If you use this technique where top left hole and bottom right hole are on top then ensure you stick with this way and don't change about as it will make your design uneven.
  • Continue with the same coloured thread for the amount of squares given by the pattern. For example if your centre symbol was a red heart and there are five red heart squares on your pattern, this means on your fabric you need to complete 5 cross stitches in the same colour in the same direction as shown on the pattern.
  • Continue to make cross stitches the same way as before but follow the direction of the pattern for the symbol/coloured thread you are using. It doesn't matter what direction you need to go in, you make cross stiches exactly the same way. When making your second and other stitches, make the cross shapes in exactly the same way and don't leave any spaces between stitches on your fabric. This means that you will re-use holes already taken up by a previous thread.
  • Some stitchers prefer to make a line of one diagonal then come back along the line to complete the cross stitch. It doesn't matter what way you complete your stitches though, it's what you feel is right for you.
  • Now all you have to do is to practice building up your confidence and skills. Be patient with yourself and don't worry if you make a few mistakes - even the most skilled cross stitchers on the planet make mistakes! But most of all enjoy your new craft.

Preparing to cross stitch

How to make a cross stitch

© 2012 Helen Murphy Howell


Submit a Comment
  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi LW - what a lovely compliment and coming from a writer as brilliant as you, this really means to much to me - thank you!

    If I didn't have cross stitch to calm me down at times I think I would go nuts!! I just find it so relaxing, even some of the difficult patterns are a great way to unwind, well until I make a mistake and have to pick it all out!!!LOL!

  • thelyricwriter profile image

    Richard Ricky Hale 

    7 years ago from West Virginia

    Seeker7, I am always left impressed because your hubs are "A" grade quality pal. You really work hard on them, top from bottom. Commeding you for all your hard work. This was a great useful and interesting article. My mom used to do this when I was younger. I do like crafts and if I did have the time, I wouldn't mine picking it up. For now, I would at least try it once. None the less, a great article as usual. Voted up and all across but funny my friend. Take care:)

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Audrey, don't worry, I was saying to teaches, that I also left it go by for a good 4 years or so and it wasn't until I got a present that I started up again. The present was a book on very small projects like bookmarks, coasters and most of all Christmas ornaments. And yes the main reason I love it so much - projects big or small - is that it is so relaxing and very rewarding. Now if you've managed a few big pieces then your skills must be very good, so hear's hoping you do get the time in the future to take up your cross stitch again - but I know what it's like, there's never enough hours in the day!!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    HI teaches12345, I did leave cross stitch for a while as well and it wasn't until a friend of mine bought me a beautiful book a few years ago that got me started again. It is relaxing and I'm so glad that I took the craft back up again.

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    7 years ago from Washington

    Oh Helen, that makes me so sad....I used to cross stitch all the time, in fact I have 4 beautiful huge pieces that I did once upon a time. I just can't seem to get back to it - I wonder why!!! What a thoroughly instructional and well put together hub though - I'm only sad that I can't run right out and get a new pattern and start again.

    I have convinced myself that maybe if I only did a small project, I could fit it in somewhere...ha ha - I sure miss it though - very relaxing and your samples are gorgeous~

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 

    7 years ago

    I used to do this and did enjoy the quiet time to sit and think as I stitched. I may have to take this up again soon. Great hub and well done

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    LOL!! Frank anytime you fancy learning cross stitch I'd love to show you how!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Helena, many thanks for stopping by. I agree with you it's getting not only the time, but a fair bit of quiet without too many distractions is also helpful, but very hard to get in a busy home. I tend to do cross stitch fairly late at night as this is the only time the house is quiet enough!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Jackie, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub. If I can do cross stitch then anyone can, honestly it is easy to start off with this craft. Funnily I'm the opposite from you with regards knitting - I can knit, really because my Mum taught me many years ago, but I have never been able to crochet!

  • Frank Atanacio profile image

    Frank Atanacio 

    7 years ago from Shelton

    Hi, yeah.. no I wouldn't teach myself to cross-stitch.. but if I ever wanted to know how I could always refer to this hub thanks for sharing my frind :)

  • Helena Ricketts profile image

    Helena Ricketts 

    7 years ago from Indiana

    I used to love doing cross stitch but haven't found the time to do it anymore. I need to get back into it. This is a great hub for anyone wanting to learn how to cross stitch!

  • Jackie Lynnley profile image

    Jackie Lynnley 

    7 years ago from the beautiful south

    So beautiful, I would love to learn to do this, I must tuck this away. It seems it would be the most relaxing thing to do. I do crochet but I tried knitting more than once and I am hopeless!


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