What is Cross-Stitch? A Guide to Decorative Needlework

The traditional craft of cross-stitching is fun, creative, and easy to learn. Here, we’ll answer the questions ‘what is cross-stitch’, and ‘what do you need for cross stitch’.

10 July 2024

Cross-stitch is a beloved form of decorative needlework that has captivated craft enthusiasts for centuries with its charming simplicity and endless creative possibilities. Cross-stitch, explained in its most simple terms, is a form of embroidery where you use X-shaped stitches to create detailed designs on fabric with an even weave. An even weave fabric means that the threads are evenly spaced, creating a consistent grid-like pattern. Cross-stitch often results in beautifully detailed designs that can range from quaint samplers to elaborate works of art.

Read on to find out how to start cross-stitching, as well as discovering the answer to the question on everyone’s lips – what do you need for cross stitch?

The Origins of Cross-Stitch

An example of a cross-stitch sampler (Credit: Michael Burrell via Getty Images)

The history of cross-stitch is deeply rooted in ancient history, with the earliest rudimentary examples dating back to ancient Egyptian and early Chinese textiles. Historically, cross-stitch was both practical and decorative, used to embellish household linens, clothing, and tapestries.

Starting from around the fifteenth century, samplers were pieces of fabric where needleworkers would sew samples of different stitches, patterns, letters, numbers, verses, and motifs as they learned them. Indeed cross-stitch explained the alphabet, numeracy and imagery to young people who learned as they sewed.

As it became more decorative, cross-stitch was used to embellish and personalise household items including tablecloths, napkins, and bed linen. The art-like patterns we recognise today continued to develop through the centuries, influenced by various styles, including the nineteenth century Berlin wool work.

So now we know where it started, let’s find out how to start cross-stitching.

Starting the Stitch

Elaborate cross-stitch embroidery (Credit: VeYe via Getty Images)

What is cross-stitch has a really simple answer. It is a form of decorative needlework where X-shaped stitches are used to create patterns on fabric. It involves following a grid pattern to produce intricate designs, often resulting in detailed and colourful images or motifs.

Like all types of creative artwork, cross-stitch can take a little time to learn, but as long as you follow the instructions, you’ll be just fine. In fact, even if you only know one stitch, you can still create amazing designs!

What Do You Need for Cross Stitch?

Cross stitch accessories (Credit: Mkovalevskaya via Getty Images)

To get started with cross-stitch, you’ll need a few basic tools and materials. Here’s a list of essentials:

  • Fabric: Aida cloth is the most common fabric for cross-stitch due to its easy-to-count weave. You can also use linen and evenweave fabrics for more advanced projects.
  • Embroidery Floss: This is the thread used in cross-stitch. It’s made up of six strands that can be separated depending on your desired thickness.
  • Cross-Stitch Needles: Tapestry needles are typically used in cross-stitch. They have a blunt tip and a large eye, making them perfect for stitching on Aida cloth and similar fabrics. You may also want to get a needle threader.
  • Embroidery Hoop or Frame: This tool holds your fabric taut while you stitch, making it easier to work on your project and maintain even tension.
  • Scissors: A small, sharp pair of embroidery scissors is essential for cutting threads cleanly and accurately.
  • Pattern or Chart: Cross-stitch patterns or charts are grids that guide you in placing your stitches to create the design. They can be bought in almost all hobby or craft shops or downloaded online.

Having these basic tools and materials will set you up for success as you embark on your cross-stitch projects.

Cross Stitching Techniques

Cross stitching technique (Credit: esolla via Getty Images)

When you look at the different types of stitches, you need to know ‘what is a counted cross stitch?’ The five main types are all examples of stitches used in counted cross-stitch. This involves following a pattern that uses a grid to represent the design, with each square on the grid corresponding to a stitch on the fabric. This method allows for the precise placement of stitches, making it easy to create detailed and intricate designs.

  • Cross Stitch: The basic and most essential stitch in cross-stitching, this stitch is formed by making two diagonal stitches that cross over each other to create an X shape. It’s used to fill in the design area and is the primary stitch in any cross-stitch pattern.
  • Half Stitch: This is similar to the cross stitch but consists of only one diagonal stitch. It’s often used for shading and adding subtle details to a design.
  • Quarter Stitch: A smaller version of the half stitch, the quarter stitch covers just a quarter of a square on the fabric. It’s useful for achieving finer details and smoother curves within the design.
  • Backstitch: This stitch outlines and defines the shapes within a cross-stitch design. It’s made by stitching backward along the path of the design, creating a continuous line that adds depth and detail.
  • French Knot: Often used to add texture and dimension, the French knot is a small, raised knot created by wrapping the thread around the needle before inserting it back into the fabric. It’s frequently used for eyes, the middle of flowers, or other small, detailed areas.

What is Cross Stitch: The Steps

Using a cross stitch hoop (Credit: Nataliia_Eina via Getty Images)

You can buy cross stitch kits that contain everything you need to start, or you can buy each individual item separately online or in hobby shops, but whichever way round you decide to do it, here are the basic steps to start your cross-stitch journey:

  • Read Your Chart: A cross-stitch chart is a grid where each square represents a stitch; symbols or colours in the squares guide you on which floss colours to use and where to place your stitches.
  • Get Your Fabric Ready: Trim your fabric to size, leaving extra for framing, and hem the edges to prevent fraying.
  • Find the Exact Middle of Your Fabric: Fold your fabric in half both horizontally and vertically, then mark the intersection point to locate the middle.
  • Use a Hoop: Place your fabric in an embroidery hoop or frame to keep it taut and make stitching easier and more precise.
  • Prepare Your Floss: Separate the embroidery floss into the required number of strands as indicated in your pattern.
  • Thread Your Needle: Use a needle threader if needed, and thread the prepared strands through the needle’s eye.
  • Stitching: Follow your chart, making the indicated stitches and maintaining consistent tension for an even appearance.
  • End Your Thread: Securely finish off your thread by weaving it through the back of several stitches to prevent unravelling.

A Stitch In Time

Exquisite cross stitch (Credit: Anchalee Thaweeboon via Getty Images)

‘Sew’ there we have it, your indispensable answers to ‘what is cross stitch’, ‘how to start cross stitching’, and ‘what do you need for cross stitch’. Whether you are drawn to cross-stitch for its historical significance, its relaxing and meditative qualities, or simply the joy of creating something beautiful by hand, you’ll soon discover why cross-stitch continues to be a cherished pastime for crafters of all ages.


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