Getting Started in Cross Stitch: Part 1

Needlework can be a wonderful hobby that provides you with a quiet activity and beautiful artwork to decorate your home or share with friends and family. Cross stitch is one of the easiest needlework styles to learn and advance with quickly. The basic skills will allow you to go from small simply products to large multi part pieces in a short matter of time. Over the next few weeks I will teach you how to cross stitch as well as some of the techniques and tools I have used in the craft. Today’s focus is on the tools you’ll need to get start. You’ll find below a highlight of the various tools used in cross stitch along with personal experiences of mine. If you are a beginner I hope this sheds some light on this beautiful craft and helps you get start making your own special pieces. If you are a veteran stitcher please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below so that others my learn from your expertise.

THE FABRIC: Any fabric can be used for cross stitching. While it can be difficult to achieve even and straight stitches with standard cloth some of the most beautiful pieces I’ve seen are accents on clothing and other home goods such as pillow cases and towels. Much more common though is the use of aida cloth. Aida is an even weaved cloth that allows for easy placement of stitches and a clean, crisp look. Aida comes in several different counts which refers to the number of squares in a linear inch. The smaller the count the larger the squares. In the example below you can see an aida of eighteen count on the right and two aida fabrics that are 28 count on the left and in the middle.

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The higher count aida cloths often require that you stitch over the space of multiple squares (usually two) in order to create a piece that is of the desired size. Patterns set to this cloth will instruct you on the specifics. Higher count aida fabric looks most like standard cloth and is popular with many stitchers. Aida also comes in a variety of sizes, colors, and material (linen or cotton for example) to achieve just about any look with any pattern.

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You can even find aida where the pattern has been printed on so that you stitch the color printed on the fabric instead of following a paper pattern.

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THE HOOP: When working on a needlework piece you will want to secure the fabric in a way that creates a taunt surface for you to work on. This is done by using an embroidery hoop or similar tool. There are several styles on the market and I’ve highlight a few in my collection here.

Metal: These metal hoops are my favorite. My mother gave them to me and her mother had given them to her. They are no longer available and I have never even seen them in second hand stores. They are two metal hoops with the center hoop having a cork liner and the outer hoop being held together with a spring which gives you a strong tension when pressed over a piece of fabric. It also allows you to very easily change hoop positions without much time or effort. The only down fall is that if these metal hoops are left on an unattended project for too long they can leave a rust ring. I made that mistake once as a youth and marked a doll dress I was working on.

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Wood: A very common embroidery hoop is the wood hoop. The wood hoop is similar in design as the metal hoop, but the inner hoop lacks the cork lining and on the outer hoop instead of a spring there is a tension screw. This exact same design is also widely available in plastic. They are inexpensive and easy to use though I have had difficulty maintaining the desired tension when using this style of hoop.

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Scroll: The wooden scroll style hoop comes in a variety of different sizes and provides tension on a project by wrapping the ends of a piece and rolling those ends away from each other to create tension in the cloth section between the rods. This can be a great option for large pieces where you are moving across a pattern page left to right or top to bottom. My first scroll hoop was very large and I found it uncomfortable to hold while stitching. I have sense been gifted several small ones, but have not utilized them on a project as of yet.

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THE FLOSS: The beautiful colors of your project will be created using embroidery floss. There are a couple different floss companies out there, but I opt to use exclusively DMC floss because it is easily accessible in town. We only have one store that carries floss and that is the only brand they carry so there really isn’t a choice for me when it comes to patterns that require specific colors. I do have a small collection of other brands which I use on projects where I can pick and choose my own colors in order to be thrifty with my floss stash.

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You will want to find a way to organize your floss. This will help you keep track of which colors you have available as well as keep your threads safe from any dangers that may come about. Lately, in our home that has been our new puppy who has taken a liking to using my floss cards as chew toys if left attended. I choose to wrap all of my embroidery floss on cards which are kept in a plastic compartment organizer. You can find these in the craft aisle of your local variety store or in the needlework section of the craft store. I’ve also seen them in the sporting goods area where they are labeled as tackle boxes.

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My thread cards are organized numerically throughout my box which makes it easy to find the color I am looking for when I start a new project. I found number stickers to place on the cards and have been using them over the past couple of years. I find them nice, but sometimes they lose their adhesive grip and fall off. I then find myself with an unmarked card that I have no way of knowing what color it is. I’ve taken to using a permanent marker to write the numbers on the cards now to prevent this.

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I reserve the large top left box for threads that I am using in a current project or WIP (work in progress). For large patterns that require a large number of different colors this isn’t always possible, but for projects with ten to twenty colors I find it helpful and it keeps me from damaging any threads by repeatedly removing the same color card during a project.

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Another organization aspect to my needlework is my extra floss. Thread cards only hold one skein per card. When I purchase floss I usually pick up at least two skeins of each color that the pattern calls for and even more for larger projects. Those extra skeins gets organized by number and placed in a sealable plastic bag. I have a bag for all the 100’s, 200’s, 3000’s, etc. All those plastic bags live together in a canvas bag I’ve designated as my needlework bag.

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One thing to note about embroidery floss is that the colors do have slight variances in them if they were dyed at the factory in different batches. You may use the 720 color code early on in your project, run out of thread, and when you purchase an additional skein find that the colors are not an exact match despite the color code being identical. For this reason, it is recommended that you purchase all the thread you will need for a project at one time to ensure the skeins you have were dyed in the same batch.

SCISSORS: You can use just about any pair of scissors you have to snip your threads to length. Large scissors, whether regular office scissors or specialty sewing scissors, can be quite large and cumbersome for needlework. If you end up sewing almost daily like I do, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a small pair of sharp embroidery scissors. Some stitchers like to make key chain-like bangles for their scissors and custom ones are often for sale on specialty sites. In the picture below you can see the size difference in a pair of embroidery scissors and specialty sewing scissors.

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NEEDLES: If you purchase a cross stitch kit it will likely have a needle included. If you purchase your pattern and floss separately you’ll also need to find yourself a needle or set of needles. There are a variety of sizes (or gauges) in needles to match the size of fabric that you are working with. Generally speaking the higher the count on your aida the smaller the needle you’ll want. The eye size of needles can vary and you’ll develop a preference based on what works best for you. I have been known to find a needle that works well for a few projects and then use it until the eye breaks! That is why I keep a variety set on hand. They are inexpensive and prevent you from having the annoyance of stopping a project until you can go to the store because you’ve broken, bent, or lost your needle.

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Don’t let the list of needed materials intimidate you from starting a cross stitch project. If you buy a kit much of the materials (pattern, fabric, floss, and needle) will be provided as well as detailed instructions. Also, once you’ve invested in quality materials many of them will last your lifetime. Next week we’ll get started stitching. I’ll share the basic stitches as well as a few tricks I’ve been taught by fellow stitchers that are pretty neat. Until then…

Happy homesteading and God bless!



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