Learn how to cross stitch

Are you here to learn how to cross stitch? Great! This cross stitch tutorial will cover all the basics.

If this is your first try, I would suggest you use 14 count Aida cloth.

The chart will show you where to place each stitch. Each symbol inside the squares will relate to a thread colour, and will show you where to work each one. 

Floss manufacturers use a numbering system so you can easily tell colors apart.

Where do I start?

Starting your stitching in the centre ensures that the design will fit on the fabric. Most charts have the centre marked, either with arrows or a coloured line. Fold the fabric in half both ways, and crease it gently, to mark the centre. Then put the fabric into an embroidery hoop to keep it taut.

Easy to stitch owl design to help you learn how to cross stitch

Tapestry needles are best for cross stitch as they are blunt and will not pierce the fabric threads (or your finger).

If you are stitching on Aida 14, most charts will specify using 2 strands of embroidery floss.

Check this video for an easy way to separate the strands from the 6 stranded cotton. Before you pop back here by clicking on the "BACK" button in your browser, check further down that page to find a simple method of starting your thread with the "loop method".

How to work the cross stitches

Diagram showing cross stitch worked in the continental method

The photo shows the continental method, this is a good way to learn how to cross stitch.

  • Bring the needle up in the bottom left hole, reinsert it at the top right to create a diagonal stitch. 
  • Bring the needle back up directly below its current position, in the next hole down. Take it back through the fabric in the diagonal hole to the right. Continue in this way across the row. 
  • To complete the stitches on the journey back, bring the needle up in the bottom right and take it back down through the top left hole to make the cross.

Quick Tip: After working several stitches, you may find the thread is getting twisted. Just let the needle and thread dangle from your work for a moment or two, and it will untwist itself.

How to follow a chart

Welcome back to your learn how to cross stitch lesson.

Sample chart segment showing the symbols used

Look at your chart and find the symbol nearest to the centre. On this sample chart the centre would be the top left of the owl's beak.

This has the number 2 as its symbol. We will use yellow, as shown in the key below. The number 444 relates to the DMC colour number.

Sample key legend to tell you what colors the symbols represent

Start by working two cross stitches for the top row of his beak. We then work our way down the design using up the thread colour in our needle, so next we would cross stitch the row of three yellow stitches underneath. The next row needs 2 again, and then a single stitch finishes his beak.

Ah, well actually it doesn't! Did you spot the lone cross stitch the other side of the flower stem (the straight line symbols)?

I would stitch this at the same time I worked the row of three crosses. Just miss one hole and place the last yellow stitch where it needs to be. Carrying the thread across the back of one to four stitches is fine, but try to avoid trailing it long distances. It is often better to fasten off and start again if there is a sizeable gap.

Changing colours

Once the beak is complete, you need to choose another symbol (colour) and work a block of that. On this design I would pick the empty circle symbol, or light tan colour, and stitch the area underneath and to the left of your owl's beak. As there are many stitches to work in this colour on the other side of the flower stem, I would leave them for a separate piece of thread.

Outlining with backstitch

The finishing step in your learn how to cross stitch lesson is to outline it with backstitch. Not all designs have backstitch but many do. Normally if you have used 2 strands of thread (floss) for the cross stitch, you will use just 1 strand for the backstitch.

This is where I cheat a little, as I don't enjoy leaving all the backstitch until last. Instead, I do it little and often as I progress through a project. If I still have plenty of thread left in my needle I will "park" it out of the way for the time being while I complete more of the cross stitch, picking it up again when needed.

Want to stitch the owl?

I hope you have enjoyed learning how to cross stitch.

The little owl chart used as an example, along with other little birds, is available to download as an ebook. 

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