How to Cross Stitch

Cross stitches are X's using different colored symbols across a chart, like a paint by number. When finished, the floss shades combine to create a beautiful stitched painting.

Cross stitch is easy to learn. You can learn to how to cross stitch in 5 minutes with these easy to follow instructions. The free cross stitch graph below as well as some of the information on this page can be found at Yarn

What is Cross Stitch?

Counted cross stitch transfers a design from a printed graph onto evenweave fabric. The stitcher uses embroidery floss to place X's on the fabric corresponding to symbols on the chart. Each symbol on the chart represents one X on the fabric. The different styles of symbols on the chart represent different colors of floss. Cross stitch is easy to learn and requires only a few supplies.

So what are you waiting for? Let's learn how to cross stitch!

Cross Stitch Supplies You Will Need

Your Favourite Cross Stitch Pattern

Ok, well maybe not your favourite just yet. Start with something simple, and something small so you can build your confidence with a quick finish. A cross stitch design using only full cross stitches (no fractional stitches) and maybe some backstitching is a great place to start.

We offer some simple, quick-to-stitch free cross stitch patterns that will help you become comfortable with the basics. Once you learn to cross stitch and have some experience under your belt, you can move on to more complex cross stitch patterns.

Evenweave Fabric

Evenweave fabric is exactly what the name states. The fabric is woven evenly which makes it easy to see exactly where to place your needle. There are several methods you can use to keep the fabric from raveling and you really need to do this at the onset of every cross stitch project.

  • Use a sewing machine to sew the edges of the fabric.

  • Manually slipstitch along all four edges of the fabric.

  • Use Fray Stop to prevent fraying. Fray Stop is easy to apply and inexpensive.

  • Use fabric tape or even masking tape. Yes, this is the lazy person's way of preventing raveling, but if you can't find any Fray Stop, you don't own a sewing machine, and really don't want to spend time slip stitching the edges manually, it does the job. Be warned though. After time the tape can become almost brittle. The tape is also not as water friendly so be careful when washing, if you choose to do so.


A tapestry needle is used, usually a size 24 or 26 (size 26 is smaller than size 24). This type of needle has a blunt point and a large eye. Use a size 24 for stitching on 14 count fabric; use a size 26 for fabric with a stitch count greater than 14. Using too large a needle may result in the stitches being pulled unevenly when sliding the needle in and out of the fabric.


Embroidery floss is a cotton thread used for stitching. Floss has 6 strands, but usually you will use only 2 strands at a time for stitching and 1 strand for backstitching. On Hardanger fabric (22 count) you usually will use only 1 strand; on 11 count Aida use 3 strands to stitch and 2 to backstitch. Most books and graphs suggest either DMC or Anchor brands.

Frame or Hoop

It is a good idea to keep your fabric taut while stitching. Not too tight though. You don't want to stretch the fabric.

There are several types of products on the market which do this job.

  • Embroidery Hoops
    Embroidery hoops are available in wood and plastic and a variety of sizes. Embroidery hoops can also leave hoop marks so be sure to remove your cross stitch project from the hoop in between stitching.

  • Scroll Frames
    These wooden frames roll your project on two ends, leaving you with a taut space on which to stitch. Scroll frames are wonderful tool if you would like to avoid hoop marks. They come in a variety of sizes and are easy to assemble. If you don't mind basting your fabric onto the scroll rods, then you can purchase the rods with webbing. If you are like me and hate to baste, then I recommend the no-baste scroll rods.

  • Q-Snaps
    Q-snap frames are a unique way of keeping your fabric taut while stitching. Four plastic C-shaped clamps hold the fabric onto the bars and tension is easy to adjust.


You can start out with any pair of scissors, but pretty soon you will want to get a nice pair of small embroidery scissors. Get a good quality pair with sharp points. A good pair of scissors makes stitching a lot more fun. When you have to "frog" (pull out) a chunk of stitching because of a counting error (oh yes you will!), it is sometimes necessary to carefully cut the stitching out. Scissors with dull points will not do this job, and will only succeed in cutting threads that you don't want to cut.

How to Cross Stitch - Select Your Cross Stitch Fabric

There are dozens of fabrics to choose from. They will all work, so you just have to decide on what you like. While you learn to cross stitch, it is a good idea to select a light coloured fabric (white and ivory are popular). As far as the fabric count is concerned (the number of squares per inch), I recommend 14 count with which to begin. The number of stitches per inch will determine the finished size of the design. A design that is 28 stitches wide stitched on Aida 14 (14 stitches per inch fabric) will be 2" wide. The same design will be 2 1/2" wide on Aida 11, and 1 1/4" stitched on hardanger (22 stitches per inch). Most designs will show you the finished size for different counts of fabric. When cutting the fabric for your project, add at least another 4" of fabric on each side for framing and other finishing techniques. So a design that measures 5" x 5" would need a piece of fabric measuring 13" x 13". Once you learn how to cross stitch and have mastered the basics, you can experiment with linens and other fabrics and colours.

How To Cross Stitch - Beginning

To Begin

Find the center of the chart. For most cross stitch patterns, this is shown with arrows or a bold line. Next, find the center of your fabric. An easy way to do this is to fold the fabric in half vertically and "pinch" with your finger to make a small crease. Open the fabric, fold in half horizontally and make another "pinch". Open the fabric up. The two creases will mark the center of the fabric. Begin stitching close to the center of the design. For the "I Like You" graph, begin with the pink balloon.

Do not knot your thread because knots on the back of your project will show through. To begin stitching, bring the threaded needle up from the back of the fabric leaving about a 1" tail of thread behind the fabric. Stitch the next 5 or 6 stitches over the tail. Clip off extra thread. To end off, weave your needle back through the last 5 or 6 stitches and clip the thread short so as not to leave a loose tail.


There are two methods. The first method is to work a row of half stitches (////), then work back (\\\\) to complete the X's. Use this method for most stitching. The second method is to complete each X as you go. Use this method for vertical rows of stitches or when stitching with variegated thread.

It is important that all the X's are crossed in the same direction. That is, the top thread of the X should always slant in the same direction (either \ or /). It does not matter which way they slant, but if they are mixed the finished piece will look uneven.

Relax as you stitch. Your stitches should lay flat on your fabric and not distort the holes or the fabric.

Every few stitches, let the thread drop and untwist. This will help prevent the stitches from becoming twisted. You want the stitches to lay flat.


Backstitching is a running stitch (not an X) used to outline an area or to form lettering. In the graph, the words "I Like You" and the strings on the balloons are done in backstitch. Normally you use one less strand of floss for backstitching than you use for cross stitching.

Carrying Your Thread

Sometimes a color will have only a few stitches and then "jump" to another area. Most of the time you should end off and start again, other times you can carry the thread along the back. Be careful about carrying the thread. Don't carry the thread over an unstitched area of fabric because the thread will show through. You can carry your thread if the jump, the floss colour is light and you are jumping over a previously stitched area of fabric. In the "I Like You" graph, the white highlights on the three balloons can be done by starting at the top balloon, jumping to the middle balloon, and then jumping to the bottom balloon.


Finishing is not just a matter of shouting "Yahoo!", which of course is something we all do. :-)

You really don't have to wash your stitching when it's complete unless it has become dirty of some reason. But if you do want to wash it, use cool water and mild liquid detergent. Wash it by hand, not in the washing machine.

Rinse your stitching well but do not wring it. Roll it in a clean towel to absorb most of the water.

While your cross stitch piece is still damp, place it face down on a terry towel, or any other very smooth towel and put another cloth on top. Press gently with a warm iron and leave it to dry.

Now you are ready to frame your new cross stitch piece or you can finish it using a variety of other techniques. You can make ornaments, bookmarks, coasters, pillows and so much more. The possibilities are endless!

The "I Like You" design will fit wonderfully in a standard size paperweight or acrylic coaster.

How to Cross Stitch - Tips & Techniques

Once you have learned the basics of how to cross stitch, you will want to become familiar with some handy tricks and techniques of the trade. In this section, we will be adding useful information to make your counted cross stitch life more simple.

We will also be teaching new counted cross stitch techniques via our newsletter so be sure to sign up. It's free and you will receive discounts on our cross stitch patterns and be updated when a new cross stitch design is added.

Check back soon for our first How to Cross Stitch - Tips & Techniques lesson.

I hope this Learn How to Cross Stitch page has been useful.