How many strands of thread should you use?

Cross stitches with different amounts of strands of threads on 18 count aida, 14 count aida, 11 count aida and 9 count aida (Source: better-cross-stitch-patterns.com)

I get this question a lot. Whilst most patterns do have a guide, depending on the fabric you use, if you stitch 1 over 1 and the overall look you want, the amount of strands you use can vary.
 

Fabric Strands (Light Fabric) Strands (Dark Fabric)
11 Count (1 over 1) 4 Strands 6 Strands
14 Count (1 over 1) 2 or 3 Strands 3 or 4 Strands
16 Count (1 over 1) 2 Strands 3 Strands
18 Count (1 over 1) 2 Strands 3 Strands
20 Count (1 over 1) 1 or 2 Strands 2 or 3 Strands
22 Count (1 over 1) 1 Strand 2 Strands
22 Count (1 over 2) 4 Strands 6 Strands
24 Count (1 over 1) 1 Strand 2 Strands
24 Count (1 over 2) 4 Strands 6 Strands
25 Count (1 over 1) 1 Strand 2 Strands
25 Count (1 over 2) 3 Strands 4 Strands
28 Count (1 over 1) 1 Strand 2 Strands
28 Count (1 over 2) 2 or 3 Strands 4 Strands


 
Cross stitches with different amounts of strands of threads on 18 count aida, 14 count aida, 11 count aida and 9 count aida (Source: better-cross-stitch-patterns.com)
Cross stitches with different amounts of strands of threads on 18 count aida, 14 count aida, 11 count aida and 9 count aida (Source: better-cross-stitch-patterns.com)

When You Should Ignore The Table

Yep, sometimes you should ignore me! 😀 Whilst this post does show you the standard strands to use, there are actually 3 different situations when you should ignore the table up above.
 

Style

The first is simply a case of prefered style. It might be that you like the fuller stitch look, or you’re going for more of a pencil drawing style, or whatever. There are actually a whole load of reasons why you might want to change it up based on your prefered style, and better-cross stitch patterns have an excellent post on why floss coverage matters, but when it comes to anything in cross stitch, it’s all about your prefernce.
 

Creating Detail

The next reason you might want to ignore the normal strand guide is detail. The best way of thinking of this is much like a drawing with thick and thin pens. You might want the outline to be in a thick pen to draw the eye, the light lines on someone’s face might be in a thin marker. This can be replicated in cross stitch and embroidery.
 
For an example, look at my Star Trek Voyager Blueprint cross stitch or the larger Enterprise. When you stand and look at it in real life (I’ll admit the effect isn’t as good online), you see the thick white outline of the ship. As you take a step forward you see the pink floors and as you take a step further you see the tables and chairs in every room. Here I’ve combined 3 strands for the outline, 2 strands for the floors and 1 strand for the mini details. It means that when you stand back you’re not bombarded with detail that ruins the overall design, but if you get closer you see more and more detail.

Star Trek Voyager Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan Zoomed in Section of ship
Star Trek Voyager Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan Zoomed in Section of ship

Creating Distance/Importance

The final thing is actually distance. We tend to think of cross stitch as very one dimensional, but by changing up the strands, you can create a false sense of distance.
 
Taking my Enterprise again (sorry, I don’t mean to plug myself so much!), if you look at the small white ships they look like they sit on top of the purple lines. This effect was made by making the purple lines only 1 strand. Your eye naturally thinks that lines of the same thickness are on the same level, but thicker lines pull forward, and thin lines push back.
 
I know that’s very embroidery focused, but by doing the same with whole cross stitches, you put some parts in the foreground, and others in the background. This is similar to how photos look, with the background slightly out of focus, bringing your eye to the subject you want.

Star Trek Enterprise LCARS Ship Schematic Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan (Right Detail)
Star Trek Enterprise LCARS Ship Schematic Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan (Right Detail)

Check The Brand

This isn’t actually so much of a reason to change the strand count you use, but it’s worth noting that different cross stitch thread brands, and even different types of thread within a company can give different coverage.
This doesn’t play out as you’d expect either, with cheap embroidery threads sometimes covering better than the more expensive ones.
Our table above is suitable for most brands.
 
Have you tried playing with stands within a project? We’d love to have a look!
 
Happy stitching,
Lord Libidan

The Threadbox Mixtape Mashup

Mini Cassette Tape Cross Stitches by Lord Libidan

This post was originally in XStitch Magazine Issue 6: Mixtape, and has been adapted.
 
Cross stitch has always had a lot of similarities to music in my mind, not only does has it been with us for nearly as long in history, but its popularity ebbs and flows. There is even a ‘golden age’ of cross stitch in the 1800s when it was seen as a young lady’s proof of skill. But there is one other thing that music shares with cross stitch; much like the music of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, we’re in a revival, a revival that isn’t just marked with a renewed interest in cross stitch, but with definite influence coming from historical samplers, mixed in with modern style.
 
We now live in an era where retro is cool again, you can just look through past copies of the Xstitch Mag to see that swinging 60s are as popular now as ever, with images and icons from 30, 40, and 50 years ago being in vogue, refreshed and reborn in cross stitch. In music, 80s pop bands are starting to reform and tour again, which are not only on 80s revival radio but mixed in with the current offering of music, which has clearly been influenced by its older counterparts.

(Source: Pixabay.com)

Back in the 70s and 80s, before my time, people listened to the music of one artist at a time on scratchy vinyl records that they saved all week for and played on a record player in the corner of their living room. Records were immensely fragile and the prospect of music on the move was limited to radio, normally owned by record houses, not offering much in the way of variance.
 
But this wasn’t what people wanted. In the UK, Radio Caroline, a pirate radio station streamed off the shores of Britain, started broadcasting a mixture of pop artists, to circumvent the stranglehold of record houses, allowing everyone to enjoy a medley of music in one session. Radio Caroline changed the face of radio worldwide, but its enormous listening figures still weren’t what people wanted. Back then people lacked the wide array of radio stations we have now, and so when one DJ’s preferences didn’t match up with what the listener wanted, they were stuck.
 

Cross stitch has modernized and adapted to offer an array of choices, a ‘mixtape’ of options and choices, all that is available to the professional or the hobbyist.

 
Until the mixtape. The advent of personal tape recorders and tape players introduced the capacity to record music of choice for replay at a time of choosing. The mixtape was born in the 80s and was more than just music on a tape. A leading essayist of the time described it as “perhaps the most widely practiced American art form”.
 
Ironically, the mixtape exists today as a retro throwback or a shuffle on an iPod. Although more famous mixtapes such as Now that’s What I Call Music have just celebrated the 100th release. But its permeated modern music tastes, modern technology, and a larger choice of music available.
 
But the mixtape isn’t the only revival, hobbies of by-gone decades are back in. Cross stitch has never been more popular than it is today. Back in the 1800s, it’s the ‘golden age’, it was only available for those in the know, the rich upper classes. Its 1900s ‘silver age’ had mostly male workers stitching, but it failed to be accepted by everyone.
 
Revitalized and appealing to the younger hobbyist, rather than the traditionalist granny in a rocking chair cross stitch is now in its mixtape era, not only due to it permeating every age group, class, and age but because cross stitch isn’t just a singular. This reignited interest may have come down as a primarily purist hobby, but modern times have brought with it; options. Options that allow you to make a cross stitch mixtape of your own choosing.

Mini Cassette Tape Cross Stitches by Lord Libidan
Mini Cassette Tape Cross Stitches by Lord Libidan

Cross stitch is no longer limited to the stilted patterns and palettes of fairies, landscapes, and wolves, cross stitch isn’t even limited to 2D. With plastic canvas, circular canvas, waste canvas, variated threads, metallic threads, silks, blending filaments, pearlescent, glow-in-the-darks, plastic canvas, French knots, quarter stitches, backstitching, beads, and hundreds of other options, cross stitch patterns are now only rough guides. Cross stitch has modernized and adapted to offer an array of choices, a ‘mixtape’ of options and choices, all that is available to the professional or the hobbyist.
 
This mixtape issue displays the best of the cross stitch of our time, with a selection of well-known cross stitchers. However, every one of the designers knows that we’re just the inspiration; the pirate radio of cross stitch magazines. When and if you stitch these patterns, you do it with your own agenda in mind. You choose to stitch just that section, or maybe you want to work that bit up in a different color, maybe you want to add a bit of sparkle. Just like the American youth of the 80s, you sit at home, stitching for hours on end to create something similar, but unique. You make your own mixtape based on these designs.
 
Cross stitch, just like the music of older generations is retro, but it has been reborn and revitalized. And I and the other designers implore you to take your own road and create your own cross stitch. Push boundaries, do something different, and show us that the best cross stitchers out there are you; the mixtape makers.
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

Are Satin and Silk Threads Worth Using?

DMC satin threads (Source: DMC.com)

I was recently contacted by a reader and she asked a simple question that I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer. “Is it worth using silk threads for a heritage project?”
 
I’ve known of both silk and stain threads (DMCs answer to silk threads, that are actually rayon) for a long time, but I only recently got my hands on them when I was completing my journey to owning all of the DMC embroidery threads. I started asking around, and my story was somewhat the common theme; everyone knew about them but didn’t use them.
 
So I picked up my needles, tested them out, and today, we’ll deep dive into these rarer threads, and ask if you should use them too.

DMC satin threads (Source: DMC.com)
DMC satin threads (Source: DMC.com)

Luster

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of silks is their luster or shininess. And the thought is 100% founded. These things are really shiny, and they ooze quality. However, as much as I tried to photograph them, I just couldn’t get the shine to show. I then tried framing the work and realized that once again, it lost its shine. Annoyingly, the shine only really works if the fabric is moving (or the light source).
 
Whilst I loved the look when it was in my hands, the shine disappears unless it’s handled. For me, this is a big thing. Why would you go through the effort, and cost of using silks or satin threads to lose the main selling feature by putting it up on the wall? If you’re going to sew on something like a throw, yes, 100% worth it, but for something framed? It’s just not worth it.

Price

So that said, let’s also talk about the biggest negative about these threads; price. The price of DMC threads varies massively anyway, but their satin range is twice the price for most. Then the actual silk threads are up to 4 times as much (although the price for different brands varies). So is it worth it?
 
I honestly think so. Yes, the price is high, and there are further issues which we’ll get to in a minute, but you don’t use silks all the time. It’s for those specific projects, those projects you want to use the best of the best for. The things that you want to last for decades. As an everyday thread, they aren’t going to win prizes for their cost, and the benefits are massively outweighed by their flaws, but for those special times; it’s worth it.

6 Purple Silk Threads from DeVere Yarns (Source: devereyarns.co.uk)
6 Purple Silk Threads from DeVere Yarns (Source: devereyarns.co.uk)

Availability

The next thing you need to think about is the availability, and in turn, range. In the DMC satins range, there are only 36 to 60 colors (depending on your country), a significant difference from the 500 standard cottons, so you’ll have to pick your pattern and colors carefully. For brands other than DMC, ranges vary, but many only stock less than 30 colors, and just like mixing normal thread brands; we advise mixing and matching.
Then, is getting your hands on them. Yes, most of the best online cross stitch stores have them, but finding them in stores can be a tough ask.

Care & Sew Quality

Finally, what about care? Turns out most silks and satin threads can put up with a lot of washing, but they tend to be weaker than cotton threads. This leads to both broken threads whilst stitching, but also damage to well-worn stitches. You do need to take a little more care than your normal stitches.

So, When Should You Use Them?

Now we have our analysis out of the way, when should you use them?
This, as ever, is a personal choice, but for us, it’s only those special projects that get silks and satins. Even then, picking specific projects that don’t have too many colors, gets handled, and aren’t subject to too much dirt. That seems like a pretty small list, but any heritage project, like throws and pillows, is perfect. You touch them, so the luster shows, you don’t put them through too much wear, and you keep them for decades.
 
But, we sent a few samples out to our stitchy readers and asked them for their feedback. It turns out, that silks and satins are a bit hit and miss. I personally fall in that middle group of “OK-ers”. So we suggest next time you see some, pick up a single skein. Just throw some cross stitches down and see how it feels. Maybe you’re a lover, maybe you’re a hater, or maybe you’re a bit like me.
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

Why you NEED a tracing pad

Tracing pad (source: Amazon)

There aren’t many items that I would say that you need to have. At a push, I would say you probably you need to have a good pair of scissors, but there is one other item I would suggest for every cross stitcher. A tracing pad.

Tracing pad (source: Amazon)
Tracing pad (source: Amazon)

They might not be the most obviously needed tool in cross stitch and are often overlooked, but they actually solve a lot of problems people have with cross stitch. Considering the price point is from $20 to $50 they’re also budget-friendly.

Light

First up is the obvious advantage of a light pad; it gives you more light. Most cross stitchers do try to light their areas up as much as possible, and with more and more people looking at getting a daylight bulb for their cross stitch (which can cost a lot more than you realize) people overlook the more practical options. A tracing pad can either sit on your table, or lap, without getting hot, and provide targeted light right at your work.
In addition, any extra light you can muster will always help you keep your eyesight while cross stitching.

Working with Black fabric

Another advantage of the pad is actually the type of light that it brings, specifically from below. We suggested tracing pads back when we wrote about how to cross stitch with black fabric and it’s still our go-to option. Due to the backlighting, it lights up all the holes in your fabric showing you exactly where to place the needle.

Pattern Making

But what about less obvious advantages? Pattern making. Now, exactly how it will help you here depends on how you make patterns, so I’ve broken this one out.
 
Paper pattern makers – If you choose to make patterns on paper rather than a digital way, a tracing pad allows you to make patterns MUCH easier. Thanks to its original tracing pad purpose you open your world up to being able to make a pattern out of anything!
 
Everyone – This one is my personal bugbear; picking colors is hard. Whilst cross stitch pattern software does a good job at picking colors, there is nothing quite like your own eye. That’s one reason why we’re a fan of using a DMC color card but picking accurate colors depends on a good light source.

Cross stitch pattern making on a Tracing Pad (Source: reddit)
Cross stitch pattern making on a Tracing Pad (Source: reddit)

Health

We’ve already lightly touched on keeping your eyes healthy, however, a tracing pad also helps with back issues too. It’s actually really easy to get back issues when cross stitching, mostly thanks to the posture we take to get light. However uplighting means you tend not to slouch in your chair causing some of the most problematic issues.

The Little things

And finally, we come to the little things. The things that whilst the tracing pad doesn’t help with directly, having it there greatly improves.
 
Threading your needle – Threading needles can be a pain for some people, and even with the best needle threaders or self-threading needles it can still be hard for some. But the addition of a light source that you can use to help you see the thread, but not blind you in the process, it a great thing.
 
Frogging – Let’s face it, frogging sucks, even with scissors that make frogging easier anything helps. The light pad allows you to light your area up much more, and see those pesky threads to rip.
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

Wood Hoops? Plastic Hoops? Spring Hoops? Which is best!?!

Embroidery Hoops of Various Sizes (source: sewandso.com)

As one of the main tools in cross stitch, it’s no surprise that we’ve spoken about hoops before, at length. We even suggest them as one of the best cross stitch frame types, but there is a fairly constant discussion in the cross stitch world; if you use hoops, are wood, plastic, or spring hoops best?
 
Today, we hope to answer that. Or at least help. Or maybe just fuel the discussion, who knows. But we’ll give our take at least!

The Options

When it comes to cross stitch hoops, most people instantly think of bamboo ones. The reason for this, is they are normally included in kits as production is actually the cheapest for all the hoop types. As a result, the concept of a hoop is defined by those bamboo ones, but there are actually a whole bunch of options out there.
 
We’ll discuss each type, making note of their ease of use, ability to be decorated, cost, and any other considerations.

Plastic Hoops

We’re going to start with one of the alternatives to wooden hoops; plastic. By this, we mean straight-up, plastic copies of wooden hoops. For many years plastic hoops had a bad wrap, being often thought of as prone to snapping, however, with more modern manufacturing processes, this is mostly a thing of the past (you can still get plastic hoops from places like aliexpress that will break in seconds). Therefore these are now worth thinking about. From a user perspective they’re pretty much identical to wooden hoops, but unlike their wooden brothers, won’t splinter, can get wet, won’t warp over time, and won’t stain your work if you accidentally leave your cross stitch in the hoop.
 
So what about decoration? Well actually, there are options here too. Unlike wooden hoops that come in wood, wood, or wood, plastic hoops come in a variety of colors, including funky ones, textures, and even shapes (oval, square, stars, and beyond). But even if you’re bored with those options, you can also cover them in fabric, or washi tape. There really is no limit to the creativity on offer here.

Washi Tape Embroidery Hoop by sewpinata (Source: Instagram)
Washi Tape Embroidery Hoop by sewpinata (Source: Instagram)

Now comes the cost. In the past, plastic hoops have always been more expensive than bamboo hoops, mainly due to manufacturing costs, however, prices have dropped recently, and getting your hands on a plastic hoop will likely cost you the same as a good quality bamboo hoop.
Finally, we come to other considerations. This is a simple one too; environmental impact. Now, we know not everyone is bothered by the environmental impact of cross stitch, but using a plastic hoop is something to think about. By and large, the impact of a plastic hoop is 20 to 30 times as bad as a bamboo hoop (although other wooden hoops can be worse). Just something to think about.

Plastic Spring Hoops

spring tension embroidery hoops (source: 123stitch.com)
spring tension embroidery hoops (source: 123stitch.com)
Next up, we have the weird alternative in cross stitch hoops, the part plastic, part metal hoop. Unlike the other hoops on this list, these hoops are spring-loaded. This does have the advantage of holding the fabric very very tightly, however, the impact of this is that you may get marks on your work when you don’t want them. They also tend to lose their spring after a while, meaning we’re not a big fan.
 
When it comes to decoration, these are all but useless. In fact, spring hoops are only to be used when stitching, and not for decoration.
 
The final nail in the coffin for these hoops however is the cost, and we really mean cost too. Spring hoops can be two or three times more expensive than the best quality wooden hoops. For a product that isn’t as good as its wooden counterparts, the cost is just too much to handle.

Wood Hoops – Hard Wood

Hard Wood Cross Stitch Hoops (Source: ebay)
Hard Wood Cross Stitch Hoops (Source: ebay)
So finally, we get to wooden hoops, however its not quite that simple. You see, there are two types of wooden hoops; hardwood, and bamboo (softwood can’t be used for hoops as it snaps).
 
Hardwood hoops, look fantastic, truly they have class written all over them. However, as a cross stitch tool, they aren’t that great. They do work, and in many situations will do fine, but as the wood is steam bent, it doesn’t have the same force bamboo hoops do. They also tend to be slipperier thanks to the smoother wooden surface.
 
You can decorate these hoops if you want, however, the cost of these hoops is a big factor in their lack of success, and if you intend to cover the hoop, you might as well go for a cheaper option. On the cost point, this varies heavily depending on quality, wood type, and size, but they tend to be much more expensive than their bamboo alternatives. As a purely decorative hoop, they’re great, but not so much as anything else.

Wood Hoops – Bamboo

Embroidery Hoops of Various Sizes (source: sewandso.com)
Embroidery Hoops of Various Sizes (source: sewandso.com)
Now we’re going to talk about the hoops you had in mind when reading this; the standard bamboo hoop. The fact of the matter is, these hoops are cheap, do the job, and can be found anywhere. They are the hoop you use to compare the other hoops, they are basic but work. And that’s pretty much it. With a hoop that ‘just works’, many wonder why anyone would go for an alternative.
 
In addition to their basic but useful function as a cross stitch tool, you also have a massive wealth of decoration options too. Want to cover it in fabric, cover it in tape, paint it, or stain it; you can do it all. Depending on the quality you can leave some out as they’re frankly beautiful sometimes too.
Kreuzstich heart cross stitch (source: twitter)
Kreuzstich heart cross stitch (source: twitter)
Fallout 3 Home Sweet Home Sampler Cross Stitch (source: reddit)
Fallout 3 Home Sweet Home Sampler Cross Stitch (source: reddit)

This is when we start talking about cost, or more specifically, what people think the cost is. You can pick up a 6-inch hoop for 20c if you wanted to. And you know what, it’ll do the job. But you can also pick up a different 6-inch hoop for $30. Both hoops work, both are made from bamboo and both are initially fine, but the cheapest hoops are actually likely to have problems. These might be from breaks, pealing of the wood edge, or rusting and stripping of the poor quality metal used on the screw.
 
The above said, one of the biggest factors in bamboo hoops is quality. In our mind it worth spending a little more to get the middle-range hoop, but we wouldn’t fall into the trap of spending big bucks for a brand name, as it’s usually just paying for the brand name (looking at you DMC). Another consideration is actually a positive; bamboo grows fast, it doesn’t take up much space or water, and thanks to its structure, hoops use very little of it. Of all the options on this list, bamboo hoops are the most environmentally friendly (if reused and not added to the project permanently).

Verdict

So with all that in mind, in our eyes, there are only two real options; bamboo or pure plastic hoops.
 
Picking between the two of them is mostly a point of personal preference, however in our mind, bamboo hoops win out narrowly. The fact that you can decorate them easier, and you can pick up a whole set of sizes for the price of one plastic one means they’re our pick, and they’re the most environmentally friendly too!
 
 
Interested in other cross stitch hoop fun? You might want to check out our double hoop cross stitch ring donut.
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

Should You Bother With Railroading?

railroaded cross stitch (source: craftster)

Recently we spoke about what railroading is, and I love the idea of railroading. The idea that you can make a perfect stitch, and by doing so improve the overall look of your finished cross stitch. But I don’t do it. I can do it, and I have in the past completed whole projects, but most of my projects aren’t stitched with railroading in mind.
 
Recently I spoke about one of my favorite tools, a laying tool, which can be used for far more than railroading. However this got me thinking, why don’t I use it for its original purpose? So I investigated, I stitched, I canvased for other people’s views, and today we ask; should you be railroading?
 
There are many advantages and disadvantages to railroading, and before I go any further, I won’t be coming to a conclusive answer; that’s up to you, but we will be detailing all of these to give you the lowdown on if it’s really worth the effort.

railroaded cross stitch (source: craftster)
Railroaded cross stitch (source: craftster)

Ease

We’ll start with the biggest thing standing in the way of people railroading; effort. No one wants the idea of a problematic and long-winded process that may or may not be worth it.

Time

The second big factor in people not wanting to railroad is speed, or more specifically it taking longer to stitch. Well, this is just a myth. Railroading does require you to stitch a set way, and any change in the way you stitch will cause you to be slower initially, however, once you have the technique down, it’s not a problem.
And even if you are worried, all of the ways to cross stitch faster can be used when railroading anyway.

Neatness

Whilst ease and time are big factors in not wanting to railroad, the biggest positive is neatness. And to be fair to railroading, it does, without a doubt make your stitches look neater. Most images you see online are hard to pick up if it’s railroaded or not, but if you look at the below picture it can be super obvious on a stitch per stitch basis, let alone a whole project when viewed in person.
 
So is it worth it? Well, maybe. It all depends on how neat of a stitcher you currently are. I said earlier that I don’t currently railroad, and the reason for this is that my stitches are pretty neat already. I make sure I unwind my thread regularly, I use short lengths, and I always make sure to stitch in the same direction across the piece, both in terms of topstitch and generally the way I stitch (there are lots of places to start your cross stitch). But these techniques were learned over a decade or more of cross stitching. Had I gone back in time, I think I would have made the effort to learn railroading straight away as it would have been the same amount of effort, and would have resulted in neater stitches.

Examples of normal cross stitch (left) and railroaded stitch (right). (source: Pinterest)
Examples of normal cross stitch (left) and railroaded stitch (right). (source: Pinterest)

Fuller stitches/Coverage

One of the lesser discussed advantages of railroading is coverage. This is actually a really important part of cross stitch and one that gets regularly asked. In short, railroading allows the floss to sit better and look like a fuller cross stitch. This is undeniable; it does exactly that. However, the importance of this is something worth discussing.
 
When stitching on 14 count aida, I use 2 threads on light aida, and 3 on dark aida. The reason for this is coverage. By changing the amount of thread you stitch with, you create a fuller stitch. And whilst railroading does fill out the cross stitch and give slightly better coverage, so long as you’re stitching with the number of threads suited to your fabric and count, then making a fuller stitch isn’t something you need.

Cross stitches with different amounts of strands of threads on 14 count aida (Source: better-cross-stitch-patterns.com)
Cross stitches with different amounts of strands of threads on 14 count aida (Source: better-cross-stitch-patterns.com)

Do you bother railroading? If so, what makes it worth it to you?
And if you don’t do you find you would prefer neater more time-efficient stitches?
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

How To Label Your Cross Stitch Threads

DMC bobbins labeled with stickers (Source: DMC)

We’re big fans of collecting threads here, and on our journey to ever DMC thread we’ve had to work out a few things, like making an inventory spreadsheet for tracking threads and looking at the best way to store threads. But one thing has always bugged us, regardless of what way you store your threads; identification.
 
Threads on their own do have a set order, numbers, but these numbers jump around all over the place, they aren’t in color order, and they aren’t even sequential. Therefore, if you choose to put your threads on bobbins, in bags, boxes, or any other means, you need a way to label them. But we’ve all heard about the pitfalls of trying to write numbers on those DMC bobbins, so what is the best way?
 
The examples we give below use bobbins as that’s the most popular way of storing threads, but all examples apply to all ways of storage.

DMC bobbins labeled with stickers (Source: DMC)
DMC bobbins labeled with stickers (Source: DMC)

Stickers

DMC thread on bobbin labeled with DMC number stickers
DMC thread on bobbin labeled with a sticker
The first method of labeling, is actually the one you’re meant to use. We say meant here as this is the solution supplied by brands like DMC. However it isn’t perfect.
You can buy DMC labels for attaching to their bobbins. Thankfully these do contain the 35 new DMC threads (but you need to be sure to pick up a new set) but they don’t include some threads thought disconunted, etc. Not only that, but the stickers aren’t the best quality and often come off the bobbins.
 
The upside of these stickers though is the speed and uniformity. They are quick to place, easy to read, and every single bobbin is nicely uniform. No miss reading of numbers or messy writing to deal with.

Pen

DMC thread on bobbin labeled with pen
DMC thread on bobbin labeled with pen
If you choose not to get the stickers, pen is an option, and for most, is where they start. However, this is also slightly problematic.
Whilst the pen does work so long as it’s permanent, the writing is often messy, too large (don’t do the same as us and use a normal sharpie, use a thin one instead), and it can sometimes come off. We’ve never actually seen it come off onto the threads, but the regular picking up of the bobbins can rub it off.
 
There is nothing wrong with this method, but considering how pretty all those threads look, it would be a shame to mess it up with uneven handwriting.

Tuck Technique

DMC thread on bobbin labeled with the tuck method
DMC thread on bobbin labeled with the tuck method
Now we’ve spoken about the obvious methods, we move onto the less obvious, but actually rather genious. Use the label the threads come with. Not only does this look nice and neat, but it cuts down on all the rubbish cross stitchers make, so is a win from us.
With this method, you keep the nice neatness of the stickers, but it requires effort. In fact, quite a bit. The idea here is you cut the number off the label, and tape it down onto the bobbin. You then have to cut away the excess tape.
 
This is a blessing and a curse though. The tape edges aren’t always perfectly cut (the image above shows the best one we have), and can sometimes stick to the threads, or gain fluff and discolor. At first, it looks great, but the stickers would be a far faster solution here. In addition, we’re aware that all brands of threads, but particularly DMC, have varied styles of numbers on their labels, so they might not be uniform either.

Under Tuck Technique

DMC thread on bobbin labeled with the under tuck method
DMC thread on bobbin labeled with the under tuck method
But there is a solution similar to the tuck method.
 
The exact method here changes slightly depending on what cross stitch thread brand you’re using, but as a standard, the numbers are on the bottom of the label. This means you can simply slot the label into the space between the thread and the bobbin. If you want a more permanent fix, tape it down. It really is as simple as that.
 
Not only does this method have all the advantages of the standard tuck method, but it also requires a whole lot less work to put together. But there is also a downside; the numbers are on the bottom. For some, this won’t be a problem, however, anyone storing threads in a box (in either orientation) will struggle to read the numbers. So maybe this is a solution for some, but not all.

Which Method Is Best?

This is hard to tell and is mostly up to your personal situation. However, we can say that we use the stickers, and those without stickers get numbers (like number 01 in the image below). They’re quick, they all match, and they’re easy to read. For us, it’s a win.
 
We should also say that if you display your threads, it might be worth labeling the back of the threads. The number will still be there, but the fronts will look a lot nicer without the numbers on them.

Different DMC thread labels on bobbins
Different DMC thread labels on bobbins

Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

The Best Cross Stitch Accessories & Notions

Easy guide cross stitch needles (Source: Etsy.com)

When it comes to cross stitch and tools, there are a whole bunch. From random laying tools to something as simple and widespread as a thread shade chart. As a result, many cross stitchers ignore news of new accessories and notions, expecting them to be worthless.
 
However, this isn’t always the case! It is sometimes though. As a result we scoured online cross stitch stores, forums and facebook pages to find the best accessories and notions for cross stitch.
We’ve not included anything you might already have, like needle threaders, needle minders or anything like that. We’ve also only included things under $20 in price, so why not treat yourself?
 

Fray Check – from $5

Sealing Evenweave Fabric Edges with Fray Check (Source: thesprucecrafts.com)
Sealing Evenweave Fabric Edges with Fray Check (Source: thesprucecrafts.com)

Fray check is one of those odd brand names you’ve heard of in cross stitch, but never bothered with. And why would you? After all, if you’ve not had issues with your fabric fraying, there is no need for it, right?
I would argue, that’s not correct. Whilst Fray check does stop your cross stitch fabric from fraying, there are other reasons to use it. By adding it to the edge of your fabric it forces it to hold its shape much better than without, meaning when you wash and iron your work, it should be nice and square.
 

Aida Identification Cards – from $5

Cross Stitch Gauge and Rule by Yarn Tree (Source: Stitched Modern)
Cross Stitch Gauge and Rule by Yarn Tree (Source: Stitched Modern)

Can you recognize 18 count aida from a 24 count hardanger just by eye? Most people can’t, and whilst this seems like an insult, why would you be able to? That’s where cross stitch identification cards come in. These handy little fellers allow you to check your fabric counts or needle sizes. And whilst we belive aida gauges are worth getting there are many people who *shudder* don’t store their cross stitch fabric well. If you’ve ever found yourself questioning fabric count, this is a great little tool to pop in your kit.
 

Easy Guide Needles – from $7

Easy guide cross stitch needles (Source: Etsy.com)
Easy guide cross stitch needles (Source: Etsy.com)

You already have needles in your kit, I know. You might have even checked out our guide on the best cross stitch needles so you might even have a favorite brand (kudos if you did by the way), however these needles are different.
Imagine mixing a tapestry needle and a sewing needle together, then you have easy guide needles. Their long tip gives you greater accuracy, but their ball tip allows you to carry across the fabric just as easily as a tapestry needle. Now, I will say, these aren’t cheap, and I wouldn’t even suggest using them for every cross stitch. But in those times when you’re using a smaller count than normal, or you need to do petit point, or maybe your eyes are aching (there are ways to avoid eye strain in cross stitch btw), these needles will help you keep your cross stitching edge.
 

Canary Micro Snips – from $7

Canary Micro Scissors in a palm (Source: beyondmeasure.com)
Canary Micro Scissors in a palm (Source: beyondmeasure.com)

I have a near-obsession with cross stitch scissors, but trust me with this; these are awesome!
As small scissors go, these are fine, but their real worth comes in two points. Firstly, these things are the easiest scissors to hold ever! Drag them with a finger and thumb and you’re golden, no shoving your fingers into the loops and inevitably getting them stuck (it happens, admit it), just easy cutting. They’re also some of the only cross stitch scissors allowed on planes so go traveling with ease!
 

Thread Conditioner – from $2

beeswax thread conditioner (source: etsy)
Beeswax thread conditioner (source: Etsy)

From beeswax to specialist thread conditioners like Thread Magic, there are loads of little pots out there that most class as “Thread Heaven alternaitves“, and whilst Thread Heaven is the best known of the conditioners, that doesn’t mean the loss of the company should mean no longer using thread conditioners.
I personally hate thread conditioners, I know, it’s still on my list, bear with me, but I ALWAYS use them with metallic threads. Thread conditioner helps make things go a lot smoother when using using specialty threads and is our number one tip on how to make stitching with these threads a breeze.
 

Center Finding Rulers – from $9

Clear center finding ruler (Source: Amazon)
Clear center finding ruler (Source: Amazon)

I know a ruler might seem like the weirdest object to include in this list, however since we found out about center finding rulers, we’ve fallen in love. In short, it helps find the center of your fabric. This might seem a little basic, but let’s be honest, we’ve all been in the situation where we’ve managed to stitch something in the wrong place and uh-oh, you’ve run out of fabric. That is no longer a problem.
 

Quilters Square n Blocker – from $20

June Tailor Cushioned Quilters Square n Blocker (Source: Walmart)
June Tailor Cushioned Quilters Square n Blocker (Source: Walmart)
We’re jumping up with the price here, and its right at the top end of our price limit, but a Quilters block, or ironing block, its a foam block you can iron on. However, the reason I’ve included it here isn’t its ironing prowess (although it does mean I don’t have to get the ironing board out), instead I’ve included it, as you can use it to pin your work on when it drys. Let’s face it, no one wants a warped cross stitch, and this baby will let you wash, block and iron your work all in one. Now hows that for handy?

The Cross Stitch Love-Meter

Make Arcade mini love cross stitch kit (Source: clothkits.co.uk)

This post was originally in XStitch Magazine Issue 7: Love, and has been adapted.
 
When you look up love in the dictionary you can get a whole series of definitions, however, at its core, love is an intense feeling of pleasure in someone or something. However, if you look up the definition of similar words, appreciation, devotion, passion, and fondness, you come up with very similar definitions. Instead, love becomes a word to signify an absolute commitment to something.
 
Yet people, myself included, state they love this or love that. Maybe it means something different in different circumstances. Maybe it’s just a psychological stimulus or plain and simple unadulterated joy. Or maybe it’s deeper than that. When I say “I love cross stitch!”, does that mean I’m in love with cross stitch, or does it mean I have a passion for cross stitch, a commitment to it?
 
I would initially say yes. I elect to cross stitch over almost every other hobby, pastime, or event. I’m sure most of you do too. But does that mean I have a relationship with cross stitch? Do I have to start looking at stitching as a third wheel in the relationship? Or even worse; is it just a fling?
 
I would argue that anyone who states they love cross stitch is probably exactly that; in love with cross stitch. But love has come in many, many different forms. Love can be enduring, passionate, or sometimes even fleeting. So, when it comes to cross stitch, what type of love is it?

Make Arcade mini love cross stitch kit (Source: clothkits.co.uk)
Make Arcade mini love cross stitch kit (Source: clothkits.co.uk)

There are actually a well-accepted seven stages of love, and I’m far from a love doctor, so I’m happy to say I’m generalizing here, but they fit perfectly on almost everyone’s cross stitch journey. Infatuation, understanding, disturbance, obsession, experimentation, passion, and devotion.

Infatuation

For many, love starts quickly. This is the crush stage, needing to know every single detail about some TV or music star. And whilst age tends to dull the enthusiasm in which infatuation takes form, that rush when you see someone winking from across the bar is the driver. It’s the thing that gives you the push to walk over and start talking to someone. Someone cross stitching that is. For many of us, we found stitching through another person, we asked questions, we wondered, we maybe put it at the back of our heads for months, even years. But that time when you walked through a haberdashery; saw a tiny inch square highland cow, and you took the plunge.

Understanding

You’ve done it! You brought your first kit. Yeh, it’s a random tiny and frankly overcute cow, but who cares? You pull open the packaging, you pull out the threads, you find your needles, threads, scissors, hoop and you get good light… and then you see the book that came with it. Yeh, the instructions.
 
Our glorious editor, states that you can learn cross stitch in 10 minutes, and frankly, I agree. But when you’re five the instructions, your mind races, you look with quizzical panic as you see different stitches! Quarter stitches? Backstitch? French knots!? But then you realize; they aren’t in the pattern, so that’s a lesson for another day.
 
You start your stitch and you learn your craft. You see how crossed thread makes something wonderful on mass. You learn the correct way of laying, the right length of thread, you learn about sizes of needles, and before you know it you have literal piles of kits surrounding you.

(Source: Pexels.com)

Disturbance

Or as I like to call it ‘beginners’ frustration’. Everyone’s first kit goes well, and even if it doesn’t you probably don’t know what you did wrong. But as you take more and more steps into the cross stitch world, you start making slip-ups, you realize halfway through a Wallace and Gromit pattern that their legs are 10 stitches too short, you get knots on the back of your work that are just impossible to untie, you stitch something in the wrong color, maybe counted wrong and found the wonderful world of frogging.
 
This is make or break. Some will give up, some just don’t have the heart, and I don’t mind saying that I thought about it too, but others will knuckle down, they’ll push through, they’ll frog the whole dang Gromit leg if they have to. If you push through, this is where you can truly call yourself a cross stitcher. Not because you stuck with it, not because you learned how to not make those mistakes, it’s because you learned to accept them. I still frog, I still get weird unsolvable knot puzzles, I still botch patterns. But I know it’s not the end of the world.

Obsession

Just one more stitch, just one more stitch. Let’s face it, almost everyone reading this article has been in a situation similar to this, when they’re up at 3 am stitching when they promised themselves an early night. It happens. I’m definitely not going to blame you. But this is a super important part of love. Everyone reading has likely got to at least this state. The point where they want to know it all, they want to learn about what others are doing, and how others are pushing the craft.

Experimentation

But watching others push the craft isn’t enough. For me, I want everyone reading this to take up their needle and keep on pushing cross stitch. I want people to look at my work and see something they can build on. I’m probably best known for my transforming robot cross stitches, but the story behind them was probably very similar to the one you’re taking right now. I saw a transformer pattern, it looked cool, it looked doable! But I wondered, couldn’t those arms move? And what about that head, if it just sent down a bit and that went there and boom, transforms to a semi-truck. I honestly started that project not knowing how it would end. I truly and honestly thought it would fail. But it didn’t. In fact, it went so well that other people have now started creating their own things in a similar style. That is what being part of a cross stitch community is all about; the pushing of boundaries and the passing of experience. I would argue that until you push yourself beyond what you know you can do, you haven’t yet got past this stage, but you brought this mag, so you’re thinking about it already.

(Source: Unsplash.com)

Passion

And so comes passion. Those pattern failures or experiments that go wrong just slip off your back like water. You don’t mind the ups and the downs, you’re in it for the long run.

Devotion

The final step. The marriage to cross stitch. In my mind, I hit this a while ago. In fact, when asked what would happen if I couldn’t cross stitch ever again, I truly didn’t know what I would do. It is my everything.
 
And so I wonder, when did you start saying that you ‘love cross stitch’? Because whilst I truly believe you love cross stitch, sometimes it’s good to look back and see where we’ve come, what we’ve been through, where we are now, and how everyone in the Xstitch Magazine family was right there with you.

There are Two Eyes to Every Needle

Stages of cross stitch needle eyes during production

Cross stitch needles have two different eyes. And we don’t just mean those double eyed cross stitch needles either, one side of the cross stitch needle is slightly more open than the other. Let us explain.

Close up of DMC tapestry needles (Source: DMC)
Close up of DMC tapestry needles (Source: DMC)

How They’re Made

We’re not going to go into a lot of detail here, but we will talk about how cross stitch needles are made. You start with a length of wire and sharpen one end. The eye isn’t so easy to deal with though, and this is where the interest comes for us.
 
In order to create the needle eye, they stamp the shape, and hole into the wire. This stamping is important as the ‘upper die’ pushes the needles against a smaller ‘lower die’. This means that the side of the needle against the lower die gets opened up slightly more than the other, and the opening is slightly more rounded.

Stages of cross stitch needle eyes during production
Stages of cross stitch needle eyes during production

The Solution

So let’s say you’re struggling to thread your needle, you think you might have the wrong side; flip it.
 
The fact of the matter is, the differences that make the threading of the needle so much easier for one side is so small to see, that you can’t actually see it. The thread knows its there though, so simply spin the needle and thread the other side.
 
If your still struggling to thread your needle, you should check out our guide on the best needle threaders, or try out gold plated needles or even self threading needles