When Cross Stitch And Technology Collide

Technology and cross stitch by Wei Chieh Shih

Cross stitch has been around for more than 2500 years and whilst it has a rich history the advent of new technology into a fairly historical hobby is few and far between. However, with a recent push in the fashion industry for e-textiles, cross stitch has had its world turned upside down. Now, its future tech.
 
I initially heard about lights and PCBs being used in cross stitch back in 2013 when I was about to speak to Wei Chieh Shih about his work, and an upcoming project, “Adelita”. He’s a fashion designer that focuses on technology, but to work out if something is possible, he turns to cross stitch. There are a whole series of conductive thread kits you can now buy, allowing you to install tech into your clothing, but Wei takes it 10 steps ahead, by intergrating programable tech into complex circuits.

He can then take these ideas, simplfy them and create fantastic works of art, like his 2013 “Adelita” project, combining folk wooden toys from Mexico with high tech clothing.

Adelita by Wei Chieh Shih
Adelita by Wei Chieh Shih

But technology and cross stitch isn’t just for the fancy high end artists. It’s not only possible to make clever art using tech, but you can do it really easily.
Cross stitched circuit by Jade Jenkins
Cross stitched circuit by Jade Jenkins

With more and more cross stitch artists showing their work to the world, it’s clear that kits such as Kitronik or LilyPad, we’re not only going to see more tech cross stitch, but also helping push the e-textile world.
Stranger Things light up cross stitch by raleblanc05
Stranger Things light up cross stitch by raleblanc05

Technology and cross stitch by Wei Chieh Shih
Technology and cross stitch by Wei Chieh Shih

Time To Ditch That Old Cross Stitch Needle

gold cross stitch needles

My needle broke!

Oh yeh, we’ve all said that. Its just part of cross stitch… right? Wrong.
 
Needles are a very important art of cross stitch, and they can massively range in complexity, material and price, and so it seems only natural to stick to what you know; and stick to the same old needle. However after speaking with a very well known needle manufacturer last year when I was looking into how cross stitch needles are made, he informed me that cross stitch needles are soft. Not so soft that they can be broken easily, but far softer than say, medical needles.
Medical needles are, in case you hadn’t realised, used only once. And they are made from surgical hardened stainless steel, twice as hard as the gold needles you use. And then he showed me this:
Reused needle
Now on the face of it, that doesn’t look too bad, but when you remember you use a needle 256 times in a square inch. And your needle is half as strong as that one. That’s why I’m suggesting you throw out that old needle.
 
In fact, I’d go one step further and tell you that you need to use a new needle for every project. And no, I’m not a crazy rich person. Every time you use a needle, you damage it. Every bit of damage means you snag on the threads and canvas, you stretch the holes in the aida, you catch threads on other stitches, and frankly, you put your whole project at risk of those tiny little weird bits that stick out for no reason. Sadly, even storing cross stitch needles can damage them too.
 
So that’s why I use a new one for every project. Whatever the size, a new needle comes out. Now, lets be honest, needles can be super expensive, and my prefered needle is a petite full gold number, but I’m not made of gold needles. I get smart. For plastic canvas I use a standard, cheap needle, which can save a lot of money in cross stitch, as my plastic canvas stitches tend to be less than 1000 stitches. For anything with 10,000 stitches I use a fancy one, and anything inbetween, I use whatever I have on hand.
 
But this isn’t just a crazy idea of mine either. Not only is there a difference in how I can stitch, how fast I can cross stitch, and on the ease, but it has a clear effect on the end result. Less puckering, more uniformity, and no stray stitches that just don’t want to sit right. Try ditching that old needle, and see for yourself the improvement. And suffer a lot less broken needles.
cross stitch needle

Frogging Made Easy – Curve Tipped Scissors

lift-n-snip-scissors with close up

I’ve been stitching now for well over 15 years, and in that time I must have frogged a good few hundred meters of thread (I stitch stuff wrong all the time), and frankly, its not been fun. Frogging sucks. It’s the bain of existance for cross stitchers everywhere, not only due to the fact that it takes ages, means the last few hours stitching were a waste, but also opens up all the little holes in aida.
 
It turns out however that one of those problems is now something of the past. Enter these babies:
4andhalf inch snip-a-stitch scissors
Before I get into the meat of things here, if you don’t know what frogging is, check out my previous post where we go into where the term frogging came from. I also want to say that I’ve not been paid for this review; I’m just obsessed with these scissors. In fact, I’m pretty much obsessed with cross stitch scissors in general.
 
But these scissors are a bit different. Firstly, they’re very new to the market, I can find reference to them in 2017, but not before. The second thing, is these scissors are made JUST for frogging. Or as I should actually say; removing sutures and stitches.
 
You see, removing stitches from people have exactly the same issue of opening up the holes, and with humans and animals, you can spread disease like crazy. So the medical profession took to making a perfect pair of scissors for removing sutures.

Removing sutures and stitches drawing
Diagram showing sutures being removed with curve tipped scissors. Source: Nursing textbook

Some clever so and so thought it would be great to move them to cross stitch, and my word where they right. These scissors have a magic tip to them, curving inwards so you can capture a single stitch and snip it without pulling.
lift-n-snip-scissors with close up
I won’t link directly to anyone in particular (it looks like they’re aren’t in mainstream cross stitch stores yet), however if you want to pick up a pair yourself, look online for Snip-A-Stitch, Lift-N-Snip or (if you want the medical ones) littauer stitch scissors. Trust me, these are the new best thing in cross stitch.

What’s the best alternative for ThreadHeaven?

ThreadHeaven

By this point its probably no longer news that ThreadHeaven is no more, but as you work through your stash, have you wondered what to use as a replacement?
 
ThreadHeaven was fantastic as it was both a wax, and a conditioner, and whilst a lot of people think they’re the same, they have two different purposes. Wax makes the thread stick together, and through the fabric easier, whilst the conditioner stops the thread fraying. We’ve looked at all the different options on the market to see which we prefer, based on these two features, using normal and metallic threads, which are MUCH easier to use with thread conditioner. Note that there are other claims, such as protection from UV rays, but we’ve yet to see the science behind that so we’ve not taken it into account.
 

Our Pick: Thread Magic

cThread Magic
I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not suprised by this. Initially when TheadHeaven was all the rage I thought Thread Magic was the ugly step sister; turns out, I was wrong. So wrong in fact, that I would say Thread Magic works better! Its conditions and waxes like a charm, doesn’t build up over time, and has no scent at all (although one can develop if stored for a long time). The packs it comes in with holes for the thread also make it super user friendly, and whilst it is MUCH more expensive than all the alternatives on the list, it lasts far longer than any of them. A true winner in our eyes.
 

Close Second: White Bees Wax


When it comes to wax, not all are equal. We should note that I’ve said WHITE bees wax here, you can see below for a little bit about why that is. Bees wax is actually a bleeding wax, meaning it penetrates surfaces, such as threads where as other waxes don’t. Therefore it not only waxes the surface, but conditions at the same time. It can get a little waxy after a while of use, but it also smells great, so its worth it! Its worth noting though that bees wax is extreamly flammable; so be careful when ironing if you don’t want to wash your work before hand.
 

Surprise Third: Candlemaker’s Wax/White Unscented Candles


We expected the standard candle to be a out and out flop in our tests, but it turns out, it worked quite well. Unlike bees wax it isn’t conditioning, but it waxes well, and doesn’t build up on your fingers over time, which is a big plus. Thanks to the shape of a candle, its also super easy to wax up your threads.
 

In A Pinch: Water


Yeh, you heard that right; water. So to be more accurate, a damp sponge, however you’re only actually using the water. This idea came from a commenter, and damn is it good. Tried it last night and it worked a treat. However, a few things to remember; don’t use it on speciality threads, they often use metal, which can rust if you’re not careful. And try finding natural or pH neutral sponges to make sure you’re not picking up nasties.
 

Some success: Silicone Ear Plugs

silicone ear plugs
Before I begin with this one, not all silicone-like earplugs are made from silicone; get the pure silicon ones. However, if you find them, silicone can be a good idea. The one thing to say is silicone cannot be washed out. At all. It stays permanently on the thread. Whilst this can be great (it protects the thread long term), it means any dust caught in there, or sweat from hands can’t be washed out. I would use this with some caution for now. We’ll do more tests.
 

JUST DON’T BOTHER: ‘Natural’ Bees Wax


We mentioned above that white bees wax is fantastic for threads, however don’t be tempted to get DIY or ‘natural’ bees wax. Theses aren’t the same. The DIY ones can include some seriously iffy colorants (and could actually be toxic), however even the natural ones aren’t that good for threads. In natural bees wax they often don’t filter off the impurities. Whilst most are perfectly fine, you don’t know what chemicals are hidden away, and you don’t want your work ruined.

Did You Know You Can Print On Aida?

adventure time cross stitches with printed aida background by WonderStrange

Aida selections generally come in white, black, grey or every pale shade of pastel under the sun. But what if you want something that’ll pop? What about something with a design on it? Well saddle up, cos we’re about to go on a ride. It turns out, your average home color printer can create awesome aida in no time flat!
 
WonderStrange worked out all the hard work for us, but the technique is actually pretty simple. Cut your plain aida (you should use white) down to A4 size, put some freezer paper on the back (its sticky on one side) and put it in your printer. Print whatever you want and you have yourself a epic, custom but of aida.
 
Wondering why you need the freezer paper? Turns out those holes make a serious mess unless something is behind it!

Source: WonderStrange

Finally, if you want a pure color for aida, you can also try painting it.
adventure time cross stitches with printed aida background by WonderStrange
Adventure Time cross stitches with printed aida background by WonderStrange

The Best Cross Stitch Books

With so many cross stitch books out there, I’ve read my way through a library just to give you a run down of the best cross stitch books, categorised by difficulty.

Best Books For Beginners

The Mr X Stitch Guide to Cross Stitch

mr x stitch guide to cross stitch Cover
Difficulty: X to XX

By Jamie Chalmers
Perfect for the beginner, it doesn’t get too technical, and everything it written with an entertaining edge. Its fun, chatty and includes some awesome modern patterns. We have a full review here.
 

The New Cross Stitcher’s Bible

the new cross stitchers bible
Difficulty: X to XXXX

By Jane Greenoff
A staple in many cross stitchers collections, the Jane Greenoff Cross Stitch bible has been updated a series of times over the years, and covers everything from the very basics, so complex theories and stitches. It can be a great learning resource, but is a bit hard to get into.
 

Cross Stitch: A beginner’s step-by-step guide

cross stitch beginners book cover
Difficulty: X to XX

By Charlotte Gerlings
A general beginners book with a slant on smaller projects, this book offers clear and concise advice without going off topic. Small at only 48 pages.
 
 
 

Best Intermediate Books

Mega Mini Cross Stitch

mega mini cross stitch book cover
Difficulty: XX to XXX

By Makoto Oozu
A compendium of small cross stitches by Japanese cross stitch master Makoto Oozu, over 900 simple patterns and some basic instructions. The diffuculty comes from the language; the whole book is in Japanese.
 

Cross-Stitch to Calm: Stitch and De-Stress

Cross-Stitch to Calm- Stitch and De-Stress book cover
Difficulty: XX to XXX

By Leah Lintz
These simple patterns, mostly using less than 5 colors are great practice, but offer little in the way of very complicated designs. The 40 patterns included are all well created however, making each pattern a worth while stitch.
 

The Cross-Stitch Garden

the cross stitch garden book cover
Difficulty: XX to XXX

By Kazuko Aoki
A great selection of delicate patterns and designs make this a book intermediate book, capable of stretching newer and more advanced stitchers alike.
 
 
 

Best Advanced Books

Storyland Cross Stitch


Difficulty: XX to XXXX

By Sophie Simpson
A great book with a series of interesting patterns ranging from fairly simple to advanced, with each pattern having its own kit items attached; ready for stitching.
 

Subversive Cross Stitch

subversive cross stitch book cover
Difficulty: XXX to XXXX

By Julie Jackson
Rude and lude, but a great set of patterns, made specifically to make you chuckle. Whilst the book does have basic instructions, its patterns are far from simple.
 

Do-It-Yourself Stitch People


Difficulty: XXX to XXXX

By Elizabeth Dabczynski-Bean
A book with no guide at all seems like a bad idea, however this fantastic resource allows you to create your own cross stitch people by picking hair, faces, bodies, legs and accessories. As a result there is no pattern to follow, meaning you have to work it out yourself.

Why is it called FROGGING anyway?

knitting frogging

A few weeks back we looked into the word railroading and found out where the name originally came from, and on our social media platforms people started talking about other weird cross stitch words. One of these was frogging or simply ‘to frog’. However a small argument started about where the term came from, and why it was called that. Turns out, no one knows for sure, however there are three main theories.
 

What is FROGGING?

For those that don’t know, frogging is the bain of all cross stitchers. Simply put, if you’ve made a mistake and can’t fix it, then you have to rip it out. Its bound to have happened to every stitcher at some point, but not that many people know its called frogging.

knitting frogging
Frogging is also a term used in knitting for the same issue!

Why is it called FROGGING anyway?

When it comes to the term frogging, there are a few possible options on its etymology. Whilst no one knows for sure, we can narrow some of the options down a little.

Possibility 1 – “Rip it, Rip it”

A fun and quirky way of learning the term frogging is the phrase “rip it, rip it”, which kinda sounds like a frog. Kinda.
I think whilst this is a great way of learning the namee, the closeness of ‘rip it’ to ‘ribbit’ is just a bit too far from the truth.

Possibility 2 – The swear word

We’ve all heard of the story on how the word f*ck came about, but in many circles its just not an acceptable term. But getting cross stitch wrong sucks. Simply put this story works on the idea that someone would exclaim “FROG!” instead of its well known offensive cousin.
However, that doesn’t really add up either. You see, the first known use of the term ‘frog’ (used for embroidery, not specifically cross stitch) was in 1500. The swear word was invented in 1475. The likelihood that the swear word became so well known and then surpassed in 5 years is just crazy unlikely. So that leaves just one other theory.

Possibility 3 – The English don’t like the French

Turns out, ‘frog’ isn’t just the creature, it means something else too.

Frog
[frog, frawg]

noun

  1. (often initial capital letter) Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive.
  2. A contemptuous term used to refer to a French person or a person of French descent.

There is one thing that every Englishman knows, and its our history with the French. We’ve been friends, enemies, and everything in between. As a result French words, and words pertaining to the French have made their way into the English language.
So it could be that people are simply saying that ‘to frog’ is extremely disparaging.
And why is this the most likely answer? Well, two things. Firstly the term ‘frog’ to talk about a Frenchman would have been on everyone’s lips. Not becouse we were at war with France, but because France had just stopped being at war with us, and suddenly we were friends. In an effort to use common language, its likely they reused the term ‘frog’ to no longer mean a Frenchman, and as a result used its original meaning, disparaging. Whilst this did change some 200 years later, by then it was likely in the common vocabulary for stitchers. Interesting at this time most stitchers and embroiderers were men, specifically those in the military, who would have fought then fought alongside the French.
The second reason? There simply isn’t a better alternative. No one really knows the origin of the term, but for now, the best we can work out, is its simply an obscure use of the word ‘frog’ which is no longer remembered.

7 Awesome Gift Ideas For Cross Stitchers

DMC thread card

Finding gifts for the people in your life that like things outside of your normal is hard, and so we’ve put together 7 awesome gift ideas for cross stitchers.

Fun Needle Keeps – from $5

chapelviewcrafts polymer cake needle minder
The great thing about needle keeps, other than how cheap they are, is the awesome volume of different designs. Pick something their interested in, and BOOM! You’ve got yourself a super personalised gift for under a fiver! They can even become a bit of a hobby in themselves; I have a charizard, a cup of tea, the cake design you see here and a book. I would look on Etsy first as they have a whole wealth of handmade ones.

ThreadCutterz – $12-15

thread cutterz
How about something a little more practical? These ThreadCutterz are an awesome alternative to scissors, which sits on your finger like a ring, meaning no more swapping out to go for a pair of scissors. Just for an added bonus they can be taken on international plane flights too!

A Good Pair Of Scissors – $30

cross stitch scissors
I know, I just said about replacing scissors, but in reality, a lot of cross stitchers like a good pair of scissors. In fact, I’m a believer that you always need another pair of scissors. You can choose practical scissors, fancy scissors, or even super colorful ones. We’ve even got a guide for finding the best cross stitch scissors if you’re not sure what type to get.

Thread Shade Chart – $20

One of the best gifts I’ve ever recived is a thread shade card. They simply show you how all the colors look, and how they sit together. DMC (the most common thread company) do a version with thread samples ($20) including the new DMC threads, which is far superior. We have a copy of the DMC shade card on our site to see at any time, however we know from experience that there is nothing like the real thing. A steal at $20 too.
DMC thread card

Magazine Subscriptions – $20-60 a year

cross stitcher magazine cover
What about a gift that keeps giving? There are loads of cross stitch magazines out there, including a whole raft of modern, traditional, kid friendly and international ones. The great thing however is it keeps being delivered month after month! They’re fantastic for giving you patterns, inspirations, fiding out about new products and a lot give away free gifts too! Prices vary, $20-$60 a year.

Threads! – $20-200+

Full set of DMC threads
As a cross stitcher I know too well that there is a super warm fuzzy feeling that comes from owning a full set of cross stitch threads. Now this might seem like a big cost, $200 or more for DMC. However just a pack of threads, such as metallics or the new coloris range are an awesome way to bring a bit of flair into someone’s cross stitch for a really reasonable price. As a bonus, they come in nice gift boxes too!
It’s also worth noting that there is a cheaper brand of threads which are surprisingly good, and can cost as little as $40 for the whole set!

Great Cross Stitch Software – up to $50

pcstitch cross stitch software
How about something slightly more expensive? A time comes for every cross stitcher when they want to make their own patterns, and whilst you can do this online, they all have their limitations. As a result you often see a cross stitch pattern creation program on the wish list of many cross stitchers. You can choose from frankly hundreds of them, with prices ranging from $20 to over $200, however the ever popular WinStitch or PCstitch are the best bets, for $50. You can find a comparison of cross stitch programs here.

How Cross Stitch Helps Real World People With Real World Problems

epic pokemon first generation perler by mininete

Today we’re going to talk about something slighlty different. For two reasons. Firstly, we talking about how craft can help people, how it can enable the worst situations in life to seem a little more acceptable. And we’re not talking cross stitch. Well, we kind of are, you see the thing that made me interested in this story originally, was Nete Hangel, and how she used my free cross stitch patterns.
If you hadn’t worked it out already, we’re doing to be talking about perler beads, which whilst a totally different craft uses patterns the same way.
 
Nete Hangel, or Mininete as she’s known online, is a pretty typical 19 year old from Denmark, with one major exception; she has complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a rare condition that can cause severe or extreme pain in arms or legs. Because of this, she can’t do much without pain being on her mind. However there is one thing; perler beads.
 

It’s been a coping method and a thing I could do even if I couldn’t think straight because of pain and pain meds

For her, the repetative action of beading has been almost “a form of meditation” and helped with “clearing your head”, which for almost every cross stitcher I know is the same. And whilst we might not stitch to burn through pain, it helps keep us grounded and a little more settled. We’re massively devoted to helping mental health, and we’ve even talked before on how cross stitch helps me destress.

Epic Pokemon perler being constructed by mininete (Nete Hangel)
Epic Pokemon perler being constructed by mininete (Nete Hangel)

The fact that Nete picked up her largest project to date, our free epic pokemon cross stitch pattern at a time of seriously bad pain, and the fact that she’s able to get up and battle the world now, just goes to show that sometimes cross stitch isn’t such a closed off world, and it helps real world people with real world problems everyday. We’re damn proud to have helped that.
epic pokemon first generation perler by mininete
Epic Pokemon Perler by mininete (Nete Hangel)

Why Are Glow-In-the-Dark Threads Green?

spiderman glow in the dark cross stitch

xstitch magazine issue 3 cover I write and I make patterns for the XStitch Magazine and found myself writing a companion piece before, such as my blog on when cross stitch almost made it to space. However in the newest issue, we talk about green. My post focused on the weird relationship we have with green, in both love and hate, thanks to ink prices, sour emotions and the green of nature. I had planned to cross stitch something within the theme using glow-in-the-dark thread, as I knew it came in green. But then I though:

Why are glow-in-the-dark threads green?

Let’s start by looking at the facts; glow in the dark thread is green. You can see a few awesome glow-in-the-dark stitches elsewhere on my website, its green. But does it have to be? No. In fact, there are loads of threads out there that are glow-in-the-dark and not green, take these Kreinik ones for example:
kreinik glow in the dark threads
There are two reasons for the green glow. Science, and physcology.
 
Science – The reason the glow comes, or the phosphorescent if you want to get fancy, is mostly down to zinc sulfide. Unlike other glowing chemicals, zinc is non-harmful to humans, and fairly stable. Zinc sulfide, is green. Now, you can add it to other chemicals to make it different colors, hence Kreinik’s threads, however the combining reduces the phosphorescent effect heavily.
 
Physcology – People expect it to be green. Originally green was used as a haunted and eery color thanks to halloween, being represented in alien blood, slime or zombies, and so when glow-in-the-dark colors came into fashion, green seemed the obvious choice. Since then, you naturally associate the color in your head when thinking of glow-in-the-dark, so when its different; you don’t like it as much. Turns out people, just like it that way.