So you’ve finished your cross stitch; great. However, depending on who you are, the next bit might fill you with joy, or fill you with dread. Do you frame it?
This is a question we ask ourselves every time we finish a cross stitch, and depending on your opinions of framing cross stitch, the options are basically frame or don’t frame. But that’s not exactly true. In fact, there are a whole bunch of different ways you can frame your cross stitch, without the boring square you might be thinking…
We’ll start with one of the most simple methods. Out there, mostly on Etsy, there are specific frames made for cross stitch. They do make framing cross stitch simple thanks to how they’re made, but the real selling point is actually that they aren’t what you expect.
They do have some really nice circle frames in a variety of finishes, but they also have different ones, like hexagons, flowers, or even mandalas!
Hoop It Up
But what if you’re a hoop purist? We’ve got you covered!
Decorate Your Own
Our first port of call would be decorating your own hoop as it gives you so much more freedom to do as you want. You can paint them, cover them in fabric, use washi tape, or pretty much anything! In fact, there are so many opinions we have to write a guide on how to decorate cross stitch hoops!
Don’t fancy decorating your hoop? Well, you can buy pre-decorated hoops, unusual shapes, and even hoops that are made to be used to stitch your work, and frame it without having to remove it from the hoop!
Make It Fine Art
Still, nothing standing out? Well how about bringing a little bit of class to your cross stitch by framing it on canvas? Framing cross stitch on canvas is actually super simple, and unlike a normal frame the canvas method is super cheap, but super unique. You can also stand your work up on its own, or on an easel for a different look!
Think Outside The Frame
But don’t just think about frames. What about a wall hanging instead? By putting your work up as a hanging, it gives the work a little bit of movement when you pass it, adding to the effect.
Caterpillar Cross Stitch has a great video on how to hang your cross stitch if you want to do this!
What unique ways have your framed your cross stitch? We’d love to add to the list, so drop us a note below!
I’ve avoided speaking about French Knots for years. If people ask I simply say people aren’t bothered; it’s either something you want to do or something you want to avoid. But that’s not actually correct. In reality; I just suck at them!
I was recently doing a lesson, trying to get kids into cross stitch, and one kid asked me to show them how to do one. Inside I was screaming. Here I was, pretending to know what I’m doing, and I had just been thrown down a challenge by someone half my height.
That’s when I decided; it would no longer beat me. Today, we look into French Knots and what all the fuss is about.
Why Do People Hate Them?
So let’s start with the facts; people hate French Knots. There are two basic camps here, those that have tried once and failed, and those that have tried and tried again and still fail. The similarity there; everyone fails. And that’s why French Knots suck.
Unlike cross stitches, which fit into set widths and lengths (assuming you’re using an evenweave), French Knots are wild beasts that sometimes come out huge, sometimes tiny, sometimes loose, and sometimes tight. French Knots are…messy. But that doesn’t mean that isn’t OK. Sometimes, this can be why you stitch with French Knots.
When To Use French Knots
In the example above Peacock & Fig have used French Knots to populate blossoms on a tree. Well, look out the window (or google one depending on the time of year you’re reading this), cherry blossoms aren’t all equal. Some are big, some are small, some are loose and some are tight. By picking the right time to use a French Knot you can actually use the knot’s unorganized nature to your advantage.
Many patterns often ask for French Knots here and there as finishing touches. And whilst we all want everything to be perfect, designers know that French Knots are like this. They only place them where they can be messy, where it works for them to be like that. So next time a pattern calls for a French Knot; give it a try. A messy French Knot might be exactly what the doctor designer ordered.
How To Do A French Knot
I’m not going to beat around the bush here; I’m not the best person to be telling you how to do a French Knot. But youtube is our friend!
In short, French Knots are actually a twist in a thread that can’t come unraveled. Twist it around the needle twice, stick it into the fabric, and you’re done!
But that doesn’t mean it’s actually that simple.
Shout out to Mary of Needle’nThread for her excellent resource on French Knot tips, as we delve into some tips on how to actually make a successful French Knot.
Number of Wraps
Firstly, consider the number of wraps.
In short, the higher the number of wraps you use, the bigger the knot will be. This seems simple, but if you use a throwaway bit of fabric to test the knot before you stitch it, you can see how your knots are coming out today. Too tight and small? Do some more wraps! Too loose? Fewer wraps. This way you can adjust your French Knots on a day-to-day basis.
Leave A Space
Next, think about the space. By his we mean the amount of space between the ‘up’ thread and the ‘down’ thread. Make sure it’s as tight as possible without being in the same hole. By reducing this space you’ll make sure you’re French Knot holds close to the fabric, and doesn’t flop around everywhere!
Finally, let’s talk about tension. This is by far the hardest thing to talk about, as it’s all about feeling. Those of us who knit as well as cross stitch, might find this part a little easier, but the tension is very important.
But don’t get hung up on it. The first thing people do when they’re worried about tension is tighten right up. This is actually going to cause you issues.
Instead, think about the two rules of tension:
1 – It has to be tight enough that the wraps don’t come loose
2 – It has to be tight enough that the thread doesn’t knot when you don’t want it to (especially when pushing back in)
Those rules actually give you a lot of leeways, it’s not about making it super loose, or super tight, it’s about having it taught enough to not come loose or knot up. If you’re worried, you can always be too loose, and retry the knot.
Use A Different Needle!
If you’re still struggling, and you intend to do a lot of French Knots, a new needle might be what you’re after. Milliner needles are sharps, with eyes the same size as their shank. This means the “tug” you have to give just before the knot gets set doesn’t happen anymore. That tug, is often where the issues occur, messing up your tension and making the knot too tight/loose.
You will have to get a specific size for your thread, but variation packs cost a few dollars and will have the one you need 99.9% of the time.
The Easier Alternative: Colonial Knot
Still stuck? Then let me welcome you to the Colonial Knot. This initially seems very similar to a French Knot, but the whole problem of tension goes way, making this a MUCH easier knot.
They don’t look the same, it must be said, but they look very similar. Where a French Knot is more circular, a Colonial Knot is a little more oval. This means that if you want to do pupils on an eye, the Colonial Knot might not be suitable, but it’s perfect in every other situation!
Still hate French and Colonial Knots? Well, we don’t blame you. Maybe think about buying some beads instead as a replacement?
A few months back I was part of an interview with Mr X Stitch and we spoke briefly about cross stitch and how it’s classified by people. Now, the discussion is still out on whether cross stitch is art or craft however today we wanted to look at those artists out there that are pushing cross stitch as an art medium, and helping to champion our craft.
And I don’t just mean things like the fine art cross stitch book!
Jordan Nassar uses his Palestinian heritage to stitch most of his works in tatreez (Palestinian cross stitch). Historically motifs didn’t come from patterns but were passed down through families on the mother’s side, meaning every piece of work has the family signature. Using these cultural traditions and key modern elements from his upbringing in New York, he stitches works that help people to connect to their own heritage
“Palestinian embroidery really has it all, geometry, superstition and magic, social cues, family and village associations, embellishment and more.”
Urban cross stitch graffiti is hardly new, however rarely is the artist approaching levels of famous as Ana Martins (often going as “Aheneah”).
This Lisbonian artist quickly established herself with large and modern street murals made to actively deconstruct, decontextualize and transform the traditional technique of cross stitch into a modern graphic medium.
Lithuanian artist Severija Incirauskaite-Kriauneviciene has been mentioned many times before on our site, as her work has always inspired us, but don’t let that take away from her art, which not only stitches on found objects in an effort to subvert traditional embroidery culture but brings to attention often serious messages.
I’m a cross stitch purist. I like full stitches and that’s it. I hate backstitch, French Knots fill me with fear, and quarter stitches aren’t my thing. But what about tent stitch?
Ha! I know, tent stitch isn’t real cross stitch. Wait… It is?
Today I wanted to talk about Petit Point, or Petite Point as it’s sometimes called, which is technically a tent stitch, but closer to cross stitch than it is needlepoint.
What is it?
So let’s start simple. A standard cross stitch makes the shape of an X. A tent stitch is effectively like a half-finished cross stitch, it makes the shape of a / or \.
Petit point is a tent stitch, so only takes up the space of a / or \, but unlike a tent stitch is stitched in the continental style. This means the back of your work has long threads on it.
But, because of the way you stitch this has a different look, basically making it smaller. In the image below you can see normal cross stitch (row 1), petit point (row 2), cross stitch and petit point together (row 3) and quarter cross stitch and petit point together (row 4). I short, the petit point makes up roughly the same space as a quarter stitch.
Why Use it?
So, why would you use this rather odd stitch? Well, there are a few reasons. Unlike normal embroidery stitches that can look out of place in a cross stitch, petit point looks right at home, meaning you can stitch with it on its own, or combine it with normal cross stitch.
The first advantage is coverage. We’ve mentioned this in the past, but whenever you select a count of fabric, you need to think about the coverage look you’re going for. The larger the count, the worse the coverage will be. You can avoid this by adding more strands to your work, but this makes it bulky.
This is where petit point comes in. The stitch itself makes the whole work fuller-looking, but the back of your work that might be seen also adds to the fullness of your stitches, bulking up the whole thing.
Next up is a simple one; size. By stitching in petit point, you effectively half the size of the work. Now I say effectively, as whilst is if half the size, it’s not a perfect miniature. Instead, the stitch gives the whole thing a slightly different feel.
The design above, stitched in cross stitch (14 count) and petit point (14 count) almost look like different patterns. Still very similar, but the petit point version looks fuller. This is in part due to the better coverage petit point will give you, so you do need to be careful
A good example of this is my Spring in Daigoji temple miniature cross stitch. The design is full coverage, so if I had chosen to stitch in petit point, would look exactly the same. Sometimes you do need to be careful when using this stitch!
Next comes speed. Cross stitch isn’t the fastest thing in the world, and there are ways to speed up cross stitch, and one of those is stitching in half stitches. However, unlike petit point, half stitches also have negative drawbacks, such as poor coverage. With your new stitch you might be able to work through all those cross stitch patterns you’re hording.
Next, we’re going to look at combining both petit point and cross stitch. This is, by far, a lot rarer. However, is also why I started looking into petit point in the first place. By adding petit point into your standard patterns, you can create a new dimension; litterely.
That dimension is distance. By adding in petit point to something that should be in the foreground, it looks exactly like it should be; in the foreground. Look out of the window and you’ll see that things in the distance are smaller, and things in the far distance are blurry. Petit point is fine and detailed, with normal cross stitch looking blocky and out of focus in comparison.
Perversely, you can also use petit point to draw your attention to other objects. In the image above the youtuber is stitching a face in petit point. By doing this the eye picks up on the difference and focuses on the face. You do have to be careful here though, as you only want one section of petit point per pattern in order to make sure everyone is looking in the right place. You often find this in HAED patterns for this exact reason!
So for the first idea, we suggest stitching one! After all, it’s great to be able to use your cross stitch for something useful.
We suggest using plastic canvas, as you can finish plastic canvas in a way that makes a little envelope. Drop a single neodymium magnet into the space, and all you need to do is place another magnet on the back of your work, and you’re done! But we do suggest a smaller cross stitch like my cassette cross stitches.
Use A Pin
Another idea, and one that a lot of people selling needle minders use, is using pins. There are a whole bunch of pins out there from tiny to massive, from brash to refined and everything in between. You will need a specific tool for this one though; wire clippers. Simply snip the spike off the back of the pin, and add a magnet with some hot glue (some pins are already magnetic, but many aren’t, so check first).
Use Doll House Items
My personal suggestion, however, is to use dollhouse items. Dolls house items are super small, well built, and don’t need anything adapting; you simply add the magnet. You can go with dollhouse food (I have a ramen noodle needle minder), dollhouse books (use your favorite book and you have a super personalized minder), or even furniture. I’ve even seen 32 count cross stitch turned into a dollhouse artwork, turned into a needle minder!
Craft One From Clay
Feeling a little more crafty? How about making one from polymer clay? This works very similarly to the dollhouse example, but you have the freedom to make anything you want out of clay. Simply craft your design, then bake it in the oven. You could even get the kids involved and get them to make you something special!
Combine It With a Needle Threader
More of a utilitarian stitcher? How about combining it with your favorite needle threader?
Most needle threaders are metal-based, and you can simply add a magnet to the back of your work and you’re set! No gluing needed 😀
When I first started cross stitching I remember finding a photo of Mr X Stitch cross stitching on the train! I thought it was insane! OK, I was a manbroiderer so may have preferred to stitch indoors, but I thought his work must get so dirty!
That’s the thing; your work doesn’t have to be dirty. With a great project bag, you can stitch wherever you like (including on a plane). But when I first started, no one spoke about project bags, and to be honest, they still don’t. So I plan to shine some light on some of the most useful bags you’ve ever come across!
Plastic Mesh Bag
We’ll start with some of the most obvious options, and right at the top goes the plastic mesh bag.
These bags are specifically for projects, come in a whole variety of sizes, and can come in pure mesh versions (with holes, kind of like aida) or plastic-covered mesh.
As the go-to for many people when first looking for a project bag, they do a good job, however, there are a few issues that actually make them somewhat problematic. The first is that some of these have unprotected mesh; this is great for designing and stitching on it yourself, but just allows dirt and water through!
Secondly, all your tools need to be stored within the same pouch. This is just asking for trouble when it comes to scissors bouncing around, but if you have the mesh variety you need to be careful your needle doesn’t drop out too!
Comes in multiple sizes
You can stitch the outside of them
Not water proof
All tools & thread need to be stored with project
Vinyl Project Bag
For many who have felt the pain of mesh bags, they move to a vinyl project bag, most commonly found on Etsy or similar handmade websites.
These bags are very similar to a mesh bag but are made up of cotton, normally with a vinyl window (which gives them their name). These have a few advantages over mesh bags, such as being dirt proof (although still not waterproof), have a window to see what is where comes in a whole range of designs, and if cross stitch isn’t your only hobby you can stitch your own!
You still have to keep your tools with your work, but they are better than mesh bags. This is where most people end up. However, there are better choices.
Can come in multi designs
Can be stitched yourself
Dirt proof, but not water proof
All tools & thread need to be stored with project
So right now the biggest issues are that we need it to be waterproof, dirtproof, and holds your tools in their own section. This is where we start getting creative. It’s time to look in your attic for that old laptop bag.
You don’t have to use a second-hand one, of course, you can pick up good laptop bags pretty cheap, and even some that market themselves as project bags. But laptop bags have all of the things we need. They’re waterproof to keep the laptop safe, you have multiple flaps and sections for your cables cross stitch tools, and thanks to the way these bags are constructed you can keep your work in the frame (and we mean big frames here, not just the hoop!).
Water proof and dirt proof
Keeps your work separate from your tools
The bulky construction allows you to keep your work in the frame
Not very pretty
Want something prettier? We don’t blame you. So what about your handbag?
Well, we’d suggest you have a handbag JUST for cross stitch as no one wants makeup getting anywhere near your project, and going for a bag with a zip-top is a massively important step to keep it clean and dry. However a handbag doesn’t really solve that much other than being pretty; all your tools will still be with your project, and having two bags on the go at once is a pain (and will inevitably end up with one being left somewhere).
All tools & thread need to be stored with project
Open top bags mean some are not dirt or water proof
So what do we suggest? Knitting bags.
Handbags and knitting bags can look similar, but knitting bags actually have a whole range of designs, some similar to laptop bags, some like clutches, and some like backpacks, so you have lots of variation here to pick from. But knitting bags are made in a way that protects your work, be it knitting, or a cross stitch frame, from dirt and water. They’ve got multiple sections for tools and storage. They have pretty designs!
There isn’t much that we can say negative about them; that’s how good knitting bags are. It’s our personal choice for cross stitch project bags. Sure, most have a single hole in them somewhere to let wool come out, but that’s hardly a big thing!
Tools and work are stored seperately
Pretty, and come in lots of different types and designs
Dirt and water proof
Normally have a single hole in the site (for wool to come out)
The Sewing Roll
But what if you’re not looking for pretty? What happens if you already have a good vinyl bag you like, but want to keep your tools separate? Well, for you, we’d suggest a sewing kit roll.
These babies store all your tools in a nice and safe space, that you can drop into your bag (be it a handbag or project bag), and you can pull out at the drop of a hat. You can make these yourself or pick one up at Etsy or even sewing shops. Or, if you prefer, a makeup bag, makeup roll, or a simple pencil case will work too!
Keeps tools safe and separate from project
Lots of options
Can be made yourself
You can use makeup or pencil cases instead
Wondering what you might want to add into your travel kit (like a reading light), we’ve got you covered with our tips for traveling with cross stitch. If you have any project bags you think we should mention (or even have a photo) drop us a line below!
This post was originally in XStitch Magazine Issue 5: Heroes & Villans, and has been adapted.
To me, cross stitch is the height of handmade. Unlike a lot of other crafts, such as knitting, screen printing, or painting, cross stitch can only ever be made with human hands. It requires dexterity and planning that a machine simply doesn’t have the ability to do. As time has progressed technology has been added into cross stitch to help people do this, such as specialty threads, double eye needles, or even conductive threads, however, it has never been able to cross that barrier into a commercial project, even if people have tried in the past.
Truly, people have tried. In fact, as of today, anyone with a large enough wad of cash can buy a sewing machine capable of cross stitching, and whilst it’s beyond the cost of most crafters, it can be done. But not well.
The most well-known example of a cross stitch machine is probably the Ikea cross stitch invite, sent out to over 50,000 customers back in 2016. A Chinese embroidery house taking on the challenge of making all those invites; it’s not a surprise that they were done on a machine. Looking closely though you can see that on the mass-produced invites the aida doesn’t match up with the stitches. However, that hasn’t stopped its draw. Since then cross stitch can be seen on fashion and furnishings everywhere, becoming a visual synonym of ‘handmade’, despite all of these incarnations being machine sewn.
Inherently, that is cross stitch, a handmade product, lovingly produced the quality of which cannot be reproduced by machines. But the march of progress strives ever forward and it’s inevitable that cross stitch will at one point become just another stitch a sewing machine can perform seamlessly. But that does raise an interesting question. In the words of Will Smith in I, Robot:
“Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?”
Whilst we’re some way off a machine cross stitching a masterpiece, there are a lot of robots creating masterpieces. Or at least, art. There is an international competition held each year where the artists are all robots, hoping to win a cut of $100,000. These aren’t just simple machines capable of taking an image in real life and recreating it either. These machines take decisions based on previous paintings, art styles, or sometimes because they want to (which is pretty scary, even if we’re just talking about art). These artificially intelligent machines are creating independent aesthetic choices, creating artworks that “doesn’t look like a computer made it” as per the New York Art Critic Jerry Saltz. We’re yet to call these paintings masterpieces, but computer algorithms are making massive strides in creating a visual medium we can recognize as art. Something we can recognize as truly human.
This year’s winner was CloudPainter, created by an independent team headed up by Pindar Van Arman. And whilst you might be willing to write him off as a traitor to humanity, ushering a new age of robot overlords, which may or may not need a Terminator to be sent back in time to sort out, Pindar has a very interesting take on what he’s doing, and what his machine is capable of.
“What they are capable of reveals the point where computational creativity ends and human creativity begins. It was not until I began exploring this threshold that I began to understand my own creativity and what it revealed about me as an artist.”
This is only a powerful insight into the mind of an artist, but it highlights that one thing that makes art human; it’s more than just artistic interpretation; it’s artistic creativity.
The Xstitch magazine has been put together with a whole series of cross stitch artists, making their own artistic decisions in creating patterns based on a brief. That might be something simple as “heroes & villains” or something more contrived they put together themselves, but it’s you, the reader, who has the human touch. You can take the patterns and recreate them perfectly. But they will never be perfect. And the reason for that is human emotion, human experience, and human creativity.
In the first issue, I submitted a Saturn V cross stitch pattern and I spelled something wrong in it. That error got printed. That error got stitched. And that error was stitched by others copying the pattern. But some chose to edit it. Some chose to fix my design to their own needs. Maybe it was spelling, maybe it was an aida choice, maybe it was taking only part of the design. Those are choices that a machine cannot make. Those are choices that only humans can make. And that’s why cross stitch will always be handmade. The tiny changes that make it something more.
This something more has always been around in the cross-stitch world. One of my all-time favorite cross stitches is by Major Alexis Casdagil, a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. The sampler itself is steeped in Nazi iconography, a means for the Major to please his non-robotic overlords. It’s not something I’d have on my wall, or even in my house to tell the truth. But it has a secret. Along the edge are a series of Morse code messages, denouncing Hitler and praising the King of England. Another cross stitch was a detailed map, officially not allowed, but as it was ‘art’ the overseers couldn’t take it away either. He also stitched a British flag, something forbidden in the camps, with a flap over, meaning to see it the Nazi’s had to open it, where Alexis would exclaim the Nazi officer was actually a secret Nazi hater. He stitched not to create art, or to please anyone else. He stitched to defy.
It doesn’t matter why cross stitch is created, to sell cheap furniture, or to defy one of the worst people in history, so long as cross stitch is created by the human hand, even if machines do it too, cross stitch will always be handmade. It will always be inherently human. On a final note, when the robot overlords to take over, don’t forget to praise their cross stitch.
I tend not to review books. Most books are produced to a similar standard, and the themes are very personal; you’re either going to be interested or not interested. Of these books, the ones in particular that I always steer away from are sarky statements; most of these books are exactly the same, with riffs on the new home sweet home sampler “please don’t do coke in the bathroom”.
But today I’m going to break my rule; I’m going to review a book; and a sarky one at that! But stay with me, as there is a good reason to!
What Does It Include?
So let’s get the basics covered here; it contains a lot of the basic things any cross stitch book does:
Clear patterns ✔
Previews of the stitched pieces ✔
Instructions for beginners ✔
Fully of sarky statements ✔
Great imagery ✔
Yep, it’s got all the basics. Now to be fair, it does also have a lot more, such as count information, multiple ways to start, what to do with mistakes, finishing tips, and it also has some extras in the back for color changes or lettering alterations. Actually, this section also hides 4 tiny patterns too, which is a nice touch. But for the vast majority of readers, it’s going to be a standard cross stitch book with little in it you didn’t already know.
But that’s where we start talking about the real highlight of the book.
So Why Are You Reviewing It?
The vast majority of cross stitch sarky books contain a basic premise; a simple quote in a nice cross stitch font with a flowery border. Does it have them? Well, it has one. In a 30 pattern book. You see, the remaining 29 patterns are what really sell this book.
Taking smart quips and adding them to aid is pretty simple but the real power of this book is the way they’ve been added. Instead of a boring frame, they’ve been grafted on the side of a cactus, added to the front of a packet of pants, punched out of a magazine, lit up in neon and put on a poster.
These patterns go further than just the normal everyday sarky patterns. They’re truly designed perfectly in ways that simply aren’t seen anywhere else. When was the last time you saw a neon cross stitch pattern?
For me, the greatest thing this book has to offer is its blueprints. By that I mean it gives you everything you need to create a stunning pattern in the future using the styles in this book. It isn’t just a bunch of patterns, it’s a bunch of ideas.
But that would actually be a little unfair of a review for this book. It is filled with sarky patterns, all aching to be the new “please don’t do coke in the bathroom”, with clever touches that riff off expected clichés, and subvert your understanding of what they might be. This is what subversive cross stitch really is.
Is It Really That Good Though?
Yes. And just to prove it, I want to let you into a little secret; my neon cross stitch was heavily inspired by the one in this book (in fact, I stole their colors). I had already made a design that was…meh, but the style of the one in the book made me totally redesign it, and even steal the colors! That’s just how much I love it. It literally changed the pattern idea I had, and made me make something great.
“Tara and Roy definitely deserve a high-five for their brilliant execution of a stitched neon sign AND their understanding of where french fries fall on the priority list! A Bitch in Time lets you take a nice, constructive stabbing break anytime too much becomes WAY too much!”
Haley Pierson-Cox, author of Improper Cross-Stitch, Cross Stitch The Golden Girls, and Feminist Stitches
So Is It Worth Getting?
Yes. It’s been a long time since I got a cross stitch book that I truly admired, but this is one.
If you’re interested in sarky stitches, it’s great; it has them, and mostly of the ruder kind. But even if you’re not interested in that (like me), it’s still a great book for what it can teach you about design. Not only did it totally change a pattern idea I had, but there’s another pattern that I’m thinking about too. For me, it’s a great book!
Digital copies are $24/£18and hard copies are $30/£23.
One of the most requested posts I’m asked for is simple; how to make a cross stitch pattern. And whilst we have gone over how to make cross stitch patterns using cross stitch software there are those that want to make patterns on paper. So today, we’re going to talk about how to make a pattern without online/computer tools.
When it comes to making patterns without the aid of technology, there are limitations, and we’d reminisce to not talk about these first and foremost, but don’t let these stop you!
Size is a problem – When it comes to these types of patterns, you’re limited to a few factors. One big one is the size and amount of paper you have. Whilst you can make ream after ream of paper into one massive pattern, generally, you’re going to be limited to less than 4 inches square of workable space (depending on the count of paper you have and count you stitch on, this may result in a larger or smaller stitched work). Complexity is a problem – Whilst you can once again make a pattern as complex as you like, making anything with more than about 10 colors gets very complicated, very quickly. We suggest following a very clear guide and make sure you keep track of changes. Count is (mostly) out of your hands – This is a slightly more complicated situation, but you’re going to be limited by the size of squared paper you can purchase. Most squared paper is about 6 count, and you can get graph paper from 10 count to 20 count. So long as you’re happy working with large patterns and can get your head around that the pattern you make won’t be the same size as the completed work, you should be fine though!
So now the list of problems is over, let’s get on and talk about how to actually do it.
Copying An Image
The first type of pattern you might want to make is a copy of something you originally own, like a photo, logo or something similar. For this, we’re going to need one of my all-time favorite cross stitch tools, a tracing pad.
Simply place whatever you want to copy on to of the tracing pad, then place squared paper or graph paper on top.
Simply put, if there is black in a box, stitch in it. If there is white, don’t stitch. As you get to smaller details you can choose to add petit point or half stitches or make a judgment call on if you stitch there or not. And that’s it!
However, due to the issue above about count, you’re very limited in regards to size. Changing the graph paper can help with count, but if the thing your copying can’t be printed in multiple sizes, then you’re going to have your hands-tied on size.
Making Your Own Image
The second option when making papers is arguably the most interesting (and more complex); making it up yourself.
There are two ways to go about this, you can either draw it yourself and then use the above method, or you can create it from the ground up. Below is an example of that second option, where vmstack has placed each square (equal to one cross stitch) into a square paper journal to form the image. In order to do this successfully, you need to need a really concrete idea of what you want before you start, including size and color count. However, once you’ve done that it’s as simple as marking out your extreme edges, block the areas out roughly, then start adding detail.
The great thing about this is that you have so much more freedom with the size and scope of your project. You could just manually try to copy a design, but make it a count you want, or take a well-known character (as per the example below) and make your own version of it. And once you’ve done a few, you can then borrow elements of previous patterns to help you out. For example, the below character has great proportions, which you could use next time for a different character, etc.
Whatever method you’ve chosen, you’ll come to the point where you have a pattern, with rough colors blocked out. This is where you’ll need to start picking your real colors, and for this, we strongly suggest getting a DMC color card. We’ve gone more specifically into how to do this on our how to use a DMC color card, and as there are lots of fine-tuning you can do we suggest you read that before picking colors.
However, once that’s done, you’ve just completed your first cross stitch pattern on paper.
It feels like every time someone posts a photo on social media at the moment, somewhere in the background is a nice hank of hand-dyed, variegated or over-dyed threads. But the number of photos with people actually using them is super rare. In fact, despite you seeing them at stores, there’s a good chance you’ve never picked any up.
Today, I want to convince you to give them a try.
Why Should You Use Them?
So, what makes these threads interesting? Well, it’s all about visual interest.
There are two main reasons why you might choose to use specialty stitches; to create something unique, or to highlight details.
The first of these is making something unique. By applying a specialty thread on something like a background (as in the picture below), you create not only something with visual interest but something that no one else can replicate. It’s something new, different, and doesn’t take away from the rest of the stitch.
Secondly, there are the details. This one, for me, is the most interesting. By using something like a variated thread you can create complex-looking sections of your work, without having to confetti stitch.
In the examples above you have roses with natural-looking color variation, a truly fantastic wood effect, and a brick wall and bushes that would take a crazy level of time to replicate with single color threads.
Whilst these seem like simple ideas at first, by adding them to your work you’ll see how they add an extra touch of something special, especially if used sparingly.
Types Of Threads
Whilst we have been talking about these threads, it’s worth pointing out that there are more than a few thread types here.
Hand-dyed Single Color – Of all the threads, this is the most boring, but also hardest to find. In short, they’re single color threads, that happen to be hand-dyed. Whilst there are some really nice colors coming out of this space, the difference between using something like DMC or CXC and hand-dyed single color threads is barely noticeable (if at all).
Over-dyed – The second type of threads are over-dyed. Effectively these are also single-color threads, but the dye has been applied haphazardly (on purpose) meaning there are more intense spots and less intense spots. This gives you a patchwork like effect.
Variegated – The official ‘variegated’ threads from manufacturers like DMC are like over-dyed, but with two key differences. Firstly, the changes between intensities are planned out in regular lengths, giving it a far less natural transition. Secondly, they are MUCH more intense, going from super dark to super light all within one thread.
Hand-dyed Variations – These threads are a bit more complicated, instead of going through intense and less intense patches of the same color, they go through the same, but with multiple colors. This gives a really interesting, and visually complicated look.
Variations Threads – The official variation threads from brands like DMC are once again, the same style as the hand-dyed, but have two drawbacks. The first is once again, its very regimented transitions, looking rather obvious if stitched over larger areas. Secondly, they can change between some seriously powerful colors at opposite ends of the color spectrum. These threads tend to be less useful thanks to their extreme changes of color.
How To Stitch With them
So now we want to stitch with them, and we know the differences, can we start to stitch? Well, not yet.
You see, unlike normal threads, if you’re using any of these threads, you need to be aware of how you stitch.
Below is an image of different stitching techniques and how they change the look of stitching. From left (up) to the right (bottom); Danish method, English method, block method.
Depending on the look you’re going for, and the thread type you choose, you may need to adjust your stitching technique.
But that’s up to you! We suggest you have a trial and see what interesting ideas you can come up with!
A Word Of Warning
Finally, it is worth pointing out that even though hand-dyed threads are fantastic to use, there are a few downsides too.
Washing/Colorfast – The first issue is a two-parter; both washing and colorfastness. Washing your cross stitch is an important step for most stitchers (even if you don’t have to wash it), but all bets are off with hand-dyed threads.
The processes behind colorfast dyes might not be followed, or even possible, depending on the brand, color, or even style base thread, meaning that washing these threads often washes colors. We would suggest that you really think about the threads before any washing happens, and whilst you could wash your thread before you start, some of the intensity will come out. So it’s a decision you really need to think about.
Finally, a lot, but not all, of these threads have their own washing instructions, so make sure you follow them to the letter for best results!
Dye Lots – Whilst DMC thread dye lot issues may or may not be real, its a serious problem with hand-dyed threads. These things not only have a less stringent dying process, so vary in intensity, but variation threads and variegated threads blend multiple colors from different points, meaning it almost guaranteed that no two threads will be the same.
This can work to your advantage, meaning you always produce something truly unique, but there is also no chance you can get the same look twice.
Price – Yeh, hand-dyed threads cost more. In reality, you’re paying for the base price of the thread, and then the hand-dying process on top of that, meaning that most of these threads can cost 3 or 4 times as much as their mass-manufactured counterparts.
Have you tried using hand-dyed threads, or even DMC’s variegated? We’d love your feedback and to hear if you’ll be using them again!