All of our posts that offer guides, tips, tricks and reviews to make sure your cross stitch is the best it can be.

Let’s Talk About… French Knots

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.

Cherry Blossom Cross Ctitch by Peakcock & Fig (source: peacockandfig.com)
Cherry Blossom Cross Stitch by Peacock & Fig (source: peacockandfig.com)

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!

Tips

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.

French Knot Tip – Loops (Source: needlenthread.com)
French Knot Tip – Loops (Source: needlenthread.com)

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!

French Knot Tip – Keep The Space (Source: needlenthread.com)
French Knot Tip – Keep The Space (Source: needlenthread.com)

Tension

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.

French Knot Tip – Tension (Source: needlenthread.com)
French Knot Tip – Tension (Source: needlenthread.com)

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?
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

What Is Petit Point Anyway? And Should You Try It?

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.

Cross Stitch and Petit Point examples (Source: crosssitchclub.com)
Cross Stitch and Petit Point examples (Source: crosssitchclub.com)

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.

Better Coverage

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.

Pattern, Cross Stitch and Petite Point Geocaching Bug (Source: pinterest)
Pattern, Cross Stitch and Petite Point Geocaching Bug (Source: pinterest)

Smaller Work

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!

Speed

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.

Cross stitch and petit point in one pattern (Source: youtube)
Cross stitch and petit point in one pattern (Source: youtube)

Combining Stitches

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.
 
Distance
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.
 
Detail
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!
 
Shout out to Sirithre who has a great post on how petit point can be used to great effect!
 
Have you ever tried petit point before? If so, tell us why, we’d love to hear if there are other great uses!
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

How To Make A Needle Minder

There are a lot of advantages to using a needle minder, from saving you losing needles and keeping things tiny to just adding a bit of interest to your stitching space. But do you really need to buy a needle minder?
We don’t think so. In fact, you can make a whole variety of needle minders, and all you need are a few magnets…
 

Stitch One

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).

Tiny Kitten Needle Minders by Snarky Crafter (Source: Etsy)
Tiny Kitten Needle Minders by Snarky Crafter (Source: Etsy)

 

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!

coffee cups needle minders (source: pinterest)
coffee cups needle minders (source: pinterest)

 

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!

chapelviewcrafts polymer cake needle minder by chapelviewcrafts (source: etsy)
Polymer cake needle minder by ChapelViewCrafts (source: etsy)

 

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 😀

Needle Minders with built in needle threaders by NeedleKeep Emporium (Source: Etsy)
Needle Minders with built in needle threaders by NeedleKeep Emporium (Source: Etsy)

 
We’d love to see some examples of your needle minders, and especially so if you’re not a fan of needle minders!
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

Grab A Project Bag And Cross Stitch While You Travel

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.

Gingham Mesh Project Bag (Source: itssewemma.com)
Gingham Mesh Project Bag (Source: itssewemma.com)

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!

Benefits

  • Comes in multiple sizes
  • You can stitch the outside of them

Draw Backs

  • 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.

Sewing Project Bag by TheTinySewingCompany (Source: Etsy)
Sewing Project Bag by TheTinySewingCompany (Source: Etsy)

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.

Benefits

  • Can come in multi designs
  • Can be stitched yourself

Draw Backs

  • Dirt proof, but not water proof
  • All tools & thread need to be stored with project

 

Laptop Bag

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.

Laptop Bag used as a Cross Stitch Project Bag (Source: Amazon)
Laptop Bag used as a Cross Stitch Project Bag (Source: Amazon)

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!).

Benefits

  • Water proof and dirt proof
  • Keeps your work separate from your tools
  • The bulky construction allows you to keep your work in the frame

Draw Backs

  • Not very pretty

 

A Hangbag

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).

Benefits

  • Pretty

Draw Backs

  • Bulky
  • All tools & thread need to be stored with project
  • Open top bags mean some are not dirt or water proof

 

Knitting Bags

So what do we suggest? Knitting bags.

Knitting Bag (Source: Amazon)
Knitting Bag (Source: Amazon)

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!

Benefits

  • Tools and work are stored seperately
  • Pretty, and come in lots of different types and designs
  • Dirt and water proof

Draw Backs

  • 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.

Sewing Kit Roll (Source: Flickr)
Sewing Kit Roll (Source: Flickr)

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!

Benefits

  • 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!
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

Make your own cross stitch patterns without online tools

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.

Owl image and squared paper on tracing pad
Owl image and squared paper on tracing pad

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.

Cross Stitch Pattern on Squared Paper by vmstack (Source: Instagram)
Cross Stitch Pattern on Squared Paper by vmstack (Source: Instagram)

Picking Colors

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.

DMC Thread shade card with new colors with logo by Lord Libidan
DMC Thread shade card with new colors with logo by Lord Libidan

If you enjoy making patterns, or think you may, then trying out one of the various free online cross stitch pattern generators is a great place to start without having to spend any money.
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

Why You Should Try Hand-Dyed Threads

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.

Chameleon Hand Dyed Threads (Source: africanfabric.co.uk)
Chameleon Hand Dyed Threads (Source: africanfabric.co.uk)

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.

Something Unique

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.

Harry Potter Cross Stitch with Variegated Thread by cityofevil7 (Source: reddit.com)
Harry Potter Cross Stitch with Variegated Thread by cityofevil7 (Source: reddit.com)

Details

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.

Various hand-dyed, over-dyed and variegated thread cross stitches (Source: various)
Various hand-dyed, over-dyed and variegated thread cross stitches (Source: various)

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.

DMC Thread 67 (Source: cloudcraft.co.uk)
DMC Thread 67 (Source: cloudcraft.co.uk)

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.
DMC Thread 4200 (Source: studio-koekoek.com)
DMC Thread 4200 (Source: studio-koekoek.com)

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.

Variegated Thread using different stitching styles (Source: crossstitchreview.com)
Variegated Thread using different stitching styles (Source: crossstitchreview.com)

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!
 
Happy stitching,
Lord Libidan

Make Your Own Cross Stitch Challenge

When it comes to cross stitch, most of us sit in our safe place. We might use white fabric, only use aida, or might stitch patterns from one preferred designer. But does it have to be that way?
I propose that you should try something different, try to expand your skillset, and make something truly awesome. You might find a new technique to use, a great fabric supplier, a new pattern designer, or you might just find an easier way to stitch. This is why you should challenge yourself.
 

Do Something You Think You Might Hate

I’m going to start with an idea that initially sounds horrid, but it’s not! Bare with us!
Try something you think you’ll hate. Now let’s be specific here, don’t do something you DO hate, but what about those things you’re not super sure of? What about those things you’ve never tried before but heard are bad?
 
I personally hate french knots, I just can’t abide them, but I LOVE when they’re creatively used. Our friend and designer, Peacock & Fig, uses them a lot in her designs and they simply rock. She has no issue with them.

Cherry Blossom Cross Stitch by Peacock & Fig (source: peacockandfig.com)
Cherry Blossom Cross Stitch by Peacock & Fig (source: peacockandfig.com)

If you’re trying this, you should probably limit yourself to a small pattern at first, but by pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, you can fall in love with where it can take you. This was the same for me and my transforming robot cross stitch. I wanted to push myself and see what plastic canvas could do, and it was a love affair!
 

Try A New Technique

Next up, we suggest trying something with a new technique. A good example here is railroading or gridding, which aren’t hard techniques, and they aren’t hated (by the majority) either. But these techniques can totally change your stitching experience.
 
Before I started grinding I used to always make mistakes, having to get the dreaded frogging tools out. But now I rarely make mistakes, I’m happier as I don’t have to rip stuff out, and I don’t have to count as much. It’s a win-win. Sure, this doesn’t change the overall look of my work, but it does make the stitching experience much nicer.
 
You don’t even need to stitch to traditional techniques here either; what about mixing things up by using a double eyed needle or blending threads?

railroaded cross stitch (source: Craftster)
railroaded cross stitch (source: Craftster)

 

Pick A Thread To Work With

But what about taking this in a different direction? Most of us scour the internet looking for a great pattern, buy it and stitch it (or store the pattern and probably forget it exists). But there is another way!
 
Instead of finding a pattern first, choose a thread. It might be variegated, it might just be a singular color you’ve always wanted to use or anything else! You could even try using metallic threads and combining the first challenge with this! Sure, you can make stitching with metallic threads easier (and I strongly suggest you do), or you could even try out different metallic thread types like the DMC Diamant thread range. You might just find a favorite thread and make a kick-ass cross stitch while you’re at it.

DMC Diamant Threads (Source: tattingcorner.com)
DMC Diamant Threads (Source: tattingcorner.com)

 

Find Your Fabric First

“But what about fabric”; I hear no one ask! I’m currently on a massive fabric obsession. From insane colors to hand-dyed aida. It turns out that there are loads of different fabrics out there, which are just begging to be stitched on and to make something crazy awesome.
 
By simply changing the aida from white to something else you’ve created a whole new look without any real effort. Find a fancy fabric that looks like the sea, or space, and find a pattern to fit it. You can even stitch on dark or black aida with ease, so don’t be shy of trying those either.
 
But you have even more choice! There are a whole bunch of different cross stitch fabrics you can choose, or if you’re feeling adventurous you can cross stitch on anything!

Various Hand Dyed Aida Pieces (Source: Etsy)
Various Hand Dyed Aida Pieces (Source: Etsy)

 

Try A New Tool

There are two tools in our cross stitch kit that we can’t live without, gold plated needles and micro scissors. Both of these are tools that were suggested by friends. In fact, I had gold-plated needles forced upon me after I failed to buy them after my friend suggested them. But they truly are amazing. And I wouldn’t have know unless I took a punt. Both of these are cross stitch tools for less than $20 so aren’t a big purchase, and they’re definitely worth it.

gold cross stitch needles (source: ebay)
gold cross stitch needles (source: ebay)

 
Have you got any other ideas on how you can challenge yourself with cross stitch? Drop us a comment below and we’ll include it in the post!
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

How To Cope With More Than One Project At Once

We’re big fans of organization, and in the past we’ve covered everything from organizing fabric to needles, but this post will be slightly different. You see, whilst most of us only stitch one project at a time, that doesn’t mean we only have one project started. Today, we look at how to cope with multiple projects.
 
Depending on who you are, you might think this isn’t a post for you. Maybe you only stitch one thing at once? I was like that once. However then I found this great cross stitch pattern on Etsy, and I just had to buy it. I was excited, I was itching to start, so I had to collect my threads together. That; is where it starts.
 
On average I still only stitch one thing at once, like many of us, but I have a few projects prepped and ready to go. But what’s the best way to actually go about this?

Homemade Cross Stitch Pattern Holders by Ms_Pebbles (Source scrapbook.com)
Homemade Cross Stitch Pattern Holders by Ms_Pebbles (Source scrapbook.com)

Ask Yourself If You’re Actually Going To Stitch It

We’re going to start with a somewhat painful one. The fact of the matter is that all of us horde cross stitch patterns, but many of us fail to actually start most of them (or I do at least. Please tell me I’m not the only one?).
As a result, it’s important to ask; are you going to stitch it. This might even be something you can postpone to later too. Let’s say you’re stitching a massive piece and you know it will take months; wait until at least halfway through before you start thinking about other projects, otherwise you might have a stack by the time you finish!

Pick Out Your Threads

OK, so you’re devoted to stitching up a second project, or at least you want to get ahead on the planning phase. The first step is to pull out some threads.
There are a few things here that are important.
 
The first is something we talk about a lot; picking good threads. And by that I mean make sure they’re all new threads, you have enough, and there are no issues with color variation. This will avoid you having to deal with the whole dye lot issue, and makes sure your project will be perfect.
 
The second one is once again something we shout about a lot; storage. You’ve picked your threads, and now is the time to make sure they’re stored well. Leaving them out on the side for months getting dusty, sun-damaged, and risking spills (it always happens when you least expect it), is not the way to go. We have a whole bunch of ways to store cross stitch threads, but our suggestion is a thread box. These boxes hold a whole bunch of threads (enough for even the largest of epic projects), can hold other things like needles, and keep everything protected.

Full set of DMC threads
My full set of DMC threads ordered by number

Grid It Up

Next, we suggest you grid your fabric. OK, we suggest washing the fabric before you start and then gridding the fabric.
This might seem a little weird at first glance, after all, gridding is only one step before stitching, but we’ve all been there with a new project; we want to get stuck in, not spend an hour gridding it.
 
And that is exactly why we suggest doing it now. Grid it, and forget it. You’ll still be able to get stuck in when you do start the project, but you’ll have a little more enthusiasm for gridding now than you will later in time.
 
There are a whole bunch of ways to grid your cross stitch, but if you plan on putting your project on hold for a while, we would suggest using the non-pen related methods. Washable pens can bleed and disappear over time and whilst this isn’t a permanent issue, it will mean you have to redo the gridding later on. And the only thing worse than gridding is gridding twice.

Cover It

Dirt happens. Cover everything. This might be the threads as we explained about, this might be the pattern, fabric, or anything else. Just make sure it’s covered.

Project Bags

Knowing that you need to cover it, and knowing you need to hold a whole bunch of things together, this is where the project bag comes in.
 
I use to store my “ongoing” projects in a draw. I opened it and I had to fish through the fabric from one project, threads from another, and pattern sheets that you swear shouldn’t even be in there. It was a mess. Sure, they were protected in the draw, but it was an organizational nightmare. Then, a well known online cross stitch store supplied a few to us for free. Game changer.

Cross Stitch Project Bag by BloomTopia (Source: fatquartershop.com)
Cross Stitch Project Bag by BloomTopia (Source: fatquartershop.com)

You can get project bags in a whole raft of different types, sizes, and designs, but the best for us is something clear so we can see which project is which, and comes in multiple sizes. These things hold everything you need, protect it, and keep things together. A real game changer.
 

Pro tip – If you like highlighting patterns; don’t leave your highlighter in the bag. We’ve been burned on this a few times!

 
As I said earlier, this might not be something you initially think is relevant to you based on your current stitching trends, but with the above advice, if you do ever prep for another project early, or even have multiple cross stitch projects on the go at once, this should help avoid any pitfalls!
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

How many strands of thread should you use?

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.
&nsbp;
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

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

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.

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