How to keep up motivation while tackling a big cross stitch project

pokemon epic all generations cross stitch by samarin6 (source: spritestitch.com)

We’ve spoken at length about how to get cross stitch inspiration and how cross stitch can help you destress but there is one problem we hear a lot about, especially as we give away epic pokemon cross stitch patterns and that’s burnout.
If you’re a youtube watcher, you’ve probably heard about recent videos on content burnout, where youtubers are constantly having to churn out video content, and it takes away the fun. Well, that happens with cross stitch too. Sure, you might not have an audience to satisfy, you’re probably your own worst critic, but keeping up your cross stitch mojo, especially when you’re tackling a big project, can be hard. Real hard. But there are ways to solve that problem!

eat sleep stitch repeat cross stitch by stitchkits (Source: notonthehighstreet.com)
Sometimes this ISN’T what you want. Eat Sleep Stitch Repeat cross stitch by stitchkits (Source: notonthehighstreet.com)

Stitch up some small projects

One of the greatest ways to get through a big project, or even a rut you might be having, is to pick up small stitches. Thoses small stitches might take you a weekend, and you might not even be super into them, but they acomplish two things. The first, is it gives you that completion high all cross stitchers know, and secondly, it gives you renewed enthusiasm for what you’re currently doing. Yeh, you might be stitching away at the same page for 3 months solid, but doing a throw away project gives you that perspective that actually, what you’re stitching right now is going to be awesome.

Look for inspiration

We mentioned cross stitch inspiration at the top of this blog, but actually, inspiration is one of the best things for you. Yes, you might come away with a list as long as your arm of things you want to stitch, and might even have a few patterns to boot, but it’ll remind you why you like stitching, and why you like stitching that epic you’re on currently.

Go on a cross stitch holiday

Tried that? Not helping you out? OK, then stop stitching. I know, I know, it sounds stupid, especially if you’re half the way through to just drop it, but seperation from cross stitch might actually be exactly what you need. You don’t have to sit there thinking about it either, go out, pick up another hobby, knit, sew or just read a book. I personally play computer games. That break helps you renew, just like a holiday. Not only that, but you might find yourself wanting and wanting to revisit it, and once that happens, you know the rut is over.

Don’t beat yourself up

You’re thinking to yourself “but I’m X of the way through, I can’t stop”. Well, I’m here to tell you its OK. You can stop beating yourself up. I’m the type of person that likes a plan, and I like to stick with it, so if I can’t stitch as much as I planned or the project is taking longer than I expected I tend to beat myself up. But there’s no reason to. It’s OK to be late.

Failure is always an option

And in fact, its OK to give up. One of my personal heros is known for a simple notion; that failure is always an option. Sometimes things just don’t work, and giving up is not only an acceptable thing to do, but sometimes, its the best thing to do.

How To Cross Stitch On Black Aida

Black aida (Source: Etsy)

I personally love black aida, it can really make a piece sing, however I’ve also heard of people scared to use dark and black aida due to the issues involved. Ad while I understand their point of view, dark aida really isn’t to be feared. In fact, with some really simple changes you can make stitching on black aida a breeze!

Light it up like crazy

Daylight Slimline Table Lamp (source: Amazon)
Daylight Slimline Table Lamp (source: Amazon)

The first thing that everyone says when it comes to dark aida is light it up. I would personally suggest stitching somewhere so well lit up that it doesn’t matter if you have dark aida or not, but investing in a really reliable and bright light can work wonders for your work. If you’re interested we looked at if daylight bulbs are really worth it and we even mention the use of dark aidas.
But people often ask me about how they should light their area. I’ve regularlly heard about lighting under your work as well as on top, and whilst I understand why, I think that this isn’t the way to go. I would light from the top only.

Cover your lap with white (or use a light box)

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

And here’s why I think you should light from the top only; you should light from the bottom differently. Instead of using a traditional bulb, you should either use a large white sheet to reflect light, or, my personal favorite; a tracing pad. You can pick tracing pads up from amazon for a dozen dollars, and they’re super light and thin so you can rest them on your lap, or table without issue. The advantage is that unlike standard light, a tracing pad both lights and gives a white backdrop at the same time, meaning you can see right through those holes.

Grid it

Thread grid cross stitch by medlow studio tapesty needlepoint (source: thehappycross-stitcher.com)
Thread grid cross stitch by medlow studio tapesty needlepoint (source: thehappycross-stitcher.com)

I used to hate the idea of gridding, and honestly, I’m not too sure why, but for an average project, I still don’t grid. But that isn’t the case for dark fabrics. For dark fabrics I ALWAYS grid. Half the battle with a dark fabric is the effort of counting, and with a simple grid you can make it so much easier.
Check out our cross stitch gridding techniques if you’re new like I was!

Frame it

Easy Clip Cross Stitch Frame (source: amazon)
Easy Clip Cross Stitch Frame (source: amazon)

You probably frame your work when you stitch, however with dark aida it becomes super important. You want a nice frame that will stretch out the fabric as tight as possible to ensure the holes in the aida open up so you can see through them. You can pick any of the best cross stitch frames out there, but make sure the fabric is really tight.

Magnify it

With all this extra light, gridding, framing and whatnot its no suprise that looking at dark aida is a strain on the eyes. We would suggest taking regular breaks anyway (we’re big fans of the 20-20-20 rule), but there is something else you can do to help your eye sight; magnification. Put simply, the larger the aida, the clearer it is. As simple as that!

Use your needle to ‘feel’ the fabric

When stitching, I like to watch TV, as I’m sure many of you do too, but by doing this I accidently developed a skill I didn’t even know was a posibility; feeling the fabric. I personally think this explination from StitchedModern is the best at describing it, so I’ll leave it to them:

If you slowly and lightly drag the tip of your needle over the fabric, it will dip where there are holes. Do this before you take a stitch and you are more likely to find the hole instead of piercing the fabric fibers. This takes a little practice, but eventually you get the feel of it.

A simple, but truly effective method for dealing with dark aida…

Black aida (Source: Etsy)
Black aida (Source: Etsy)

How many stitches can you get out of a 8m skein?

Discontinued US only DMC threads (source: 123stitch.com)

When anyone starts a new project there is one question that plagues cross stitchers everywhere. How many skeins of thread do I need?
 
What makes this question even harder is it isn’t the same for everyone. You see, people stitch in different ways, and generally that means you can be more or less efficient. So we stitched one color in an efficient and inefficient way to get a scale of how many stitches you can make using a whole 8m skein of thread.

CountInefficient
Stitches
Average
Stitches
Efficient
Stitches
10120012501300
12145015001550
14165017501850
16195019502050
18220022502300
20245025002550
22270027502800

 

Inefficient vs Efficient Stitches

A few people have asked what make the difference between efficient and inefficient stitches, so to help you stitch more economically, here is what we did.
Inefficient – Stitched in the “English Method”, with knots in the starts of the threads and ends of threads. Shorter lengths of threads were used, and all threads were used till at least 2 inches were left.
Efficient – Stitched in the “Danish Method”, no knots in the start or end (thread ends tucked), long lengths of thread and only 1 inch left before ending the thread.
 
If you want to increase your stitching efficiency, you might want to read our post on how to cross stitch faster.

How To Find A Perfect Needle Minder

Oreo Cookie Needle Minder by FandomCrossStitchery (Source: Etsy)

It’s fair to say at this point that I’m a big fan of needle minders. So much so that I included them in my cross stitcher christmas gift list this year, as well as devote a whole post to some weird and wonderful needle minders. But whilst stitching my Star Trek Voyager cross stitch I realised that finding the perfect needle minder for you, isn’t just its design.

Functionality

Everyone knows that needle minders are meant to hold needles for you, but a needle minder can be so much more. I’ve seen loads of different uses, from magnifiers to and the ever popular needle threaders, some of which we covered in last weeks needle threaders. By adding in something that you’re going to use anyway, you can stop that ever painful moment scrabbling around the floor trying to find one of those small tools.

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

Size

However in my mind, there’s something much more important to look out for with needle minders. Size. When you’re stitching up a massive cross stitch, this isn’t so important, afterall, you have the space. But when you’re working on a smaller project, or even worse, travelling, the need for a needle minder is even higher! Yet large needle minders are frankly unwieldy. That’s why I use a super small needle minder when I can, such as these tiny 1cm kittens!

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

Weight

But this of course opens up another thing to consider, weight. You see, whilst some needle minders can be small and as a result work better for smaller projects, a lot of needle minders are metal, meaning they’re heavy. This not only causes more pressure for the frame/hoop, but can even warp your aida depending on what frame you use. As a result its a good idea to have a light weight needle minder in your collection too.
We personally love the idea of combining some of these options, like this awesome 2cm tiny needle minder made from lightweight plastic by FandomCrossStitchery.

Oreo Cookie Needle Minder by FandomCrossStitchery (Source: Etsy)
Oreo Cookie Needle Minder by FandomCrossStitchery (Source: Etsy)

You can win both NeedleKeepEmporium’s and FandomCrossStitchery’s needle minders in our free cross stitch giveaway!

What Do You Need To Start Cross Stitching?

Self framed cross stitch (source: plasticlittlecovers.com)

We know that a lot of people take up new hobbies around new year, so we thought we’d give a run down on what you need to start cross stitching. Whilst most cross stitchers probably know whats needed, there are some things that can totally change your hobby that you only learn years after starting; so we’re giving you a leg up.

A Cross Stitch Kit/Pattern

The first thing any cross stitcher needs is a kit or pattern. This is the thing you work from allowing you to make the design. Most starters go for a kit, as this gives you the pattern, the fabric, the thread, and a needle. Some might even include a hoop to go with it, which as you can see from below, are also needed.

Mini Donut Cross Stitch Kit by Stitchonomy (source: Etsy)
Mini Donut Cross Stitch Kit by Stitchonomy (source: Etsy)

If you’re at a loss of where to get a kit or pattern, we would suggest you check out Stitchonomy on Etsy not only do they have some awesome patterns and kits, but they even have super tiny ones like the above. You can even win one of her kits in our giveaway. However if their style isn’t to you liking there are THOUSANDS of cross stitch kits and patterns on Etsy.
If your pattern doesn’t come with a guide, we can tell you how to cross stitch like a rock star.

Aida (Fabric)

14 Count Aida Cross Stitch Fabric (source: ebay)
14 Count Aida Cross Stitch Fabric (source: ebay)
The fabric you stitch on will be called ‘aida’, there are other types of fabric for cross stitch, such as evenweave, but for a starter is best to use aida. It has a simple repeating pattern with little holes so you know exactly where to stitch. You’ll want to look for a ’14 count’ aida. This means there you can stitch 14 little crosses within an inch. It’s the standard size, however if you want you can choose a higher number (harder) or a lower number (easier), which might be good for getting kids involved.
I would also advise you to purchase more than you need. To start, you’ll want to add 4 inches around the edge of your design. So if your design is 2 inches square, you’ll want an 10 inch square bit of fabric. This might seem excessive, but the way you hold the fabric, and how you might frame it change the fabric requirements. As you start cross stitching more often you can change up the sizes to fit you better.

Tapestry Needles

John James Pebble needles (source: sewandso.com)
John James Pebble needles (source: sewandso.com)
Needles! But specifically tapestry needles. I made this mistake myself when I started, in short, tapestry needles have a bigger eye (the bit at the end you thread) which can allow for embroidery thread, and it doesn’t have a sharp end. If you’ve chosen a 14 count aida fabric you’ll want a size 24 needle (confusing, right?) however if you’ve gone for a different count fabric you can check our handly guide on what size cross stitch needle you need.
You might also want to consider getting yourself a needle threader. They’re super cheap, and can make threading the needle a breeze.

Embroidery Thread

6 stands of cross stitch embroidery thread illustration (source: DMC)
6 stands of a standard embroidery thread (source: DMC)
The next thing you’ll need is embroidery thread. This is a very specific thread used by embroidery fans. It comes in 8m long lengths and is actually 6 different threads wound together. You’ll need to split these up to stitch, but your kit or pattern guide should tell you more about this.
DMC is the most used brand, however you can also get more expensive threads such as Anchor, or cheaper ones like CXC. At the moment you really don’t need expensive threads, however price is something to consider going forward. A full set of DMC threads might cost you $400, where as a full set of CXC threads, which are the same colors, might cost you $60. There is also hardly any difference between expensive and cheap embroidery threads.

Embroidery Hoop

Embroidery Hoops of Various Sizes (source: sewandso.com)
Embroidery Hoops of Various Sizes (source: sewandso.com)
You’ll also want an embroidery hoop. This isn’t super important for something less than 2 inches, but for anything larger, its a requirement. It holds the fabric taught so you can see the holes easier. You can pick up a small 4 inch embroidery hoop from Etsy for a few dollars.
You can invest in a bigger and better cross stitch frame if you want to later, we have a guide on finding the best cross stitch frame for you, however a hoop is cheap, effective and used by a lot of cross stitchers by preference.

Embroidery Scissors

Premax Carnival Embroidery Scissors (source: kreinik.com)
Premax Carnival Embroidery Scissors (source: kreinik.com)

Once again, we want to be specific here; you need EMBROIDERY scissors, but just your regular table scissors. So what’s the difference? The tips. Unliek normal scissors, embroidery scissors are short, and super sharp, and have a fine point. They allow you to get right in there with the tips to cut only the thread you want. I would start off with something like a 1 inch embroidery scissors, however you can also check out our guide on finding the right cross stitch scissors for you.

The Knowledge That It Might Not Be Perfect

One of the biggest things stopping people taking up cross stitch is the fear of getting it wrong. The fear that it might be mocked by other cross stitchers. Well, I’m here to tell you thats BS. Not only is the cross stitch community super nice, especially to beginners, but there are so many ways of doing things that you basically can’t do it ‘wrong’. So long as there are crosses, you’ve done it.
You might have also heard about keeping the back of your work neat, and I’m not going to lie; the back of your work will probably look terrible, but I can also tell you that it doesn’t matter what the back of your cross stitch looks like.
And if you have to pull stitches out, don’t worry, EVERYONE frogs.
&nsbp;
Finally, know that if you ever have questions, just drop me an email, check reddit, or even a cross stitch facebook group.

There are different plastic canvases – and you’re probably using the wrong one.

The different types of plastic canvas cross stitch fabric (source: thesprucecrafts.com)

Right now you probably have a quizical look on your face, afterall, you know what plastic canvas looks like, how can there be different types? Well, actually there are three different types, used for three different purposes, and most of the time, people use the wrong one. I stitch a lot of things in plastic canvas, and I’ve sold patterns and kits all over the world, however I regularly get asked about the type of plastic canvas. In reality, there is only one cross stitch plastic canvas.
This isn’t due to stupiditiy or anything, but more a case of cheap fakes. In fact, ever since 1973 when plastic canvas first came to market, people have been ripping it off. You see, plastic canvas is super easy to fake and as a result most stores hold ’14 count cross stitch plastic canvas’ which are actually, not cross stitch plastic canvas. Confused? Let me explain…

The different types of plastic canvas cross stitch fabric (source: thesprucecrafts.com)
The different types of plastic canvas cross stitch fabric (source: thesprucecrafts.com)

Needlepoint Plastic Canvas

Needlepoint Plastic Canvas - stiff (source: marymaxim.com)
Needlepoint Plastic Canvas – stiff (source: marymaxim.com)

The most common type of plastic canvas people see has small squares in it, similar to the above image, and mostly comes in 5, 7 and 10 count. I say mostly, as the most common producer, Darice, ONLY produces those sizes. The reason is that needle point yarn can’t go any lower than 10 or 12 count. But when fake canvas makers come in, they copy this style, and make it 14 count.
 
In itself, this isn’t massively problematic, however due to the shape of the cut-outs, your cross stitch will have holes in it where the stitches don’t fully meet. Instead, you should be looking for actual cross stitch plastic canvas, which is slightly different.
 

Cross Stitch Plastic Canvas

Cross Stitch Plastic Canvas - ultra stiff (source: marymaxim.com)
Cross Stitch Plastic Canvas – ultra stiff (source: marymaxim.com)

Cross stitch plastic canvas has one main difference; circular holes. It emulates aida and looks a lot like perforated card, and comes in loads of stiffnesses. This is the stuff that you should be cross stitching with as it makes sure your cross stitches lie in the correct way, filling the whole space without letting massive areas be uncovered. It also has shaped holes meaning your thread won’t catch, the count is actually 14 count, and unlike any fakes, comes in a variety of colors.
 

Perforated Plastic Canvas

Perforated Plastic Canvas (source: grainger.com)
Perforated Plastic Canvas (source: grainger.com)

If you want to get really fancy with your plastic canvas, you can also look into perforated plastic canvas. It works in exactly the same way as perforated card, however the varied types of plastic mean not only can you get a massive variance of stiffness, but you can also get custom shapes made. We’re not just talking about cirles here either, you can get a series of weird and wonderful shapes like purses and wallets.
 

Plastic Aida Canvas

14 count plastic aida (source: aliexpress.com)
14 count plastic aida (source: aliexpress.com)

There is also another type of plastic canvas. I mention this as its essentially aida, and sometimes sold as that, but NEVER use it as plastic canvas. Not only does it look like fabric, but acts like it too. if you want a waterproof aida, you can use it, but it won’t hold a shape and won’t work in any 3D projects.

What are those dots on DMC thread labels?

Discontinued US only DMC threads (source: 123stitch.com)

In our deep dive into threads, we’ve covered two points, how DMC threads are made and why some DMC threads were discontinued. The reason we’ve covered those two points first, is the answer to this weeks query; what are those dots and marks after thread numbers?
 
You may have noticed when picking colors, or using them, that there are a variety of dots and marks before and after some cross stitch numbers. These are those marks if you’re unsure what we mean:

DMC threads with dots after numbers

Thanks to the new DMC color chart that came out thanks to the 35 new DMC threads, DMC make more of these dots, and if you have a keen eye, you’ll notice the pre-2018 color card has different dots to the pre-2018 color card.
 
So what are they? Basically, they’re changes in formula to avoid using nasty chemicals. In the EU dye usage is highly monitored and as a result they’ve required suppliers of threads to make sure they use only friendly dyes. This has happened in two stages; firstly in 1994 when a lot of greys were changed to fit in with new laws, and again in late 2017 when lots of the reds were affected.
 

Well that’s interesting, but why do I care?

I’m glad you asked. Dye lots. And its actually quite a problem. You see, they couldn’t just change the color fomulation and keep the colors perfect, and as a result we now need to monitor which version of the threads we’re using; old or new. An example of how different they can be is below on some of the 1994 color changes:

DMC 3861 dye lot differences (source: Cindi Csraze)
DMC 3861 dye lot differences (source: Cindi Csraze)

In fact, DMC even carry the warning on their color charts:

Do not mix with the original colours without the dot.

That’s just how serious this problem might be, so from now on, keep your eye out for those dots of colors 304, 321, 498, 815 and 816.
 
My thanks to DMC and Sidar who supplied information, along with Martha Beth.

Cross Stitch Christmas Gift Guide (Updated for 2018)

Charizard Needle Keeper by MyWifesAVelociraptor (source: Etsy)

Christmas is nearly upon us, and we all know how hard it is to buy gifts for hobbies we don’t know much about. So here’s an updated holiday gift guide on what to buy the cross stitcher in your life. They’re arranged by price lowest to highest.

Fun Needle Keeps – from $5

Charizard Needle Keeper by MyWifesAVelociraptor (source: Etsy)
Charizard Needle Keeper by MyWifesAVelociraptor (source: Etsy)

Christmas is mostly about fun gifts you might not buy yourself, and something many cross stitchers never buy is a fun needle keep. You can get them in thousands of different designs, and there are a lot of custom made ones out there like this 3D printed Pokemon charizard for $6 from Etsy. They’re a little bit fun, and you can combine other things together, so if their other favorite hobby is reading, get a book based one, etc.

ThreadHeaven Alternatives – from $5

Thread Magic (source: threadmagic.com)
Thread Magic (source: threadmagic.com)

Sadly this year we lost one of the most beloved cross stitch companies, ThreadHeaven. For those who don’t know, they produced a fantastic thread moisturiser that makes cross stitching MUCH easier. A great gift this season might be the last of the stock avaliable (if you can find it) or one of these ThreadHeaven alternatives.

ThreadCutterz – $12 to $15

Thread Cutterz (source: threadcutterz.com)
Thread Cutterz (source: threadcutterz.com)

Cross stitch takes time, and a great place to stitch is on planes and trains, however with security being tightened all over, ThreadCutterz have come to the rescue with a plane safe alternative to scissors.
They can only currently be brought from ThreadCutterz themselves.

Thread Shade Chart – $20

We have a copy of the DMC shade card on our site to see at any time, however on screen images aren’t always that reliable. As a result one of the best tools I’ve ever picked up is a cross stitch thread card. DMC (the most common thread company) do a version with thread samples ($20) including the new DMC threads, which is far superior. Think about getting a metallic shade card from Kreinik too ($36).

DMC complete thread card (small)
DMC complete thread card (small)

The Perfect Frame – $12 to $30

Easy Clip Cross Stitch Frame (source: amazon)
Easy Clip Cross Stitch Frame (source: amazon)

I know a lot of people thing cross stitch is a bit simple, but in reality RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is a real issue. The best way to solve this is a suitable cross stitch frame. The best one in my mind is a EasyClip frame ($20), but you can see a roundup of cross stitch frames on my recent post about the perfect cross stitch frame.

A Good Cross Stitch Book – $20 to $30

Criss crossing paris book by fiona sinclair and sallyanna hayes cover small (source: amazon)
Criss crossing paris book by fiona sinclair and sallyanna hayes cover small (source: amazon)

This year has seen some of the best cross stitch books ever published, and I would personally buy all of them. However, for the cross stitcher in your life books offer both patterns, and a fresh look at the hobby. We’d personally suggest Criss Crossing Paris ($22) but you can also check our run down of the best cross stitch books out on the market.
If you’re still struggling on what type of scissors to buy, check out our guide on picking the best cross stitch scissors.

A Good Pair Of Scissors – $30

Cross Stitch Japanese Style Scissors (source: ebay)
Cross Stitch Japanese Style Scissors (source: ebay)

Scissors might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but you send a lot of time snipping things, and frankly, a poor pair of scissors get blunt quickly, fraying ends. Get a nice pair of Fiskars ‘snipping’ scissors, or ones like the image (a Japanese embroidery scissor), or another specific pair for embroidery/cross stitch or cutting fishing line and you’ll see the difference straight away.
You can even get a super awesome pair of frogging scissors, which solves the worst thing about cross stitch (frogging is incorrect stitches that need to be removed).
If you’re still struggling on what type of scissors to buy, check out our guide on picking the best cross stitch scissors.

Magazine Subscriptions – $20 to $60 a year

CrossStitcher Magazine Cover Issue 317 (source: crossstitchermag.co.uk)
CrossStitcher Magazine Cover Issue 317 (source: crossstitchermag.co.uk)

Magazines are fantastic for both giving you patterns, giving you inspiration, finding out about all the new products, and reading up on all the happenings of the cross stitch community. There are frankly a shocking amount out there, so its best to pick one or two you like the most, you can find our cross stitch magazine reviews here, and getting a subscription to those. Prices vary, $20-$60 a year.

Great Cross Stitch Software – $50 to $200

PCStitch Cross Stitch Software (source: PCStitch.com)
PCStitch Cross Stitch Software (source: PCStitch.com)

The natural progression for a stitcher is to go from kits, to patterns, to making their own patterns. Most choose online programs, but they all have their own limitations, so spend $20-$200 on the perfect one. I would personally suggest KG Chart or PC Stitcher for $35-50. Or you can check out our cross stitch pattern generator comparison page.

All The Threads!

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

The only thing better than owning a thread shade card is owning the threads themselves. I always kept using the threads I had on hand, and until I got the whole set, I didn’t realise just how much I was making compromise; my colors have definitely got better. You can see how much a full set of DMC threads has helped us with our blog post about our journey to a complete set of cross stitch threads.
Not the cheapest thing in the world, wait until you can buy a whole set in one go on an offer. The price can drop from $450 to $200. Just don’t be tempted by those cheap Chinese deals to see on ebay.

Does the back of your cross stitch matter?

Cross Stitch Backs by My Poppet Makes (source: mypoppet.com.au)

I’ve heard a shocking amount of people talk about the backs of the cross stitch, including some of my stitching friends. And honestly; no one cares. At all.
Here’s the thing; the back of your cross stitch CAN be neat, but sometimes it just CAN’T. The reason is all about the pattern.
 
Let’s explain with some examples. Here, we have a fantastic Mew cross stitch by The Celtic Crafter. Its a pattern made up of about 4 colors and they’re all nicely placed, so the back is nice and neat.

Mew cross stitch back by The Celtic Crafter (source: thecelticcrafter.blogspot.com)
Mew cross stitch back by The Celtic Crafter (source: thecelticcrafter.blogspot.com)

However lets take another example, of a highly skilled cross stitcher, My Poppet Makes, who’s back looks a little less clean. Now this back HAS to be like that, with small stitches all around and colors on both sides of the work, the threads have to jump on the back, with its small size making them look much less neat. But lets be clear; its not better or worse. Just less neat.
Cross Stitch Backs by My Poppet Makes (source: mypoppet.com.au)
Cross Stitch Backs by My Poppet Makes (source: mypoppet.com.au)

So I should never care about the back of my work?

You often hear people talk about the back of your work in terms of two things; framing and skill. So let’s address both.

Framing

I’ve heard a few people mention this, even really experianced stitchers, however the back has no impact on the framing of cross stitch. The issue comes from home framing and people not using the correct framing system. You can check out a great guide on framing cross stitch, in which we mention the use of foam board. This foam; super important. It means that any of those little messy blemishes on the back are hidden, and can’t be seen when framing.

Skill

Here’s where those nay sayers are slightly right. When stitching the lack of mess on the back of your works usually means you’re more econmical. Some take this to mean skill. However we circle back around to the original statement; sometimes you can’t make a clean back. I know people might be nervous about their work, so I’ve taken an example from shutterstock that shows the back is sometimes just messy, and its all thanks to the pattern. This pattern has colors all over it, with floating confetti stitch a plenty, meaning you just won’t be able to make it neat.

Shutterstock cross stitch back side example (source: shutterstock)
Shutterstock cross stitch back side example (source: shutterstock)

If you’re still bothered by the comments though, be rest assured that your back will be cleaner as time goes on and you learn those little secrets about cross stitch. But don’t be suprised when sometimes your back is a mess! It happens.

So where does the rumor come from?

When the Japanese first came across cross stitch when a samurai accidently brought cross stitch to Japan we started seeing neat backs. Backs that were far neater than European examples, and the idea that the backs should be similar to the fronts came with it. However, that’s simply down to culture. Japanese people have a rich history with embroidery, and in particular sashiko, which includes a stitch called ‘cross stitch’. You can see what when counted cross stitch came to Japan is was obvious that they would follow the same rules they did for their sashiko. One of these rules in particular is that the front should look like the back. This is mostly down to how they stitch sashiko, but when the European’s started seeing Asian cross stitch the rumor came about that they were far more skilled and everyone should try to make their backs neat.

Hitomezashi sashiko (source: sakepuppets.com)
Hitomezashi sashiko (source: sakepuppets.com)

Cross Stitch Gridding Techniques

cross stitch grid lines in Easy Count Guideline by A satisfied spirit (source: asatisfiedspirit.com)

Gridding isn’t often talked about in cross stitch, its often seen as a ‘if you want to’ kind of task, however gridding is actually one of the best things you can do.
Simply put, counted cross stitch requires (you guessed it) counting. The time you take to count can not only be massive, but you can, and often do, miss count requiring mass unpicking. Gridding stops all of that. In fact one of the products we’ll talk about says it can cut stitching time by one third!
 
So with that in mind, what exactly is the best way to grid your cross stitch? Well, its all a matter of choice. We’ve taken the most popular ways and detailed them out so you can give them a shot.

Easy Count Guideline

cross stitch grid lines in Easy Count Guideline by A satisfied spirit (source: asatisfiedspirit.com)
cross stitch grid lines in Easy Count Guideline by A satisfied spirit (source: asatisfiedspirit.com)

You’ve probably seen gridded cross stitch on the internet, with red lines crossing. The likelihood is that its Easy Count Guideline, which works as a thread, but instead of being made from cotton is a thin wire. The advantage of this is that is doesn’t get caught up in your stitches and when you’re done you can simply pull it out. It is, by far, the most common gridding technique and I personally use it myself. However, its also the most expensive with costs of about $6 for 10m. It’s also technically a ‘secure object’ in the EU, so you must be 18+ to buy it.

Single Threads

Thread grid cross stitch by medlow studio tapesty needlepoint (source: thehappycross-stitcher.com)
Thread grid cross stitch by medlow studio tapesty needlepoint (source: thehappycross-stitcher.com)

I hear you all saying to yourselves “so why can’t I just use thread instead?” well, you could, I just wouldn’t suggest it. The issue with single threads is that you can stitch through them, meaning when you go to pull out your thread; you can’t. Not only that but as its part of the stitch now, you can’t cut it out easily. This means that your guideline, which is normally a bright color can’t be removed, ruining your stitch.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t use it, in fact, for backstitching projects its a fantastic idea!

Fishing Line

“Fine, but are there cheaper options? I’ve heard people use fishing line?” True, you can use fishing line, and fishing line is often cheaper than the official stitching alternative. I’ll even let you into a secret; Easy Count Guidleine is actually just fishing wire. The different however omes in thickness of wire. There are a lot of fishing wires that would work OK, but the thinner, the better. Look for wire rated less than 8 pounds.

Easy Count Pre Grided Aida

Zweigart Easy Count Grid (source: sewandso.co.uk)
Zweigart Easy Count Grid (source: sewandso.co.uk)

Easy Count aida, is made by Zweigart and simply has lines built into the fabric. This line is when washed away once you’re finished. It is more expensive than standard aida, and doesn’t come in as many colors. To make things a little worse, the lines take up the space of a stitch, and not inbetween the lines like patterns are marked.

Magic Count Pre Grided Aida

Very simlar to Easy Count, DMC make their own, called Magic Count, which has the advantage of being a little easier to see, but holds the DMC price tag to boot.

Erasable Pens

Pen grid cross stitch by pull the other thread (source: pulltheotherthread.blogspot.com)
Pen grid cross stitch by pull the other thread (source: pulltheotherthread.blogspot.com)

Finally, there are erasable pens. Whilst erasable pens were my first stab at gridding, you soon realise there are a few issues. The first is that they don’t wash out as easy as you’d like, meaning you sometimes need to give your cross stitch a hot bath once you’re finished which does impact the threads, especially metallics. Secondly, much like the pre-printed aida, you can’t stitch on the lines, meaning you have to take up a line of stitching, which could possibly throw your count off.
 
Once you’ve decided on your gridding technique check out this video from Peakcock & Fig on how to grid: