How To Cross Stitch Like A Pro

The world of cross stitch can be someone daunting for the beginner, with a whole new dictionary of words and terms to learn (Aida, floating stitches, etc), but stitching is actually pretty simple. This how-to cross stitch guide will help you through your first project and beyond!

How to cross stitch animated gif illustration

What you need

The first step in any cross stitch rock star’s future is getting the right tools for the job. This guide runs on the assumption that you have all the below items either collected yourself or as part of a kit.

  • Scissors – These can pretty much be any scissors, but embroidery scissors work best, or even better; quick clips
  • Aida fabric – You can also stitch on other fabrics, but aida is the best place to start. I would suggest 14 count (its the most popular kind)
  • Needles – Embroidery needles are blunted needles, and usually a little shorter. They come in sizes too. If you’re using 14 count use a size 24 needle
  • Threads – Embroidery thread is what you need here. Its a little different to other thread, which we’ll go into in a minute
  • Hoop/Frame – You’re going to need something to hold your cross stitch taught. A hoop works best, and it usually the cheapest option
  • A Pattern – You need a pattern, otherwise you don’t know what to stitch! My how to make a cross stitch pattern post will be able to help you make one.

Getting your fabric ready

Now you have everything, you need to get your fabric taught. We do this so that its easier to see the little holes in the fabric, but also so the stitches are nice and neat in the end. Depending on if you have a hoop or frame you can see the two ways below.

If you’re using a hoop, you need to measure out the required size of fabric (it should be on your pattern), and you need to add 2/3 inches on top of each dimension. once done fold your fabric in half, and then half again, pressing firmly on the edges.
Open the folds up and there should be two lines denoting the center of your fabric (you need this for later).
Place the smaller of the two hoops on the table, and place the fabric over the top, so the center is in the middle of the hoop.
Loosen the larger hoop slightly by unscrewing it. Place it over the top of the fabric and bottom hoop. Tighten the screw on the top of the hoop without lifting it.

You’re going to need a little more fabric when using a frame, so bear that in mind when purchasing. You’re looking at 2 or 3 inches more in one dimension, and 6 to 8 inches in the other dimension.
Once you’ve cut your fabric, fold it in half and fold it in half again. Open up and you’ll have two folds marking out the center point.
Taking the shortest edge, put the fabric on top of the frame, and push over/screw the edge of the frame to it (you can also get some you have to stitch). Twist the frame so that fabric only just covers the far side of the frame. Repeat the process of clipping/screwing the edge of the fabric to the frame. Twist the frame once again until you have the center point in the center of the frame.

Getting your threads ready

Whilst you just want to jump right in with stitching, getting your thread right is one of the most important parts of this instruction guide.
Look at your pattern, and you should see two triangles at the top and side of the pattern denoting the center. Work out the color of this thread and choose that one.
The first thing to note is the length of your thread. We’ll go into ending threads later, however you will need extra. In addition, you’ll need enough. But (and this is the important bit) you don’t want too much, as it catches, twists, knots, and splits.
The accepted standard for thread length is by using your own arm. Hold the end of the thread in your thumb and forefinger, and pull the thread down your arm, around your elbow, and back to your fingers. Cut the thread where the two ends meet.
Whilst using the thread you’ve probably noticed how thick it is. Well, unlike other threads, embroidery thread is actually a composite thread. That means its made up of multiple strands that you can separate. If you take the end and roll it in your fingers backward and forward it will split into six separate strands:

6 stands of a standard embroidery thread (source: DMC)

Depending on the count of aida and fabric you are using, you make need more or less of these, however, for 14 count fabric we use the 2 over 2 method (two stands). But wait! starting the thread is slightly different in cross stitch to other sewing, so for now, split the 6 strands into 6 separate threads. A good way to do this is by pulling one away an inch, then holding the single end, and the remaining threads, pull your finger down the entire length (the threads may spin after this is done, let them spin themselves out).

Starting the stitch

Take one of the strands you’ve created and held the two ends together. This will create a loop of thread. Carefully insert the two ends into the eye of the needle, and allow the ends of the threads to fall halfway down the length of the hoop.

The stitch

That took long enough, didn’t it? Well, we finally get to start a stitch!
I’ve repeated the top image again, as its a very good guide on what you have to do. To start, find the middle of your fabric by locating the position the two folds lie. Looking closely you’ll see the fabric has many holes. Pick the closest hole to the center, allowing the thread to pull through about two-thirds of the way. Take the thread and insert it in the hole to the top right. This is movement 1 and 2 of the below image.
The first time you’ll have to turn the fabric over and insert the needle through the small hole in the thread. Pull it taught.
You can now repeat movement 1 and 2 for 3 and 4. You’ll note on the image below that this is next to the original stitch, meaning you don’t yet have a full X. Don’t worry. That’s normal. Doing it this way you use less thread, and your finished product will look better. Repeat this until you have a full line of stitches you need to make (you can skip a single stitch if the pattern requires it, but I wouldn’t skip more than two). You then have to repeat the same process but in reverse. This means you finally complete the full X.

How to cross stitch animated gif illustration

Once you’re back where you started you may need to end the thread (see below) or do another line. Go either up or down, but make sure the first line of stitches is in the same direction. For this example, bottom left to top right. If you change the direction the finished item looks a little wrong, and people’s eyes are often drawn to the imperfections.

Ending the thread

So you have had to end your thread, or used most of it up, but either way, you need to end your thread. The most important thing to remember though, is you need at least 1 inch of thread remaining to end a thread.
Ending a thread is very simply done, by turning over the fabric to see the underside. The top has X stitches on it, however, the back has straight lateral lines of thread. Take the needle and slot it through these lines of thread. Done. Cut off the end and start a new thread.
You could always not it, however, this tends to leave bobbles on the back which won’t allow you to frame your project very well. In addition knots can come undone and the stitches could fall out (which no one wants!).

How to end a thread (source: DMC)

Floating Stitches

There aren’t many things that daunt a cross stitcher, but the one sticking point is floating stitches. A floating stitch is when there is a solitary stitch on its own, without anything around it. The problem with these is you can’t end the thread without either tying a knot, or crossing thread over a large area.
But there is a trick.
Pull a large knot in the end of your thread, insert it into your cross stitch top-down, one row up from your floating stitch, but in a large body of stitches. Make your floating stitch and once again pull your thread one row away (I would suggest down) in a block of stitches and tie another knot at the top of the work.
Keep stitch away, and when you end, cut the two knots off. This will mean there are no knots on the back, and the loose thread is held by the stitches, without it showing through. Easy!

I’m finished, what next?

This is the first part in the how do guide, but once you’re finished you need to Wash & Iron, then Frame (or store) it. You could also look at the after care guide too, to make sure your finished project stays perfect forever! But here’s a guide to save any if not.


You can download a simple A4 cheat sheet for how to cross stitch below:

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. rachel frampton

    My sister and I are currently looking for yarns and needles that we may use for a newly found hobby, which is cross-stitching. It’s a great thing that you were able to explain here how important it is to have a patter first because, without one, we’ll probably have a hard time. I agree with you that it would be best to choose the closest hole to the center because this will make the process easier.