Backstitch is often the thing at the end of a cross stitch, and whilst you know it can make a big difference, you’ve not really thought any further than that, right? Well, it turns out that whilst backstitch is super simple, there’s a lot you can do to improve it. The smallest of changes in your backstitch can have a massive impact, and it’s as simple as changing the thread thicknesses.
On the example below you can see a series of different backstitches, and whilst stitching everything as 2 stands would have been fine, I decided to stitch the grid with a single stitch. Why? Because it makes the ship stand out more. The subtle change here hasn’t taken anything away from the cross stitch, but it’s clear that when looking at this section, the ship is the most important bit. Obviously you could go the other way around here, stitching the ship with 3 or 4 strands of thread.
Thickness of the same thread
Yeh, its a thickness thing, but this time we’re speaking about the same thread. In the example below I’ve taken wires coming out of my portal gun and instead of using the 2 stands it called for, at the tips, split it into one. The effect it has is super small, but anyone looking at the cross stitch quickly can see that they start off as two separate wires, which come together, then split off again. Something small like this has added another layer of detail to a simple cross stitch.
Going back to Voyager here, I’ve taken to combining both thicknesses of threads, and layers. When you look at this image, the first thing that comes out is the outline of the ship, then the decks, and then the details. This was achieved not only by laying the stitches in the opposite order (details first) but also by making the thread thickness larger as I when up. The overall effect has now changed so that the image as a whole is a ship, then the details, and not a super detailed hot mess.
I’m not saying any of the above examples are perfect, however, layering is an effective way to change the focus of your cross stitch, and might just be worth practicing.
I know what you’re thinking; Is this guy really about to talk about printers? Well, yes, I am. And for good reason. With printer ink costing twice the price of human blood in the USA, it’s no surprise that printing patterns can cost a shocking amount. But is that the only way?
I’m here to tell you it isn’t.
We’ll start with the basics. You probably have a printer that requires ink cartridges at home, it was the standard for a long time. The reason for this was the competition was super expensive. Specifically, the laser printers. But as time has gone on, lasers have reduced in costs massively and now are not only comparable but cheaper than an inkjet. But here’s the big secret; they can be cheaper than a standard printer ink cost.
Black & White Or Color?
The first thing to work out is if you even need a color printer. Some people use their printer all the time but never print in color. In fact, most people print patterns in black and white just to reduce costs. As a result, you probably don’t need a color printer. But you’re still paying for one. If this is you; you’re in luck. Look up the prices for a “Mono Laser Printer” and you’ll find a whole load for under $50. Now, much like ink printers, these need a supply of “ink” too, and normally these cartridges cost about $50. So all in all, you can get a printer for $100. Now if you compare this to a new inkjet printer with a full set of ink, it’s cheaper from the start. In fact, a new color set of ink costs up to $80.
The big saving is the rate that these lasers go through their cartridge. Most ink printers can print a maximum of 2000 pages but an average of only 200. Most laser printers can print a maximum of 20,000 pages, and average, 20,000 pages. Yes, you read that right. Unlike traditional ink, which can dry up, lasers are ready to go whenever they’re needed. And on top of that, they only use electricity, meaning you don’t have to replace it anywhere near as often.
They’re just as high-quality print wise, but as stated, they are only black and white. Personally, I think mono laser printers are 100% the best printers for cross stitch.
But what about color printing? I hear you, sometimes you just need color, or maybe you just prefer a color print. Well, you can still get a laser printer, but a color one. They are roughly the same price, but you need to buy a more expensive cartridge to go in it. This is on average about $100, so it’s not a small investment, but it can print just as many color pages as the mono lasers before needing replacement, and its the same price as 1-2 sets of standard color printer ink.
There is a problem with this though; it’s not suitable to print on photo paper. It actually gives a better quality print than an inkjet printer, but thanks to the way printer paper works, it just won’t work.
Now, that said, I wouldn’t go out and throw your printer away based on this article, but it might be worth checking the prices of a new next time you get some new ink. You might get a great deal; I picked my printer up for $30 thanks to a deal, which was the same as new ink!
Everyone loves a subscription box, that feeling when it comes through your door and makes you feel like its Christmas every month, but with more and more subscription boxes out there, it’s hard to find the best. So we brought 3-month subscriptions to cross stitch subscription boxes to review, and tell you which is the best to get! Updated March 2019.
$5 per month: Digital pattern download only $10 per month: 1 counted cross stitch pattern (6×6 inches), 1 counted cross stitch pattern (6×6 inches), 1 counted cross stitch pattern (2×2 inches), Aida, DMC Threads, Needle, Sweets, 15% shop discount, access to all previous patterns $15 per month: All of above + 1 counted cross stitch pattern & kit (6×6 inches), Pom Pom Kit
The Geeky Stitching Club is our preferred cross stitch subscription box for a simple reason; stuff. You get a lot of stuff. Not content with just one pattern, you get 2 full 6×6 inch patterns, and a sweet mini pattern to stitch up too. You get enough stuff to make one of the larger patterns, and some sweets (always a nice touch). The real gem with the subscription though isn’t the number of patterns you get, and not even the price, which is really low, or even that you can add ANOTHER kit for only $5 more. No, the gem, is that you get access to the full back catalog of patterns (5 years worth) for your subscription.
The patterns are well made, interesting, and vary enough to keep you at them month after month. I would say however that there is a definite theme to Geeky Stitching Club patterns; girly. That might not be much of a problem, but don’t expect pop-culture references or snarky comments.
$5 per month: Digital pattern download only $16 per month (USA); $22 per month (Canada): 1 counted cross stitch pattern (6×6 inches), Aida, Wooden Hoop, DMC Threads, Needle, Link to other pattern options
The Rag Tag Box is what you would expect from a cross stitch subscription box. It has a pattern, all the tools needed, a hoop and even different versions of the pattern supplied to mix it up a bit. The brilliance of the Rag Tag Box, however, is the patterns themselves. They vary. They vary like crazy. One month you might be getting a snarky phrase, the next a sweet collection of miniatures, the next month a cute animal, the month after a time-specific pattern. What makes these even better, however, is how detailed, and well made they are. You’d genuinely want to go out and buy these patterns.
The only downsides we could come up with however were both the price, and that you can’t get the kits outside of North America. But, with a $5 download-only option, its a nice option (if a little less special). Their patterns can be a little pop-culture and sci-fi related sometimes, but I see that as a positive.
As the only UK only subscription box, the market for the Cotton & Twine subscription box might be a little limited, however, its really hitting off that side of the pond, thanks to its parent company, Historical Sampler Company, being at the helm. Well known in the UK cross stitch market for over 18 years, it’s no surprise that they supply quality items each month. The patterns tend to be in the middle ground, a little bit contemporary, but also a little bit historical. In my mind, this lowers the overall interest in the box.
One of the best things about the box though is its extras. Every month you get a free item, which can range from a pillow to cross stitch on, to an Easter wall hanging, stickers or a book. And then there is the sweet treats. Unlike other boxes on this list, the sweets are a massive part, with a heavy dose of English treats, like fudge to endulge in.
$33/£26 per month: 38 DMC Threads & free gifts on month 3, 6, 9 & 12
Unlike the other entries on this list, Lakeside Needlecraft aim to help you complete the full set of 500 DMC threads, including the 35 new DMC threads and 18 variegated threads. They do this by supplying 38 random threads each month for 13 months, ensuring they only send you one thread of each color. Whilst getting all the DMC threads is a fantastic thing to do, its a little clostly upfront. This monthly subscription is a fantastic way to slowly build them up.
From the same makers of the Geeky Stitch Club, the Mini Little Stitchers club follows roughly the same model, but instead of small intricate designs, offers simple designs, stitched on wooden boards, with big threads and needles. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a suprise that its aimed at 6 to 12 year olds. Whilst this definately isn’t the best subscription box for adult stitchers, its a fantastic way of getting kids into the hobby.
$30 per month: US – 19 cross stitch patterns (25×33 stitches), 11 ‘gifts’ $47.50 per month: International – 19 cross stitch patterns (25×33 stitches), 11 ‘gifts’
Working more like a traditional advent calender, but for every month of the year, the Stitchybox monthly cross stitch subscribption box has a gift for each day of the month. This always contains at least 19 very small patterns, but you do have to supply needle, thread and cross stitch fabric for all of the patterns.
I regularly attend events on embroidery, and with that comes questions. Most are simple to answer, some can be more challenging, but as soon as people hear I cross stitch, there’s only one question they can think of:
Have you heard of 5D cross stitch? What is it?
Is it cross stitch?
No. It’s not.
But there are simularities. You see, much like diamond painting, 5D cross stitch uses an adhesive back where small things are stuck on. However, unlike diamond painting, they use a special fabric, very similar to aida, with 14 ‘beads’ per inch.
So is it diamond painting?
Well, its closer to diamond painting than anything else, but still no.
Diamond painting is kinda of taken itself a bit quickly, so no one really knows the original type, but diamond painting uses a diamond grid, not squares like cross stitch. It also uses round ‘diamonds’, a hard backing, a randomised count (which is similar to 16 count).
So where does that leave us?
In short, 5D cross stitch is a half way house between cross stitch, and diamond painting.
It has all the hallmarks of diamond painting, but features 14 count flexible fabric backing, and small squares instead of round pegs.
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
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 regularly 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 lightbox)
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.
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!
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.
With all this extra light, gridding, framing, and whatnot it’s no surprise 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 eyesight; 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 accidentally developed a skill I didn’t even know was a possibility; feeling the fabric. I personally think this explanation 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…
Our recent post on needle threaders has been a bit of a runaway success, however, I’ve had a few people ask a simple question; what about self-threading needles?
I must admit, that despite owning a pack, I never actually tried them out, so I threw caution to the wind and threaded a few needles.
What are self threading needles?
To start, let’s talk about the elephant in the room; self-threading needles are needles that say they can make threading super easy. Most often they’re marketed for people with arthritis or poor eyesight, however, anyone who hates the game of ‘poke the thread through the hole’ can stand to benefit.
It should also be said that there are multiple types of self-threading needle, however, they mostly come into two camps; V-shaped and spiral. We picked up a few packs of self threading needles from Etsy to give a good diversity.
V-Shaped Self Threading Needles
These V-shaped needles have actually been around for a really long time, and as a result have a whole raft of names including “self-threading”, “French Spring eye” or “Calyx eye”, however, they all have the same design. Simply put, you pull the thread down, through the two ‘clips’ which hold the thread in place. I had to try a few times before I got the system, as whilst it seems simple, doing it in real life isn’t as easy. I found that having a block to place the needle in so you could pull the thread through helped.
However, I wasn’t impressed. There are three reasons I just couldn’t get on board with these needles. The first was how annoying they were to thread. It honestly took me about 5 tries to thread the needle each time. Those 5 times weren’t all sunny times either, as they kept breaking the thread. I mean, these things break thread better than my scissors. However, I can foresee myself getting better as time goes on.
The biggest issue for me though, was how painful it was to push the needle through the aida. Whilst needles are far from soft, the rounded edges make it slightly easier on the fingers, but these needles are like two little prongs stabbing me every time I pushed down. Not fun. I found the only solution was a thimble, which really gets in the way of cross stitching…
Spiral Self Threading Needles
Despite the V-shaped needles being far older, more often than not the only self-threading tapestry needles you can find are the spiral type. This is down to how bulky the self-threading mechanism is, however in our size tests they were no larger than ordinary needles. Unlike their V-shaped counterparts, you thread them on the side, which is MUCH easier, and frankly, lives up to the idea of being suitable for those with bad eyesight and arthritis. However, there are downsides too.
Specifically, we found two issues. The first was how often the needles caught on the aida, thanks to the side design the needle effectively has a hook, which caught on every 3 to 4 stitches, however with a slight change in how you stitch this can be avoided; but is practically worthless to those with reduced mobility. The second issue relates to the first in the sense that the eye of the needle breaks far faster, which isn’t too bad of a problem on its own, but these needles are expensive.
Are they worth it?
So, we finally get to the answer to the original question, of are self thread needles worth it. In my opinion; no. That isn’t to say they don’t have a purpose, I truly think that for some its a great idea, but with so many great needle threaders out there, that I just don’t think it’s worth it.
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.
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.
The first thing to discuss is the possible types of pattern maker you can get: Free – Made using a simple pattern maker without customisation Patterns As A Service – You pay for one pattern at a time Fully Capable – Lots of customisation options, but a big learning curve
So with that in mind, let’s get into when you should pay, and which ones I suggest.
When you want a super realistic outcome
After a few cross stitch kits and patterns from others, its a fairly regular thing to want to stitch a photo you own, however, free pattern makers just aren’t capable of making a realistic pattern in most cases (see the discussion on dithering on last weeks post). As a result, in order to get something realistic, you have to pay. But that doesn’t mean you need to shell out wads of cash. The patters-as-a-service model is perfect here, offering you the chance to get a pattern made with really good tools, without much effort, for only $10.
A word of warning though, if you want more than 5 patterns a year, we suggest you keep reading!
Our suggestion:thread-bare.com ($10) or patterncreator.com ($7.50)
Whilst pattern creator is cheaper and reviews slightly better overall in our tests, we find thread-bare has some fantastically realistic outputs so long as you’re willing to experiment with the settings.
When you want something custom
There are a whole load of cross stitch patterns on places like Etsy, but what happens if you want something custom? The only choice is a paid pattern maker. This might take the form of something small or something massive like the pattern below, but whatever changes you want, you need a robust pattern maker that can handle it.
When you intend to make more than 5 patterns a year
When you want to make more than 5 patterns a year, I would invest in a really good pattern maker. The advantage here is that not only do you get patterns cheaper, but you have ALL the control, meaning you can make anything from a tiny change to a massive custom piece. If you just want a plug and play pattern, you can do that, but as you progress, or you want to make more changes, all the functionality is built-in. The cherry on top? Once you purchase the software, you never had to pay for a pattern again, meaning you save on the first year by $10, and then the following years by $50+.
Our suggestion:WinStitch (for Windows) or MacStitch (for Mac)$48
Once again Ursa software offers the best option here, no only as it’s just under $50 (the price of 5 patterns on a pattern-as-a-service model) but also allows for a more realistic output and gives you access to tools you’ll need as you progress in pattern making.
As a result, it often scares people away from purchasing a pattern or downloading software to make patterns. Further to this the confusion about what makes a good pattern maker is rife, and so I regularly get people asking me if a free pattern maker is better than a paid one. The answer is usually no; paid is better, however, the reasons why are quite important; it can mean the difference between a brilliant pattern, and a terrible one.
Color selection in a pattern is super important, and as you progress as a stitcher you’ll find yourself handpicking colors. The reason handpicking colors is so important is that no one actually knows what the colors are. Here me out there; thanks to the new DMC threads there are 500 DMC threads in the standard range to choose from, and whilst you can find these colors represented in a lot of places with color blocks, the threads aren’t made up with computer screens in mind. As a result, when someone wants to look at an image on a computer they have to guess what the color is. Yes, you heard that right, they guess.
To give you an example, below are two cross stitch program interpretations of the colors in the DMC range. The important thing here is to see how different they are. Even though they’re meant to be the same color.
Free programs use a list they found somewhere online, they haven’t sat down with each color and investigated what the accurate color might be. Paid programs do. In fact, many paid programs make similar graphs to the above just to check their working against others, as a result, they have a higher likelihood of getting more accurate color selections.
Dithering is a rather complicated thing, and I’m not going to describe it in detail, but in short, its how boundaries of colors are represented. Actually making dithering work is a VERY complicated thing and In a lot of free cross stitch programs, it’s simply too complicated to bother and as a result, there is no dithering. This sounds OK at first, but if you look at the example below (you can click it to enlarge it) you can see the difference dithering makes to every part of the pattern. Simply put, dithering makes it look more real.
You might not think that any cross stitch pattern has ‘extras’ however things like per page thread usage, a preview image, page ‘cross over’ marks, amount of thread needed, and other things all come with patterns from paid pattern creators, however, they don’t with free ones. In fact, with most, you’ll only get the bare bones of a pattern.
It should also be noted that with every free pattern, there are limits. This is normal size and how many colors a pattern can have, most are limited to 200×200 and 30 colors, but there can also be other limits, such as only exporting in an image, or forced to have a web link on the pdf.
Why They’re Free
Finally, there is one thing that everyone needs to realize; nothing is free. By offering a free program, what they mean, is they don’t think they can charge, as they know their program isn’t good enough to charge.
But that doesn’t mean you should never use free cross stitch pattern makers. In fact, there is definitely a time and place for them. We’ll discuss when you should pay for a pattern maker next week.
Although online programs like StitchFiddle make free programs super accessible, the ability of paid programs, such as the online Thread-Bare and the downloadable WinStitch make the paid alternatives much better.
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.
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, after all, you have space. But when you’re working on a smaller project, or even worse, traveling, 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!
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.