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) $35
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.
We’ve been focusing on cross stitch tools a lot lately, however, there’s one in particular that I personally don’t use; the needle threader. The reason I don’t use them? They break. A lot.
This is actually an accepted reason to shun needle threaders, even though they’re helpful, and the first thing that came to your head, if you use them or not, was breakages. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, there is a whole slew of needle threader types out there, and there’s only one that breaks.
The one that breaks
It would be remiss of me to start this list without mentioning the elephant in the room; the threader that everyone knows, and loathes. Let’s start with the positives, as afterall, they do work well as needle threaders. They’re also dirt cheap, and easy to find. More often than not you can get them free in a hotel sewing kit or by 100 of them for a few dollars.
But that’s kinda where it ends. You see, these things are effectively a small wire, and as a result, break often. Way too often. The wire might break, bend, or come free from the handle part. They’re also super hard to hold (especially the cheaper metal handle ones)
Clover Needle Threader
But fear not! Someone has improved the design. Clover was the first, so we’ve shown them here, but essentially they’ve taken the flimsy wire and made it a thin flat bit of metal. They work exactly the same other than that, however, thanks to their thickness are only really useful for cross stitch (which let’s face it, you love). But this all comes at a price which is kinda over the top for what it is. Considering the other options on our list (like the one below) are often cheaper, it feels like these are better, but still not great.
LoRan Needle Threader
So now we look at the better alternatives. The LoRan needle threader as it has come to be known is a new take on a needle threader, which is loaded on the side, and hooked through the eye. They’re a simple sheet of metal, so still super cheap (it’s worth getting them online where they’re a few cents each, rather than the store where they can be a shocking $5 or more), but they’re also better in every way.
The hooks on both sides give you options for smaller and larger needles (or eyes) and are super sturdy. They can also be combined into needle minders like the one above by NeedleKeep Emporium. And finally, its the easiest one on our list to actually thread.
But there are things to be careful about. The hooks are kinda large, so if you use really small needles, such as petites you might not be able to fit them, and you need to be careful not to bend the hooks when they’re in your kit, or threading the needles will become SUPER hard.
I personally really rate these needle minders, I now use them myself. I rate them so much that we’re even offering one in our free giveaway this month!
Dritz Looped Needle Threaders
Whilst the LoRan needle threader is my go to, that doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone. We already discussed above how petite needle users will struggle, and the possibility of hook bending might ruin your day, and so Dritz (who also came up with the LoRan needle threader) came up with something that might help; the looped needle threader.
You need to think of this as a ring of wire, however, they make it in such a way that there is no join, and the wire has been pressed into a long spike. You feed the thread into the ring and then you use the wire to thread the needle. In my mind, this kinda defeats the point as the wire is just as hard to thread, but it can be a lifesaver on sewing machines.
That doesn’t mean they’re all bad though, as these are cheap, super hardy, come in a multipack and we couldn’t break them; and we tried really hard.
Hummingbird Needle Threader
And now we come to the final, the true ‘best’ of the list. The hummingbird. Ignoring the fun shape for a second, its a hooked wire which you thread the needle onto, and then the thread. It’s been created to fit everyone’s needs. It has a cover so it doesn’t break, its cheap, its small so will go through any needle, it has a hook system so you don’t need to look too closely to hook it on, and it’s user-friendly. However, the fact that it tried to fix all these problems at once, for me, means it doesn’t really fix any. There are cheaper ones out there, there are ones that break less often, there are ones more suited to smaller needles, there are easier ones to work, and there are simpler forms. Sadly, for me, it falls short.
Automatic Needle Threaders
What about automatic needle threaders I hear you say! Well, there are some out there that do a good job. I’m not going to pretend otherwise either, as some work on magic I swear. However, there is one big thing that gets me about automatic needle threaders. They’ve been around for about 50 years and in that time have been tried by countless thousands of embroidery fans, however, I don’t know a single one that uses theirs. Instead, they use a manual one. I don’t know why, and maybe that will be a future blog, but for now, I’ll still with the experts and choose the manual ones.
If you’re interested in how to use any of the above needle threaders, our friend Peacock & Fig have a super video.
We know that a lot of people take up new hobbies around the new year, so we thought we’d give a rundown on what you need to start cross stitching. Whilst most cross stitchers probably know what’s 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.
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 a 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.
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 handy 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.
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, the price is something to consider going forward. A full set of DMC threads might cost you $400, whereas 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.
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.
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. Unlike 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 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 from 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 that’s 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.
Finally, know that if you ever have questions, just drop me an email, check reddit, or even a cross stitch facebook group.
Title: 3D Printed Cross Stitch Ring
Date Completed: December 2018
Design: Lord Libidan
Canvas: 3D printed ring
Size: US 8 (UK P)
For my last cross stitch of 2018, I knew I wanted to do something small, but as it happens, I was FINALLY able to complete a project I’d been working on for the last 5 years.
I’d always loved the idea of 3D printing, and I think many of my 3D cross stitches, such as my Transforming cross stitch were routed in, however, I recently got the ability to print accurately on a 3D printer in high detail. I used this excuse to pull a simple ring design, and then edited it to work with a line of cross stitch, in 14 count.
In order to do this, I had to pull a small interior ring to hold the back of the threads (so they don’t stick into your finger) and align the holes in a specific orientation to ensure the needle would fit through. You can see these changes in the below image a bit clearer.
However, the hard work didn’t finish there. I had originally made two ring ideas, one with a 18 count, and one with 14. Whilst I was able to stitch both, the 18 count one simply didn’t work (the holes were too big). This, however, wasn’t something I count fix. The size of the holes needed to be large enough that the smallest needles I could find (size 10 sharps) would fit through using a sewing thread (not embroidery).
However, all that work done, it was a simple case of stitching it up, and wearing it. I might actually offer a limited run of these on my Etsy if anyone is interested…