What is a SAL (Stitch-A-Long) and Should You Join One?

Tiny Modernist 2019 Stitch A Long Guide (Source: tinymodernist.com)
SAL
noun

  1. A cross stitch activity called a stitch-a-long.
  2. A cross stitch pattern that is slowly revealed week by week that large groups of people stitch seperately, but at the same time.

 
Through out the year, people on cross stitch blogs, cross stitch forums and reddit always seem to be talking about SALs. At this time of year people seem to be talking more and more about them as many start in the first quarter of the year. But for those of us that haven’t been part of one; no one seems to know what anyone is talking about! And why you would join one.

So, What is a Stitch-A-Long?

In short, a SAL, or Stitch-A-Long is a single cross stitch pattern that is broken up and given to you week by week. The idea is that you stitch it at the same time as other stitchers and you can all guess at what it is, little details, etc.
Almost all SALs have a community group somewhere that only talks about that pattern, and you usually have to join within a few weeks of it starting (although there are some that you can join at any time).

How long does a Stitch-A-Long last?

So with a single pattern broken up, SALs usually take some time to get through. That said, most are fairly large patterns, so you shouldn’t be rushing to stitch your bit before the next one comes out.
Due to this, most give you parts of the pattern weekly, or monthly, and they tend to run for 6 months to a year depending on the size of the finished pattern. But there are a few out there that last less than 2 months.

How does a Stitch-A-Long work?

Well first off, you have to join a SAL. They’re usually advertised on mail lists for pattern designers, social media and cross stitch groups. They tend to give you about a month’s notice and ask you to sign up. Depending on the type, these can be free, or charge you for the full price of the pattern upfront. A few pattern makers also sell a kit of all the supplies you need to complete it too, but once again, payment is upfront.
You’ll then be given parts of the pattern week by week and a way to communicate with everyone else stitching too!
 
One thing you might have noticed there is that you haven’t looked at the pattern. You see, with a SAL, you don’t see the pattern. So you need to pick a designer you like the style of.

Tiny Modernist 2019 Stitch A Long Guide (Source: tinymodernist.com)
Tiny Modernist 2019 Stitch A Long Guide (Source: tinymodernist.com)

Why should you join a Stitch-A-Long?

So with all that in mind; why would you even want to enter a Stitch-A-Long?

The Community

The biggest thing about a Stitch-A-Long is the community. There are whole subreddits, flosstubes and communities that spring up around SALs, with people talking about the pattern, the designer, their general cross stitch likes, and even life in general. But everyone is there, to talk about their stitching together. It’s not about who can stitch the fastest, or who can guess the pattern first. It’s all about being together. If you’re a little unsure about joining a larger community (which can be intimidating), SALs make a great place to enter into the world and get a few great stitchy friends.

To Get Better Knowledge On The Pattern

Another big thing about the SAL, is that the designer is a major part of the community. They answer direct questions, they tell you about the decisions they’ve made with the pattern, the ideas that formed it, tiny details you might have picked up on, and even hints about future projects. It’s rare to get the insight of a cross stitch designer, but with a SAL you get lots of 1 on 1 time.

Mini Satisfaction

Another reason to enter SALs is actually the weird satisfaction that comes with it. Unlike most patterns, where you get page after page and you have to stitch through it to the end. But in a SAL you get a small amount that is achievable. You stitch your mini part, and you’re complete! You get the satisfaction every single week, instead of at the end like you would in a normal pattern. Because of this it’s easy to keep motivated. And that’s not including the community that’ll keep you going too.
In addition, you only ever get small parts, meaning not only is it easy to catch up if you have a busy week, but you can normally stitch other projects on the side too, meaning you aren’t bound into this one massive project all at once.

For The Suprise!

For me, the biggest thing about SALs is that you don’t know what the pattern is. Sometimes, you might get a hint, maybe a theme, but other than that, nothing. With the sheer wealth of cross stitch patterns online it can be hell trying to work out what to stitch. But with a SAL, that choice is taken away from you. All you need to do is pick a designer you like the style of, and start stitching!
Usually, the patterns for SALs are limited to the SAL itself too, meaning you might not be able to get the pattern at any other time!

Where to Find Super Sized Aida

Zweigart aida (Source: backstitch.co.uk)

We like epic cross stitch patterns here, and we’ve helped on how to tackle epic cross stitch projects, but one big thing is getting the aida. With epic cross stitch patterns covering meters and meters, finding someone that sells good quality aida, that is huge, can be a struggle. Until now…

Simplify What You Need

First thing first, what do you actually need? Now, I know the obvious response here is a big piece of aida, but if you’re attempting an epic cross stitch project, you’ll need to work out two things. The first is color, and the second is count. And once you’ve done that, we have some bad news.
High count (higher than 14 count) aida doesn’t hold together as well as lower count aida. In short, it’s about the levels of starch in the fabric, but it means that in very large sizes high count aida breaks apart. This means that you’re going to need to stick to 14m or 11 count aida.
Secondly, finding large sections of aida in a specific color can be hard. So you probably want to buy a white piece.

If Needed; Dye The Aida

But what if you want a different color I hear you say! Well, dye it. In fact, dying aida really isn’t hard at all. Unless it’s ironed, you can use any normal fabric dye to change the color of your aida to whatever you want. Buy it white, and make it whatever color you want.

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

Look For Fabric Stores

So now you know that you’re probably looking for 14 count white aida, its time to get your hands on some. The fact that you’re reading this means you might be struggling to find someone selling some large enough. Well, I have the answer for you! Fabric stores.
Yes, we mean brick and mortar stores selling fabric to sewing enthusiasts. It turns out that aida, sometimes called “Java Cloth” (its original name) is a common fabric used for stitching in curtains and upholstery. Because of this, fabric stores often hold stock of white aida you can buy by the meter. The usual brand they hold is Zweigart too, meaning its good quality.

Contact The Manufacturers Direct

It might seem a little odd, but you can contact manufacturers of aida directly. Sure, it’s not a mainstay of their business, but I’ve heard of many people getting large sections of aida direct from the manufacturer. It costs a little more money than you would buy from a store, but you can get MASSIVE bits of aida this way.
Worst case, manufacturers can help find a reseller who can supply it for you.

Zweigart aida (Source: backstitch.co.uk)
Zweigart aida (Source: backstitch.co.uk)

Do You NEED A Massive Piece?

Ha, I know, this seems similar to the first point; but it’s not. You see, if you can’t get that huge piece you need, you can actually use smaller pieces. Before I tell you how, I will advise that there is an issue with this, and you should only use it in the worst of situations; always try to find a single bit first.
You can’t frame it. Yes, that’s right. Once you try to frame joined aida, it will open up in a way that will be obvious. So as long as the thing your creating won’t be stretched, made into a throw for example, you can attach aida.

So how do you do it?

Well, in short, you place two bits on top of each other. So long as you line up the holes in aida, you can stitch through both pieces at once and the cross stitches will naturally hold the two bits together. So long as you have a full coverage pattern, it will be fine.

What Other Hobbies Can A Cross Stitcher Do?

Blackwork Teacup (Source: Royal School Of Embroidery)

I am, without a doubt, a cross stitcher. It’s my thing. But it isn’t the hobby I have. Sometimes, taking a break from cross stitch can be a great way of getting back your cross stitch inspiration. However, there are also other times, like injury, or simply bad eyesight that you might have to change up your hobby for a short period.
With January being National Hobby Month, we thought we’d go over some of the other hobbies that any cross stitcher would also be great at!

Blackwork

In our next year in cross stitch post from a few weeks back, we spoke about some of the biggest trends in cross stitch in the next year, and blackwork was right up there. Sharing many similarities with cross stitch, and being stitched on aida and linen, blackwork takes a very similar form but makes up images using repeating patterns of backstitch, rather than cross stitches. It might not be great if you’re suffering from injuries, but blackwork is sure to make its way into cross stitch patterns over the next few months, so you might want to get into it now.
Blackwork (link back to next year in cross stitch) https://lordlibidan.com/next-year-in-cross-stitch-2020/

Blackwork Teacup (Source: Royal School Of Embroidery)
Blackwork Teacup (Source: Royal School Of Embroidery)

In addition to blackwork, we also want to give a quick note to sashiko. Whilst it is very different to blackwork, its another embroidery that is really hitting it off at the moment, and worth checking out too!
Hitomezashi sashiko (source: sakepuppets.com)
Hitomezashi sashiko (source: sakepuppets.com)

Diamond Painting/5D Cross Stitch

5D cross stitch is a great example of a hobby similar to cross stitch, hence the name. Despite being called cross stitch, its actually just diamond painting. Using cross stitch patterns, or diamond painting kits, you place small beads or crystals on a grid. It looks very similar to cross stitch when completed, but doesn’t require as much movement from the wrist, which is great if you have a repetative strain injury!

5D Cross Stitch Close Up (Source: espacepublic.fr)
5D Cross Stitch Close Up (Source: espacepublic.fr)

Knitting & Crochet

Knitting, or its slightly more complicated sibling, crochet, is a fantastic hobby. It requires a fair bit of hand-eye coordination, but once you’ve picked up the first few stitches, its a simple case of repeating it. You can make real products using one color, or you can go fancy and make patterns in things. I personally knit hats for winter and something simple to pick up on a winter evening like knitting to while away as you watch TV is a great way of taking a break from cross stitch, whilst not straying too far away from needles and thread!

Frogging is also a term used in knitting for the same issue! (source: google images)
Knitting (source: google images)

Sewing

Finally, I want to hit on sewing. I don’t mean embroidery here either, I mean sewing clothes or other objects. It might seem super far away from the world of cross stitch, but it really isn’t. You follow a pattern, use a needle, thread and cloth, and you have to think about spacing and placement of threads. It’s more hands-on, there is a steep learning curve, and you need a sewing machine (which isn’t cheap), but you can go on courses that give you the basics and get you ready to stitch up everything you can imagine! And while its no where near as stress free as cross stitch, its a fantastic hobby. The feeling of being about to use your sew clothes in the real world is something you just don’t get with cross stitch.

User Submitted Hobbies:

Water Colors/Painting – You can also paint onto your aida, which works a lot like printing on aida, giving you a great selection of fabric to use.
Weaving – A great way to start making textiles of your own!
Bobbin Lace – A super intricate lace technique that involves you swapping over ‘bobbins’ in different orders to build up a design.
Macrame – A knot based technique that looks a lot like lace once finished, but made out of standard string.
Redwork/Candlewicking – Similar to blackwork, but using just red threads, or pale thread with French knots.
Punched Needlework/Rug Hooking – You can use cross stitch patterns to make rugs.
Felted Wool – If you’re a fan of the stabbing method of cross stitch, this is similar, but you stab felt onto fabric to built up a 3D design.
 
Are there any hobbies you think we’ve missed? We’d love to hear what you think cross stitchers would be great at if they’d give it a go! Drop us a line below.

Which direction should cross stitches lie?

How to cross stitch animated gif illustration

Having been a cross stitcher for over a decade and a half, not much surprises me anymore however, I recently saw a poll on a facebook group that had me speechless.

Facebook poll - Which way do you guys cross your stitches
Facebook poll – Which way do you guys cross your stitches

It turns out, that not only do people have a preference on which way to cross their stitches, but there is a massive 73% who do it one specific way. A way, which is basically irrelevant, yet has somehow permeated as the main way of doing your stitches.

Why do it that way?

The first question I had was a simple one; why did everyone pick that specific way, from bottom left to top right first? Well, I did some research. And it comes down to two points. The first is that most people learn cross stitch from a pattern, or from an online guide. You can see that even our own animated gif uses the same direction as the poll:

How to cross stitch animated gif illustration
How to cross stitch animated gif illustration

The second is that when printing, at least in English, you right left to right, which is why so many people designed their cross stitch instructions in that order.
Looking at the data, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that people stitch this way. Or should it?

Is it the right way?

I guess the second thing that shocked me was that people had a preference that they stuck to. For me, I always do it specific to the pattern. If there is something in a corner I want to draw attention to, I tend to make the top stitch point towards it. Does it make a difference? Well, that’s up for debate, to be honest. In most cases, once you wash and iron your work you can’t tell. However, I also found out recently that a lot of people don’t wash their cross stitch at all, so for them; I guess it would make a difference.
I guess, for the first time ever, I’m going to have to leave this one open. I’m not sure that changing your stitch direction has a big impact for those who wash and iron their work, however for that 73 % of people that stitch that way; try changing it. Just because you do something a specific way in the past, doesn’t make it the best way. In fact, the direction seems terrible for a left-handed stitcher…

Next Year In Cross Stitch – 2020

Blackwork Teacup (Source: Royal School Of Embroidery)

Every year, I write a post about what I think will happen in the world of cross stitch for the coming year. Last years next year in cross stitch 2019 went over the previous year’s thoughts, and honestly, I was pretty spot on. However this year has been an interesting one for cross stitch, so let’s look at what I guessed right, and what else is to come.
 

Cross Stitch Magazines & Books

cross stitcher magazine cover may 2011 featuring Lord Libidan (source: crossstitchermag.co.uk)
cross stitcher magazine cover may 2011 featuring Lord Libidan (source: crossstitchermag.co.uk)

I’ve put cross stitch magazines on my year round-ups for the last three years now, and honestly, they haven’t had a great time. With major cross stitch magazines shutting up shop for good, and others showing clear issues. I also mentioned books last year as well, as I saw a reduction in the amount of new cross stitch books come out.
Now, I wasn’t 100% correct, there have been some great books come out in 2018 and the new Xstitch Magazine has done really well, however in general, the same downturn has continued.
I keep my ear to the ground about cross stitch publishers, and many have stopped producing new cross stitch titles. On top of that, many have gone out of business. In fact, one of the biggest, F&W Media collapsed in June. Clearly, this is a trend that’s sticking.
But it isn’t all bad news! Whilst we’re seeing large cross stitch magazines and book publishers stopping production, I think we’ll start seeing more niche magazines and books come out to fill the space.
 

The Rise Of The Small Store Owner

One of my 2019 thoughts guessed that at least one major cross stitch supplier would go out of business. In turn, smaller businesses and stores would take up the slack. What I didn’t foresee, was the giant sewandso.co.uk went out of business; the largest European cross stitch supplier. As of writing this article, they’ve shut the store, got sold, got sold off a second time, and their stock has been moved to another online retailer. Whilst I think that they’ll see some of their trade, the new site is unknown in the industry and the higher price point along with the loss of such a massive supplier means people are looking elsewhere. For the last 6 months, people have been using replacement stores, which are smaller, but offer fantastic customer service, and usually cheaper.
I think we might see some more of this going on in 2020 as well. I still think there are a lot of big players in the cross stitch world that aren’t quite happy. As much as I’m sad to admit it, I think thread companies are going to be hit hard. Whilst DMC is releasing new ranges of threads to keep current, cheap cross stitch threads are nipping at their heels. I don’t think DMC will go down, they might be too large, but Anchor might suffer heavily.
 

Blackwork

Blackwork Teacup (Source: Royal School Of Embroidery)
Blackwork Teacup (Source: Royal School Of Embroidery)

You might be asking at this point, “why so much doom and gloom?” however it has to be seen that cross stitch isn’t as popular as it once was. In fact, three years ago I asked is cross stitch dead and whilst the answer was no, it had become less popular. But that’s only due to fringe crafts coming to play. For most cross stitchers, we can also do stuff like blackwork and sashiko.
Last year I was so very close to adding sashiko to the trends list, but I wasn’t 100% sure about it. This year, I can see that was the right choice, as whilst sashiko did have its moment in the sun, blackwork seems to be coming up as the next big thing. I foresee a lot of books coming out about it.
But honestly; I’m OK with that. As a lot of blackwork still uses cross stitch, and blackwork is still a major part of the cross stitch community.
 

Software

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

A somewhat confusing story, cross stitch generator software has been on my list for the last 4 years. It went from doing well, to going bad, to going well again. And last year, I saw a trend for the ‘point and click’ online generators. I thought this wouldn’t be a long term trend (I think I was wrong there), however, I also thought that major players like WinStitch and PCStitch would have to adapt to survive. Not only do I think that’s still the case, but we’re seeing a bit of it too. Ursa Software (makers of WinStitch) released a new app for marking up patterns, and I hear they might be looking to make a simpler converter as well.
I don’t see anything from the makers of PCStitch, and their updates are getting smaller and smaller, so I think they might be in some trouble soon if they don’t adapt.
 

ThreadHeaven

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

Sometimes; I’m wrong. Last year we saw ThreadHeaven go away. It was a big moment in the cross stitch world, as a lot of people swore by it. I personally don’t, and as a result, I thought a new player would come along to fill the space. Nope.
Instead, people went without. I guess this is proof that both cheaper and expensive embroidery threads are increasing in quality, but it was something I didn’t see coming. And as a result; I think we’ll see less and less people using thread conditioners (even if it makes using metallic threads much easier).
 

Unique Tools

Canary Micro Scissors in a palm (Source: beyondmeasure.com)
Canary Micro Scissors in a palm (Source: beyondmeasure.com)

One of my new items this year will be unique tools. We’ve long been a fan of finding the perfect scissors for you and shouting about great tools like frogging scissors and micro scissors however I think this year we’ll see a lot more people starting to use them, and other quality tools.
 
 
So that’s what we thought of our 2019 guesses, and our 2020 predictions. Is there something you think we’ve missed?

Where should you start your cross stitch?

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

I saw a facebook poll recently. Its principle was sound; it was just asking where people start their cross stitch. But actually, this brings up an interesting point. Is there a best place to start your cross stitch from?

Facebook poll - Where do you start your cross stitch
Facebook poll – Where do you start your cross stitch

Dead Center

The dead center was the out and out winner in this poll, and for the best part, is where most patterns tell you to start. The reason is pretty simple; you can move in any direction and it normally means you can start with any color you choose.
However, there are issues. In fact, there is one big one; what happens if you don’t get the dead center? I’ve regularly stitched from the center to find out I was off, meaning my cross stitch got really close to the edge of the fabric. Its clear this happens to a lot of you guys too. In fact, that’s why I created a great free aida dimensions calculator. I now add a lot more fabric than is actually needed to avoid this problem, however, I still find myself being slightly off-center. I’ve never been in a position that this has been a massive problem, but I’ve seen people online having to restart their own pattern due to this before, and the worst thing, is that you can’t find out until you’ve almost hit the end.

Top/Bottom Corners

I personally like starting in a corner. It’s absolute, it gives you a place to work out from, and you can make sure to place it exactly where you want on the fabric.
But there lies the problem. By starting on a corner, you’re not thinking about the other corner, and you might find out late on that you won’t have enough space (although sooner than starting at the center)

Center Upper Left/Right

These options kinda surprised me at first. I was trying to work out why someone would combine the issues of both starting in a corner and starting in the center. However, that’s when it struck me that they’re trying to solve the problems caused by both.
I thought about this, and then I even tried it out, and personally; I think this is an OK way to start. However, it still means that if you’re counting is off, you might run out of fabric. I think it’s better to start in a corner.

Varies

This is crazy. 😛 I just can’t bear with the random nature of why you would start in one place instead of another on a whim, but not everyone is like me it seems! The problems starting are going to plague these people as they’ll constantly be changing, however, if they can count like a dream, then I’m all in favor of the anarchy!

So which is the best place to start?

It seems like there is no best option out there, however, it’s actually all of these. I know doesn’t make sense, but you can actually start anywhere and it not be a problem at all. So long as you grid. There are loads of gridding techniques for cross stitch, but so long as you grid, you’ll never have a problem running out of fabric or miss-counting!

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)

When Should You Give Up A Cross Stitch Project?

mass effect cross stitch gift

I’m a big believer in sticking with a project and seeing it through, but I, like every cross stitcher, have asked the question “should I just give up?” before. And you know what, sometimes giving up is the best thing to do. Sticking with a project you’re just not in love with can drain on you, and make you lose your inspiration for cross stitch. But when exactly is it OK to give up?

You’ve stitched it wrong

This is probably the biggest reason people want to give up a cross stitch project; however its normally unlikely to result in giving up your project. Whilst stitching something wrong can be hell, there is always something you can do about it, so you might not have to give up

You can pull it out

No one likes to frog cross stitches out, and whilst there are a few tools that make frogging easier, it can seem like it’s just not worth it, but sometimes it is. For my New Moon on Tokyo Tower cross stitch for the XStitch magazine, I stitched a massive section in the wrong color. There was no fixing it, so I had to make the choice between giving up or frogging it. In the end, I pulled out over 1200 stitches and redid them. And you know what; it made the cover of the magazine. It went from being a pain in my ass to being one of my best cross stitches ever. Just cos it seems bad now, doesn’t mean it will once you’ve restitched it.

New Moon on Tokyo Tower Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan
New Moon on Tokyo Tower Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan

You can’t pull it out

Let’s face it, we’ve all been in a position where we couldn’t pull out the threads, you kept on stitching without noticing it, and now more than 50% of the piece is a few stitches to the right. It happens, following patterns is a pain at the best of times. Now, if this is you, I’d suggest investing in a markup app for cross stitch but that doesn’t solve the here and now.
This isn’t a rare mistake. In fact, it’s pretty common. So common that one of the first blog posts I wrote was on how to fix common cross stitch mistakes like this, so you can fix it! You don’t need to give up.
However, if any of the other issues below are also present, I think its time you gave that pattern up.

Its just no fun

Yeh, we’ve all been here too. “The pattern looked so good online” or “I didn’t realize how much backstitch there was”. Yeh, sometimes the stitching just doesn’t go how you want to. It might be that the pattern sucks, or you might not be into it right now. And you know what; if it isn’t fun give up. This is a simple cut and dry case.
BUT! Don’t throw it. I’ve been in this situation a few times and I’ve given up, most notably on my Portal cake reveal cross stitch, which I had placed in a box for over 6 years. But I did, eventually, pick it back up, and I loved stitching it then. So don’t throw out your cross stitch; just place it in storage.

Its for someone else

I hear this a lot I’m afraid. Stitching for others can be a fantastically rewarding experience, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. Cross stitch takes time, and I often hear of people who started stitching something, then fell out with the person who would get it; do they continue? Well, I guess that is impacted by two things.
First off, is it still fun? Stitching something for someone who you no longer want to receive the gift probably means there are some negative feelings attached. Can you separate these from the actual stitching?
And secondly, do you want to keep it? If the pattern is frankly great anyway, you might want to keep it, but if it’s super personal, it isn’t something you want to continue with…

mass effect cross stitch gift
Ethan Jones first cross stitch for his friend Alex, proving that guys cross stitch too.

You love to start

I guess this one goes out to a few of you, who just love to start. I follow a whole raft of flosstube channels and some of them just love to start stitching. In fact, there is one who currently has over 80 starts; and only 1 finish in the year. For some people, it’s all about starting; and that’s OK! Cross stitch is there to be fun, so if you can’t be bothered to finish; don’t finish! It’s your hobby after all!
 
Finally, it should be noted that these are the reasons I found on an online poll for giving up. If you want to give up earlier; go ahead! I won’t tell 😀

How to pull a skein of thread without it knotting

DMC 743 thread with labels marked

The vast majority of threads for embroidery come in skeins, or more accurately, ‘pull-skeins’. However, not many people know that, as a result, people often ask me how to make sure they can get the thread out, without it knotting. Now, I know Christmas is a time when a lot of people gift and receive threads, in fact, we even mentioned it in our Christmas gift guide, and so now is a great time to finally put this to bed.
The thing is, there IS a way to remove the thread without it knotting.

The clue is in the name; Pull Skeins

Every skein and thread you pick up for embroidery has two labels. These labels are there to hold each loose end of the thread down. Normally, you’ll see one thread is covered by the brand label (DMC and Anchor threads are like this) meaning one end is ‘loose’ down at the other end, by the number and barcode label.

DMC 743 thread with labels marked
DMC 743 thread with labels marked

Well, as the name ‘pull skein’ suggests, pull your thread from that side. Skeins come off the packing machine in a set order, meaning if you pull from one end, you’ll unravel the thread, which is what you want, but if you pull from the other side it’ll knot!
DMC thread 3820 with ends of the threads marked (Source: reddit)
DMC thread 3820 with ends of the threads marked (Source: Reddit)

Is it really that simple?

Well, sadly not. You see, DMC threads have the long end by their number and barcode label, but this isn’t the case for other brands. Both Anchor and Cosmo have the “perfect end” on the brand label side.
Thankfully though, CXC and Sublime stitching following DMC’s way.

The Best Cross Stitch Samplers Through History

World War 2 sampler by imprisoned POW Major Alexis Casdagli

A few weeks ago we wrote about what makes a cross stitch sampler and in it, we featured some of our most loved samplers. However, we didn’t speak about them. So I’ve decided to do another roundup post, this time of my favorite samplers, but instead of stitching with modern samplers, I thought I’d do a journey through time, and give you some details on the best samplers history has given us.

The Oldest Surviving Sampler

How could I not include the oldest surviving sampler? This example by Jane Bostocke is the quintessential example of a sampler from the 1500s, and basically stands as the example all other samples are compared to. Mostly containing cross stitch and backstitch, it also includes beads, meaning that this was also a very very very expensive sampler for the time.

The oldest surviving sampler. Jane Bostocke, England, 1598 (source: collections.vam.ac.uk)
The oldest surviving sampler. Jane Bostocke, England, 1598 (source: collections.vam.ac.uk)

The Intimate Passage Cross Stitch Sampler

This cross stitch from Elizabeth Parker is probably the most intimate work you have ever seen. Its open words of “As I cannot write I put this down simply and freely as I might speak to a person to whose intimacy and tenderness I can fully entrust myself.” gives you a shocking portrait of the mind of a 13-year-old girl, who continues to write about her treatment that is “cruelty too horrible to mention” and her thoughts on suicide.
These words are so shocking to read, however, the well placed, thoughtfully cross stitched letters in blood red on white linen makes the words so much more poignant. After reading her thoughts, the sampler ends early, with “what will become of my soul” followed by a large blank space, as if the worst has happened.
Thankfully, in 1998 some closure was gained as we found out that Elizabeth grew up in moderate surroundings and died at 76. This lasting sampler acts as her diary, and possibly her only outlet.

Linen sampler embroidered with silk, by Elizabeth Parker, Ashburnham Forge, Sussex, England, about 1830. (Source: Victoria & Albert Museum)
Linen sampler embroidered with silk, by Elizabeth Parker, Ashburnham Forge, Sussex, England, about 1830. (Source: Victoria & Albert Museum)

The Nazi Defiance Cross Stitch Sampler

From one horror story to another, my next sampler of choice is Alexis Casdagli’s Nazi defiance piece. Stitched from fibers of his bedding while he was held as a prisoner of war in World War 2. Alexis clearly appealed to the Nazi’s sensibilities by stitching what appears to be a fully-fledged pro-third reich sampler. The Nazi’s loved it so much they took it around other prisoner of war camps to show others, not knowing its true brilliance. Stitched into the border in morse code, are fairly anti-Nazi phrases like “God Save The King” and “F**k Hitler”.
Having seen this sampler in the flesh, the sheer audacity of Major Casdagli to stitch this amazes me, but his cross stitches are perfect, made with shockingly imperfect tools. A true marvel.

World War 2 sampler by imprisoned POW Major Alexis Casdagli
World War 2 sampler by imprisoned POW Major Alexis Casdagli (source: V and A website)

The Iconic Ikea Cross Stitch Sampler

In 2016 Ikea launched a simple idea “homemade” and it chose to use cross stitch as its poster boy. Whilst this sampler is very much unlike the others in this list, it stands as one of my most cherished samplers, as it shows something the others don’t. Machine cross stitch.
Created using a cross stitch robot the sampler marks a change in the cross stitch world, a change where technology and cross stitch are combining.
Want to know more about the iconic Ikea cross stitch?

Ikea Lida cross stitched email close up (source: Lida)
Ikea Lida cross stitched email close up (source: Lida)

The Ultra Modern Cross Stitch Sampler

Finally, I’ve chosen to pick this cross stitch, stitched by samapictures. It was actually designed for the Star Trek Cross Stitch Book I worked on, however it wasn’t picked for its ability, design, or even its history.
I picked it as it shows where we’ve come from. Throughout history we’ve seen cross stitch samplers that show honest truths, that stick it to the Nazis and that buck the trend of tradition. However, despite that, we choose to cross stitch samplers that reflect the history and reflect where cross stitch comes from. Even with super modern themes, like Star Trek, we choose to stitch traditional counts, on traditional fabrics on traditional styles. In cross stitch, we explore new worlds, not like Star Trek, but new worlds of art, and truly make it one of the most varied hobbies around.

Star Trek Sampler Cross Stitch by samapictures (source: samapictures.com)
Star Trek Sampler Cross Stitch by samapictures (source: samapictures.com)

 
I’d like to thank every museum out there for recording cross stitch samplers and making sure these examples live on long after their artists have passed.

Thats NOT a cross stitch sampler!?!

The oldest surviving sampler. Jane Bostocke, England, 1598 (source: collections.vam.ac.uk)

Today, I want to talk about samplers, both in the general sense as well as cross stitch. I know your first thought might be “Its a sample, what’s more to learn?” however samplers are a very interesting part of cross stitch history. One that whilst looking rather simple actually has complicated roots.
 

Sampler
[sam-pler, \sam-plər\]

noun

  1. 1 – A piece of embroidery worked in various stitches as a specimen of skill, typically containing the alphabet and some mottoes.
  2. 2 – A representative collection or example of something.

 
I figured we should start with a definition of a sampler, considering what the topic is about, however that simple definition hides something. In fact, it hides something major about samplers. That simple description suggests that anything cross stitched, unless its a reference tool, isn’t a sampler. However, that simply isn’t true. So let’s break down exactly why.

15th Century

In our history of cross stitch we see how counted cross stitch was invented just before the 15th century. During this time samplers, we, exactly as you expect; samples. Books weren’t in common print, cross stitch patterns definitely didn’t exist, and so samplers existed as professionally curated parts stitched together into a long scroll-like reference material.

The oldest surviving sampler. Jane Bostocke, England, 1598 (source: collections.vam.ac.uk)
The oldest surviving sampler. Jane Bostocke, England, 1598 (source: collections.vam.ac.uk)

17th Century

The state of samplers somewhat continued in the same vein for some time, before spot samplers came in during the 17th century. During this time, books were starting to be produced with patterns for purely cross stitch, however, cross stitch was still firmly a hobby for Europeans. In order to appeal to the English, books were put together without cross stitch alphabets, and as a result, started to focus on objects.

18th Century

This trend boomed. Not only in the intended country of England, but in European countries as well. Pushed on by the import of cheap German wool, cross stitch was no longer a hobby for the super-rich and was possible for the moderately wealthy too (small steps). It meant that wool thread was no longer something to be used sparingly, allowing for greater change and in turn, more creativity. For a time, samplers became works of art. Instead of simply being a sample of something, they were an object in themselves, to be cherished. In fact, samplers were often created for funerals and morning activities. If you want to more about this point in history for cross stitch, check out our article on death and cross stitch.

Mourning Sampler (USA), ca. 1850; wool, silk and metal-wrapped silk embroidery on cotton foundation; H x W: 11 3/4 x 15 1/2 in.; Gift of Anonymous Donor from the Fraser/Martin Collection (source: rachelpiso.com)
Mourning Sampler (USA), ca. 1850; wool, silk and metal-wrapped silk embroidery on cotton foundation; H x W: 11 3/4 x 15 1/2 in.; Gift of Anonymous Donor from the Fraser/Martin Collection (source: rachelpiso.com)

19th Century

However, the 19th century is what most people think of when someone says sampler. A usually forced activity that young ladies in waiting would need to complete to show they were marriage material. However, this is where the word sampler starts to get murky. Yes, there were written words in cross stitch during this time, often religious text, mottoes, and icons, however, their purpose was not a sample. In fact, the only cross stitch, was a sampler. A collection that depicted anything the cross stitcher wanted. It could include poems, religious passages, or just images.

Linen sampler embroidered with silk, by Elizabeth Parker, Ashburnham Forge, Sussex, England, about 1830. (Source: Victoria & Albert Museum)
Linen sampler embroidered with silk, by Elizabeth Parker, Ashburnham Forge, Sussex, England, about 1830. (Source: Victoria & Albert Museum)

Modern Times

So what of modern times? What now? We know samplers can be a collection of mottoes, words, icons, images, they can be reference material or a finished piece.
Well, that says it all. Cross stitch, however, stitched, is always a sampler. It doesn’t matter what it contains, what parts it includes or not, its always a sampler. A piece of work for the simple reason to show off its skill in being made. This, of course, opens up the debate about is cross stitch art or craft, however, cross stitch has always been a collection. A collection of stitches.

World War 2 sampler by imprisoned POW Major Alexis Casdagli
World War 2 sampler by imprisoned POW Major Alexis Casdagli (source: V and A website)

 
I’d like to thank the Victoria & Albert Museum for their resource on the history of samplers, which was super helpful in putting this article together, and a great read.