A few of you may know that I make patterns and write for a few magazines. For the space-themed issue of one of these, I explored the relationship space has with art, and the various (and frankly numerous) art installations held in space. However, during my research I kept coming back to a single question:
Has cross stitch ever flown to space?
Well, the answer was a resounding no. BUT sewing and embroidery have.
Astronauts are a superstitious bunch, peeing on bus wheels, eating peanuts and watching Russian movies aside, they have one tradition of note. During takeoff, especially in the Soyuz spacecraft, astronauts look directly up, with everything strapped down to avoid it floating once they reach space. However, if that’s the case, how do you know when zero gravity starts? In comes the cuddly toy!
In order to show when you’re in space, you dangle a cuddly toy from the control panel. Now, these are genuine tools used in space, don’t be confused with their cuddly exterior. Whilst they used to be plastic pens, as time progressed astronauts let their imaginations go wild and picked a whole series of things to travel with. Many include sewing and embroidery in a series of styles. I looked through hundreds (I’m not joking) of toys to see if any had cross stitch. Nope.
In addition to toys flown from Earth though, there is one other interesting example worth exploring.
In 2013, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg brought to space an idea; to craft. Using tools found around the International Space Station Karen created a small stuffed dinosaur to bring back to her son on Earth. Now, this isn’t the greatest sewing on earth, however, let’s just think about something for a minute. There are no needles in space. There are no scissors in space. There are no threads in space. Karen managed to make her tools while she was up there too. Now that is impressive.
Our recent post on cheap embroidery threads got a lot of attention, not only due to us busting some myths, but opening the world of cross stitch up to people who can’t afford as much. So this got us thinking; how much could you save?
We used an example project from the world of art (Specifically the Mona Lisa) to give us some good estimates on how much you can save; then we hit the shops!
As we pointed out during our cheap embroidery threads post, brands such as CXC are actually good competitors to brands like DMC, and you can pick them up at a fraction of the cost on sites like Ebay and AliExpress.
DMC – $12.96
CXC – $2.07 Saving: $10.89 84%
We like to keep things simple, so we looked for 6 size 24 needles, no gold plating, not petite, no easy thread. However it’s worth stating that you can find some really great finds, so I would suggest that anyone look for the needles they want to use; the prices really don’t jump that high. For this test, we found two levels of needles in our favorite cross stitch store; the expensive John James, and the slightly cheaper DMC. It should be noted that you can find multipacks of no brand needles for much cheaper, but we wanted only six.
6 size 24 embroidery needles
John James – $1.71
DMC – $1.43 Saving: $0.28 16%
Initially, the only aida brand we could come up with at a reasonable price was Zweigart, and frankly, their aida is great, however, if you step into the world of fabric shops, you suddenly get a lot more choices. Firstly, larger sections can be purchased at a reduced price, and whilst you might not have the same level of choice as with a premium brand, you can pick up quality aida at a low price.
Still, struggling to find some? Try looking for Binka or Binca fabric. Its the same stuff, but slightly firmer before washed.
14 count white 30cm square
Zweigart – $12.47
No Brand – $4.32 Saving: $8.15 65%
We actually struggled a lot here. Turns out you can get some really cheap hoops, but once we got them in our hands; they just aren’t fit for purpose. So we went out of our way to find branded hoops to test. In our test we found Elbesee hoops to be the cheapest, however, we’ve been using them for years and I would personally say the quality is slightly better than the Milward premium choice.
10inch (25cm) wooden embroidery hoop
Milward – $4.88
Elbesee – $3.85 Saving: $1.03 21%
Now we have everything we need (bar scissors, which I assume you have in your house), we talk patterns.
We first started searching for the specific pattern we wanted on stores, and as its a very specific request, our options were limited. However, of the 6 options we found, Etsy had the most expensive, and eBay the least. But before we finished, we also tried our hand at creating our own pattern; which worked out free!
18 color 8inch tall (20cm) Mona Lisa pattern
Etsy – $10.15
eBay – $4.40
Making it yourself – FREE Saving: $10.15 100%
Pattern Making Software
Pattern making software seems like a big step for someone that wants a cheap hobby, and whilst there are shockingly expensive options, such as DP Software, most software is in the $50 range. But there are an increasing amount of online services that can convert patterns for a one-off fee of $5 to $10, and some which are free, including the great stitchfiddle.com which ranks best of all online pattern making software in our reviews.
Software capable of converting our image to a pattern of set size and threads
DP Software Cross Stitch Pro Platinum – $182
stitchfiddle.com – FREE Saving: $182 100%
Total Saving: $212.87 94%
So there is is, a saving that could buy you an iPhone. Cross stitch doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby.
Now, I would state that we felt all of the cheaper options needed to be checked before you use them, and we suggest getting the best quality product whenever you can (you’ll see the improvement in your work), but if you need to get something on the cheap; there are options out there.
As a final note; we are aware you can get the premium choice items cheaper, we used costs from our favorite UK based supplier for this test.
Sassy cross stitch? Cute cross stitch? Surprising cross stitch? NSFW cross stitch? These are all fairly common things we’ve covered before on this blog, but there is a larger and larger community of stitchers looking to teach as they stitch. Today, we look at the best science cross stitch!
Just…wow. This awesome stitch was found when someone asked a question online about distribution. Turns out we should all be thinking about the Central Limit Theorem.
Cross stitching artist Lada Dedic created this awesome self portrait of her brain scan in 2010., Whilst initially it looks cool, you can really get a good grasp of anatomy thanks to its realistic design.
OK, this one was slightly a harder to categorise, but look at how awesome these trilobite stitches are! Trilobites you ask? They are a fossil group of extinct marine arachnomorph arthropods. See, you’re learning already!
There are actually a lot of space based cross stitches out there, but by far my favorite is this sun one by Climbing Goat Designs. Mostly due to its super realistic sun design, something you don’t see often. I’m in love with the soar flare.
I know, we already had brain surgery, so why neuroscience? Well, it had science in the title… In reality these stitches by Alicia Watkins cover everything from diseases to coffee.
A few names have been bounded around with hushed tones, as people suspect cross stitch is not only cool, but celebrity cool. Well, I’m here to tell you it is. Not only is it super cool, but some of its fans might just surpise you.
Yeh, that’s right; Thor. Well, Chris Hemsworth who plays Thor… Apparently the only thing that interested him as a kid was cross stitch. Like long stitcher. Maybe he’s reading now… Chris? Proof
We haven’t just put those two images together randomly either. Judi Dench, devoted cross stitcher decided to offer some of her stitchings to her Pride and Prejudice co-stars Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen, specifically “You’re a c*nt” and “You Are a F*cking Sh*t”. No word on if Keira or Matthew put them up in their homes…
The star has been known to cross stitch in a few films, including that of Black Adder and Young Victoria. Taking a few ques from Judi she stitched rude words into hankies. No word on if they cross stitch together or not. Proof
Jumping back to the 1970’s, the American Football player Rosey Grier not only admitted to cross stitching on a regular basis, but even brought out a rather good book showing that men really do cross stitch! Proof
Yeh, film legend Henry Fonda. Turns out that cross stitching between shoots is old hat! Credited with over 100 movies, Henry stitched throughout the 60s and 70s, but it wasn’t until his twilight years that cross stitch really became important when he would stitch when he was recharging his pacemaker (yeh, you used to have to charge them up). Proof
OK, Marge isn’t technically real, but she cross stitches all the same! We love you Lenny!
We’ve all heard the horror stories over threads about melting threads and bleeds, and as a result, settled with DMC threads. Now, I’m a DMC fan, so I was thinking I’d try a few threads out, complain about how they sucked and go on my jolly way. Well, I was wrong. Turns out that all those horror stories are pretty much exactly that; stories. Whilst most do have some truth to them, cheaper Chinese copy threads aren’t all that bad.
I took a new DMC thread, a DMC thread from 1998, a DMC thread from 2016 that had been on a shop floor, an Anchor thread, a CXC thread (known as a Chinese DMC copy), and a Royal Broderie thread (a Chinese DMC copy that mostly goes without a brand name online). I then stitched some test squares, projects and a few party favors to test them all against some of the complaints people had.
Below are my findings which show that those Chinese threads aren’t that bad after all. I will state for the record, that I still use DMC threads though.
The Colors Don’t Match
This was the number one complaint I came across during my research, and I was expecting to see some serious color mismatches. My first initial stitches showed a slight difference in color, but nothing great enough to phone home about. But then I got to some of the other DMC threads. I said above I used three DMC threads, new ones, ones from 1998, and some from 2016 that were stored on a shop floor under halogen lights. The difference in these threads was astonishing. Far greater than the difference in the Chinese copies, the older DMC threads lost there luster and most looked a little greyed out.
This is an issue I’ve seen before. In fact, batches of the same color from DNC come out differently too. In the below picture you can see a significant difference between dye lots.
This rumor centers around the CXC threads in particular. They’re made from a composite of polyester and cotton (much like a dress shirt is). Despite some online retailers stating they are 100% cotton, which is where this rumor comes from. Now from a traditional standpoint, the threads of cross stitch should be cotton. However, does that mean you shouldn’t use the composite ones? I think not.
Now being plastic composite does have some impact on the threads, which we talk about below, but being part plastic isn’t a terrible thing.
In addition to this, its only CXC threads that are like this. The slightly cheaper, often no-brand, threads by Royal Broderie are 100% cotton.
Yes, some threads include plastic. But melting? No.
Polyester is a high-temperature fiber, and it does melt at some point, however, the melting temperature is 50 degrees higher than the ignition point of cotton. Yes, you heard that right. The cotton threads would have had to burst into flames before the polyester threads started melting. This story has to be completely made up. I know a few people who know people who have melted threads, but no one could give me proof, and there is always a chance that it was some super cheap thread that might melt.
They Don’t Fit Needles!
For some reason I’m yet to work out, the strands of thread in the Chinese variants are slightly thicker. This goes for both the CXC and generic threads. However, they are only slightly bigger. Increase the needle size by one, and you’re sorted!
They Destroy Needles!
As per above, the needles used with these Chinese threads need to be slightly bigger. If they’re bigger, then there is no problem. However smaller needles will catch at the fibers, destroying your needle eye.
They Break And Knot!
JURY IS OUT
I tested 17 colors of each thread, and with it, I got breakages and knots. However, they were all fairly spread over each brand. The cheapest Royal Broderie threads broke most, without a doubt, but the CXC threads didn’t break at all; instead, they knotted a lot. In fact, CXC threads knotted a lot when being taken off the skein, however, I have heard removing them a different way helps with this.
I know from experience that breaks and knots happen, and most can be avoided by good technique, but I didn’t find anything that suggested more problems with the cheaper threads.
I don’t want to get too technical here, but both of the tested Chinese threads had less of a shine. Was it noticeable? Yes. Is it a problem? Well, no. Combining the threads would look bad, you could see it as clear as day, however, when only using the single brand it was hard to see any real difference.
In addition, I feel Anchor threads have less of a shine than DMC, and they are one of the most expensive threads to buy.
The Colors Run!
FALSE & TRUE
Cotton can be dyed in two ways, a colorfast way, or a ‘quick dye’ which bleeds and runs. The Royal Broderie threads are a quick dye, so they bleed. It wasn’t obvious at first, however, you can simulate wear on threads by washing with higher heats, which shows a very clear bleed.
CXC threads, on the other hand, don’t. This is probably due to their polyester cotton blend, which needs the colorfast dye method to dye them in the first place.
They’re Hard To Get!
You can get either CXC threads or Royal Broiderie from eBay, Amazon or Alibaba. Getting them to your house quickly; that’s harder. Getting exact colors; also hard.
Now, in recent times picking up specific colors has got a lot easier, however, in general, you pick up packs of 50 threads, random colors. This can work out really well (you can get a full set quickly and cheaply), however picking a single skein of a specific color is still a pain to do. Most of the time they come from China (being Chinese and all), so postage is a few weeks.
So long as you prepare ahead of time, it’s not a big deal.
If its a no-brand Chinese thread, its terrible quality, don’t touch them.
DMC is superior to CXC, but consider the downsides to cost, as it may be a viable thread, especially for people starting in the hobby.
CXC threads tend to knot, they are duller than DMC, they aren’t 100% cotton, you needle to use a larger needle and they can be fiddly to get hold of sometimes. I know a lot of people that will be turned off by this list, myself included, however the price difference between DMC (£0.89 at the time of this test) compared with an average CXC skein (£0.22 at the time of this test) is a massive difference. Using a slightly inferior thread for less might be a viable option for many. They really aren’t as bad as some of the rumors suggest…
I recently moved house, and with it came a slew of stitching station opportunities, however, there was one big problem; super thick walls. Our two-foot thick walls cut pretty much all the light out, and as we moved North, there was less light anyway. So it was time I found a solution.
Initially, I jumped into looking for daylight bulbs after all everyone goes on about them. However, all isn’t as it seems.
Daylight bulbs are a great tool, and I’m not here to say otherwise, in fact for a lot of people getting a daylight bulb is a matter on health (yes, you squinting at your aida).
Daylight is a lot easier to take in with your eyes and when working with detailed things, like stitching, lighting your area and aida is super important. You could just save your eyesight.
There are loads of reasons you might want a daylight bulb other than saving your eyes though, such as great color matching of threads or a strong light that doesn’t heat or take too much energy. In addition, most don’t need replacement bulbs that often (or at all).
This is where you probably expect me to mention getting your hands on bulbs? Nope. In fact, before I started looking into getting a daylight lamp I had the impression they were super hard to find replacements for. Turns out, they’re everywhere (in the EU at least). Due to the 2000’s legislation over fluorescent lights, all bulbs in the EU need to be energy-saving or LED. Those lights are mostly daylight bulbs. But even so, most LED lamps don’t even need replacing!
And let me guess, you expect me to talk about heat? Wrong again! There are some bulbs that heat up, I won’t lie, but most are LED-based, which are completely heat-producing free (well, not completely, but they aren’t like normal bulbs).
So what exactly sare the problems? Well, it’s two-fold:
Not all lamps are created equal
I said earlier that some bulbs heat up, and they do. Some bulbs use a lot more energy, and some bulbs just aren’t what they say they are. In truth, not all lamps are created equal. There is a huge difference in the price of these lamps, and some of them are terrible. Finding the right one for your needs is actually super hard. I have some tips down below from my struggles, but it’s not an easy thing to get into (much to my annoyance).
It interferes with sleep cycles
I love my sleep, in fact, other than cross stitch it’s my preferred use of time. But daylight bulbs do have an impact.
The red light receptors in your eyes pick up on subtle changes in light levels, which in turn puts you into a sleepy mood (in a similar way to fluorescent lights do). Daylight bulbs effectively copy this, making you go through the same cycles. The problem is it also works the other way, meaning if you use it late at night (like much of my stitching time is) you feel more away, meaning you struggle to get down.
You can negate these effects by only using the lamp in the daylight hours, however, you should be using real light whenever possible, so it kinda makes the point of the lamp worthless (unless you’re working on detailed work). However, without me realizing it, I stumbled upon a fix that isn’t mentioned in many places. LED lights don’t create red light. I’ll spare you the boring details, but what that means is it doesn’t impact your sleep. YAY!
However, that said, the benefits FAR outway the problems, and with more and more lights becoming LED and daylight bulbs, I decided to stick with my daylight lamp.
Finally, the cost is a big problem. My favorite sewing supplier has lamps ranging from $20 to $250. Initially, they don’t seem too different, so working out if one is better than another (I remind you that they aren’t all the same) is only made harder thanks to weird pricing.
This is an advert, but shows off the lamp fantastically!
But not all in vain! I have some tips to make purchasing your next daylight lamp a little easier. Get the right lamp for your craft – Daylight lamps are made for different crafts, so find one specific to needlecraft. A simple way to find one is to use an online retailer specializing in your craft, however, if you go ‘in store’ check with the clerk for some expert advice. Get the right lamp for your situation – Stitch in your living room? Then a USB powered lamp is not going to be much use. And in the same way, having a lamp meters above your head isn’t going to be helpful either. Pick a floor lamp that sits at chair height. Do you need magnification? – Some lamps come with magnifying sections for ease, however, this raises the price in some way. Think about if you actually need one or not. In most cases, it might be easier, cheaper and more effective to get a separate magnifying glass. Don’t get confused with the fancy looks – Everyone wants something that looks good, but there is a definite premium for fancy looks. Normally these fancy lamps aren’t great at shedding light and aren’t fit for purpose.
Simply put, until the 1940s they weren’t sized at all. Each brand of needle provider came out with their own size guides, some based on width others based on length. Somehow people struggled through without much problem, until sewing machines were invented. Each sewing machine manufacturer standardized their sizing, however they all standardized differently. Each stating that theirs was the best way of sizing needles. Suddenly, issues were arising as manufacturers were suggesting a needle size that wasn’t uniform and people hated it.
Soon a group of needle makers came together and made their own system, which was so popular other manufacturers quickly had to adapt to their system.
The system they picked was based on the way the machine sewing needle was constructed. Unlike a tapestry needle, the machine sewing needle has a hole right by the tip. This means that the end of the needle is the largest point. The width of this needle in hundredths of a millimeter was now known as the size, in NM or Number Metric. So an NM 130 needle has a width of 1.3 millimeters.
That’s great, but we use tapestry needles.
However, hand needles have a very different structure to a machine needle and so this system couldn’t be copied. Herein lies the issue. All those needle manufacturers that missed out on the machine needle sizing came up with their own systems for hand needles. They went around and asked other manufacturers to use their needle size system for a specific type of needle in exchange to use another system for a different type of needle.
The method most chose (we’ll talk about exceptions in a minute) was wire gauge thickness. In this system the higher the number, the more the wire is pulled. However, much in the same way the needles had issues with sizes, so did wire (and it still does) which is why no needle size matches another.
The exception to the rule
I said above that there were exceptions to the rule of higher the number, smaller the needle. In an interesting turn of events, knitting needles struggled on the sidelines whilst the needle size war was going on, and no one ever settled on a size. As a result in the UK the larger the number the smaller the needle, but in the US the larger the needle. Most now use millimeter thickness, however, Japan uses a system of increasing numbers meaning larger needles, before then changing to millimeters at 7mm wide. This means they have both an 8mm needle, and a size 8, which is only 4.5mm thick.
($52 ($40 with discount code LLMAC76F))
We start with the behemoth of cross stitch software, on Mac or Windows. MacStitch is simply the Mac version of the ever-popular WinStitch, a full-service cross stitch software that not only competes (but ranks better in our tests) than the likes of PCStitch.
It has over 30 different brands of threads, including select options, such as DMC greyscale, has an inbuilt print to pdf (unlike some, PCStitch), and runs without strong demands on RAM. As a result, it’s the first place to look for a Mac software option.
But it does come with some drawbacks. The first is of course the price. Whilst the initial outlay of $52 ($40 with discount) seems steep, its comparable to the price of any Windows options, and is BY FAR the cheapest Mac software option.
Secondly, thanks to its full-service option, it comes with a learning curve. However, the same can be said with any software, regardless of platform, and as confidence grows, the extra options will become invaluable.
As a final point, if the time comes you wish to move away from Mac, all your saved patterns and files are compatible with the Windows version of the software, and whilst you’ll have to buy that copy, it saves you a serious headache if that time comes.
I hear what you’re saying, do you NEED to pay? Well, if you want a full suite of options you need a paid bit of software. However, if you want, there is a free option. But instead of software, it’s online.
StitchFiddle has long been our favorite online pattern maker, and or good reason. Its simple to use has fantastic image creation software (see below) and most importantly, is free.
Nothing in life is truly free though, as StitchFiddle is very limited in what it can do. It only has DMC or Anchor treads, it has very simple size selection (but does go up to 2000×2000), and even more simple image editing ability. However, for a quick image conversion, it’s the bee’s knees, offering a great print to pdf option.
Here’s where we start getting into some pricier options. For a long time, Jane Greenoff pattern making software was the only one around, and over time she got quite a following. However, the first of our pricy Mac options, and the very first Mac software, has been lifted directly from the old Jane Greenoff software, which means it’s complicated, has a limited selection of threads, and limited in many of its features.
It’s a higher cost than the likes of MacStitch, and has considerably fewer features. It’s only real positive is its ability to work with very old Macs (MacStitch works with XP onwards).
Stitch Painter is a fairly complicated program, with a similarly limited set of features that DP Software Cross Stitch Pro has. However, it does have a free demo, which despite various prompts, doesn’t seem to run out.
Our final pattern creator for Mac is StitchCraft, and whilst it isn’t pretty at all, it does get the job done. Considering its cost, there is simply no reason to go with something this hard to use.