Title: Spring In Kurama Temple
Date Completed: April 2021
Design: Lord Libidan
Pop Culture: Japan
Whilst I’m well known for things like my transforming 3D cross stitchaliexpress, so I’ve decided to fly the flag for all things Japanese cross stitch.
Since my last big piece, Morning At Hot Spring Resort in Arayu cross stitch, I’ve been obsessed with collecting ukiyo-e and shin-hanga. However, there is one artist I just can’t get enough of; Takeji Asano. You may know of him already if you’re aware of my work, and both my Moonlight In Yasaka Pagoda cross stitch and Spring In Daigoji Temple miniature cross stitch are by him too.
This work, also based in Spring, is the same size as both the hot spring and Yasaka Pagoda pieces, and in fact, I brought the frame before I even started, I was looking forward to it that much. But thanks to a few other projects I had going on, I had to break my golden rule of “never stitching more than one project at once” more than a few times. As a result this took me 8 months! But I’m glad to say it was worth it!
Title: Spring In Kurama Temple
This post was originally in XStitch Magazine Issue 4: Green, and has been adapted.
When someone talks about green a few things pop into your mind quite quickly; the color of money, the color of nature, that trendy Matcha tea, the green-eyed monster, or the not-so-popular vegetable known as ‘sprouts’. However, for many, green is not universal.
To explain this better, I’m going to jump back to the Romans, and the color blue, or as they knew it; bronze. You see, to the Romans the sky was simply a shade of bronze, and it was only until they expanded into Europe and Africa that they realized other people called some of their bronzy colors blue. The colors were always the same, and the name change didn’t really bother the Romans, however the understanding that the bronzy sky could be from the same color palette as the sea simply didn’t resonate; it would be like comparing yellow and green nowadays.
Now whilst variations in eyes do mean that people don’t see colors exactly the same, and women tend to describe colors more specifically than men, it’s this difference in color understanding that causes controversy and, in my mind, interest.
Let’s start with some color facts; people tend to like green, it’s the second and third favorite color for men and women respectfully, with roughly 14% of the vote. However, it also ranks highly in distaste; with 6% of people describing it as their least favorite color. This is stronger in women than men, and men tend to hate the paler colors less.
But what does all that mean? Well, it means designers struggle to cope with green. More universally accepted colors like red and blue can be used freely in design with known results; green can’t.
Taking prescription drugs as an example; color and the placebo effect has a massive part to play. Take a cream to treat a burn; would you prefer a nice cooling white or a stimulating red? It turns out that that red cream works on almost none of the patients, despite it being the same cream. It’s for this reason that colors are picked for drugs very specifically. Green for example could be used for antidepressants as it’s meant to be calming and reduces anxiety, but despite that, most antidepressants are yellow. Why? Color confusion. That calming green isn’t so calming for everyone, in fact, for some, it causes anxiety.
Jealousy; the green most people think of when it comes to emotions, and the one that’s most heavily linked to anxiety. This notion of a green-eyed monster is fairly hard to substantiate, with no one really being sure why it’s associated with green. However, one thing is clear; the ‘monster’ comes to life in a lot of mediums. The raging Hulk, the Grinch, Godzilla, or even Kermit the Frog (He’s up to something, I swear). Monsters ARE green, and that normally means that green is bad. But it is always? What about the Jolly Green Giant? A massive green monster, that, just like the slogan says, stands for goodness. Confused? Now you understand the problem.
Let’s talk food to start. In the past green foods have been treated well; think Popeye’s spinach, but also poorly; think Solent Green. However green foods tend to fit into two camps; artificially green, and natural green. For most, it’s easy to tell the difference between these two, with natural green foods being super healthy and not so fun to eat. As one of the only truly natural foods though, green items represent something; nature. That Jolly Green Giant is promoting the healthy and environmentally friendly trend. But that’s all too often used against us.
Our love of natural products, especially important at the moment, can be used against us with ease. The likes of those kale and matcha tea superfoods and drinks aren’t all they seem. Kale and matcha are strong color changers, making pretty much anything turning a natural green, even if those smoothies are packed full of sugar. I don’t expect anyone to start checking all the ingredients on their foods, but you can spot when designers use colors against you quite easily. Logos. Without naming and shaming, one of the least environmentally friendly companies on our high streets has a green logo, as do some of the highest polluting oil companies. The reason for this is to appear natural, appear less likely to cause anxiety. And if you want to appear as something, instead of using your credentials to prove it, it’s a warning sign. But does that mean we should avoid green like the plague?
Despite being one of the least favorable colors, green has one thing over any other color on the spectrum; it’s restful. I’m not talking psychologically here either. Due to the eye’s structure, green is the least strenuous color to look at, meaning that walk in nature is calming for you, and your brain knows it. And that’s why despite being linked with illness, jealously, monsters, boring food, and false advertising, green remains one of the only colors your brain seeks out.
So, what does all this mean? Green has a bit of an identity crisis, struggling to fit into a camp as good or bad. And that’s why I think green needs more love. Now you know a little more about the color, you can choose how you perceive it. When you see the green logos of mega-corporations; think about why they’ve chosen the color. When you see a green field, relish the ease on your eyes, and allow your emotions to move to calm. When you hear about the green-eyed monster, just think of it as a catchy name. Personally, I would suggest you do this with every color, but a great starting place is green, loved, and hated.
“But Lord Libidan, that doesn’t explain why American dollars are green!” I hear you shout. Well, America is capitalist, and thanks to people having such a confusing relationship with green, its ink is used less, meaning it’s cheap. A new government-run bill circulation called for a lower production cost, and in the 1860s that meant the cheap green ink.
We expanded on this post recently when we asked the question; why are glow in the dark threads green?
In the past, I’ve looked into two of the biggest online platforms in the cross stitch world and asked the questions is Etsy good for the cross stitch world? and is AliExpress both saving and ruining cross stitch, but the biggest thing about both of those sites is they both charge for things.
However, for almost a decade there has been another player in the cross stitch world which is all about giving things away for free, but also one that struggles with its own issues.
Today we ask the question; is Pinterest bad for the cross stitch world?
What is Pinterest?
The fact of the matter is that Pinterest, for good or bad, is a collection of images. These images come from all over the internet and are collected by anyone who wants to. What makes this slightly more interesting than say, Google Images, is that Pinterest has ‘boards’ you can create. Smaller collections with specific pins YOU want to add.
These boards get very, very specific.
Cross stitch patterns? Yep.
Cross stitch patterns of video games? Yep.
Cross stitch patterns of video games from the 80s? Yep.
Cross stitch patterns of video games from the 80s, only tabletop arcades, only male characters and from only one Japan-specific brand? Yep. It has 500 patterns in it.
These boards, despite how specific they are, still have loads of patterns and inspiration.
Good – Inspiration
There sheer volume of content on Pinterest is its best quality in my mind. Not only are there cross stitch and pixel art-related things, but general art too, meaning its perfect for spiking your interest in something new. That’s why we named Pinterest as one of the best places to get cross stitch inspiration.
Good – Free Patterns
Let me start with a small caveat here; free patterns that are legally free. This will be important later, but for now, let’s just look at the positives.
There are free patterns all over the internet. These might be from well-known designers, up-and-coming designers, or just someone drawing a pattern on paper. The sad thing is that unless those images are hosted on sites with good SEO, Google will never show them to you. This is where Pinterest really shines. Cross stitch patterns are filling up boards at a matter of rates, and most are from the deepest corners of the internet that don’t get any exposure.
One of the biggest areas that benefit from this is cross stitch fonts. We’ve spoken in the past about how hard to get hold of they are, and we even offer free cross stitch fonts and alphabets to help, but you might want more options. These images aren’t normally well-tailored to appear on Google, so are often overlooked. But thanks to Pinterest, there are loads of them. In fact, we even suggest Pinterest as one of the best places to get cross stitch alphabets and fonts.
What makes Pinterest even better is that it records things, things that might not be available anymore. Sadly, patterns do get lost over time. One of the most well-known instances are LittleMojo’s cross stitch patterns which were lost for about 10 years before we were able to get these back. Pinterest was instrumental in doing this.
Bad – Copyright
This, sadly, is where the problems start creeping in though. Those free patterns? Aren’t all that they seem. Copyright in cross stitch is a fairly large issue, and sadly, is the biggest detractor from an otherwise great platform.
The reason we looked into Pinterest was actually a whole series of Facebook followers approaching us to inform us of how many patterns had copyright issues. And so we looked into it.
We took 500 boards, and took the first 100 pins from each (50,000 total images) and traced every single pattern back to its source.
- 5% We just couldn’t find the source of. These were mostly out print patterns from pre-copyright days.
- 45% We’re completely copyright free.
- 5% We’re from recognised designers or sold on Etsy.
- 45% Had permission issues but weren’t necessarily a copyright issue.
Copyright is an odd beast, and we should state that whilst it looks like 50% is fine and 50% have issues, this isn’t actually as cut and dry as it looks.
The 5% that were from recognized designers are an issue, for sure. However, Pinterest has a solution for this. As a designer, you can report them. I’ve even had issues of this in the past on my transforming robot cross stitch pattern, and to be fair to Pinterest, they took down the pins within seconds. But my patterns had the included copyright information on them, most don’t.
This also doesn’t look into the issue of how you, a user are meant to know if they’re copyrighted or not.
But it’s the 45% that have ‘some’ issues that are the real issue. Copyright only really applies if someone is trying to profit from it. Etsy sells patterns, getting them in hot water, but Pinterest is free. This is where the grey area of copyright exists. In our opinion, you should care about copyright in cross stitch, and you should know to spot the issues. But we also know this is a rose-tinted glasses way of looking at the world.
These patterns have copyright issues, such as using Disney characters, but they aren’t able to be taken down as no one is profiting (Pinterest technically makes money off adverts, but this doesn’t count). But does that mean you should stitch them?
As with all of these posts, finding a verdict isn’t as easy as we’d like. Pinterest is a fantastic resource for inspiration, and it has loads of genuinely free patterns, including many lost to time, meaning it’s a great place to go. However, it does have a dark underbelly.
It is annoying for designers, but with Pinterest’s copyright claim function, the 5% are OK as far as we’re concerned. You should be checking things like Pinterest as a designer (it’s tough, but part of the business). But that 45% of patterns that aren’t easy to take down do have issues. But overall, if you follow the rules of finding a quality cross stitch pattern, Pinterest is good for the cross stitch world.
We’re big fans of organization, and in the past we’ve covered everything from organizing fabric to needles, but this post will be slightly different. You see, whilst most of us only stitch one project at a time, that doesn’t mean we only have one project started. Today, we look at how to cope with multiple projects.
Depending on who you are, you might think this isn’t a post for you. Maybe you only stitch one thing at once? I was like that once. However then I found this great cross stitch pattern on Etsy, and I just had to buy it. I was excited, I was itching to start, so I had to collect my threads together. That; is where it starts.
On average I still only stitch one thing at once, like many of us, but I have a few projects prepped and ready to go. But what’s the best way to actually go about this?
Ask Yourself If You’re Actually Going To Stitch It
We’re going to start with a somewhat painful one. The fact of the matter is that all of us horde cross stitch patterns, but many of us fail to actually start most of them (or I do at least. Please tell me I’m not the only one?).
As a result, it’s important to ask; are you going to stitch it. This might even be something you can postpone to later too. Let’s say you’re stitching a massive piece and you know it will take months; wait until at least halfway through before you start thinking about other projects, otherwise you might have a stack by the time you finish!
Pick Out Your Threads
OK, so you’re devoted to stitching up a second project, or at least you want to get ahead on the planning phase. The first step is to pull out some threads.
There are a few things here that are important.
The first is something we talk about a lot; picking good threads. And by that I mean make sure they’re all new threads, you have enough, and there are no issues with color variation. This will avoid you having to deal with the whole dye lot issue, and makes sure your project will be perfect.
The second one is once again something we shout about a lot; storage. You’ve picked your threads, and now is the time to make sure they’re stored well. Leaving them out on the side for months getting dusty, sun-damaged, and risking spills (it always happens when you least expect it), is not the way to go. We have a whole bunch of ways to store cross stitch threads, but our suggestion is a thread box. These boxes hold a whole bunch of threads (enough for even the largest of epic projects), can hold other things like needles, and keep everything protected.
Grid It Up
Next, we suggest you grid your fabric. OK, we suggest washing the fabric before you start and then gridding the fabric.
This might seem a little weird at first glance, after all, gridding is only one step before stitching, but we’ve all been there with a new project; we want to get stuck in, not spend an hour gridding it.
And that is exactly why we suggest doing it now. Grid it, and forget it. You’ll still be able to get stuck in when you do start the project, but you’ll have a little more enthusiasm for gridding now than you will later in time.
There are a whole bunch of ways to grid your cross stitch, but if you plan on putting your project on hold for a while, we would suggest using the non-pen related methods. Washable pens can bleed and disappear over time and whilst this isn’t a permanent issue, it will mean you have to redo the gridding later on. And the only thing worse than gridding is gridding twice.
Dirt happens. Cover everything. This might be the threads as we explained about, this might be the pattern, fabric, or anything else. Just make sure it’s covered.
Knowing that you need to cover it, and knowing you need to hold a whole bunch of things together, this is where the project bag comes in.
I use to store my “ongoing” projects in a draw. I opened it and I had to fish through the fabric from one project, threads from another, and pattern sheets that you swear shouldn’t even be in there. It was a mess. Sure, they were protected in the draw, but it was an organizational nightmare. Then, a well known online cross stitch store supplied a few to us for free. Game changer.
You can get project bags in a whole raft of different types, sizes, and designs, but the best for us is something clear so we can see which project is which, and comes in multiple sizes. These things hold everything you need, protect it, and keep things together. A real game changer.
As I said earlier, this might not be something you initially think is relevant to you based on your current stitching trends, but with the above advice, if you do ever prep for another project early, or even have multiple cross stitch projects on the go at once, this should help avoid any pitfalls!
When it comes to reviewing cross stitch tools, normally it’s something made specifically for the industry. Sometimes we might happen to cross into the realms of needlecraft in general, but its rare for a tool to cross into the medical sphere. That was until I happened upon curved tipped scissors, which are my goto tool for frogging. However, I expected that to be the only one. Turns out, there is another medical tool that is perfect for cross stitching.
Finger gloves sure look funny. They’re somewhat like a thimble but go over your finger a little better. I’ve been asked about them a few times, but it wasn’t until I received an email from a reader who was stitching with silks for the first time that I recommended finger gloves myself!
The fact is, these weird-looking (and weird feeling) gloves are actually a really great addition to your stitching.
Get A Grip
The first thing that grabs me when talking about finger gloves is how handy they are at gripping. We all know that stitching with threads like metallics can be hard and whilst there are many ways to make things easier like thread conditioners you still need a lot of grip on your needle.
Finger gloves come with little bobbles on the tips, and thanks to their latex material, grab onto things well. I’m personally always looking to make annoying threads easier to use!
Keep It Clean
The second advantage of finger gloves is cleanliness. Sure, we can wash our cross stitch, but if you’re using something like silks or DMC satin threads, washing both isn’t as effective, and isn’t as easy. Using finger gloves on these heirloom projects gives another layer of protection to your work, whilst not restricting your hands in any way.
No More Pricked Fingers
Another great advantage of finger gloves is that, much like their heftier thimble brothers, they protect you from pricking your finger. And as much as I think needle injuries are part of the sport of cross stitch, a little protection goes a long way!
Whereas a thimble is hard and doesn’t sit on your fingertip easily, these finger gloves do!
So When Should You Use Them?
So when should you bother with these things? Well, that’s up to you, and honestly, I don’t wear them all the time either, so you really do need to make your own choice.
However, when using hard to manage threads like metallics they’re a great hand. When stitching with fancy threads like silks or DMC satins they keep everything clean. However, you can pick up 100 of these things up for a few dollars and have enough to wear day in day out. So why not give them a try?
I get this question a lot. Whilst most patterns do have a guide, depending on the fabric you use, if you stitch 1 over 1 and the overall look you want, the amount of strands you use can vary.
|Fabric||Strands (Light Fabric)||Strands (Dark Fabric)|
|11 Count (1 over 1)||4 Strands||6 Strands|
|14 Count (1 over 1)||2 or 3 Strands||3 or 4 Strands|
|16 Count (1 over 1)||2 Strands||3 Strands|
|18 Count (1 over 1)||2 Strands||3 Strands|
|20 Count (1 over 1)||1 or 2 Strands||2 or 3 Strands|
|22 Count (1 over 1)||1 Strand||2 Strands|
|22 Count (1 over 2)||4 Strands||6 Strands|
|24 Count (1 over 1)||1 Strand||2 Strands|
|24 Count (1 over 2)||4 Strands||6 Strands|
|25 Count (1 over 1)||1 Strand||2 Strands|
|25 Count (1 over 2)||3 Strands||4 Strands|
|28 Count (1 over 1)||1 Strand||2 Strands|
|28 Count (1 over 2)||2 or 3 Strands||4 Strands|
When You Should Ignore The Table
Yep, sometimes you should ignore me! 😀 Whilst this post does show you the standard strands to use, there are actually 3 different situations when you should ignore the table up above.
The first is simply a case of prefered style. It might be that you like the fuller stitch look, or you’re going for more of a pencil drawing style, or whatever. There are actually a whole load of reasons why you might want to change it up based on your prefered style, and better-cross stitch patterns have an excellent post on why floss coverage matters, but when it comes to anything in cross stitch, it’s all about your prefernce.
The next reason you might want to ignore the normal strand guide is detail. The best way of thinking of this is much like a drawing with thick and thin pens. You might want the outline to be in a thick pen to draw the eye, the light lines on someone’s face might be in a thin marker. This can be replicated in cross stitch and embroidery.
For an example, look at my Star Trek Voyager Blueprint cross stitch or the larger Enterprise. When you stand and look at it in real life (I’ll admit the effect isn’t as good online), you see the thick white outline of the ship. As you take a step forward you see the pink floors and as you take a step further you see the tables and chairs in every room. Here I’ve combined 3 strands for the outline, 2 strands for the floors and 1 strand for the mini details. It means that when you stand back you’re not bombarded with detail that ruins the overall design, but if you get closer you see more and more detail.
The final thing is actually distance. We tend to think of cross stitch as very one dimensional, but by changing up the strands, you can create a false sense of distance.
Taking my Enterprise again (sorry, I don’t mean to plug myself so much!), if you look at the small white ships they look like they sit on top of the purple lines. This effect was made by making the purple lines only 1 strand. Your eye naturally thinks that lines of the same thickness are on the same level, but thicker lines pull forward, and thin lines push back.
I know that’s very embroidery focused, but by doing the same with whole cross stitches, you put some parts in the foreground, and others in the background. This is similar to how photos look, with the background slightly out of focus, bringing your eye to the subject you want.
Check The Brand
This isn’t actually so much of a reason to change the strand count you use, but it’s worth noting that different cross stitch thread brands, and even different types of thread within a company can give different coverage.
This doesn’t play out as you’d expect either, with cheap embroidery threads sometimes covering better than the more expensive ones.
Our table above is suitable for most brands.
Have you tried playing with stands within a project? We’d love to have a look!
This post was originally in XStitch Magazine Issue 6: Mixtape, and has been adapted.
Cross stitch has always had a lot of similarities to music in my mind, not only does has it been with us for nearly as long in history, but its popularity ebbs and flows. There is even a ‘golden age’ of cross stitch in the 1800s when it was seen as a young lady’s proof of skill. But there is one other thing that music shares with cross stitch; much like the music of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, we’re in a revival, a revival that isn’t just marked with a renewed interest in cross stitch, but with definite influence coming from historical samplers, mixed in with modern style.
We now live in an era where retro is cool again, you can just look through past copies of the Xstitch Mag to see that swinging 60s are as popular now as ever, with images and icons from 30, 40, and 50 years ago being in vogue, refreshed and reborn in cross stitch. In music, 80s pop bands are starting to reform and tour again, which are not only on 80s revival radio but mixed in with the current offering of music, which has clearly been influenced by its older counterparts.
Back in the 70s and 80s, before my time, people listened to the music of one artist at a time on scratchy vinyl records that they saved all week for and played on a record player in the corner of their living room. Records were immensely fragile and the prospect of music on the move was limited to radio, normally owned by record houses, not offering much in the way of variance.
But this wasn’t what people wanted. In the UK, Radio Caroline, a pirate radio station streamed off the shores of Britain, started broadcasting a mixture of pop artists, to circumvent the stranglehold of record houses, allowing everyone to enjoy a medley of music in one session. Radio Caroline changed the face of radio worldwide, but its enormous listening figures still weren’t what people wanted. Back then people lacked the wide array of radio stations we have now, and so when one DJ’s preferences didn’t match up with what the listener wanted, they were stuck.
Cross stitch has modernized and adapted to offer an array of choices, a ‘mixtape’ of options and choices, all that is available to the professional or the hobbyist.
Until the mixtape. The advent of personal tape recorders and tape players introduced the capacity to record music of choice for replay at a time of choosing. The mixtape was born in the 80s and was more than just music on a tape. A leading essayist of the time described it as “perhaps the most widely practiced American art form”.
Ironically, the mixtape exists today as a retro throwback or a shuffle on an iPod. Although more famous mixtapes such as Now that’s What I Call Music have just celebrated the 100th release. But its permeated modern music tastes, modern technology, and a larger choice of music available.
But the mixtape isn’t the only revival, hobbies of by-gone decades are back in. Cross stitch has never been more popular than it is today. Back in the 1800s, it’s the ‘golden age’, it was only available for those in the know, the rich upper classes. Its 1900s ‘silver age’ had mostly male workers stitching, but it failed to be accepted by everyone.
Revitalized and appealing to the younger hobbyist, rather than the traditionalist granny in a rocking chair cross stitch is now in its mixtape era, not only due to it permeating every age group, class, and age but because cross stitch isn’t just a singular. This reignited interest may have come down as a primarily purist hobby, but modern times have brought with it; options. Options that allow you to make a cross stitch mixtape of your own choosing.
Cross stitch is no longer limited to the stilted patterns and palettes of fairies, landscapes, and wolves, cross stitch isn’t even limited to 2D. With plastic canvas, circular canvas, waste canvas, variated threads, metallic threads, silks, blending filaments, pearlescent, glow-in-the-darks, plastic canvas, French knots, quarter stitches, backstitching, beads, and hundreds of other options, cross stitch patterns are now only rough guides. Cross stitch has modernized and adapted to offer an array of choices, a ‘mixtape’ of options and choices, all that is available to the professional or the hobbyist.
This mixtape issue displays the best of the cross stitch of our time, with a selection of well-known cross stitchers. However, every one of the designers knows that we’re just the inspiration; the pirate radio of cross stitch magazines. When and if you stitch these patterns, you do it with your own agenda in mind. You choose to stitch just that section, or maybe you want to work that bit up in a different color, maybe you want to add a bit of sparkle. Just like the American youth of the 80s, you sit at home, stitching for hours on end to create something similar, but unique. You make your own mixtape based on these designs.
Cross stitch, just like the music of older generations is retro, but it has been reborn and revitalized. And I and the other designers implore you to take your own road and create your own cross stitch. Push boundaries, do something different, and show us that the best cross stitchers out there are you; the mixtape makers.
I was recently contacted by a reader and she asked a simple question that I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer. “Is it worth using silk threads for a heritage project?”
I’ve known of both silk and stain threads (DMCs answer to silk threads, that are actually cotton) for a long time, but I only recently got my hands on them when I was completing my journey to owning all of the DMC embroidery threads. I started asking around, and my story was somewhat the common theme; everyone knew about them but didn’t use them.
So I picked up my needles, tested them out, and today, we’ll deep dive into these rate threads, and ask if you should use them too.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of silks is their luster or shininess. And the thought is 100% founded. These things are really shiny, and they ooze quality. However, as much as I tried to photograph them, I just couldn’t get the shine to show. I then tried framing the work and realized that once again, it lost its shine. Annoyingly, the shine only really works if the fabric is moving (or the light source).
Whilst I loved the look when it was in my hands, the shine disappears unless it’s handled. For me, this is a big thing. Why would you go through the effort, and cost of using silks or satin threads to lose the main selling feature by putting it up on the wall? If you’re going to sew on something like a throw, yes, 100% worth it, but for something framed? It’s just not worth it.
So that said, let’s also talk about the biggest negative about these threads; price. The price of DMC threads varies massively anyway, but their satin range is twice the price for most. Then the actual silk threads are up to 4 times as much (although the price for different brands varies). So is it worth it?
I honestly think so. Yes, the price is high, and there are further issues which we’ll get to in a minute, but you don’t use silks all the time. It’s for those specific projects, those projects you want to use the best of the best for. The things that you want to last for decades. As an everyday thread, they aren’t going to win prizes for their cost, and the benefits are massively outweighed by their flaws, but for those special times; it’s worth it.
The next thing you need to think about is the availability, and in turn, range. In the DMC satins range, there are only 36 colors, a significant difference from the 500 standard cottons, so you’ll have to pick your pattern and colors carefully. For brands other than DMC, ranges vary, but many only stock less than 30 colors, and just like mixing normal thread brands; we advise mixing and matching.
Then, is getting your hands on them. Yes, most of the best online cross stitch stores have them, but finding them in stores can be a tough ask.
Care & Sew Quality
Finally, what about care? Turns out most silks and satin threads can put up with a lot of washing, but they tend to be weaker than cotton threads. This leads to both broken threads whilst stitching, but also damage to well-worn stitches. You do need to take a little more care than your normal stitches.
So, When Should You Use Them?
Now we have our analysis out of the way, when should you use them?
This, as ever, is a personal choice, but for us, it’s only those special projects that get silks and satins. Even then, picking specific projects that don’t have too many colors, gets handled, and aren’t subject to too much dirt. That seems like a pretty small list, but any heritage project, like throws and pillows, is perfect. You touch them, so the luster shows, you don’t put them through too much wear, and you keep them for decades.
But, we sent a few samples out to our stitchy readers and asked them for their feedback. It turns out, that silks and satins are a bit hit and miss. I personally fall in that middle group of “OK-ers”. So we suggest next time you see some, pick up a single skein. Just throw some cross stitches down and see how it feels. Maybe you’re a lover, maybe you’re a hater, or maybe you’re a bit like me.
There aren’t many items that I would say that you need to have. At a push, I would say you probably you need to have a good pair of scissors, but there is one other item I would suggest for every cross stitcher. A tracing pad.
They might not be the most obviously needed tool in cross stitch and are often overlooked, but they actually solve a lot of problems people have with cross stitch. Considering the price point is from $20 to $50 they’re also budget-friendly.
First up is the obvious advantage of a light pad; it gives you more light. Most cross stitchers do try to light their areas up as much as possible, and with more and more people looking at getting a daylight bulb for their cross stitch (which can cost a lot more than you realize) people overlook the more practical options. A tracing pad can either sit on your table, or lap, without getting hot, and provide targeted light right at your work.
In addition, any extra light you can muster will always help you keep your eyesight while cross stitching.
Working with Black fabric
Another advantage of the pad is actually the type of light that it brings, specifically from below. We suggested tracing pads back when we wrote about how to cross stitch with black fabric and it’s still our go-to option. Due to the backlighting, it lights up all the holes in your fabric showing you exactly where to place the needle.
But what about less obvious advantages? Pattern making. Now, exactly how it will help you here depends on how you make patterns, so I’ve broken this one out.
Paper pattern makers – If you choose to make patterns on paper rather than a digital way, a tracing pad allows you to make patterns MUCH easier. Thanks to its original tracing pad purpose you open your world up to being able to make a pattern out of anything!
Everyone – This one is my personal bugbear; picking colors is hard. Whilst cross stitch pattern software does a good job at picking colors, there is nothing quite like your own eye. That’s one reason why we’re a fan of using a DMC color card but picking accurate colors depends on a good light source.
We’ve already lightly touched on keeping your eyes healthy, however, a tracing pad also helps with back issues too. It’s actually really easy to get back issues when cross stitching, mostly thanks to the posture we take to get light. However uplighting means you tend not to slouch in your chair causing some of the most problematic issues.
The Little things
And finally, we come to the little things. The things that whilst the tracing pad doesn’t help with directly, having it there greatly improves.
Threading your needle – Threading needles can be a pain for some people, and even with the best needle threaders or self-threading needles it can still be hard for some. But the addition of a light source that you can use to help you see the thread, but not blind you in the process, it a great thing.
Frogging – Let’s face it, frogging sucks, even with scissors that make frogging easier anything helps. The light pad allows you to light your area up much more, and see those pesky threads to rip.
As one of the main tools in cross stitch, it’s no surprise that we’ve spoken about hoops before, at length. We even suggest them as one of the best cross stitch frame types, but there is a fairly constant discussion in the cross stitch world; if you use hoops, are wood, plastic, or spring hoops best?
Today, we hope to answer that. Or at least help. Or maybe just fuel the discussion, who knows. But we’ll give our take at least!
When it comes to cross stitch hoops, most people instantly think of bamboo ones. The reason for this, is they are normally included in kits as production is actually the cheapest for all the hoop types. As a result, the concept of a hoop is defined by those bamboo ones, but there are actually a whole bunch of options out there.
We’ll discuss each type, making note of their ease of use, ability to be decorated, cost, and any other considerations.
We’re going to start with one of the alternatives to wooden hoops; plastic. By this, we mean straight-up, plastic copies of wooden hoops. For many years plastic hoops had a bad wrap, being often thought of as prone to snapping, however, with more modern manufacturing processes, this is mostly a thing of the past (you can still get plastic hoops from places like aliexpress that will break in seconds). Therefore these are now worth thinking about. From a user perspective they’re pretty much identical to wooden hoops, but unlike their wooden brothers, won’t splinter, can get wet, won’t warp over time, and won’t stain your work if you accidentally leave your cross stitch in the hoop.
So what about decoration? Well actually, there are options here too. Unlike wooden hoops that come in wood, wood, or wood, plastic hoops come in a variety of colors, including funky ones, textures, and even shapes (oval, square, stars, and beyond). But even if you’re bored with those options, you can also cover them in fabric, or washi tape. There really is no limit to the creativity on offer here.
Now comes the cost. In the past, plastic hoops have always been more expensive than bamboo hoops, mainly due to manufacturing costs, however, prices have dropped recently, and getting your hands on a plastic hoop will likely cost you the same as a good quality bamboo hoop.
Finally, we come to other considerations. This is a simple one too; environmental impact. Now, we know not everyone is bothered by the environmental impact of cross stitch, but using a plastic hoop is something to think about. By and large, the impact of a plastic hoop is 20 to 30 times as bad as a bamboo hoop (although other wooden hoops can be worse). Just something to think about.
Plastic Spring Hoops
Next up, we have the weird alternative in cross stitch hoops, the part plastic, part metal hoop. Unlike the other hoops on this list, these hoops are spring-loaded. This does have the advantage of holding the fabric very very tightly, however, the impact of this is that you may get marks on your work when you don’t want them. They also tend to lose their spring after a while, meaning we’re not a big fan.
When it comes to decoration, these are all but useless. In fact, spring hoops are only to be used when stitching, and not for decoration.
The final nail in the coffin for these hoops however is the cost, and we really mean cost too. Spring hoops can be two or three times more expensive than the best quality wooden hoops. For a product that isn’t as good as its wooden counterparts, the cost is just too much to handle.
Wood Hoops – Hard Wood
So finally, we get to wooden hoops, however its not quite that simple. You see, there are two types of wooden hoops; hardwood, and bamboo (softwood can’t be used for hoops as it snaps).
Hardwood hoops, look fantastic, truly they have class written all over them. However, as a cross stitch tool, they aren’t that great. They do work, and in many situations will do fine, but as the wood is steam bent, it doesn’t have the same force bamboo hoops do. They also tend to be slipperier thanks to the smoother wooden surface.
You can decorate these hoops if you want, however, the cost of these hoops is a big factor in their lack of success, and if you intend to cover the hoop, you might as well go for a cheaper option. On the cost point, this varies heavily depending on quality, wood type, and size, but they tend to be much more expensive than their bamboo alternatives. As a purely decorative hoop, they’re great, but not so much as anything else.
Wood Hoops – Bamboo
Now we’re going to talk about the hoops you had in mind when reading this; the standard bamboo hoop. The fact of the matter is, these hoops are cheap, do the job, and can be found anywhere. They are the hoop you use to compare the other hoops, they are basic but work. And that’s pretty much it. With a hoop that ‘just works’, many wonder why anyone would go for an alternative.
In addition to their basic but useful function as a cross stitch tool, you also have a massive wealth of decoration options too. Want to cover it in fabric, cover it in tape, paint it, or stain it; you can do it all. Depending on the quality you can leave some out as they’re frankly beautiful sometimes too.
This is when we start talking about cost, or more specifically, what people think the cost is. You can pick up a 6-inch hoop for 20c if you wanted to. And you know what, it’ll do the job. But you can also pick up a different 6-inch hoop for $30. Both hoops work, both are made from bamboo and both are initially fine, but the cheapest hoops are actually likely to have problems. These might be from breaks, pealing of the wood edge, or rusting and stripping of the poor quality metal used on the screw.
The above said, one of the biggest factors in bamboo hoops is quality. In our mind it worth spending a little more to get the middle-range hoop, but we wouldn’t fall into the trap of spending big bucks for a brand name, as it’s usually just paying for the brand name (looking at you DMC). Another consideration is actually a positive; bamboo grows fast, it doesn’t take up much space or water, and thanks to its structure, hoops use very little of it. Of all the options on this list, bamboo hoops are the most environmentally friendly.
So with all that in mind, in our eyes, there are only two real options; bamboo or pure plastic hoops.
Picking between the two of them is mostly a point of personal preference, however in our mind, bamboo hoops win out narrowly. The fact that you can decorate them easier, and you can pick up a whole set of sizes for the price of one plastic one means they’re our pick, and they’re the most environmentally friendly too!
Interested in other cross stitch hoop fun? You might want to check out our double hoop cross stitch ring donut.