Ever wondered why embroidery threads are cotton?

Undyed Silk Threads (Source: beautifulsilks.com)

In this quarters XStitch Magazine I wrote about the Silk Road, and how an often-ignored part of Asian history had a vital impact on the origins of cross stitch.
In the piece I often talk about silk, hence the Silk Road name, and talk about how it threads migrated along the route, eventually ending in the round city of Baghdad, where cross stitch was invented. Here not only did they invent the stitch itself, but hessian, an early form of aida. You can find out more in our definitive history of cross stitch. However, my XStitch piece ends there, with silk fibers on a hessian back. So how come we now stitch using cotton fibers?

So why did we change from silk to cotton threads?

It should be noted that whilst cotton has always been used as a thread, it was a luxury product. Silk was the cheaper alternative. The reason for this was simple, whilst there was more cotton available, the processing of cotton took a very long time. Unlike silk strands; literally taken from silk worm cocoons in a long strand, cotton had to be cleaned, split, pulled, stained, woven and washed again. This took a long time and meant that cotton production wasn’t a viable alternative to silk production.

But things did start to change. In India, in the 5th century, they invented a rolling cotton gin. This allowed them to clean and split the cotton fibers very quickly. It was reported that one man and one woman, without using a cotton gin could clean half a pound of cotton a day, but with the cotton gin, they could clean 28 pounds, and if an ox was put to work, they could make 750 pounds a day. They soon started producing large scale and cotton became a rewarding, but niche industry. The reason it was so niche was thanks to India’s specific climate. The climate allowed for the growth of long-staple cotton, which, apart from a few other locations, only grew in India.

Therefore, whilst India enjoyed the advances of cotton, much of the world went without. That was, until 1793, and Eli Whitney.

Undyed Silk Threads (Source: beautifulsilks.com)
Undyed Silk Threads (Source: beautifulsilks.com)

Who’s Eli Whitney?

Eli Whitney, to most, is known as one of the many key figures in starting the American Civil War. This is all due to slavery. When America got its independence in 1776, slavery was a trade, but not a booming one. Slaves had their uses, but in most instances, their cost outweighed their use. By the mid-1700s, rice, tobacco, and indigo were all losing value, and slavery started to dwindle. This is where Eli’s new cotton gin comes in. Eli, who was against slave ownership, wanted to invest in the future of the United States and created a tool that could be used with the US short-staple cotton, much in the same way India had used it, with livestock.
Whilst this was a noble pursuit, it turned out that the new cotton grew fantastically well in Georgia state. Slavery not only became profitable but took the US by storm, in part resulting in the start of the American Civil war. Eli actually worked with the North to abolish slavery, however his invention, the cotton gin, was a tool that revolutionized the fabric trade.

Eli Whitney's original cotton gin patent, dated March 14, 1794 (Source: Wikipedia)
Eli Whitney’s original cotton gin patent, dated March 14, 1794 (Source: Wikipedia)

Soon, the cotton gin was exported all over the world, where it became the most cost-effective tool for making a thread.

Futurama Cross Stitch Pattern Spotlight

Futurama Cross Stitch Pattern by PatternArtCollection (Source: Etsy)

It’s really important to us that we use non-copyrighted images for our cross stitch pattern spotlight, so when we were given the task of finding a killer Futurama pattern, we thought we’d have a struggle on our hands. However, in our search we found some really great patterns, with no copyright, but still, clearly Futurama.

Futurama Cross Stitch Pattern by PatternArtCollection

Futurama Cross Stitch Pattern by PatternArtCollection (Source: Etsy)
Futurama Cross Stitch Pattern by PatternArtCollection (Source: Etsy)

We’ve decided to post two patterns this week. It’s actually the same pattern, but in different colors, something that the designer, PatternArtCollection does a lot. It’s in the designer’s typical style, which at the moment is super in; a silhouette front with a detailed, but small color palette. I’m a massive fan of their work, having stitched up three of their patterns myself, so I know that they’re great to stitch, as well as great looking in the flesh.
The funky colors, day and night feel, with Fry under Bender’s legs gives a real feeling of how Bender thinks of himself in the Futurama episode ‘Obsoletely Fabulous’ whilst the forest background also plays off the Forbidden Planet; a massive influence of the series. Truly a great pattern.
 
This pattern was found on Etsy.

Do you really NEED to wash your cross stitch?

Brown Spots on Cross Stitch

When it comes to washing cross stitch you’re either in the “always wash it” camp, or the “do I really NEED to wash it?” camp. Today, we’re going to try and answer that question, and see if washing cross stitch is a requirement or just a good idea.

The case for NEVER washing it

Washing and drying cross stitch is a bit of a pain, however that isn’t the reason people don’t want to do it. Its mostly fear. Fear of threads bleeding, or the piece reshaping. These are founded fears as well; threads do occasionally bleed, and threads of poor quality will bleed a lot more. Aida returns to its original shape when washing, and can sometimes tighten threads (again, mostly those of poor quality). As a result, washing can seem like a crazy thing to do if you’ve just stitched for 100 hours.
The thing is, you’ll find loads of people online who have never washed their cross stitch, and they’ve been doing it for 40 years. I’m yet to see any proof, but I honestly believe them. If your hands are well washed, you come from a smoke and pet free home, and you only work with high-quality materials, there is no reason to suggest your cross stitch is dirty.
Does that mean you shouldn’t wash it though?

The case for ALWAYS washing it

Fingers are dirty. The air is dusty. Accident’s happen. There are loads of reasons why your cross stitch might be dirty, and as a result, washing it removes all of that. Not only that but ironing it afterward will stop the dirt from getting worse.
I personally, always wash my cross stitch. And that is a direct result of two cross stitches I did when I was learning when I didn’t wash them.
 
The first is a retro trio cross stitch that I have simply never washed. I was worried that the threads might bleed (I’ve since checked, and even cheap threads don’t bleed). As time went on, and the sun took its toll, brown spots appeared. I’ve tried washing these out, but I can’t, these are permanent.

Brown Spots on Cross Stitch
Brown Spots on Cross Stitch

The second horror story, is my second ever cross stitch, my Fire ‘n’ Ice cross stitch. In this one, I made a different mistake; I didn’t clean my hands when stitching. There are now, LOADS of brown spots.
Brown Spots on Cross Stitch
Brown Spots on Cross Stitch

OK, both of these could have been improved had I framed my cross stitch properly, but the marks would come eventually. I’ve since learned my lesson on why you should both wash your hands, and your cross stitch, but even if you do, stains might come afterward.
I’ve tried to remove cross stitch stains before, and I can tell you it is a LOT easier when it has been ironed.

Wash or not wash?

So, I guess the answer is “probably”. Washing your cross stitch will significantly help reduce issues, and will mean its easier to clean in the future. However, if you’re 100% sure your hands were clean, and you aren’t too invested in keeping your cross stitches for the future, you don’t have to wash them.
But from personal experience; I always do.

The Best Cross Stitch Travel Scissors

Canary Micro Scissors (Source: Amazon)

As an independent website, we don’t promote one brand over another, however today we’re making a slight exception. Not due to the fact that one brand is better, but there only appears to be one brand. In fact, it appears the tool I want to talk about today seems to be very niche; however, I think they’re one of the best things any cross stitcher can get.
 
Without beating around the bush anymore, I want to talk about Canary mini snips. These little things are super tiny scissors, which you use with the tips of your fingers, instead of pushing your fingers through the hoop handles of a standard pair of scissors.

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

You may know that I’m a big fan of getting the perfect scissors for you however these little scissors might just be my all-time favorites. As small snips, they are perfect for thread cutting, they don’t take up much space, you don’t have to fiddle with finding the hoops and getting the proper control. You can pick these up and make a snip and put them back before even getting a normal pair of scissors ready. However, their excellence doesn’t end there. They’re round-tipped, meaning you won’t stab yourself, they can be attached to keychains or put into a travel cross stitch kit, and as the blades are super tiny, they’re fully safe scissors to fly with.
 
It also helps that you can pick them up for under $10.
 
You can pick up a pair on Etsy.com in a variety of styles
Canary Micro Scissors (Source: Amazon)
Canary Micro Scissors (Source: Amazon)

New Moon on Tokyo Tower Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan

New Moon on Tokyo Tower Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan

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

Title: New Moon on Tokyo Tower
Date Completed: June 2019
Design: Lord Libidan
Count: 18
Canvas: Navy
Colors: 19
Pop Culture: Japan
 
When the editor of the Xstitch Mag announced the new theme for issue 9 was going to be oriented; I knew exactly why. A few months before I have shown him a preview of my Moon Light in Yasaka Pagoda Cross Stitch (just before I decided to remove the Pokemon from it), and showed him what an awesome theme it could make.
 
However, that turned out to be a little problematic. The piece of art I used to make that cross stitch was still under copyright, meaning I couldn’t give the pattern to the Editor. Instead, I had to make my own. Now, I loved Asano Takeji’s work and thought I could riff on his style, whilst bringing it slightly more modern. To do this I researched when the ukiyo-e style went out of fashion. It was roughly the 1870’s. That meant that none of the modern Japanese buildings would be captured in the form.
 
Having visited Tokyo a few years prior, I also felt that the new Tokyo Skytree overshadowed Tokyo’s previous iconic tower; The Tokyo Tower. Following the American occupation of Japan, in the 1950s, Japan wanted to celebrate its newfound freedom with a new and audacious tower. Based on the Eiffel Tower they constructed a new tower, which was originally planned to be painted Bronze, but due to height regulations at the time had to have a red and white candy stripe paint job.
 
The tower, when completed would have been a beacon to all of Japan that they were back in charge, and were once again, ready to enter the world stage. However, at the time, modernization hadn’t come to a lot of Japan, meaning a lot of streets were traditional in design. I really wanted to combine this design to show both the new Japan and traditional Japan side by side.
 
To do this I combined images of Tokyo Tower, and a preserved traditional street in Tokyo, ironically next to Yasaka Pagoda, Sannen Zaka Street. I then lowered the tone of color to show a deep night sky, free of moonlight, to differentiate it from my previous Asano Takeji piece.

How to Make Sure You Buy a Cross Stitch Pattern That Isn’t Copyrighted

copyright defintion Image (source: wikipedia)

With sites like Etsy pumping out cross stitch patterns by the thousands, finding a quality cross stitch pattern can be hard. We helpfully went over a few tips for making sure you get a good pattern, however one of those points was about copyright. Copyright in cross stitch is a massive issue, and if you haven’t yet been involved in something to do with copyright, you’re lucky. However, the biggest issue is with selling patterns.
 

Why Should You Care?

This is probably the big question we need to look at first, after all, why should you care about copyright in cross stitch? and I’m not going to say you should (even if I think it). Instead, I’m telling you it’s in your best interest. If the pattern you’re looking at is copyrighted, its either going to be bad quality, putting the real designer out of business (and stopping them creating more patterns you love) or its a trap.
What do I mean by a trap? PDFs are a great way of spreading malware and viruses on your computer. Downloading a pattern that abuses your desire to get a cross stitch pattern is just one way of giving you a virus.
 

Does It Only Matter When Its A Known Character/Theme?

Whilst the vast majority of copyright infringement happens on well-known characters, etc, this advice is actually a good tool generally. By following it you know you’re going to get a good pattern, and aren’t going to get the stiff end of the deal.
 

The Advice:

– Is it a well known Character?

As we said above, well-known characters are a big issue, and if you’re seeing things like Disney characters on sites like Etsy or eBay; it’s copyrighted.
There are outlets for well-known characters, but these are sold in legitimate shops or are turned into books. I even wrote one myself for Disney, Star Wars, Star Trek and Hello Kitty. However, all of these books cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase the rights. Etsy stores just don’t have the capital to afford that.
Disney classic cross stitch book by Lord Libidan cover (source: amazon)Star Wars Cross Stitch Book by Lord Libidan Alternative Cover (source: Amazon)
Disney Classic Cross Stitch Book Kit & Star Wars Book Kits by Lord Libidan

– Are there loads and loads of patterns in different styles?

One of the first things designers work out is their signature style. If you see a website with loads of different styles, it’s a dead giveaway that there isn’t one designer involved. The source of these patterns is probably stolen.

– Are the cross stitch patterns super cheap?

Price is an interesting point for cross stitch patterns. Places like HAED can charge a big sum for patterns, however, you can pick up some for less than $10. However, if you ever see a pattern for less than $5; buyer beware. These margins make it almost impossible for sellers to make money, so if they’re charging for less than that, then you know selling quality cross stitch patterns isn’t their goal.

– Is there licensing information?

If someone is using a great looking piece of art to make a pattern, they need to say who did the original art. Now, if a pattern doesn’t say any licensing info, then the likelihood is that it’s being used without the original artist’s consent. From the artist’s point of view, this is annoying, but for the buyer, it means the pattern designer is willing to cut corners and give you a cut-rate cross stitch pattern.

“Octopus” counted cross stitch pattern. Designed by Vik Dollin.

– Is it clearly scanned/photocopied?

You actually find a lot of these type of patterns spread across sites like Pinterest and eBay, and yes, the patterns are probably good, they come from great designers. However the photocopied version is not only an illegal copy, but it’s putting the designer out of business. If you like their pattern; buy it from them. Otherwise, they’ll have to stop making awesome patterns.

– Is it from a questionable website?

The last tip is probably the biggest one. There are loads of websites out there that just deal with a lot of copyrighted patterns. Only use the ones that are well known, and other cross stitchers use.
 
Places like eBay, Etsy, AliExpress, and Amazon have MASSIVE issues with copyright. That isn’t to say every pattern on there is bad, but you need to be careful. Checking to see that sellers are well known, they have good ratings on the sites, and they aren’t breaking any of the other rules above means they’re probably OK. But you need to be careful when purchasing from these places.
 
In addition, you can find massive online stores that look to be from China or Russia selling super cheap cross stitch patterns. It’s a good chance that these are built to spread malware. Whilst that is a very general term, I am yet to find a website like this that isn’t just spreading malware. If you’re ever unsure; check with other cross stitchers on Facebook groups, or cross stitch forums.

How To Use A DMC Color Card

DMC Embroidery Floss Color Card (Source: stitchedmodern.com)

A month ago we gave reasons why you need a DMC color card and since then we’ve received a lot of emails and comments about how to use one properly. There can be quite a knack to it, but once you get it, it’s super simple!

Understanding color runs

The biggest thing to get your head around on a color card is the color runs (sometimes called color families). In the example below, you can see 20 rows of colors; these are the basic color runs, split from red to grey, and everything in between.

DMC Thread shade card with new colors with logo by Lord Libidan
DMC Thread shade card with new colors with logo by Lord Libidan

However, in addition to these rows are smaller runs. Below we’ve broken out the smaller color runs within row 1 of the DMC color card; red. In it, we can see each color run goes from light to dark, however each smaller run changes in color slightly too. The first run is more pinky, the second more Christmas red, the third blood red, and the last dark red. Now; here’s the biggest tip I can give you; never choose colors from more than one run. If you pick colors, you need to choose colors from the same run. And that’s it!
DMC Threads on row 1 of the color card
DMC Threads on row 1 of the color card

How to find a color by its number

Let’s say you want to look up a thread. Due to the way the color card is set up, in color runs, the numbers are all out of order. So you have to look at the table in the back to check the row. In the image below er can see thread 3840 is on row 6.

Finding colors by number on a DMC color card (Source: stitchedmodern.com)
Finding colors by number on a DMC color card (Source: stitchedmodern.com)

Other information on a thread card

There’s actually a whole wealth of other information on color cards too, which can be super helpful if you want to know it; however, it’s only on a need to know basis. If you don’t care; you can easily ignore it!

Thread Types

The first of these is the types the threads are sold in. For example, on the image below we can see that the new DMC threads 14, 15 & 16 come in ‘117’ only. This is the basic 6 strand floss you stitch with normally, however, 704 and 703 come in a whole range of other types, like pearl cotton.

Row 11 close up of DMC shade card
Row 11 close up of DMC shade card

Speciality threads

Then you have specialty threads. Unlike the standard threads, these aren’t arranged in color runs but are instead just shown in number order. It allows you to see what makes up a variegated thread, or what the metallics look like.

Dots on DMC labels

We’ve written about the purpose of those dots on DMC labels and the dots are also in the shade book, meaning you know which threads are which.

Care information

Finally, on the back page are care instructions. These are pretty standard for most threads at the moment, but these are a great tool to refer to if you have a stubborn cross stitch stain you can’t get out and need to know how to give them a good wash.

Spring In Daigoji Temple Miniature Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan

Miniature Spring In Daigoji Temple Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan

Miniature Spring In Daigoji Temple Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan
Miniature Spring In Daigoji Temple Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan

Title: Spring In Daigoji Temple
Date Completed: August 2019
Design: Lord Libidan
Count: 32
Canvas: Antique White
Colors: 16
Pop Culture: Japan
 
The idea for this project was a simple one, but as always, with simple projects, it turns out much more complicated than you first had in mind. To go back to the start of this project, we need to talk about my Miniature Pirate Sampler Cross Stitches. I was asked to do a ‘heroes and villains’ themed pattern for the XStitch magazine, and to match the nature of the theme, and the magazine itself, I wanted to do two things. But with a standard sampler, it was going to be too big. So I changed the count to 32.
 
It was the first time I’d ever stitched on anything smaller than 18 count, and whilst it was a great task, I wasn’t convinced to change my standard 16/18 count preference. The mag went out, the patterns were liked, however almost exactly when I got them back I was able to submit something for the National Needlecraft Awards 2019. I submitted them, and I won.
mini pirate cross stitch samplers by Lord Libidan (source: xstitchmag.com)
mini pirate cross stitch samplers by Lord Libidan (source: xstitchmag.com)

This was a super pleasant surprise and I thought to myself, it was easy enough, how about I make something for next year? So I decided to bring out the 32 count again. But this time, I wanted something a little harder. I’m in a big Japanese print kick at the moment, with my Moon Light in Yasaka Pagoda Cross Stitch and my New Moon on Tokyo Tower Cross Stitch, so I thought it would be good to do something similar. But with this, comes full coverage and changing colors a lot. I knew it wasn’t going to be too easy, so I stitched up a Miniature Pokemon Card Cross Stitch to try it out.
 
I then wanted to do something a little more special, so decided to do the whole piece using cut-offs (meaning I had to delay this project while I got enough of them stored up). But, finally, I was ready to make the pattern. This also caused issues.
Unlike smaller counts, the 32 count requires a fairly simplified pattern to work. This means any Japanese print I could find had details removed from it. So, after a lot of back and forth and false starts, I finally picked Spring at Daigoji Temple by Asano Takeji (the same artist as the previous Moon Light In Yasaka Pagoda cross stitch).

How to keep track of your DMC threads

DMC thread spreadsheet free download by Lord Libidan

With over 500 basic threads, and 50 varigated, variations, coloris and etoile threads its hard to keep track of which threads you have, and which you don’t (and don’t get us started on the discontinued threads). Even those who have a full set of DMC threads, still have spares we need to track (no one wants hordes of one color). So how exactly can you go about tracking which threads you have, and how many?

In short, there are two distinct ways; a spreadsheet, and a tracker. We’re going over both here, and we’ll give you multiple options.

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are great for tracking things, so its no wonder you can find frankly hundreds online for DMC threads. You need to be careful that you’re picking up a recent one, especially with the 35 new DMC threads that came out in 2017; most don’t have these on! The spreadsheet used to be PC only, and for many, that’s still how they’re mostly used, you can set one up with a Gmail account, and you can access the spreadsheet on the go with google docs. It might not be as user-friendly when you’re out and about, but it’s a great visual representation of what you do, and do not have.
We’d suggest our new one, which includes nice colors to go with everything too.

DMC thread spreadsheet free download by Lord Libidan
DMC thread inventory sheet free download by Lord Libidan

Direct download link

Trackers

When it comes to trackers, you’ll be using a phone, or ipad/tablet. Once you’ve located a device of choice, you can pick your app. Now, some do more than just track threads, which is what makes these great, but the big plus is that they’re avaliable on the go. You can simply pull out your phone when you’re at the store and you can make sure you’re not getting duplicates.

iPhone

thread tracker 117 app icon

Thread Tracker 117 ($1) – 7/10

Based on 14 reviews
For a dollar, it’s hard to say anything bad about this app, however in reality, it’s just a spreadsheet to track which DMC threads you have. The advantage, and the thing that makes this app so successful is you can import list of colors needed for your next project, and the app works out which ones you need. Next time you’re in a store, pull the app out and the list is there straight away. Of all the apps on the list, this is the one I personally use the most.

iPad

x-stitch app icon

X-Stitch ($3) – 9/10

Based on 27 reviews
Similar to Thread Tracker 117 this app not only tracks threads, but aida, needles, charts and other tools. It’s “need to buy” feature not only works well, but it reads your charts and patterns to give you lists of threads needed for each project too!

Android

Cross Stitch Thread Organizer app icon

Cross Stitch Thread Organizer ($1) – 8/10

Based on 30 reviews
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, Cross Stitch Thread Organizer orders your threads with to-buy lists, current stock, and warns you if you’re running low on a thread and a future project needs it. There are a lot of other apps doing exactly this, however what makes this app fantastic is the constant upgrades, and a really devoted developer who can be found on reddit daily.

PC

Stitchingly icon (Source: Stitchingly.com)

Stitchingly (FREE) – 8/10

Based on 12 reviews
Basically a fancy version of a spreadsheet, Stitchingly combines a few cross stitch tools into one dashboard, including a thread tracker. In addition to the simple act of tracking threads, it also allows you to upload patterns and track which threads you need to buy for that pattern, based on what you already have. Very clever.

Miniature Pokemon Card Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan

Miniature Pokemon Card Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan with Coin

Miniature Pokemon Card Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan with Coin
Miniature Pokemon Card Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan with Coin

Title: Miniature Pokemon Card
Date Completed: August 2019
Design: Unknown
Count: 32
Canvas: Antique White
Colors: 7
Pop Culture: Pokemon
 
I rarely stitch up other people’s cross stitch patterns, however, it does happen. But in those instances, like the Portal Gun cross stitch, I like to edit the patterns slightly. It might be adding something new, or in this case, just doing it on a different count.
 
I originally found this pattern on Instagram over a two years ago, and I put it in my pile for cross stitch patterns I wanted to stitch, but probably wouldn’t do. I honestly expected that to be the case forever and never thought about it again. However, I happened on someone else selling small pendants of the same pattern. It was cute. But once again, I just didn’t feel right. With the way the pokemon card has been reduced down in size, the overall thing seemed a bit too large. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
 
Roll on 2018 when I stitched up two miniature pirate cross stitch samplers for the XStitch Magazine. I got these back from the publisher and chose to submit them to the National Needlecraft Awards. I didn’t expect to win, but I did. In fact, I won the Best Miniature Needlecraft award. It came as a bit of a shock, but the whole process really made me appreciate getting crosss stitch recognition. I decided to make another one for this year, and whilst you’ll see that one shortly, I decided to go full coverage.
 
This was something I decided to do after I put together a round-up of the best miniature cross stitches, but I hadn’t done it before. This is where the pokemon card came back. I thought that to both test the full coverage, and to make the pokemon card even more miniature, I could stitch it in 32 count as a tester.
 
Sadly, by this time, the Instagram post and Esty sale had both ended so I no longer had access to the original artist or pattern. However, I recreated it and stitched it up in 32 count. It’s now smaller than my thumbnail!
Miniature Pokemon Card Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan with Scale
Miniature Pokemon Card Cross Stitch by Lord Libidan with Scale