Cross Stitch Patterns from Fine Art by Scarlet Quince
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Cross Stitch Tips

Counted cross stitch is extremely easy to learn and do. It’s very flexible too -- you can sit and stitch for hours, or carry it with you and do a few stitches while waiting for someone. It’s also about the least expensive pastime (per hour) that there is. Sitting in the dark might cost a little less but it’s not as much fun!

If you are new to cross stitch, these tips will help you get started, and see also our illustrated tutorials. If you are an experienced stitcher, you may still find some new ideas here -- and if you have tips of your own to share, please let us know and we’ll add them!

If you'd like to print the tips to have handy while stitching, we have printer-friendly cross-stitch tips.


Fabric stretchers
A fabric stretcher isn’t absolutely required for cross stitch, but most people think it’s helpful. Here are few ideas.

Embroidery hoops
(rev. 9/29/14)
An embroidery hoop is inexpensive and portable. If you are new to cross stitch, it’s a good way to start. Hoops are generally either plastic or wood, with a screw tightener, or metal and cork with a spring. (Assorted hoops) They come in diameters from 4 inches up. If you are buying your first hoop, we recommend a 6 inch diameter. You may also like the larger quilting hoops.

It’s hard to go wrong with a plastic hoop but stay away from the ones with a sharp lip on the inner hoop. Those are more for punchneedle embroidery than cross stitch -- your cross stitch does not need to be held that tightly and the lip will be hard on your stitching.

Metal/cork hoops are no longer being made, but are abundantly available on eBay. The spring gets in the way much less than a screw (especially the long screws some hoops have). The disadvantages are that metal hoops may rust, and the outer hoop really has to be pushed on over the stitching.

Hoops with screw tighteners can be opened wide and tightened up gently.

It seems difficult to find good-quality wooden hoops. They do exist (see the illustration), and should be smooth (not rough/splintery), sturdy, and have rounded edges (not squared-off edges). They may not be perfect circles! Beware of the flimsy bamboo hoops sold at craft stores which are really intended as novelty frames, not working hoops.

A hoop will put crimps into the fabric and stitching, so remove the hoop when you aren’t working. If you are working on a large piece of fabric, to keep the excess margins outside the hoop out of your way, roll or fold them up and fasten with potato chip bag clips, or better, small binder clips (available at office supply stores).

You can wrap the inner hoop with bias binding or twill tape to protect the fabric and help the hoop hold tighter. Stitch it to itself at the beginning and end so it doesn’t unwind every time you loosen the outer hoop.

Scroll frames (rev. 3/9/12)
We highly recommend using a scroll frame which is wide enough to accomodate the fabric you’re using. Scroll frames will not crimp the fabric. They give you a much larger stretched area than a hoop, so you can move around more while stitching. This can save you time: when you have stitched a particular color section, you may be able to do several other sections of the same color some distance away before changing needles.

It’s a good idea to loosen the tension when you are finished stitching each day. The pressure on the stitches may eventually crush them. It can also warp the rods.

There are (at least) 4 types of fabric attachments.

Split rods: the rods on which the fabric is wrapped are split in half lengthwise. You insert your fabric between the two halves of the rod. The cross bars hold the rod halves together. Many people complain that this system doesn’t hold the fabric tight enough.

Basted attachment: The rod has a narrow strip of fabric running its length. You must sew your cross stitch fabric to it, which can be a bit of a chore, and makes it inconvenient to change pieces. When you are purchasing this type of scroll frame, make sure the fabric (usually webbing) is tightly woven so it won’t stretch.

Velcro attachment: the rod has a strip of velcro running its length. You stick another strip to your fabric and you’re ready to go! We haven’t used this system, but it seems like the velcro would make a lump once the fabric was wrapped. You should plan enough fabric so you can cut the velcro off when you’re finished with your project. You probably don’t want to use the chemicals it would take to get that gummy stuff out of the fabric! Another possibility is to sew grosgrain ribbon to the velcro for the fabric, which can then be basted to the fabric. (Basting is much easier without that rod in the way.)

Double-sided tape: You can use double-sided tape of the type intended for attaching plastic insulation over the insides of windows. It is 1/2" wide and very thin and holds well. Attach a strip of tape to the rod, then remove the backing and carefully attach the fabric. The brand recommended is Warp Brothers and it’s reported that there are no problems with sticky residue. Warp Brothers tape is available on Amazon.com

Disadvantages of scroll frames are that they are not very portable, except in the smallest sizes, and the larger ones can be heavy, and they do cost more. The rods may also warp over time, even if you loosen the tension when not stitching. Look for a frame with thick hardwood rods. We have made our own set of rods from 1-inch maple dowels.

You can work with a scroll frame in your lap, but we highly recommend investing in a table or floor stand. This not only supports the weight of the frame, it gives you both hands free for stitching which makes the stitching go much, much faster.

Another idea to support the weight of the frame is to hang the frame, from the ceiling, shelf, coat tree, or whatever else you have available.

Q-Snaps
(new 1/23/08)
Q-Snaps are square or rectangular frames made of 1" polystyrene tubing, connected at the corners with "elbows". The fabric clamps to them with four half-round ribbed tube sections almost the length of the frame side. We have not used them but are told that they hold the fabric very tight. Because the fabric is clamped to a curved tube, you don’t get the sharp crimp marks that hoops leave. They come in sizes from 6" x 6" up to 11" x 17" and there are even larger sizes primarily intended for quilting.

As with a hoop, when working on a large piece of fabric, rolling up the excess fabric outside the frame and clipping with binder clips or potato chip bag clip is recommended. When placing the ribbed clamp over existing stitching, it’s a good idea to place a thin sheet of paper between the clamp and the stitching to protect the stitches.

Other stretchers
There are other types of stretchers and special kinds of frames. If you have experience with any of them, please write us with the pros and cons.

Aids to vision (rev. 9/15/10)
You must have good light. We recommend a magnifying lamp, such as those made by Dazor or The Daylight Company. These magnify your work and light it at the same time. If you have "old" eyes, they are indispensible! Such a lamp is an investment but still probably less than your next pair of bifocals, and if you are in cross stitch for the long haul, it’s absolutely worth it. There are both table models and floor models which you can wheel around. Check eBay for bargains.

At the very least, if the lighting in your home is dramatic rather than bright, get a desk lamp with a flexible neck that will put the light where you need it.

There are also portable magnifying lights which you wear around your neck. The ones with flashlight bulbs cast more shadows than light, but there is a range of portable magnifiers now with LED lights. There are also clip-on battery-operated lights -- look for one with a halogen or LED bulb. Mighty Bright makes a range of excellent lights.

Other portable magnifiers are the clip-and-flip magnfiers which clip to your regular or reading glasses, or Mag Eyes which are flip-up lenses on a headband -- they work with or without glasses, and the lenses are available in various strengths.

An all-in-one solution is CraftOptics Telescopes. These are small telescopes which come permanently mounted on titanium eyeglass frames. The frames are fitted with your personal prescription, no lenses (for when your optical professional installs your prescription), clear lenses, or +1.50 or +2.00 bifocals. The telescopes flip up when not in use, and there is an option for a light as well.

Chairs
Why a special chair for cross stitch? First, it’s helpful to have a chair that lets you sit up straight instead of throwing you backwards -- but often such chairs are hard and uncomfortable and can even cause pinched nerves if you sit too long.

We recommend getting what used to be called a “secretary’s chair” -- an office-type chair with no arms (you’re not going to be using the arms), a comfortably padded back and seat, good lumbar support, and wheels. You can of course buy one new, but businesses regularly replace all their chairs when they redecorate, so look for a used office furniture store -- you can probably pick up a very nice chair at a significant discount.

Scissors
(rev. 5/21/07)
You do not need special scissors for cross stitch, but it’s a good idea to have small, sharp-pointed scissors for accurate snipping. These can be had inexpensively - or expensively! There’s little to equal the pleasure of handling and using a beautifully-made pair of embroidery scissors.

Some people like cuticle scissors which have upward-curving tips, for removing stitches, because they lessen the chance that you’ll cut into the fabric.

Folding scissors are nice for travel not only because they’re compact, but because they eliminate the chance that you’ll stab yourself or poke a hole in your fabric while scrabbling around in a work bag.

Needle threaders (rev. 5/21/07)
If you have trouble threading needles, a needle threader is nice to have. Here’s how they work: put the wire loop on the needle threader through the eye of your needle and push it all the way through. Now put your floss through the loop on the needle threader, and pull the wire loop back out of the needle’s eye. Voila! Your needle is threaded.

Some have built-in thread cutters which makes them nice for traveling. Scissors are allowed on planes again but we would hate to lose our good scissors and just don’t travel with them.

Floss storage
(rev. 5/21/07)
Whatever system you choose for storing your floss, keep in mind that you will need not only a container for each solid color, but one for each blended color. Label the container for a solid color with its number and symbol (there may not be a symbol if it’s used only in blends). Label the container for a blended color with both floss colors and the symbol. We offer sets of adhesive labels for each of our patterns which include all the labels you will need with the floss color numbers and symbols. (For other brands of patterns, you can photocopy the key and cut it up into small labels which you can stick to your floss containers. You can also hand-write the numbers and symbols, but this approach eliminates the possibility of making transcription errors and saves drawing the symbols, if you are’t artistically inclined.) File each blend containers after the container for the first solid color in the blend.

Floss bags
Floss bags are zip-lock bags with two holes for keeping the bags on a pair of rings, book-fashion. They have the advantage of having room for several skeins of a color, plus scraps, and you just stuff your floss into the bag and you’re ready to go. The floss doesn’t get crimps in it like it does if wrapped on a bobbin. They have a white space where you write the floss color, though not just any pen will write on plastic and not smudge!

The disadvantages of bags are that they seem a little expensive, when you consider how many you will need, and a wad of floss bags is a floppy and slippery object which doesn’t fit neatly anywhere.

Bobbins
(rev. 1/25/08)
Bobbins are little cards on which you wind one skein of floss. There are boxes made to hold them, which often come with 100 bobbins. We prefer cardboard bobbins to plastic as they’re easier to write on. However, some plastic bobbins come with stick-on labels which eliminates that problem (or you can buy small stickers or our floss labels), and the plastic bobbins are much sturdier than cardboard.

If you are using especially flimsy cardboard bobbins, glue or tape two together to make them stronger.

The disadvantages of bobbins are that you do have to wind the floss on (there are bobbin winders, which we’ve not tried), the innermost floss will have kinks in it when you get down to it, and knowing whether you have more skeins of that color or not can be a problem. Nevertheless, we like bobbins. We have several boxes, and fit one up for the current project, leaving the floss not being used in the other boxes.

Another point about cardboard bobbins is that they may not be acid-free. Plastic bobbins are. DMC says that their cardboard bobbins are made from acid-free paper, but cheapo bobbins may not be. If you leave floss on an acid-containing bobbin for several years, the innermost floss may be affected by the acid. One person found that the innermost windings were actually broken into short segments, and even if this doesn’t happen, the floss may have been weakened or the color affected. There should be no problem if you are using such bobbins for blends — any given piece of floss is not on the bobbin long enough to be affected. But for long-term storage, it may be worth making sure that you have acid-free bobbins.

One way to do this is to test the cardboard with an acid-detecting or pH-detecting pen. This is simply a marker that changes color in the presence of acid. There seem to be two types, ones that indicate no acid, some acid, or a lot of acid (3 colors), or ones that show the approximate pH (13 colors). They seem hard to find. One would expect them to be available where scrapbooking supplies are sold, but we struck out at Michael’s and JoAnn. They are available online, but if you buy one, be sure to test it on paper you know contains acid to make sure that it really works (shelf-life is apparently an issue).

Stitch bows
(rev. 2/15/06)
These are a recent invention made to store a skein of floss just as it comes. The stitch bows can be put into a special notebook. It is an easy way to store floss, but there is no provision for pieces of cut floss or blends. They cost more than bobbins or bags but if you’re tired of winding floss onto bobbins they might be a good alternative for your solid colors.

Organizers
(rev. 5/21/07)
You will need two sets of organizers: one for the current project (or one for each of your projects in progress!) and one for the floss not being used right now. If you stitch much, you’ll gradually accumulate most of the DMC colors and probably quite a few other fibers as well, so you’ll need a fairly large or expandable system for your "permanent" storage.

Drawer trays
Kitchen drawer organizer trays work for bobbin storage. Rubbermaid makes 15-inch-long trays which interlock. Adhesive-backed felt applied to the bottom of the trays keeps the bobbins from sliding around. These can be kept on a shelf and labeled with the range of colors inside.

Bobbin boxes
A bobbin box will usually hold the floss and oddments for a single project. They have room for a few things besides bobbins, such as a small pair of scissors, needles and needle threaders. For your permanent storage, you will probably need a few bobbin boxes.

Craft organizers
If you would like to store all your extra floss, charts, scissors, fabric, etc. (or you’re not using bobbins) consider a craft organizer. These are available at most crafts stores and come in a variety of styles and sizes. Have in mind what you want to store when you go shopping so you can consider which has the compartment sizes most suited to your needs.

Tackle boxes
A nifty alternative is a tackle box (for fishing tackle -- try a sporting goods store). These have 2 or 3 levels and moveable dividers so you can configure the box to fit your needs. They don’t come in pretty colors, but may be more cost-effective than a craft organizer.

Garage drawer cabinet
(new 11/7/07)
Some people use the kind of hardware cabinet with many small drawers that are usually found in garages to organize screws and bolts. You can label the drawers according to the range of floss numbers that are stored inside. Depending on the size of the cabinet, this might be better for permanent storage than current project storage.

Floss sheets
(rev. 3/7/12)
There are also vinyl floss sheets for storing your bobbins in a notebook. Each sheet has 20 clear pockets, open at the top, for holding floss. These could entail a lot of moving floss around if you organize by color number and need to insert a bobbin later on. It might be easier to arrange floss by color group (blues, yellows, etc.) if you use floss sheets. Actual floss sheets may be difficult to find, but similar pocket sheets for baseball cards and other memorabilia are readily available and come with a variety of pocket sizes.

Magnet board
(new 11/7/07)
A magnet board is a flat lacquered steel sheet, usually about 8 by 10 inches. They usually come with a few flexible magnetic rulers. You can put the magnet board under a page of your chart and then position the magnetic rulers to keep your place. A magnet board is by no means a necessity, but some people like to use them.

Lint removal
(new 2/15/06)
It’s helpful to keep a roll of scotch tape handy as you stitch, and use a bit of tape periodically to remove dust, lint, and pet hair from the area you’re stitching. A pair of tweezers is also helpful for getting at pet hair which is already tangled in a stitch.

Thread catcher
(rev. 3/8/12)
Occasionally you will need to rip out some stitches and you may end up with a short loose end that needs to be pulled to the back and/or anchored. There are a couple of tools that will help with this.

Punch needle threader
(new 3/8/12)
Punch needles come with a special threading tool. It’s a thin wire with a double loop at the tip. There is a large loop for inserting the thread into with a smaller loop at the tip for holding the thread. They are flexible but strong and can be inserted under existing stitches or through the fabric so you can catch your loose end and pull it through. If you don’t do punch needle, you can buy the threaders separately. Amazon.com has them, and your local needlework shop may also, since the threaders that come with punch needles are easy to lose.

Knit Picker
(rev. 3/8/12)
A Knit Picker is a tiny latch hook made by Dritz. It’s really for fixing snags in knitted garments, but it is also helpful for anchoring floss tails which have either come loose or which got cut off too short to thread back into a needle. The hook is flat, so you can slide it under existing stitches on the back of your fabric, capture the loose tail with the hook, close the latch, and pull it back out, bringing the floss along under the stitches. Knit Picker illustration They are best for work where the stitches are not too small and dense. Knit Pickers sell for under $2, and are available in the notions section of fabric stores. If you don’t have a fabric store nearby, many online fabric stores also sell them, as does Amazon.com.

Stitching station
(new 3/8/12)
As you can see from the list of equipment, you’ll probably have quite a few items you need to keep nearby as you stitch. It’s helpful, if you stitch often, to have some sort of stitching station where you can keep the things you use.

Existing furniture
(new 3/8/12)
If you normally sit in the same place when you stitch, and it’s right next to a table, that can be your stitching station. A bookshelf also works if there some space in front of the books. To reduce the cluttery effect, you can keep your equipment in a box lid, a rectangular cake pan, kitchen drawer organizer, etc.

Music stand
(new 3/8/12)
Music stands work well for organizing at least some things. Folding music stands usually have wire arms that rotate up and down which you can use to secure your pattern. You can attach the pattern key with magnets. Scissors are hung from a cross-arm, and your marker rests on the ledge. The stand can sit right next to your work for easy reference. This type of stand is available for around $15.

There are also more substantial stands with solid backs and wider ledges (some with two ledges, making a sort of pocket under the upper ledge). They are more expensive, around $40-$60. If you use this type of stand, you can get a magnet with a hook attached to hang your scissors so you don’t knock them off the ledge. (Hook magnets are easily found in kitchenware stores -- they’re good for hanging potholders.)

There are also table-top stands, without the tripod, if that works better for you. If you don’t have a music store nearby, a good online store is Elderly Instruments.

Ironing board
(new 3/8/12)
An ironing board, set at a comfortable level for your chair, has plenty of room for a box of floss, your chart, scissors, marker, etc. You can even poke needles into the padded cover.

Floor stand
(new 3/8/12)
Some floor stands come with attachments for floss and small items, and even lamps. If yours doesn’t, check the hardware store for clamps or other items that you can use to solve whatever issues you face.

One person’s ingenious solution for keeping the chart on the scroll frame involves using two plastic clips to hold the chart to stiff cardboard and inserting long nails through the holes in the clips to keep the chart hanging on the top of the frame. (She subsequently stuck erasers on the points of the nails, and wrapped rubber bands around them as the erasers tend to split after awhile.)

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