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.

(rev. 11/20/12)
We recommend size 26 tapestry
needles. Tapestry needles have a dull point so they won't pierce threads in the fabric or previous stitches. Size 26 is a medium diameter. 24s are larger and easier to thread, but may be too thick for finer weaves. 28s are smaller. Some people prefer size 28, although we find that the eyes tend to break with the smaller needle. Some people also prefer petites, which are shorter.

It’s useful to have at least several and maybe lots of needles. If you have enough needles, you can leave them threaded which saves a lot of time. In addition, needles wear out. They get lost. They rust. If your needle seems to be shredding the floss unduly, the eye may have gotten rough (we don’t know how this happens but it does). They bend. So have some spares around. If you want a lot of needles, be aware that you can buy needles in bulk.

Different brands vary in quality. The differences may be slight, but we have evaluated a few brands and some needles are definitely better than others. We recommend Bohin needles. A good source for Bohin needles, in packets or bulk, is Anita Little Stitches. She also carries other brands that are not readily found at your local craft shop, plus scissors and many other nifty things.

Most needles are nickel-plated. Gold and platinum plated needles are also available. The gold-plated needles we've tried are not as smooth. However, nickel is one of the most common metal allergies. If you know you are allergic to nickel or you develop a rash where you hold the needle, try another kind.

Specialty needles
For stitching with one strand over one, you may like to try a size 10 beading needle. Beading needles are very slender needles with an eye the same thickness as the body of the needle, so they fit more easily under tiny stitches for anchoring your floss at the end.

There are also Spiral Eye side-threading needles, available from They are easy to thread because the eye is open on the side. You just wrap the floss around the needle, slide it up, and it locks into the eye. You don’t have to be able to see the eye to thread the needle. They come in two sizes. The SE-1, equivalent to a size 22 tapestry needle, is a bit large for some fabrics but is easier to thread. The SE-2, equivalent to a size 24 tapestry needle is a better size for cross stitch, but has a smaller eye opening. They cost more than ordinary needles but if you have trouble threading your needle, they’re worth a look.

An interesting option is a double-pointed needle. These needles are about twice the length of an ordinary needle and have an eye in the middle. They are supposed to make stitching faster because you never turn the needle around. You come up through the fabric with the upper point first, then go back through the fabric with the lower point first. It takes some practice to get used to them but because of not turning the needle around the floss doesn’t become twisted as readily. A disadvantage is that since the center is not thicker, the eye walls are thin and the needles break easily.

Damaged needles
If you notice that a needle has become rough, it may have some tiny rust spots. A nail buffer works well to remove them. Crocus cloth, if you have a hunk in the garage, would probably be about the right grit also. Or if you have one of those tomato pincushions with a strawberry attached, the strawberry contains emery powder for this purpose. However, if you buy needles in bulk, you won't feel that you must hang on to a needle that has become defective. You can just toss it and take a new one.

Needle storage
It's best not to leave needles in fabric for long periods of time -- they will rust and leave marks on the fabric. If you rotate projects, put the needle away.

The containers for mechanical pencil leads make great needle holders and are easily come by. Use one for each size needle.

If you know anyone who is diabetic, the empty vials for diabetes test strips also make excellent storage containers for needles. They have a snap top which is attached to the vial and are lined with a dessicant and are just the right size (about 1/2 inch longer than a size 26 tapestry needle). Test strip vial and needle.

If you are stitching with one or two needles, a needle minder is helpful. This is basically two magnets, one for each side of the fabric. Usually the top is decorative. You can drop needles on it and they will stay even when you flip the fabric over. If you are stitching with more needles, pin a scrap of fabric to your work to hold the needles when they are temporarily not in use. This saves wear and tear on your piece.

Don't hold needles in your mouth. Aside from the reason your mother told you not to do it (and no one thinks they are going to swallow a needle), it's possible to get metal poisoning on your lip if you do it habitually.

If you have dropped a needle, use a flashlight to search for it -- the shine will give it away.

There are a number of considerations in choosing your fabric, and they are somewhat interrelated, but we will try to address them one at a time.

Types of fabric
There are all kinds of fabric suitable for counted cross stitch. They are usually woven in 60-inch widths. Probably the most common and familiar are aida cloth and linen.

Aida is a stiff cotton fabric which has dense, evenly-woven threads with small holes between them. It’s inexpensive, easy to stitch on (but only suitable for whole cross stitch), and because of its stiffness, for small pieces you may not need a stretcher. It comes in many different colors, which aside from basic colors like white and ecru, tend to be bold, like kelly green. It is a less aesthetically pleasing fabric than most other types, but fine for situations where the fabric will not show (covered by stitching and matting).

Linen is more finely and loosely woven. Because of this it is normally stitched “over two’ -- each stitch covers two threads instead of one. Therefore, to get 16 stitches per inch with linen you need 32-count linen. It comes in many beautiful and subtle shades. It’s expensive and worth it. The threads vary slightly in widths and sometimes there will be slubs where the spinning process went awry. These irregularities normally don’t hurt anything.

There are many other even-weave fabrics, some soft, some crisp, in a variety of fibers, colors, and prices. Feel free to be creative.

Stitch count
(rev. 10/4/07)
Cross stitch fabric comes in different thread counts. This is simply the number of threads per inch. Stitch count is the number of stitches per inch, which is the same as the thread count if you stitch “over one”, and half of the thread count if you stitch “over two”. Low stitch counts (10, 12, 14) mean large stitches; higher stitch counts (16, 18, and above) mean smaller stitches. Usually, if the thread count is above 25, you will need to make your stitches over two threads instead of one. 32-count linen, stitched over two, results in 16 stitches per inch. 22-count fabric can be stitched either over one for a stitch count of 22, or over two for a stitch count of 11.

We recommend stitching with at least 16 or 18 stitches per inch, because the smaller the stitch, the less the fabric will show through, and the more your work will look like a painting. We have stitched floss coverage examples on fabrics of several different thread counts, using various numbers of strands. Follow the link to see pictures.

You are welcome to use a lower stitch count if you wish. But keep in mind that larger cross stitch patterns will require very large pieces of fabric at low stitch counts and you may have trouble finding a big enough piece of fabric. The pre-cut, pre-packaged fabric that you find at chain craft stores are generally not large enough for our patterns. You will need to find a shop where they sell fabric by the yard. If you don’t have such a shop locally, try our list of retailers.

Fabric color
(rev. 11/7/19)
Some of our patterns do not have a stitched background, and are designed to be stitched on a particular color fabric. The reason we specify color is not really so that you can reproduce the appearance of the example, but because the edge stitches are designed to blend into the background. If you don’t use the color fabric we recommend, you will have some edge stitches that stick out visually.

Stitching on black fabric is more difficult than stitching on lighter colors. On light colors, the spaces between the threads show up dark and are easy to see. On dark fabric they don’t show up at all. You can make life easier by putting a light under the fabric -- even a flashlight will do, but there are special lights for this purpose designed to sit nicely on your lap. One such is the Needlework Up-Light, made by The Daylight Company. Check with a cross stitch shop. If a light isn’t handy, putting a white cloth on your lap will help. (added 2/15/06)

For our pieces which are a solidly stitched rectangle, you can use any color you like! You may want to select a color which accents the picture nicely. Or use a light color if the picture is mostly light, or a darker color if much of the picture is dark. If you are stitching at 16-count or higher, and stitch carefully, the fabric should not show, so you can always use white, though if you have a choice of colors, an ecru or oatmeal or other neutral midtone color is a good choice for most patterns which have a range of both light and dark colors.

Fabric size
To determine the amount of fabric you need to buy, use our fabric calculator The size of the stitched area will depend on the stitch count you choose and the number of stitches. You need to add a few inches to allow for framing. If you don’t want the frame to be at the edge of your stitching, you’ll need to add some more for a visible border around your work, or to make room for a mat. The fabric calculator will calculate the total for you and show you how it will look. You can play with different stitch counts and experiment with proportions for the border.

Selection summary
You should decide how you want to frame your piece before you buy fabric. Many cross stitch shops also do framing so ask to look at their frames before you look at fabric. What kind of frame will look best? A narrow metal frame for a modern picture, or a wide gilded frame for a classic still life? Will there be a mat or a fabric border, and if so, how wide? If you want a fabric border, this will affect your choice of fabric style and color. If the fabric is NOT going to show, you might as well use white or ecru aida and save some money. If the fabric IS going to show, use linen or another even-weave in a color that compliments the picture and the probable frame color. When you find some fabric you like, it will push you into a particular stitch count, and THEN you can calculate how much fabric you will need. Ask the shop to check your calculations if you have any doubt. It’s better to get too much fabric than not enough.

(rev. 2/24/06)
Our patterns are charted for DMC cotton floss. We don’t have conversion tables for other brands. There are conversion tables on the internet, but if you possibly can, go to a shop that carries DMC and your preferred brand and find the matches that look best to YOU.

You should decide on the length to which you want to cut your floss in advance, and stick to that length (even across projects). It will probably be somewhere between 18 and 30 inches. The floss may tend to fray after a while (especially if you are stitching on aida) so you may prefer to stay near the shorter end of the spectrum. 24 inches is a comfortable length for us and only wastes a couple of inches at the end of the skein. The reason for a standard length is that a color may be used in a number of blends. If you always cut the 6-strand floss to the standard length, then the single strands you need to blend will always be the same length. It’s helpful to mark a gauge on your frame or a nearby piece of furniture so that you don’t have to pick up a ruler to measure the floss length.

Some people like to cut their floss to length at the beginning of a project. Others cut as they go.

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