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Scarlet Quince™ 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. 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!

Cross Stitch Equipment

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

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.

(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.

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.

(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.

(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.

(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. 11/7/19)
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. Or you can set them up for a specific project, using just the colors you need for that project. Actual floss sheets may be difficult to find, but similar pocket sheets for baseball cards, coins, photo slides, etc. are readily available and come with a variety of pocket sizes.

Currency album sheets have larger pockets which can be used to store several skeins of floss. This allows keeping a lot of floss in a compact space, but still organized by color.

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. 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

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.)

Cross Stitch Supplies

(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.

Cross Stitching

Preparing the fabric
(rev. 3/7/12)
First, make absolutely sure your fabric is large enough for the piece you plan to stitch, including an allowance at least 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) on each side. You can’t expect to get your piece framed if you start right at the edge! You can use our fabric calculator or just divide the number of stitches in each direction by the thread count of the fabric and add 4-6 inches (10-15 cm).

If you have managed to acquire fabric which is dirty or even has dirt spots, wash and iron it before beginning to stitch. Even if the dirt is in a place where it won’t show, dirt is bad for your work. And looking at dirty fabric is depressing! Unless you have already finished the edges, you should hand wash it to minimize fraying. You can iron it with a little spray sizing if you’d like to restore that new-fabric crispness.

If you are going to stitch using a scroll frame, you should straighten the edges of the fabric so that the sides you attach to the scroll bars parallel the grain of the fabric. This will allow you to keep an even tension on the fabric as you stitch. (You don’t need to straighten the edges if you are using a hoop, Q-Snaps, etc.) The goal is to have the edge of the fabric be a single thread that runs the entire length (or width). If your fabric was cut unevenly, and you can see that one side is longer than the other, start at the end of the shorter side. To straighten the edge of aida cloth, you can just cut carefully between two threads. For linen or fine weaves, pull a thread. Make a short snip into the fabric so you can separate one thread. Gently pull the thread. The fabric will gather up around it. Keep smoothing the puckered fabric away from you as you pull. This creates a line you can see to cut along. If the thread breaks before you are finished, cut to the break point, then start again from there.

Finally, bind the edges of the fabric. Almost any kind of cross stitch fabric will gradually fray (more rapidly if you are using a hoop). There are several ways to do this: you can hand-whip the edges, run a machine zig-zag stitch along the edges (we aren’t good at this and it always seems to pre-fray the fabric), use Dritz Fray-Check or a similar product, or even fold a piece of masking tape over the edges! Another idea is to put a folded piece of bias tape along the edges and use a zig-zag stitch to attach it. This creates a smooth edge that doesn’t catch the floss, but it does add some thickness so it would not be ideal if you’re using a scroll frame. Our favorite is Fray-Check. This is a thin glue that comes in a tube. You just run a narrow line along the edges of your fabric and let it dry (about half an hour). Be sure to protect your work surface as you apply the glue -- it will go right through the fabric and ruin your nice table.

Some people feel that Fray-Check (and definitely tape) are not “archival-quality” solutions and that the glue may deteriorate or do something strange to the fabric after many years. This might be -- but you can always cut the treated edges off when you’re finished stitching. (Just remember to allow a little extra fabric so you can.

Preparing the floss
(new 11/6/07)
You should have selected a standard length to which you will cut your floss -- see Floss To start stitching for a particular symbol, cut the one or two colors of floss used for the symbol to the chosen length. Tap the end of the cut length gently to make the strands fan out so you can get hold of a single one. Even if you are stitching a solid color, pull the strands one at a time. The rest of the strands will bunch up but they won’t snarl as they will if you try to pull two strands at a time.

When you are down to the last two strands in a cut length, even if you are stitching a solid color and need both strands, separate them, smooth them out, and put them back together. The last two strands tend to be twisted together, and it’s much easier to make nice-looking stitches if you don’t start out with twisted floss.

How to cross
(rev. 7/17/09)
A cross stitch consists of 2 diagonal stitches which together form an x, or cross. There are various ways you can do this, but you must be consistent about the direction of the stitches. If you start making a / and cover it with a \, all the stitches must have the upper stitch going \.

We suggest you stitch left to right. Come up at the lower left corner of the first stitch, then go down at the upper right, to make a /. Come up at the lower right and go down at the upper left, and that makes one cross. Basic cross stitch tutorial

If you have several stitches in a row, you can make all the / stitches across the row first, and then work back making the \ stitches. On the back, your stitching looks like this: |||||. (This is called Danish method.) You may prefer, at least in some situations, to complete each cross as you go. (This is called English method.) When you do that, the back looks like this: |/|/|/| You will definitely want to complete each cross as you go when stitching a vertical column — don’t go down the column making /s and then go back up with the \s! English method stitches are said to be sturdier — this might be a consideration if your stitching will be used as a pillow cover or something that doesn’t just hang on the wall. The English method does use slightly more floss than Danish method (about 8% more).

You may prefer to start your crosses at some other corner — that’s fine — just pick a way and always do it the same way.

Over 1 or 2
(new 2/1/07)
When you cross stitch, you either stitch "over 1" or "over 2". Stitching "over 1" means that you come up in one hole and go down in the next hole diagonally adjacent -- crossing 1 thread in the material (actually one junction of two threads). When you stitch "over 2", you don’t go down in the next hole diagonally adjacent to where you came up, you skip that one and go down in the one after it. Your floss crosses 2 threads (or actually 2 junctions). Stitching over 1 vs over 2 illustrated As you can see from the illustration, on a given piece of fabric, stitching over 1 gives you smaller stitches, and more stitches per inch, than stitching over 2.

Usually, on lower thread count fabric, such as 10, 12, 14, 16, or 18-count aida, you will stitch over 1. On finer weaves, with 28 threads per inch or more, you will stitch over 2 (and your stitch count is then half the thread count). On fabrics with thread counts of 20 to 28, you can go either way. On 20-count fabric, you can stitch over 1 for 20 stitches per inch, or over 2 for 10 stitches per inch.

Our patterns call for stitching with 2 strands of floss, but if you want to stitch over 1 on fabric of more than 25-count, you will need to stitch with a single strand (see Blending colors, below). There is simply not room in the spaces between the threads in the fabric for 2 strands once all the stitches have been filled in.

Blending colors
(new 2/1/07)
All of our patterns use at least some blended colors. A blended color just means that a stitch has 2 colors of floss in it instead of only one. In the floss key, if a symbol is followed by a single number, you thread your needle with 2 strands of that color. If the symbol is followed by 2 numbers, it is a blended color, and you thread your needle with 1 strand of each color. It’s very simple!

Although some blends have a tweedy appearance viewed up close, when you get back to a normal viewing distance for a picture on the wall (say at least 3 feet), your eye blends the colors into an intermediate color. This gives us many more colors than the DMC pallette actually contains. In order for this optical effect to work properly, it is important for the floss strands to be parallel to each other, not twisted. (Your work willl look much better if you keep the floss strands parallel even for solid color stitches.) See Keep floss strands parallel, below, for ways to manage this. It is not important to the appearance of the completed work to have the 2 colors always in the same position relative to each other, as long as they are always parallel. Good and bad stitches illustrated

If you want to stitch over 1 on fabric with a thread count higher than 25, you must stitch with a single floss strand. You can still blend colors, though. Here’s how. Suppose your blend is of pink and tan. Using one strand of pink, make all the / parts of the stitches. Then, using one strand of tan, finish the crosses with the \. It’s not really more stitching! If you keep 2 needles threaded for each blend, you’ll save a lot of time changing colors. You may want to use 2 colors of highlighters so you can mark your chart in one color for stitches that are half-done, and then mark with the second color for the stitches that are complete.

(new 3/9/11)
Scarlet Quince patterns don't use backstitching, but many patterns do, to outline different colored areas or fill in small detail. It is also used for lettering and is useful for signing your work (which we urge you to do). Backstitching tutorial

Anchoring floss
(new 6/15/06)
There are several ways to anchor your floss. Most people recommend that you NOT tie knots, although the cross stitch police will not come after you if you do. The main problem with knots is that they can show as tiny bumps on the front. Sometimes, too, they will pull through the fabric.

Loop start
A loop start can be used when you are stitching with an even number of strands all of one color (unblended symbols). Take a single strand of floss and fold it in half. Thread the cut ends through the needle. Make your first / (come up through the fabric and go back down diagonally) keeping the loop about 1/4" long on the back. On the underside of the fabric, pass the needle through the loop and pull it tight. Loop start illustrated

Anchor under existing stitches
When you are going to start a new color near some existing stitches, you can work your needle under those stitches on the back of the fabric to anchor the tail of the thread. You can loop around one stitch for extra security. This is also how you'll usually anchor at the end of stitching. Here is an anchoring tutorial.

Away waste knot
(rev. 7/17/09)
If there are not enough previous stitches to use as an anchor (for example for your very first stitch), use an away waste knot. Tie a knot at the end of the thread, then go down through the fabric about 3 inches from where you will make your first stitch, so that the knot is on top of the fabric. The knot and thread leading to the first stitch should be located so that they will not be in your way as you stitch, probably to the left of and above the stitch. Then come up in the right place for the first stitch. After you finish your stitching, cut off your waste knot, thread the tail on the back of the fabric onto a needle, and anchor under the stitches you just made. Here is how to make an away waste knot.

Pinhead stitch
(new 9/3/07)
The pinhead stitch is a method of anchoring a stitch using only the space occupied by that stitch! It's great for isolated stitches. The pinhead stitch is also helpful in areas where you have many color changes, where if you anchor your floss by running it under 2 or 3 stitches the back of your work can become very thick and crowded. You can use it when you're starting a color, ending a color, or both. It's ideal when stitching over 2 (on linen, for example) but can also be used on aida. It is essentially a figure 8 which will be covered by the cross. Here is how to make a pinhead stitch on linen.

To make a pinhead stitch on aida, you must pierce the fabric. Because you can't pull the stitch as tight (because aida is woven tighter than linen), the cross will not cover the pinhead stitch as well. Here is how to make a pinhead stitch on aida.

To anchor at the end of stitching with a pinhead stitch, you make the pinhead stitch vertically (if it is an isolated stitch you may have a horizontal pinhead stitch in place already) and work it under a completed cross stitch. Here is how to end with a pinhead stitch.

Floss lasso
(new 10/8/08)
We felt the need for an anchor that would work with blended colors on aida, and created the floss lasso. It makes for much less congestion on the back than running floss under existing stitches, so it's great in areas where there are a lot of color changes. It's very versatile — you can actually use it on any type of fabric, stitching over 1 or 2, and with any number of strands of floss. Here is how to make a floss lasso.

Re-anchoring loose tails
(new 4/8/08)
Sometimes, when you rip out incorrect stitches, a floss tail from an adjacent color which was anchored under those stitches comes loose. Or you may get a knot in your floss which you can’t get out and have to cut it off. It’s helpful to have a Knit Picker for catching those loose tails and re-anchoring them under other stitches.

Stitch order
There are just a few considerations for keeping the front and back of your work looking beautiful.

Starting point
For most of our patterns, which are solidly stitched rectangles, you can start at the top left corner or in the center, as you prefer. For patterns which are not solidly stitched, you’ll probably need to start in the center (marked with arrows on the pattern). To find the center of your fabric, fold it into quarters and mark the center with a basting stitch. To find the top left corner, calculate the width of the top and left borders (our fabric calculator will do this for you), then measure in from the fabric edge and mark starting point.

Avoid artificial boundaries
When you begin stitching with a color, stitch at least all contiguous stitches in that color. DO NOT stitch one 10 x 10 square at a time, or even one page at a time. Your stitching will show an obvious checkerboard effect if you do that. If you are stitching across horizontal rows, when you come to a page boundary, if the same color continues in the same row on the next page, stitch across the page boundary. You don’t need to worry about the horizontal (bottom of the page) boundaries. If you stitch vertically, just reverse this advice -- continue a color over the bottom of the page, but the side boundaries don’t matter.

Holes or contiguous?
(rev. 11/13/08)
If you need to insert a stitch at a point that is already surrounded by other stitches, it can be difficult to insert that stitch neatly. Therefore, some people prefer to make all their stitches contiguous, and not leave holes that have to be filled in later. Also, stitches made adjacent to at least one other existing stitch are better supported and ultimately neater than stitches made in isolation. To stitch contiguously, you must either change colors a lot or park your thread (see below).

On the other hand, stitching goes faster if you keep going with a color as long as you can. The back is also neater if you minimize the places you have to end a thread. If you decide to leave holes, just don’t skip more than about 4 stitches. For a neater back, if you are bringing your thread across an area that has already been stitched, work the needle under the existing stitches. We strongly recommend NOT carrying the thread across a section that is not to be stitched.

(rev. 7/17/09)
Use parking when there’s a small gap in a color and you want to fill in the intervening stitches before continuing with the original color. To park, stitch the first section in your color, then bring your needle up where the color continues and leave it hanging on the front of the fabric while you take the intervening stitches. Leave the needle on the floss -- this saves time since you don’t have to rethread later, and the needle will not fall off. You can have several colors parked at a time. (You will need several needles.) If you get confused about which color you have on a needle, just figure out what square that is on the chart and look up its symbol. (Here is a parking tutorial.)

Again, don’t jump too far with the color you are parking. Make sure that the floss is pulled taut against the back of the fabric so it will be covered as you stitch the intervening colors.

Some people use parking extensively and have dozens of needles going at a time. Others use it sparingly, mainly for background sections where a maximum of 4 or 5 colors are intermixed. Some people don’t like it at all.

If you have pets or small children and put your needle(s) away between stitching sessions, try using one Spiral Eye needle. The eye is open on the side so the needle is easy to thread. You can move the needle from color to parked color and then put it away when you are finished stitching.

Stitching neatly
(new 6/15/06)
It’s easy to do basic cross stitch. For the most attractive results, keep these ideas in mind.

Keep proper tension
(new 11/6/07)
You should pull your stitches snug but not tight. They are too tight if they are distorting the fabric and leaving spaces between stitches. They are too loose if there is air under the legs of the cross on the front. You should be able to get a needle under the stitch with a little difficulty — if it’s easy or impossible, the stitch is too loose or too tight.

If you stitch without a hoop or other fabric stretcher, be aware that your stitches will tend to be loose. Since the fabric is not flat as you stitch, the stitches will come out a little longer and when the fabric is flattened out again, they will be too loose.

If you have a tendency to pull your stitches too tight, try this: start a stitch as usual, but when most of the floss has been pulled through the fabric, stop pulling with your hand, hook your little finger around the floss and pull it the rest of the way using only your little finger. The muscles in your little finger are too weak to pull a stitch overly tight.

Avoid splitting threads
Each point in your work will ultimately be shared by 4 stitches. Two stitches go down through the fabric and two come up. As you place the second, third, and fourth stitches, be careful to avoid putting them through the previous stitches. You don’t want them tangled and definitely don’t want the needle to actually split a thread. If you stitch contiguously, across rows from left to right, then down to the next row below, this is a little easier. The reason is that the messier stitches tend to be the ones coming up through the fabric, and if you stitch in this order, you will do the "coming up" stitches at each point first, and the "going down" stitches, in the next row, will be the last two.

If you are leaving holes and need to come up through a point where the other three stitches are already in place, take a spare needle, poke it down into the location, and stir it around a bit to make room for the stitch to come up. The gap made by the needle will close up again when the stitches are all in place.

Keep floss strands parallel
(rev. 4/8/08)
As you stitch, the floss tends to become twisted. Your stitches won’t look as good, or cover the fabric as well, if the strands don’t lie parallel to each other after the stitch is made. You also won’t get the intended effect from the blended colors, which depends on both colors showing equally.

To untwist the floss, let your needle hang from the back of the fabric. It will slowly untwist, or you can speed up the process by running your fingers along it. Remember to do this frequently.

If, as you are taking a stitch, you see that one strand is going to cross the other instead of lying parallel to it, you can comb the strands apart with your needle (away from the direction the stitch is going), then take the stitch. This usually fixes the problem.

Railroading is another technique for keeping floss strands flat and parallel as you stitch. (Some people also call it "training the floss".) Here’s how to do it: stitch by bringing the needle up through the fabric and pull the floss along the fabric in the direction that the stitch will go (so the floss is lying flat over the hole where the needle will go down). If the strands are not perfectly flat and parallel, give them a flick with your fingernail to smooth them. Then insert the needle between the strands (be careful not to split a strand) and go down to complete the leg. Railroading illustrated

Sometimes railroading instructions just say to come up, put the needle between the strands, and go down, but we find that the key to making this work well is having the floss stretched flat against the fabric. If your non-stitching hand is free, you may find it helpful to keep a finger on the extended floss as you complete the stitch to keep the floss flat. This is optional, though. For best results, railroad on both legs of the cross, although some people only railroad the top leg. It does take a little practice to become second nature, but once you are used to it, it’s well worth while and really adds very little to your stitching time.

(More to come on laying tools.)

Keeping your place
It’s easy to lose your place on even the smallest charts (which ours are not!). Here are some pointers on staying out of the tall grass.

Use chart guides
(new 11/7/07)
Block off the area on your chart where you are currently stitching. You can use a magnet board and surround the area where you are stitching with magnetic rulers, or simply use Post-it notes. As you look back and forth from your stitching to the chart, this keeps your eye returning to the correct place instead of falling on another spot that may look similar.

Some people like to block off about 20 columns at a time, and do all the stitches of a color going down the rows in that section. You may want to peek under your marker to see if the color continues into the next block. Besides helping you keep your place, if you do make a mistake, you have a smaller area to check.

Mark the chart
(rev. 11/13/13)
Mark the stitches you’ve completed on the chart with a highlighter or transparent marker. The pencil-style ones have smaller tips than the big fat magic marker style, and the darker colors (pink, blue, green, orange, and purple) are easier to see than yellow. If you can find the ones with a click-top to extend and retract the marker, those are faster to use than the kind with a cap. Some people like to pre-mark the stitches they are planning to make in one color, and then mark them off with a different color as they stitch. This two-step approach helps to avoid missing near-by stitches. If you want to make one photocopy of your chart for marking purposes, that’s OK with us. (It is a violation of our copyright to make additional copies, on paper or electronically, to sell or give away.)

If you find you’ve marked a stitch as completed that you haven’t actually done, circle it with a pencil. You can erase the pencil mark when the stitch has really been done.

You can put a chart page in a plastic page protector and mark that instead of the chart. Use the kind that is open only at the top. You need a water-soluble marker. It should say "water soluble" or "wet erase" rather than permanent. Staedtler makes one; what we found locally was Expo Vis a Vis. This keeps your chart pristine, and if you mark something you didn't intend, you can erase it with a damp Q-tip. Red, green, and orange show up well but are translucent; the darker colors are nearly opaque.

Mark the fabric
(rev. 11/13/13)
You can hand-baste the fabric with a contrasting color of thread to mark boundaries. Some people make a grid every 10 stitches, to correspond to the dark lines on the pattern. This is particularly helpful if you are working in an area where there are large blocks of the same color. If you are stitching across rows, you probably only need vertical lines, and they can be added as you find you need them. You don’t have to put them all in at the beginning!

We do find it very helpful to mark vertical page boundaries. For example, as you stitch page 1 of the chart, when you reach the right edge of the page, run a line of basting down your fabric so you know where the page boundary is. The reason is that we recommend you stitch across the page boundary, rather than completely finish page 1 before starting page 2. Otherwise, you may have a noticeable vertical line at the page boundary. (If you are marking both page boundaries and the dark lines on the chart, it’s helpful to use one color for page boundaries and a different color for the dark lines.)

For complex patterns, using a different color for each of the dark lines, and marking those colors on the chart too, can be very helpful. See our gridding tutorial for how to do this.

Remove basted lines bit by bit as your stitching approaches them. If you stitch over them they are hard to get out afterwards. It is tempting to use ends of embroidery floss for the basting lines, but they can leave fuzzies as you pull them through the fabric. A hard finish sewing thread is better.

Another way to get a 10 x 10 grid that some people have used successfully, is to mark it with a pencil The pencil marks gradually rub off as you stitch. It might be best to use a fairly hard pencil (not a number 2 pencil) so that the marks are light to begin with.

You can also use a fine line water-soluble marker, available in fabric and craft stores. These usually mark in light blue. The markings will probably be covered by your stitching, but in case you find you need to wash them out, be sure that you only use such a marker on projects where the floss is washable (NOT overdyes!).

There are also disappearing ink markers! These mark in purple and the color fades within 24 hours (depending on humidity and temperature). They are available in fabric and needlework stores. These are handy (perhaps in conjunction with a grid marked with a more permanent method) for marking all the stitches of one color in an area before you begin stitching that color. Please test the marker on a scrap or in a corner first to make sure the ink really disappears.

If you are concerned with producing a truly archival quality work, it may be best to stay away from all pencils and markers. It’s hard to know what sort of chemical or particle residue they may be leaving. On the other hand, if you are going to finish the piece in under, say, 20 years, and then wash it, you’re probably OK.

If you double-check your work often, recounting even when it doesn’t seem absolutely necessary, it may not keep you from making a mistake, but it will keep you from making the kind of mistake where you discover you got off by one ages ago and everything since is wrong. You may determine where to stitch relative to already-made stitches -- for example, stitch up to the first red stitch -- but if you also count, and make sure that the chart and fabric are in agreement on how many stitches that is, you’ll find your mistakes much sooner.

Lost anyway?
If you find that you got lost or made a mistake anyway, first decide if it matters. If it’s only one stitch and it doesn’t LOOK wrong, then leave it! If you’ve been off one stitch for several rows, you may still be able to fill in with extra stitches (or leave one out, as the case may be) and patch things up without it being obvious. Usually on our patterns, mistakes are not that obvious (unless you used a totally wrong color). What does seem to happen, though, is that you can’t tell where you went wrong. In that case, it’s better to rip back to a point where you know where you are again.

Time savers
(rev. 11/13/13)
If you have special techniques that make things go faster for you, please share them with us!

Use a clickable highlighter
It's faster to mark your completed stitches with a highlighter with a pushbutton top and retractable tip than to pull a cap off, then replace it. Some kinds are easier to click than others. We like Sharpies.

Leave needles threaded
If you have enough needles (buy them in bulk), you can leave the floss on the needle when you are through with a color. Using a single needle, threading it to stitch with a color, then taking the floss off and threading it with the next color is much more time-consuming. There are various options for keeping track of what floss is on the needles.

Memorize symbol colors
Make an effort to remember the first color number for as many symbols as you can. This saves you many references to the key.

Grid the fabric
Marking a grid on the fabric greatly reduces the need to count. You don't have to do a complete grid, and you don't have to do the whole grid before you start stitching. See above, Mark the Fabric, or our gridding tutorial, for ways to do this.

Stitch two-handed
If your work is on a floor or table stand, you may be able to stitch two-handed. Instead of moving your dominant hand back and forth, you can keep it under the fabric. Your non-dominant hand (your left, if you're right-handed) stays on top. Your dominant and more able hand positions the needle and pokes it up through the fabric, your "dumb" hand pulls it through and positions the needle for the down stitch, aided by the fact that you can see what you're doing. This may take some practice to become comfortable, but people who learn to do this can stitch very fast.

Traveling with needlework
(rev. 11/13/13)
If you want to stitch on a plane or in a car, select a small project. If you are working on a huge design, let that be your at-home project and choose something else that can be worked conveniently in-hand or on a small hoop. Needles and scissors are allowed on US domestic flights again, but if you are traveling by air elsewhere, check with the local authorities regarding what can be carried on the plane, as some countries/airlines do not allow them. If needles are allowed, but not scissors, take a thread cutter instead.

Notions box
Take a small metal box with a tight-fitting lid, such as a Sucrets or Altoids box, clean it out, and line the bottom of the inside with adhesive-backed felt or moleskin (from Wal-Mart or a crafts store). The felt makes it easier to get hold of needles. You may like to decorate the top attractively while you’re at it. Use this box to carry needles (more than one, in case you lose a needle), folding scissors or thread cutter, needle threader, and, if you are doing a teeny project with just a few colors, floss bobbins. If you don’t usually use bobbins, take some extra business cards, cut to fit in the box, notch the tops and bottoms, and wind the floss on them, or use our bobbin pattern to make a few bobbins.

Very small projects
Bookmarks, needle cases, chatelaines, and similar small items make good travel projects. They should use only a few colors so that the floss will fit in your notions box. Put the notions box, a small hoop, fabric and chart in a large zip-loc bag and you’re ready to go!

Small SQ projects
Our smaller patterns are also workable as travel pieces. Check our quick cross stitch list for possibilities. Even the smaller ones use more colors than will fit in your notions box — here’s how to organize the floss.

Get the floss labels for the pattern — they make a great checklist for the floss. Gather your floss and label the bobbins for the solids and the blends. When all the labels are gone, you know you have all the bobbins you’re supposed to have. (If you don’t want to use the labels for the solid colors that don’t have a symbol, still peel the label off the sheet so that you know you have a bobbin for that color.

Put the floss into sandwich size zip-loc bags by color family: one bag each for blues, greens, yellows, browns, reds, gray-black-white, etc. (If one or two colors really dominate, you might split the blue bag, for example, into light blues and dark blues.) As you do this, write the color family next to the number on the symbol cross reference. For example, as you put 3799 in the "grays" bag, write "gray" next to 3799 on the symbol cross reference. When you’re stitching, to find 3799 you look in the symbol cross reference, see that it’s a gray, and you only need to look through the baggie with grays to find it. You can start with one baggie for empty blend bobbins, and as you use them, file them with the appropriate color family. Store all the floss baggies in a large zip-loc bag. It can be squashed into any number of places where a bobbin box would not go. Keep your fabric, hoop, chart, and notions box in another large zip-loc bag.

When you cut floss, run it the length of the large zip-loc twice to measure 24 inches. Even if you usually blend only two strands at a time at home, it’s helpful when you’re traveling to cut the two colors for the blend, take one strand from each, and store the remaining five strands of the two colors on the blend bobbin. This will save you a lot of fishing for the solid color bobbins when you need a new length of the blend.

Ready-to-go totes
(new 11/7/07)
If you are running Mom’s Taxi Service, you can keep a few tote bags (one per project) packed with everything you need for the projects you have going — floss in a box, fabric, scissors, needles, and so on. As you head out, grab a tote bag and you’ll have something to work on while you’re waiting in the car.

Keeping the work clean
Anything you take traveling with you is not going to stay as clean as something you only work on at home, because you probably will not be able to wash your hands as often as you would like. Don’t take a piece traveling if you wouldn’t be comfortable washing it when it is finished. You can take pre-moistened towellettes in individual packets (aka Wash’n’Dries) along for periodic cleanups, or put some baby wipes in a baggie. These may leave a chemical or moisturizer residue on your hands but will get rid of actual dirt between visits to running water.

Aids to vision
(rev. 11/13/13)
If you normally stitch with a magnifier, doing without it can be hard. A portable magnifier that you wear around your neck may help (try it before you leave home). Or get a good strong pair of reading glasses. There are also Mag Eyes, which have a headband and a lens that flips up or down. (Various strength lenses are available.) If you wear bifocals or graduated lenses, your optician can make you a pair of glasses in your close-up prescription only which are great for stitching, reading, or working at the computer.

Light can also be a problem when traveling. Portable magnifiers with flashlight bulbs cast more shadows than light, but there is a range of portable magnifiers now with LED lights. A clip-on battery-operated reading light can help. Look for one with a halogen or LED bulb. The Mighty Bright 9-LED light is excellent but it's designed for a music stand and is hard to clip to anything as thick as a scroll rod.

Someone recommended the Hug Light to us and we got one to try. It is a U-shaped gadget that goes around your neck, with soft bendable arms and 2 LED bulbs at the end of each arm. It uses two AAA batteries. It creates an intense light at a short distance (a few inches) but the light quickly becomes diffuse at greater distances. It would be better as a reading light since the shadows your hands make on the stitching are problematic.


(rev. 2/21/10)
If you can keep your work clean as you go, you may not need to wash it when you’re finished. Covers designed to stay on the rods of scroll frames or on the frames of Q-Snaps are marketed under such names as "Mittens", "Cozy Covers", "Grime Gards", and "Snap Wraps". Cover work on a scroll frame with a towel between stitching sessions to keep off dust and pet hair, or make yourself a pair of elbow gloves. Put work on a hoop into a bag. Small frames not on a floor stand can be put into a pillow case. Wash your hands often -- they pick up oil when you scratch your nose or pick up the TV remote, and oil transferred to your work will trap dirt.

If you decide that your work does need to be washed when it’s finished, we recommend hand washing it. (Some people do put their work in the washing machine!) We have not heard of DMC floss (any color) running, but some brands will run. If you are doubtful of the floss you’re using and think you might need to wash your work at the end, wash the floss before you begin stitching. In general, overdyed fibers are not washable.

(rev. 11/2/09)
Most mild detergents work well -- we’ve heard of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, Dawn or Palmolive dishwashing liquids, and even small amounts of Tide or Cheer being used. It’s a good idea to use something with no color and fragrance added. Orvus Paste Soap (made by Proctor & Gamble) is available at feed and tack stores (it’s for washing horses) and sometimes at needlework shops. Chemically, it is a wetting agent, not a soap, which makes the water penetrate the fabric better to float the dirt out. Soak in warm or cool water with the detergent. Rinse well in cool water and place the piece face-down on a towel (preferably a white towel or a towel that has been much-laundered) to dry. Smooth it out as much as possible. You may leave it flat or roll it up in the towel to dry.

Removing stains
If your piece has acquired a stubborn dirt line, Shout may remove it. Oxiclean works for many kinds of stains and things like mildew, and has been widely tested on needlework by our readers. It should be dissolved in hot water -- and make sure it all dissolves -- but we would let the water cool some before adding the needlework. Incredible! is not for soaking an entire piece, but is good on many stains, especially greasy ones.

A recommendation from a needlework shop for cleaning stained pieces is: soak for a few minutes in a sinkful of tepid water. Empty the sink and refill with clean water. Add one drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid, swish, then add one tablespoon of white vinegar and a drop of Shout. Soak for half an hour, swishing occasionally. For a badly stained piece, you may have to repeat.

(new 11/2/09)
After you have washed and dried your work, it will need to be pressed. It can be helpful to have it slightly damp, so you may iron it before it dries completely, or dampen it. To dampen, spritz it with water using a spray bottle, then put it inside a plastic bag for an hour or two to allow the moisture to penetrate the fabric evenly. To press, place the work face down on your ironing board, and put a press cloth on top of it. This could be an unbleached muslin cloth, a dish towel, or something similar. (Be sure it has been washed to remove the sizing from the fabric.) It's best to press plain cross stitch or needlepoint on a firm surface so if your ironing board has thick puffy padding, you may want to remove it and just put another press cloth under the work. (If the work has beads or buttons, you will need enough padding to accomodate them without crushing them.) Press with a hot iron (temperate depends on the materials in your work) firmly in one spot, then lift (don't slide) the iron and repeat in another spot. Be careful not to leave the iron in one spot long. Some people prefer to dampen the press cloth rather than the item to be pressed.

If you have the misfortune to snip a thread in your fabric, it can be repaired. Take the fabric out of the hoop or release tension on the frame. Pull a thread from the edge of your fabric and thread it onto a needle. Using a needle, "unweave" the cut thread until you have long enough ends so that you can pull the cut pieces out of the fabric. Then, starting in the middle of the fabric, carefully weave half of the thread into the fabric. Then come back to the middle and weave the other half. (Starting in the middle reduces wear on the thread you're weaving in.)

Good quality framing is expensive but unless you are skilled in doing it yourself, it's best to pay to have it done. After all the time you have spent stitching, you want your work to look its very best! Any reputable framer will use archival-quality materials (acid-free mounting boards and mats), but it doesn't hurt to ask and be sure.

(new 11/2/09)
Needlework must be mounted on a board to stiffen and stabilize it before framing. One way of doing this is lacing.

To lace: center the piece onto the mat board, pinning at top, bottom and side centers. Then pull and pin, keeping the material straight. Pin it every half inch or so to try and maintain a tight and straight pull. After pinning is done, use a strong cotton thread such as pearl cotton or quilters thread or any other strong thread. Thread a needle but don't cut the thread; leave it connected to the spool since you'll need a very long length. Pull a long length, then start from top to bottom, lacing. At this stage you are just putting in the laces, not tightening them. After reaching the side, end the thread from the spool, securing it, and start pulling the lacing tight, then secure it at the end. As you pull and keep tension on the lacing, remove the pins. Do the same for the sides, mitering the corners. Think of lacing a corset or shoe! Lacing will usually take out any page break marks that may remain after washing and ironing. Not all framers use lacing, so if you have a problem with visible lines in your stitching, check for a framer who will do this.

(rev. 6/10/10)
The first decision is whether to put glass over your work at all. Any glass will obscure the work to some extent, but if you smoke, like to burn candles or have fires, or plan to hang your work in the kitchen, you should put glass over it.

There are several kinds of glass. Ordinary glass has a slightly green tinge and will alter the colors of the work a little (most noticeable with light colors).

White glass or ultra-clear glass lacks the green tinge but is more expensive.

Acrylic also lacks the green tinge and is lighter-weight and shatter-resistant, but it also scratches easily, so care must be taken when cleaning it.

Non-glare glass is available which has a coating so that light striking the glass is scattered instead of creating a bright glare spot. However, the scattering of the light distorts the picture underneath and work placed under non-glare glass has a blurry appearance, and we don't recommend it.

UV protection is available in both glass and acrylic. Ordinary glass blocks only about 30% of UV radiation. Of course you should not hang your work where the sun will shine on it but if you are hanging it in a sunny room extra UV protection is a good idea.

If you do use glass, your work must be framed with a mat or other spacer so that the glass does not rest on your needlework. Moisture can condense on the inside of the glass and if it touches the needlework, can cause a water stain which is difficult to remove.

Frame and mat
Coming soon!

(new 9/23/09)
If you want to store your work before framing or mounting it, place it on a clean cloth (such as an old sheet or pillowcase) or several sheets of acid-free tissue paper, then roll it up with an inside diameter of about 2.5" or 6 cm. The cloth or tissue should be at least as big as your needlework, so that as you roll it the needlework is only in contact with the cloth or tissue and not with itself. This way any beads or metallic threads will not catch on each other. Store in a dark, dry place such as a bureau drawer or cedar chest. Don't pile heavy things on top of it; you want to avoid creases. It's probably best not to put the roll inside a plastic bag so that it can breathe, but if you have any issues with silverfish, you may want to put silverfish bait nearby. If your work uses wool, mothballs (not touching the roll) may also be a good idea.

Photographing needlework
(new 10/16/13)
There are too many kinds of cameras in the world for us to give more than general guidance. Read the instruction manual! But here are the key things that affect the quality of needlework photos.

Nowadays, most people use digital cameras (including phone cameras). Digital camera resolutions are expressed in pixels, which are individual color dots. For example, your camera might take pictures that are 3000 pixels by 2000 pixels. Each picture then contains 3000 x 2000 = 6,000,000 pixels. This is usually expressed as 6 megapixels (mega = million). If this is the maximum resolution, the camera probably also has modes where it uses less resolution, for example, 1500 x 1000. The higher the resolution, the more detail your pictures will have. If you have a film camera, your prints will automatically be high resolution. 35 mm film is approximately the equivalent of 87 megapixels! Generally speaking, the higher the resolution, the better your pictures will be.

Another variable in digital photography is compression. Most of the time, your camera will record your pictures in a file format called jpeg or jpg. This is a method of getting a smaller file size in exchange for losing some detail. The detail lost is gone for good and can not be recovered once the picture is saved. Jpeg compression is best suited to pictures with smooth color transitions and is not so good for cross stitch. It's best to take your pictures with the lowest compression possible. Some cameras have the ability to save a picture without any compression. This is not usually necessary for cross stitch photos unless your camera is very low resolution (say 640 x 480).

Images that are only going to be viewed on a computer screen can be (and often are) highly compressed. They will look OK on the screen but not when you print them or enlarge them. What this means for the gallery is that if you send us a small, highly compressed picture, we can't enlarge it. If you email a photo from your camera, the choices small, medium, and large translate to maximum compression, medium compression, least compression. Here are examples of different resolutions and compressions (large image - click to get scroll bars).

For some reason, autofocus cameras have a hard time focusing on cross stitch. They zoom in and out and in and out and finally settle on something wildly out of focus. If this happens, try putting something printed in the same plane near your work. Tape a magazine page or business card on the wall next to the framed cross stich or pin it to the fabric. This gives the camera something easier to find and then your stitching will be in focus too. The extraneous item can be cropped out of the picture. If a picture is slightly out of focus, it can be sharpened digitally but there is a limit to how much a picture can be sharpened before the sharpening adds strange effects.

Another common problem with focus is getting too close, particularly if you are trying to photograph a small area. Autofocus cameras have a minimum distance that they must be from the subject in order to be able to focus. It's usually something like one foot (30 cm), but find out what the distance is for your camera and stay outside it.

If you have framed your cross stitch under glass, it will be more difficult to photograph. You need a lot of light to take a short exposure and if you simply turn the flash off but don't have enough light, you are likely to move while the picture is being taken and it will be blurry. You could put your work in bright indirect light, but then the glass will show the reflections of everything near it. The trick to taking a picture of cross stitch framed under glass is not to take it straight on. If you do, the light from the flash will hit the picture and bounce straight back into the camera lens and you'll get a big white spot in your picture. If you take the picture at a bit of an angle, though, the light is reflected back at an equal angle. (Think of bouncing a ball -- if the ball hits the floor at an angle rather than falling vertically, it will bounce up away from you.) Now the flash illuminates the cross stitch but doesn't reflect back into the camera lens. This may make the frame not quite rectangular, but this can be corrected digitally. If you don't have glass over your cross stitch, you shouldn't have any issues taking the picture straight on.

White balance
If your camera has a white balance setting, you will get better pictures if you learn to use it. The white balance setting tells the camera what kind of light your subject is in. It might have values like sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent. A speedlight setting is for flash photos. If there is an auto setting, you're probably best off setting the white balance to that and leaving it. The wrong white balance can really distort the colors in your picture. This can be corrected, but it can be difficult, since different colors are distorted differently. White balance examples

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