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. 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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