Cross Stitch Tips

I have been cross stitching for most of my life.  Our babysitter (I supposed nowadays she'd be called a child care provider!) taught me when I was in sixth grade--age 11.  My mom was thankfully happy to get behind this endeavor.  And because she was the one paying for the kits, she chose what she wanted me to make for her.  I can't say I've been all that prolific with my finishes, but I've done some pretty large projects and learned a lot along the way.

Cross stitch seems to be coming back in a big way.  For a relatively modest investment, you can have a project that takes months to finish. There are also all sorts of cool things now that just weren't really around back in the 80s and 90s.  There are so many styles now--primitive all the way to modern.  There is a local needlework shop that I occasionally visit and it is just amazing.  So. Many. Things.

So anyway, as a 30+ year veteran (wow, I'm getting old!), I thought I'd share my top tips.

The standard way to cross stitch is to go from lower left to upper right across the row, then go back and cross the stitches from lower right to upper left.  This, in my humble opinion, is the gold standard and looks best when complete.
I suppose you could also do the reverse.  I made this tiny sample and found it awkward, but maybe it works for you.

You can also do individual stitches (make the complete x of one stitch at a time).  In some cases this is necessary, but I still feel that working in rows of color gives a better finished look--more uniform, and uniformity is the key in producing a lovely cross stitch project.

Here's what NOT to do.  DO NOT make all your stitches go in different directions.  It does not look good when done, giving an almost rippled effect to the completed work.  I tried to get a good sample of stitches going every which way, but it wasn't enough to show just how distracting it looks in a finished piece.

If you are a complete beginner, this is a nice step-by-step tutorial I found.

Other tips:

1.  Do not make knots in the thread.  Leave a bit of a tail and stitch over it to hold it in place. When finishing a color, run the thread under some of your completed stitches (on the back, of course) and then snip the remainder.

2.  Use a tapestry needle.

3.  Serge around the outside edges of your fabric before stitching so that it doesn't unravel.  In the olden days when I began, it was recommended to put masking tape around the edges.  DO NOT use masking tape!  What a mess, and not acid free.

4.  Don't put on lotion right before stitching as the oils will transfer to the fabric.

5.  Always do all the cross stitching first and then go back and add in any back stitching or French knot or bead details.

6.  Occasionally let your floss untwist--do this by letting the needle hang straight down from the back of your hoop.  Remember, your goal is to have even tension on all stitches.

7.  Don't be afraid to use a different fabric, different count, different amount of strands, or a different color floss than the pattern suggests.

8.  You can draw up your own pattern too.  Try some graph paper or look for some online programs.

9.  Don't leave your material in the hoop when you're not working on it because it can be really difficult to remove the creases, especially with Aida cloth.
Current project.  Pattern by Pop Goes the Needle on Etsy.
10.  If you aren't sure you'll have enough floss to complete a project, start with a new skein.  Cross stitch floss is inexpensive and this way you'll have piece of mind that the color will stay consistent through the project.  (Ask me, el cheap-o, how I know this one.)

11.  Needle minders are great, and very attractive.  Be careful though, because some magnets will leave marks on your fabric.  You may need to seal the magnets with clear nail polish before using them on your fabric.  Test with a white sheet of paper--put the needle minder on top, the magnet underneath, and then gently slide it a bit.  If it leaves black marks, proceed with caution.

12.  If you are working on a large piece, investing in a frame is so nice!  My husband made me this one ages ago.  Should I admit here that this thing has been on this frame for over 10 years?  (Hangs head in shame.)  Maybe this will be the year that I actually work on it and try to complete it?  It's not even half way yet.
My frame does have interchangeable rods.  You just baste the fabric to the webbing.  I also added a strip of adhesive magnet to serve as a needle minder right on the frame--no chance of staining the fabric.  Plus, I added this long before needle minders were trendy and cute.  ha ha

If you are going to use a frame, and you think you might be slow like me, grab a length of fabric to drape over the cross stitch material to keep dust and light off.  I use a one yard cut and just drape it over.  Of course, I always meant to trim it down, hem it, etc, but the raw fabric works just as well.

13.  I often need to wash my finished project before framing.  What works best for me is starting with an ultra clean sink.  I then fill the sink part way with lukewarm water and just a tiny bit of plain blue Dawn dish soap.  I swish it around a bit, then rinse really well.  If I have a dirty mark on the fabric--seems to happen no matter how careful I am--I rub a tiny bit of Dawn right on the spot until it comes out.  It may take a few tries, but I've never had it not come out.  I then lay the finished piece on ultra clean white towels and press out as much water as possible.  Then leave it flat to dry.  You can then press from the back only with a dry iron (again, ultra clean soleplate).  There are other soaps you can try, such as Woollite, Eucalan, Orvus, and such, but I've always had perfect luck with the Dawn and I always have it on hand.

14.  In regards to washing, regular threads generally won't run, but if you're using some intense colors, you may want to double check ahead of time.  Do this by snipping off a few inches and testing it in a small bowl of water to see if the dye may run.  Hand painted threads and some other specialty threads may run too--better safe than sorry!

15.  Use acid free materials--matting, foam core, etc. when framing.  There is a lot of debate in the glass vs. no glass in the frame issue.  Do what you like.  We've done them both ways and that doesn't seem to make any difference.  

16.  Make sure to mount your piece properly if you are framing it.  Many framers don't know how to properly mount a cross stitched piece.  If you need to know how to do this, let me know and I can recommend a few resources to you.

17.  Admit defeat when necessary.  I can't see on linen, especially the navy blue I'm using on the Harry Potter above, anymore.  On Amazon I found a nice lighted magnifying floor lamp that has made a huge difference.  I'm back to stitching again.

18.  Remember, cross all your stitches the same way.  I really can't say this one enough.  It's really the single most important thing!

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