Say What? What are the Cross Stitch Symbols on a Pattern

Cross-stitch pattern

Connie G. Barwick

 Have you ever looked at a cross stitch pattern and wondered what the symbols meant? Sometimes it is as simple as identifying a specific color, but other times it may be a stitch or several stitches in one square. What does the designer want you do to? Is is a misprint? The tutorial below will explain what the symbols mean. Once you know how to read this type of symbol on the pattern, you will be on your way to cross stitch greatness.

  • 01 of 08

    What Do Two Symbols in a Square Indicate on a Cross Stitch Pattern?

    Graphic © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to The Spruce.

    One question frequently asked by new stitchers is, "What does it mean when I see two symbols in a square on a Cross Stitch pattern with a black line between them?"
    This is a very typical question and can be confusing. This tutorial will clear up any confusion you should have. The two small symbols indicate stitching two quarter stitches. (To see how the quarter stitches should be oriented, proceed to the next image.) 

  • 02 of 08

    Small Cross Stitch Pattern with Multiple Symbols

    Graphic © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to The Spruce.

    You now know that the symbol means a quarter stitch but just what is a quarter stitch and how do you do it. Quarter stitches are just as the name implies; a quarter of a stitch. The stitches should be oriented from the corner of the square to the center, as shown in the image above.
    Now that the mystery of the two symbols has been solved and you know what a quarter titch is and how to do it, the next thing you notice is a black line across the square. What does that black line across the square indicate? Is it telling you that this square is off limits? Not at all! That line may represent stitching a half stitch or a back stitch. The pattern key should give some idea of the correct stitch. The color of the stitch should also be indicated in the key. (To see the two-symbol square in the context of a larger pattern, proceed to the next step.)

  • 03 of 08

    Pattern With Multiple Two-Symbol Squares

    Graphic © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to The Spruce.

    You have the quarter stitch, half stitch and back stitch down and know how to recognize those on your pattern. As you can see in this image, there are several squares with two symbols. Are you now more confused than before? Don't worry! It is just as easy to understand this symbol too. For this pattern, the black lines indicate stitching back stitches. The pattern key should be clear about the correct color for the back stitches. Remember to read your pattern and see what they are using for symbols for stitching and color. 

  • 04 of 08

    Choosing Colors When the Pattern Key is Unclear

    Graphic © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to The Spruce.

    If the pattern key does not give specific directions about the color of the back stitch (or the half stitch in other cases), then you must use your judgement. Generally, the dominant color is the best choice. In this example, The ball is the dominant image. The back stitch should be done in the color indicated by the + symbol. In this case, that color is green.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Example of Stitched Motif with Two-Symbol Squares in Pattern

    Graphic © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to The Spruce.

    This image shows the small motif as it would appear when stitched.You can here the mix of color representing different stitches and colors. This is a somewhat easier way to tell what your stitching will look like and what you need to do. It is an excellent way to teach beginners about symbols. 

  • 06 of 08

    Side-by-Side Three Quarter Stitches

    Graphic © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to The Spruce.

    When two symbols in a square are separated by a line, it may also mean that you should stitch two three-quarter stitches side-by-side. To do this, the quarter stitch must be placed over the top of the half stitch. This ensures that the stitches will fit in the square. This may seem confusing but it allows you give your project more depth and movement instead of stiff lines. 

  • 07 of 08

    Compare Two Kinds of Three Quarter Stitches

    Graphic © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to The Spruce.

    Three-Quarter Stitches may be constructed with the half stitch on top or the quarter stitch on top. The stitch on the left has the quarter stitch placed over the half stitch. This creates a slight curve in the half stitch. The stitch on the right has the half stitch on top.

  • 08 of 08

    Side-By-Side Three-Quarter Stitch and Three-Quarter Stitch with Half Stitch

    Graphic © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to The Spruce.

    The upper stitches are side-by-side three-quarter stitches. The lower stitches are a three-quarter stitch and a half stitch. You can see in this example the color contrast of each stitch and how it will allow the piece to flow. 

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