While it’s been around since at least the middle ages, cross-stitch embroidery is making a strong comeback in the current crafting landscape. Traditionally used to decorate household items like table linens, this method of hand embroidery is now commonly found as framed art, often featuring quirky, anachronistic messages or motifs. No matter the project or the skill level of the needleworker, cross-stitch can be an accessible, easy-to-learn, fun thread craft.
What Is Cross-Stitch?
Cross-stitch follows a tiled pattern, making it almost a forebearer to the digital pixel. Because it’s comprised of mostly X-shaped stitches, the overall design usually appears geometric and boxy. Most cross-stitching is done using colored cotton floss on woven fabrics, which essentially have built-in grid systems to guide each stitch. For beginners, different sizes of cotton Aida fabric is recommended due to its obvious holes and relatively open weave, but cross-stitch can be applied to fine linen as well. Cross-stitch also requires colorful embroidery floss, which is most commonly sold in six-strand skeins. Most cross-stitch charts require the crafter to separate two to three strands for use at a time. Compared with needlepoint, which uses many multiple shapes and sizes of stitches, cross-stitch can seem more sophisticated and simple, but it can absolutely be used to create intricate, beautiful designs.
Types of Cross-Stitch
There are just a few main stitches utilized in cross-stitch: the full stitch (an X-shape), a half stitch (a slanted line), a 1/4 stitch (from a corner to the middle of the X), a 3/4 stitch (a half stitch plus a quarter stitch) and a backstitch (a straight line). While there are many ways to vary these stitches (think: overlapping, framed, spaced out, or extended), mastering the core few makes most patterns doable.
Most cross-stitchers tend to follow a chart with a pre-planned design when attempting a new project, as freehanding an entire design can be unwieldy. Cross-stitch charts utilize colored grids that can be counted and applied to any sized woven fabric —they’re similar to a map for a finished design. For beginners, it can be simpler to follow a pattern that is stamped directly onto the selected cross-stitch material—this eliminates counting and mentally transferring colors and stitches from paper to fabric. No matter the system, embroidery hoops and frames are also super useful for needleworkers as they hold a length of the material taught for ease of stitching.
Creating a Cross-Stitch Project
Whether you source a free pattern, purchase one from a craft store or online, or design your own motif, a solid plan is always a good place to start when cross-stitching. Samplers, which demonstrate a variety of stitches and techniques, are often a fun first project and can help a beginning needlepointer gain confidence. Antique samplers often included a full alphabet, single-digit numbers, and simple illustrations. More contemporary options for beginners are less limited, so feel free to practice with a pattern that brings you joy. For the more advanced cross-stitchers, there are practically infinite available patterns. Geometric motifs are particularly lovely in cross-stitch thanks to the boxy nature of the method, but plants and flowers look cute simplified down to Xs and lines too. Decorative lettering, when done in cross-stitch, appears charmingly rustic. No matter the personal taste, there’s likely a cross-stitch chart to suit it.
When selecting a fabric for cross-stitch, the closer-knit options may look a bit more polished when finished, but are trickier to work with thanks to their smaller grid. Also, there are many brands of embroidery floss with their own color naming criteria, so be sure to source the brand that matches your chart for the most exact results. When it comes to choosing a needle, bigger ones are easier to manipulate for beginners, with smaller, sharper varieties reserved for more detailed work and more experienced hands.
Cross-stitch is the oldest form of embroidery. Evidence of cross-stitch as an art form dates back to the middle ages.
Samplers were used for stitch practice and education. Young women would stitch the alphabet, or often a bible verse, to practice their stitching but also to learn to read and memorize scripture.
Cross-stitch crossed social classes. It may have begun as a means of decoration (and sometimes income) for poor, rural women, but cross-stitch made its way to nobility as a relaxing pastime and art form.