To the Cross Stitch-ery!
December 10, 2016 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I would like to learn how to cross stitch; I have never had any hobbies that involved cross stitch type skills (never tried knitting, sewing, crocheting, et cet.) but it looks awesome! How do I get started?

There's no craft supply stores near me and I don't have a car so preference for resources that are online rather than just going to Michael's or something like that.

After a few attempts at Googling how to get started I just got sort of overwhelmed. I'm looking for a good beginners kit (preferably targeted for adults rather than children) or website or book to help me get started as a very very beginner.

Bonus points for resources that include some of the funny irreverent cross stitch patterns and how to (eventually) work up to making my own.
posted by forkisbetter to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Start small: you can order a kit from Joann's or Amazon or wherever -- Bucilla makes "My 1st Cross Stitch" kits that aren't particularly funny or irreverent but aren't bad, they're quick to do, and they'll include everything you need to get a taste and see if you like it. That way if you hate it you haven't bought 23 skeins of embroidery floss and a big piece of Aida cloth. The kits include hoop, needle, floss, fabric, and pattern, plus fairly reasonable instructions. If you get stuck on a particular kind of stitch, youtube tutorials are the way to go to find out how to do it. (French knots are a particular toughie for some people).

After you've done a kit, if you like it and want to do more, cruise Etsy for patterns related to the geekdom or snarkiness of your liking. The patterns may have instructions on fabric and floss, but those are always just recommendations to get it to turn out like the model shown. If you want it in a different color, buy a different color -- doesn't matter which, just one you like. For the fabric I'd recommend sticking with Aida for a while as you get the hang of it, then switching to plain weave if you like the look of it better (or want to do quarter stitches).

But yeah, any of the major cross stitch company kits will get you started -- Janlynn, Dimensions, Bucilla -- and if you buy one aimed at beginners it'll be relatively simple and quick so you don't get bogged down in a years-long work-in-progress situation.

Oh hey, looks like Dimensions has veered into the mildly snarky. Something like this kit is what I'm talking about -- all the supplies you need, plus instructions. Less than $10, only one thing to purchase, and you can give it a whirl.
posted by katemonster at 10:06 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Go on Youtube and search for "counted cross stitch tutorial for beginners" and watch a few of them. Once you understand the basics (how to thread your needle and make a knot, how to put your fabric into a hoop, how to separate embroidery thread, how to do the basic stitch) you can get a kit from Subversive Cross Stitch. The delux kits come with everything you need to make a finished project. They have animated instructions and tutorials on the site as well.

If you just want to practice stitching without working on a project, you'll need a hoop, (6" is probably a good size to start), cross stitch fabric, needles, and embroidery thread, which you can get here.

Have fun!
posted by ananci at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, also -- there's counted cross stitch and stamped cross stitch. (forgive me if I'm telling you stuff you already know, but it can get confusing for people who haven't run across it before). Counted means you get plain cloth, find the center of it, then count out the number of blocks from the center to see where to stitch. Stamped has the design already stamped on it, and you just stitch over -- more like a paint-by-number situation. I've always done counted because I heard bad things about stamped sometimes being printed badly/off-kilter and actually being more confusing than just counting. I don't know if that's still the case, as I was learning nigh onto 30 years ago, but it is a distinction between some of the kits you'll see out there.
posted by katemonster at 10:15 AM on December 10, 2016

Yay! Cross-stitching is great. It's totally manageable for a beginner and there are lots of great beginner projects.

katemonster makes a great point--you definitely want to do counted cross stitch. I agree with anaci and recommend Subversive Cross Stitch's deluxe kits. They come with everything you need, and she has lots of tutorials and instructions on her site. The only additional tool that's helpful is an iron--I find the pieces fit in the hoop better when they're ironed, and they look nicer afterwards if your iron them.

Once you get into it and want to make your own patterns, it's pretty easy. You can use software like PCStitch or MacStitch, or you can go old-school with graph paper.
posted by radioamy at 10:29 AM on December 10, 2016

I was a cross stitch beginner too, and I too started by buying a full kit from Subversive Cross Stitch. It's not expensive, it includes everything you need, her designs are so fun, and her instructions are so clear that anyone can follow them. So now I know how to cross stitch and I also have a framed, cross-stitched sign that says FUCK CANCER so it's a total win.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:48 AM on December 10, 2016

Nthing the subversive cross stitch suggestion for a beginner.

I don't like stamped cross stitch because it is almost always printed on polyester blend fabrics and I hate working with polyester. Years ago, probably before you were born, my first cross stitch project was a stamped design on linen. At that time, I didn't know that your stitches are supposed to all cross in the same direction. If your top thread crosses from lower right to upper left it should be consistent for all your stitches.

Counted cross stitch is done on some variation of even weave fabric where the number of threads per inch is the same in both directions. Aida cloth has distinct squares with small holes, making it easy to count and I would recommend it for a beginner. For a small project like the Subversive Cross Stitch projects, I find a hoop to be more of a hindrance than a help.

You can always MeMail me if you have questions. Also, there is a counted cross stitch community on Ravelry, with lots of experts.
posted by Altomentis at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2016

what everyone else said : ) but plus one to buying a stamped beginner's kit to start. It is really easy, once you have the kit I bet you can figure it out just with whatever printed instructions come with it. Cross-stitch is the easiest embroidery stitch, in my opinion. We did a cross stitch project in second grade, if I'm remembering right. So, in short - you got this!
posted by elgee at 11:47 AM on December 10, 2016

Quilter / crocheter here, not cross stitch. But this applies.
Your first project is about "learning skills." Later projects will be about making something beautiful and personal. It's sort of like riding a bike for the first time. Expect to fall down before you get the hang of it.

Expect your first project to be a bit of a mess. My first quilt was a queen-size bed quilt (wrong) with muslin backing (wrong) and cotton batting (so, so wrong). I called it my "closet quilt," because it spent most of its time in the closet for over a year between hand-quilting sessions. It has since gone to that scrap box in the sky after many washings by my youngest daughter, and good riddance.
The dozen or so quilts made later had their own learning curves, but the first laid the foundation.

The nice thing about cross stitch is that the supplies are basic. It's hard to go down the rabbit hole with expensive equipment, or single-specialty tools, or exotic materials.

Bonus: Mom's Never-Fail Threading Method (right-handed) -- Hold needle in left hand, drape thread across needle, pinch thread with first finger and thumb of right hand. Tighten thread and slide off end of needle, making a sharp point of doubled thread. Poke into needle eye, pull tag end of thread through. Note how your "finger and thumb pinch" can roll together from flat to tips; I do mine flat, then roll to a tip pinch closer to the pointed thread for control.
This works for almost any size needle and any material, including yarn. I have not used a needle threader in decades.
posted by TrishaU at 3:08 PM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

One more thing about thread control....
Threads are spun together in multiple strands at the factory. They have a certain "direction" to the spin.
To avoid tangled threads from a spool of material:
1) Use short lengths such as 12 inches. The thread is slightly frayed each time it is pulled through the cloth, so this minimizes wear and tear on the thread.
2) Use sharp scissors, dedicated only to sewing.
3) As a sewer I knot the end of the thread immediately after cutting from the spool. If it immediately begins tangling in use, I cut it off and switch ends for the knot. This is almost never necessary.

To avoid tangled threads from a skein of embroidery thread or ball of yarn:
You might be able to Google an answer on which is the preferred end for the beginning stitches. As an embroiderer / yarn crafter I usually pull yarn from the center of the factory-made ball, and cut lengths of embroidery thread from the obvious pull end.

Bonus: working in tag ends --
One lesson I learned from Seminole quilting is to "sew together, then cut apart." In other words, I don't piece tiny bits of cloth together when I can sew big scraps together and cut away the excess fabric, or join strips together and use a template to cut out the "pieced cloth" that had almost the same look.
So allow several inches of tag end at the beginning and end of your sewing, and cut away what you don't need at a later time.

One thing that keeps me away from cross stitch is that I like both sides of a piece of embroidery to be relatively neat. I take the time to keep dark threads and lumps of excess material from showing through to the front, which gets frustrating.
posted by TrishaU at 3:43 PM on December 10, 2016

I also took up cross stich cold - having never done it before & also with no real previous craft experience - about 2 years ago and found at first the online stuff overwhelming. I actually think a lot of the 'guides' you see are more confusing than they need to be. I ended up ignoring the advice to 'start small' and went straight for this as my first project. It took over a year. It looks great. The back is a bit messy but no one has to see that :D
(I thoroughly recommend that etsy store too, his stuff is lovely). I did, however 'start simple' by going for the single colour pattern - tbh I prefer those aesthetically anyway.

All the cross stitch advice you need can, I think be boiled down into 5 points:

1. There are two types of pattern use: either it's stamped (printed onto the cloth you stitch on) or counted (you have a pdf or a printed sheet showing the pattern).
In theory stamped is easier but tbh I often find those seem low quality, and the advantage with counted is that it's reusable.

2. If you use the counted method you can in theory cross stitch onto any fabric you like, but start with Aida which is specifically designed for cross stitching and has clearly marked ‘squares’ for you to count.
Cross stich fabrics are often described as x-count where x= no of squares (individual cross-stitches) per inch. For Aida this ranges from 7-count which is big fat squares to 22-count which is teeny delicate ones. For reference I started in at 18-count, but that’s partly because I was doing a big pattern – this is where you need a bit of maths – obviously the lower the count, the bigger the stitches, the bigger the final product.

3. Threads. Cross stitch threads usually come as described above in skeins where several (~6) individual threads are twisted together. I find the best way to deal with them is cut off a manageable length – 12-15 inches – from the skein, and tease out one thread after another to stitch with. If you’re using low-count fabric, you might use two threads at once, rather than one, to make the stitch thick enough to look good at a larger size.
It is apparently impossible to mathematically calculate how much thread is needed for a project (this is slight hyperbole, but only slight). The best method is just to order/buy a bit and just stitch some & see what your usage is like – this is why it’s a lot easier to start with a single colour scheme pattern, because you’ll have less wastage than trying to guesstimate amounts for multiple colours.

4. Actual stitching: I don’t think there’s a better basic guide than this one - it gives the basic technique for stitching on the main fabrics, and also a couple of methods for starting & finishing & doing more unusual stitches here

5. Other equipment & techniques: sharp, dedicated scissors for sure; I think hoop use is a matter of personal preference. Anything else you need to figure out (“how do I make my away knot neater”) will be easier to google once you’ve got your head around the basics.
posted by AFII at 4:27 AM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hey, I just took this up recently as well! I went in pretty much cold and found it pretty approachable, mostly I think because I kept things as simple as I could:

1. Got a small hoop, some aida 14 fabric, a needle, and a couple of little skeins of embroidery floss in a couple colors.
2. For a pattern, I used some pixel art I'd made in photoshop, looking at the screen for reference and using the software's grid display to help with counting. (If that hadn't been convenient, I'd have resorted to graph paper or a print-out of the pixel art instead, I think.)
3. No fancy stitches, just did the basic cross stitch. The key bit of advice I got while reading up was to do all of the first stitches in a row of the same color at once, and then do all the cross stitches for that row working backwards toward where I started. Makes it easy to get into a little groove for a bunch of stitches together.
4. I'm lousy at knots so I took a knotless approach to starting and finishing any given bit of floss: I tied down the last little bit of a new piece of floss I was starting by doing the first couple of stitches so that they went over that loose bit on the back side of the fabric, immobilizing it. And for finishing off a piece of floss when I was done with that color or the thread was getting too short to work with, I'd sneak the needle under a couple of stitches on the backside and pull it through to trap the thread.
5. I used two strands of floss at a time on my aida 14 so the cross stitches would fill out well, cutting off a 12-18" inch bit of floss from the skein and then carefully peeling two strands away from the half-dozen total in that short piece I'd cut off. Used that up, then went back and peeled off two more strands, leaving two behind. So if you're doing two strands at a time, you really have three separate chunks of floss to work with for each piece you cut off of the skein.

It's a pretty fun chill craft. All of the stuff that I found a little confusing or intimidating at first pretty much sorted itself out in the process of just getting in and doing it; the stitching rhythm becomes natural, and stuff like starting and finishing thread pieces goes from feeling like brain surgery at first to being second nature after you do it a dozen times. Picking up one of the beginner kits folks have been suggesting and just jumping in with that seems like a really good way to go; don't feel like you need to Learn Everything About Cross-Stitch to get started, just start stitching a little thing and see whether it clicks!
posted by cortex at 10:19 AM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding AFII, do choose a design you love. One of my early charted designs was a rocking horse by Teresa Wentzler. It had so many colors to achieve the shading.

Once you have started and gotten hooked, many designers offer free patterns on their websites and that gives you an idea of their style. Ink Circles (Tracy Horner) is one of my favorites.

I do love the one-color designs. Ink Circles has several, and I love Long Dog Samplers.
posted by Altomentis at 4:05 PM on December 11, 2016

So much good advice so far here! I wanted to add a couple of other things that have really made my cross stitching life 100% better - these are kinda haphazard, so bear with me.

1. Highlighting the pattern as I'm working through the counted cross stitch is really, really helpful for me - I can keep track of what I've done so far and still have the pattern.

2. The knotless loop start is WONDERFUL. This video is a pretty good demonstration of the technique.

3. I use Q-Snaps instead of a hoop - I made the transition, and it's much, much easier for me to work with.

4. Nthing everyone who says that Subversive Cross Stitch is a great place to start. I would also suggest looking for kits on etsy - if you search for "cross stitch kit," you'll see lots of good options. Pick something you like!
posted by superlibby at 9:04 AM on December 13, 2016

Stamp carving? I have and love this book.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 2:20 PM on December 9, 2017

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