Modern cross stitch, best practices/gear?
July 27, 2017 1:05 PM   Subscribe

35-40 years ago, I did a fair share of cross stitching. I've started to pick it up again and it's a whole new world.

I'm watching but not participating in the current Steotchalong, and kind of boggling at the needle minders and other gadgets and what appears to be space-age technology in frames and methodology.

I was taught by my mom, and never more than the basics, so accidentally stumbling across things like a knotless loop start and all this other stuff for keeping your backs neat is a revelation.

So, stitchers, what's your preferred gear and where are the good places to learn/relearn best practices and good technique? Patterns I can find, swears and all, but I'd enjoy having recommended sources for the rest.
posted by Lyn Never to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
I pretty much taught my self a few years back with internet tutorials/youtube. DMC floss is still pretty much the standard, the needle minders are cute but I use a couple of strong magnets on my extra cloth or hoop to park my needle between working on the project.

The plastic Q-snap frames are nice for larger projects and you can expand them to different size squares/rectangles, but the traditional embroidery hoops are still popular as well.

I have also seen people using floss or a temporary fabric pen to draw in "grid lines" for larger me it looks like a lot of work for very little return but to each their own I guess.

Other than that I think the biggest changes have been the "subversive" cross stitch trend with (like you found lots of swearing) but also incorporating a lot of pop culture references/characters instead of just sticking to traditional style samplers. Also that now people go online for their patterns instead of books/magazines (though both are still useful). For me, unless its a super small project I want to work on somewhere other than home I don't usually even bother printing out a pattern and just work it off my laptop, I can zoom in to where I am working to get a good look at the section....and someday may invest in a cheap amazon fire tablet or something similar to use for stitching (also to hold recipes for cooking but thats a whole different conversation).
posted by Captain_Science at 2:15 PM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

The biggest change is with digital design and color printers! You don't (usually) have to deal with awkward charts that require you to squint to figure out the colors! The flip side is that anyone can make a cross-stitch pattern, and some of them are...not great. But since it's cross-stitch, you can just adjust as you see fit.
posted by radioamy at 2:48 PM on July 27, 2017

The other the advantage of digital design is that you can easily design your own patterns! I haven't done it in a long time (10+ years) but I think people still use PC Stitch and Mac Stitch.
posted by radioamy at 3:28 PM on July 27, 2017

I use printable graph paper to design from elements on line, in books and from sketches. I worked my last piece without any frame or hoop on Aida cloth and it did not distort. Also, outlining and marking the center lines with sewing thread helped me make sure I had the design in the correct place. The needle just goes in the margin for safekeeping. And the appearance is much better if all stitches start in the same direction. This, however, was a text with decorative elements, not a picture with complete coverage, which I can't even imagine tackling.
posted by Botanizer at 5:50 PM on July 27, 2017

Q-snaps are great, although I still like a traditional wooden hoop too! (And, yep, PC Stitch is where I design patterns.) Another thing you may like as you get more advanced is a laying tool. You can get hella expensive decorative ones, or very simple ones, they help you straighten stitches as you lay them down (or after you lay them down and realize they're kinda fucked up). They're also good for picking out bad stitches, if they come to a sharp narrow point. (Mine has a square wooden handle and a sharp metal stiletto and I love it because it can't roll away.)

Nordic Needle is my favorite online counted thread shop (for not just cross stitch but many kinds of counted thread, so you can get a lot of different types of higher-end fabrics, and many cool notions). Obviously a local needlework store is the right thing to support if you can! But NN is great if you don't have one or are shopping for things they don't have!

I really like these thread-cutter pendants by Clover, which you can always take on an airplane and (if you have kids) never have to worry about the kids snatching. (They're easy to find at Michael's or wherever.) You can thread them on a ribbon or chain to wear around your neck but I just keep one tucked in my needle tools case. Actually that's a lie, I keep like four of them tucked in with various projects and needle tools cases. :D

A really good pair of embroidery scissors is worth the money (I use Gingher), especially if you do any cutwork later on. But of course the $5 sharp-tip jobbers from the craft store will do the job, even if you have to replace them now and then! (I keep my one pair of Gingher for precision work and have several $5 craft store pairs floating around for everyday embroidery.)

If you're tangle-prone, you may like thread beeswax or thread heaven. (Run the thread over it by holding your finger on top of the thread on top of the beeswax.)

A nice little project is to make yourself a needle case/tool case, using whatever cross stitch designs you particularly like for the cover. I have a teeny one that holds a clover pendant cutter and a few needles, and a bigger one that can hold scissors and floss and so on. Easy to tuck in with your project and go, and a nice project in its own right that doesn't need framing. Here are some examples: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and fifteen more. Some of those are quilted, some are kits, some are instructions, but they're mostly pretty easy to construct, you can come up with your own preferred project based on what you see from the pictures and construct one to your preferences with your design!

You may also really enjoy making a biscornu, which is a pincushion, but with embroidery and 3D geometry involved. They're dead easy but they look super fucking cool when they're assembled and people are always like, "Wait, but how ...?" Pinterest has charts.

(Incidentally if you are looking for small square things to stitch, with your own designs or designs from the library/etsy/store/whatever, making scented sachets is very easy as well, use the embroidered side for one face and some pretty fabric for the other, and stuff with potpourri, herbs, cotton stuffing with scent, rice with essential oil, whatever. Can you tell my embroidery often outpaces my framing budget?)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:20 PM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

PS, I vastly prefer running under to a knotless loop start because I think it distorts the fabric less. I actually just hold the tail in place and stitch it down with my first five or so stitches in that color, I don't usually have to go back around the back and actually run it under afterwards. (I like knotless loops for clothing construction, though!)

My grandmother who taught me to embroider said a neat back was the mark of a great needlewoman (and she was a great needlewoman), so I am a little obsessive about my neat backs, although they are never as neat as hers, which could have basically been displayed backwards as well as frontwards! (And many of her pieces were tablecloths and napkins that have survived SEVENTY YEARS of machine washing with no discernible damage, and the run-under backs still holding!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 PM on July 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

Hey this has been my new hobby recently! I learned the basics from my grandma 25-ish years ago (omg does that make me feel old!) and I've been sort of re-teaching myself for the last few weeks based on the internet. Actually I just did a shopping spree during my lunch break yesterday and bought materials for four more projects.

DMC has a system for organizing thread that includes plastic bobbins, little stickers with numbers so you can label the bobbins, and tackle-box-like organizer boxes to store your vast collection of bobbins. I like having a small pencil-case size box for an individual project rather than lugging the whole big tackle box around.

I've had good luck looking for small to medium frames at thrift stores. Discard the glass.

Jo-Ann Fabrics and Michael's both have mailing lists where they will email/text you coupons; it's pretty easy to get 40% off if you keep an eye out.

Some people use grime guards with their q-snap frames. If you have a larger project you can sort of roll up the excess fabric and tuck it in there to keep it out of the way while you work on a section.

I like following a pattern in PDF on my tablet, with an app that lets me highlight stitches as I do them.

Pinking shears are nice for trimming the edges of Aida to reduce fraying. To really stop stray fabric threads you can put masking tape around the perimeter of your fabric.

A seam ripper can be handy for picking (or cutting) misplaced stitches. Just be careful not to accidentally cut your fabric thread too (ask me how i know!)
posted by beandip at 1:03 PM on July 28, 2017

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