Overthinking Needles And Thread
December 27, 2021 5:44 AM   Subscribe

I have what I feel like is a supremely dumb question about cross stitching, can someone help?

I got a doofy mini cross stitch kit as a stocking stuffer from my parents this year; and it's small enough that I have decided what the hell, I'll try it. The kit includes the fabric, different colored embroidery floss for the pattern, a printed pattern, a needle, and a hoop to keep things steady. I've read the directions and it seems straightforward enough.

But there is one thing I'm not clear about. The kit and pattern is (as you can see in the link) an image of a bird on a plain white background. The fabric is white, and there is no white embroidery thread. So it looks like I'm only meant to be stitching where the bird is, and leaving the rest of the fabric alone. Is....is that right?

For some reason I though that you have to cover the ENTIRE fabric with stitching, and so for something on a white background you have to cover that with white cross stitching. But....it looks like I can just leave that alone and I only stitch where there's the picture. Do I understand that right?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total)
That is correct! Some types of stitchery will have you cover the entire background (I think this is more common with needlepoint than cross-stitch), but it's quite common to just use the fabric color as background too. If you look at the cover photo up close you can see that it's just naked cloth.
posted by mskyle at 5:49 AM on December 27, 2021 [6 favorites]

Yes, that's correct. Sometimes there is white embroidery floss included, which is used more for texture than colour. That's not part of the one you have, so enjoy!

I find it really helps to colour the pattern even though they mark it with different symbols. The colours don't have to be an exact match for the colours of the floss, it's just easier to keep track of where you are. Plus bonus colouring-in!
posted by Athanassiel at 6:00 AM on December 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

With counted cross stitch it's totally normal to have the fabric show through as the background color.

There are also "full coverage" pieces which are intended for every square to be stitched, these are usually larger, more intricate art pieces. Like if you wanted to stitch a very close replica of "Starry Night" you would probably make it a full coverage piece.
posted by muddgirl at 6:23 AM on December 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yes, this is right, and you're going to be so happy that it's not full fill once you get going.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:17 AM on December 27, 2021 [11 favorites]

You got it! I admire the patience and dedication of the stitchers who make full-coverage pieces. I would advise anyone considering such a pattern to run the other way. Cute bird projects are more fun (imho).
posted by mersen at 8:00 AM on December 27, 2021


That was, backinna day, one of the selling points of counted cross stitch. Traditional needlepoint is done on an open canvas that needed to be fully covered to look finished. Counted Cross Stitch is done on coarsely* woven fabric that didn't need to be fully covered. (I started doing cross stitch in the early 80s, as the transition from needlepoint to cross stitch was beginning to gather steam.)

* coarsely woven as compared to fabric for clothing. it's usually a high quality fabric, evenly woven such that the holes are in a square grid rather than rectangular.
posted by jlkr at 8:02 AM on December 27, 2021 [7 favorites]

There are some VERY helpful tutorials online and YouTube specifically that I recommend when getting into these crafts. I’ve learned so much from other craftspeople and sharing knowledge is beautiful. Tiktok also has a large sewing / stitching community with so many helpful tips! (And oops, eta, no need to fill the background, especially as a beginner.)
posted by Crystalinne at 8:27 AM on December 27, 2021

As everyone else has said, the white part isn’t supposed to be stitched - you just leave the fabric show through.

I’m mostly here to say that if you’re like me, and find threading needles difficult and/or annoying you might find a needle threader useful. Oh, and double check how many strands you’re supposed to use (usually 2 out of 6).
posted by scorbet at 8:44 AM on December 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks - I think I was thinking it was different from embroidery in that "with cross stitching you're supposed to cover the whole thing", and so I wasn't trusting the obvious cues. Thanks!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:01 PM on December 27, 2021

Mom's threading trick.
Lay the thread over the needle shaft held in your off-hand (left for right-handed people). About two or three inches of tag end is correct (in other words, don't do this in the middle of the thread).
Pinch the bent-over thread onto the needle shaft with the tips of the first finger and thumb of your dominant hand, and slide it off the needle eye. The needle eye will twist sideways and create a sharp pointed end of doubled thread.
Gently and while still squeezing, reposition the first finger and thumb to reveal the sharp pointed thread.
Thread the needle.

Pro tip: Sometimes one side of the needle eye is easier to thread. Turn the needle the other way and try again.
Pro tip: Sometimes the way the thread is spun will make sewing snarly if you knot the wrong end. Make a knot in the freshly cut end of thread as soon as it is taken from a spool. In the case of precut yarn or embroidery thread, switch ends if the yarn tangles or unwinds.
posted by TrishaU at 5:37 PM on December 27, 2021

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