How to cross stitch: Crafty fun that won’t ruin your carpet


The phrase ‘cross stitch’ probably brings to mind fusty old samplers that your grandmother may have made, but the craft is currently undergoing a renaissance. If you want a fun crafting activity that won’t break the bank or cover you in PVA glue, cross stitch may be for you. Plug the phrase into Etsy and you’ll find thousands of cute, funny, saucy, radical or downright crude (and therefore hilarious) examples of cross stitch.


In the mood for crude? Try the Subversive Cross Stitch book

Want to give cross stitching a try yourself? You’ll find free or cheap patterns everywhere. Whatever your personal aesthetics for the style of cross stitch art you want to create, we’ve collected some handy tips and pointers to get you started.

Tools of the trade

To get started, you’re going to need four things:

  • Needles: Possibly the easiest thing to get hold of. Check out your local supermarket or craft store, and you’ll find cross stitch and embroidery needles with the rest of the sewing supplies. They should cost around £1, too. Bargain!
  • Aida cloth: Aida cloth is the loosely woven cloth that most cross stitch patterns are done on. They’re fashioned in a regular square pattern, so it’s easy to line up your designs. You have a choice of stitch sizes, so a good rule of thumb is the bigger the size, the bigger your finished stitches will be. If you’re a newbie, try around a size 14. Cloth can be bought from most craft stores, or can be picked up pretty cheaply on eBay.
  • Embroidery hoop: Embroidery hoops are actually two hoops, with one fitting snugly into the other. You fit your cloth across one hoop, securing the other in place and tightening it with the clamp, in order to keep your cloth secured and easier to stitch onto. Again, these are found in craft stores (support your local craft store!) or eBay.
  • Embroidery floss: Without this you’ve got nothing! The best quality thread is from DMC, and comes in a huge variety of colours. eBay again is great for these, as you can pick up a big grab bag of colours for under £10, or select specific colours for pretty cheap. Shop around and see what you can get.

Cross stitch X feminism. Stitched by me 🙂

A photo posted by Scarlett Curtis (@scarlycurtis) on Dec 5, 2013 at 1:20pm PST

Cross stitch patterns for starters

Now you have everything you need, what are you going to stitch? A great way of getting started is by browsing Etsy and buying a pattern that catches your eye. They’re often only a couple of pounds or so, and you’re instantly emailed a PDF of the pattern that you can download straight away. Alternatively, you can browse Pinterest for free patterns. What do you want to stitch? If you’re a fan of, well, anything, there’s a pattern for you. Why not stitch yourself a Tardis, a direwolf, or a My Little Pony? You could also stitch your favourite quote, saying, or prayer. Once you’ve got the hang of stitching, you can easily start creating your own patterns with a variety of online tools.

How to cross stitch: First you take a needle and thread…

Time to get down to it! Stitchers differ on the best place to get started on a pattern. Some say start from the middle, others recommend starting from a corner. Experiment with different methods and see what works for you. Make sure, though, that you leave some blank space around edges so you can frame your masterpiece nicely later.

Cut yourself a length of floss. You’ll find that it actually consists of six separate threads. Gently pull two threads away, then thread them through your needle, knotting them at the end. Now you’re ready to start!

For the vast majority of patterns, you only need the humble cross stitch to complete it. Some stitchers like to complete a row of stitches by doing one half of the ‘x’ first, so the row looks like this: /////. Then they’ll go back the other way and complete the stitches. You can also do each full stitch before moving onto the next one. It’s up to you! For some more info and some helpful pictures, check out this tutorial.

I finished! What now?

Well done you! Now that your artwork is complete, you can frame it and show the world just how ace you are. First, hand wash your cloth in warm soapy water to remove any grime that got onto it during the stitches (you’re not really meant to eat while stitching, but I won’t tell if you won’t). Then, wring it out thoroughly and lay it flat to dry. Once it’s merely damp, place it on an ironing board with a clean tea towel on top, and iron it out so it’s nice and flat. Once it’s dry, you can place it in a frame, just as you would with a regular picture, and display your work with pride.

Cross stitch is great if you’re like me and you love to craft, but struggle with more, er, free form craft techniques. You can create beautiful and intricate designs in embroidery floss, but you still have the helpful framework of the Aida cloth to help you keep it together. Also, if you find the juxtaposition of traditional art forms and swearing hilarious, like I do, you’re going to have a good time.


Sweariness & unicorns: Some cross stitch samplers I made earlier!

Check out some cool stitchers like Raging Stitches or Geeky Little Stitcher for inspiration and patterns. Google ‘feminist cross stitch’ and you’ll find a bunch of awesome examples, patterns, people to follow and more.

Happy stitching!

Main image: Etsy Tardis cross stitch pattern

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