Going into a craft shop with no clue what you’re looking can knock your confidence before you even begin. Luckily, I don’t embarrass easily am quite used to confused looks from the staff in my local Haberdashery as I try to describe what I’m looking for; but I know that’s not the case for everyone. Cross stitch is an inexpensive hobby and you don’t need lots of materials to get started. However, each item is available in various types and it’s important to buy the right one, so here I will explain each in more detail to help you get started.
To start a cross stitch project, you’ll need:
Cross stitch fabric (aida)
Small embroidery scissors or seam ripper
Counted cross stitch pattern.
Aida is the fancy name for the fabric used in cross stitch. It is woven into a grid of tiny holes that you stitch your pattern onto. The number of holes per inch of the fabric is referred to its ‘count’. That means that the more holes per inch, the smaller your finished piece will be. A higher count fabric also allows pattern designers incorporate more detail in their designs. The most commonly used is 14 count and tends to be what I use for my patterns and kits.
Most fabric is 100% cotton and requires a hoop to keep it taut while you stitch.
You can also find polyester aida which is much stiffer and doesn’t require a hoop. This can be too stiff to use with a hoop, so if you find a hoop gets in the way, consider giving this a go for your next attempt.
Ensure the aida you’re buying is the right count for the pattern you are using and large enough for the complete design plus extra to allow for borders. It is unlikely that you would want to frame it without blank space around the design. I can’t tell you how many times I have finished a design and then discovered it is too small for the frame I had planned to put it in!
If you are using a coloured aida, I suggest washing it in warm soapy water before use to remove any excess dye. This will stop the colour transferring onto the thread and ruining the overall effect of your project.
Embroidery Hoop Embroidery hoops are what keep your fabric taut for you to stitch onto. There are loads of types of embroidery hoops and frames on the market, and I’ve tried most of them! They come in all different shapes and sizes and can be made from wood, bamboo or plastic. Some are easier than others to get your fabric into and some keep fabric taut better than others. For example, flexi hoops keep the fabric taut but that’s if I can get the fabric inserted in the first place without the bloody thing flying across the room. I think there may be a knack to it but so far, I haven’t found it. Experiment with hoops and you’ll soon find what’s right for you.
When starting out it is a good idea to use a hoop as it helps to keep the stitches even and makes it easier to hold your work. If you’re working on a very large design you might want to use a rectangular, stretch frame on a stand, but you really don’t need one of these to begin with. I can’t tell you the number hoops, frames and stands I’ve bought that have just ended up in a box in our spare room! As you become more experienced, you may find you prefer not to use a hoop at all but I’d recommend it if you’re just starting out.
Embroidery thread is also known as floss and comes in ‘skeins’. Depending on the manufacturer each skein is usually 8 to 10m in length. The most commonly used thread is 100% cotton and known as 6 strand cotton. This refers to the six individual strands that are twisted together to make the thread. You can also find metallic, satin and ombre effect threads that let you make your designs really beautiful and create some really interesting effects.
There are hundreds of shades of thread available which means you can get really creative with your designs. The brands I use most are DMC, Madeira and Anchor and that’s because they are great quality and easy to source. Also, they don’t tangle and are colour fast, both of which are deal breakers for me.
My preferred brand is DMC and is what I use in my designs (but, NB: I am not affiliated with them in any way). I probably have at least one skein of every shade from DMC and I am a self-confessed floss hoarder!
Make sure you have enough for the design you are stitching especially if it’s a colour that is difficult to source. Also bear in mind that shades can vary slightly depending on the batch number as if you’re a perfectionist, although nobody else will notice, you will, and it’ll probably drive you nuts!
Sewing needles come in different sizes depending on the type of sewing they’re used for. When it comes to cross stitch needles, I tend to use size 24 if I’m stitching on 14 count aida. The eye of the needle is big enough to thread with embroidery floss and the needle is not so thick that it will stretch the small holes in the fabric. Also, it is fairly blunt (yet I still manage to stab myself quite regularly!) If stitching onto 16 or 18 count aida I tend to use a size 22 needle.
Counted cross stitch pattern
Cross stitch patterns are also known as charts, and you’ll be needing one to follow to get started. Of course, the best come from Curious Twist, but the internet is full of different ideas and designs!
Each coloured block or symbol marked on the pattern’s grid corresponds to one stitch on the fabric. Patterns often have lines or arrows to mark the centre but if not; it is helpful to mark the centre yourself before you begin stitching.
Small embroidery scissors or seam ripper
Cross stitch is a delicate job, so you need the scissors to match. Short, sharp scissors or a seam ripper allow you to get up close to your design to cut threads where you need to. You don’t need to spend a great deal on these, but make sure you have something that’s sharp enough for the job at hand and comfortable enough that it won’t pinch; nicking some children’s scissors isn’t good enough!
Protect your scissors with a sleeve to stop them from blunting as once they do, they’re useless, and can compromise your hard work.
With all of these things in your kit, you’re ready to get started. Now grab my handy hints for beginners and let’s get going…