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Counted Cross Stitch Basics Pt. 1

Updated on February 27, 2012

Getting Started the Right Way

Years ago I watched my mother sitting in the kitchen happily stitching away and said to her "Can I learn how to do that?" She stopped and through for a minute, probably musing whether it was appropriate for a son to learn a needle craft. Fortunately, Rosie Greer had helped to break some of those social stereo-types and she said "Sure." We then sat down and she gave me a little piece of aida cloth, some floss and a pattern to follow. About an hour later I came back with a little design all stiched up pretty, ready for another project. From then on I was hooked and have continued to stitch with a passion.

In this article we will learn about the beginner fabric, threads, hoops, needles and the basics of how to cross stitch. In the end I hope you find it useful, fun and counted cross stitch a relaxing past time like I do.

Are you a Lefty or a Righty?

One of the great things about cross stitching is that the basics are the same whether you're a lefty or a righty. No matter what you will always start the same way and make the same motions. Nothing is "backwards", take it from this lefty.

When you move on to embroidery, or specialty stitches some things will end up reversed. However, for straight forward cross stitch like we are discussing here the playing field is even regardless of what hand you use!

Aida Cloth

As you can see Aida Cloth has a very even weave to it and the spaces of "holes" between the weave are quite easy to see.
As you can see Aida Cloth has a very even weave to it and the spaces of "holes" between the weave are quite easy to see. | Source


There is an abundance of fabric choices to stitch on. The two main types will be Aida Cloth and Linen.

I would recommend beginners start their cross-stitching experience using Aida Cloth. Why is it best suited for beginners?

  1. Aida cloth is readily available in many counts, sizes and colors at your local craft store, eBay or on-line needle work stores.
  2. Aida cloth is an evenly woven fabric with easy to see spaces between the weave and waft threads. As seen in the photo to the right.
  3. It is a sturdy fabric for unsteady hands to gain skill on with out worry of creating a pull plus it washes well.
  4. With Aida Cloth you work over one "block" vs working over a number of theads as you do when working with linen so it makes the counting part of counted cross stitch easier.

Note: When selecting how much fabric you need for your project always add 3 inches to all four sides of the fabric requirements. This way when it is time to frame your finished work there is enough excess fabric for the framer to work with. To illustrate if your pattern is 6 inches by 7 inches you would want a piece of fabric that is 12 inches by 13 inches.

Note the difference in size between a size 20 needle (left) and a size 28 needle (right)
Note the difference in size between a size 20 needle (left) and a size 28 needle (right) | Source


Needles, like fabric, come in many sized and types. It is so easy to get lost in trying to figure out what size and type to use. An entire article can be written on the types on needles and their purposes.

For Counted Cross Stitch you will wish to use a Tapestry needle. Tapestry needles have a blunted point. This allows the needle to gentle move the cross threads apart and pass between them instead of a sharp needle which is designed to pierce the fabric, making it's own hole.

As you can see in the picture to the left there is a dramatic size difference between a size 20 needle (left side of the photo) and a size 28 needle (right side of photo). Keep in mind the smaller the needle the slimmer it will be and the smaller the eye. For those of us with diminishing eye site this can pose a challenge.

When it comes to what size needle to use it depends mostly on personal preference. I prefer using a size 28 for cross stitch but there are times I need to use a different size to accommodate different types of threads. Ultimately, you have to use the size needle which feels right in your fingers. You may wish to start with a size 20 needle if you are not used to holding a needle and gradually work your way down to a size 28 as you gain comfort.

Round and Oval Hoops (left), Q-Snap stitching frame (Right)
Round and Oval Hoops (left), Q-Snap stitching frame (Right) | Source


A good hoop is a Stitcher's best friend. A hoop is nothing more than a tension device. They are designed to keep the fabric at an even tension while stitching. Hoops come in all different shapes and sizes from round to oval to even square and the dimensions are just as varied.

My personal favorite is the Q-Snap. They are user friendly and the square and rectangular shapes they come in are extremely versatile.

Things to keep in mind when using any sort of tension device:

  1. Keep the fabric taunt on the hoop/frame while stitching.
  2. Do not keep fabric on hoops or tension devises for long periods of time when you are not stitching. This can distort the fabric in unpleasant ways.
  3. Once you know stitching is for you invest in a good hoop like a Q-snap so you have something you can use on all different size projects with ease.

Silk Floss (top), Cotton Floss (bottom)
Silk Floss (top), Cotton Floss (bottom) | Source


When beginning to cross stitch the easiest thread or "Floss" to use is DMC or Anchor Embroidery Floss. The great thing about these brands:

  1. They are 100% cotton floss, color fast and made with a fixed dye lot so you can easily find the same shade.
  2. is they are inexpensive (about 35 cents a skein) and come in literally hundreds of shades. Since they are inexpensive they are great for learning and practicing with. When you pay 35 cents for a skein you don't mind if you waste any with mistakes and learning. When you spend $8 for a skein then it's a different story!!
  3. Most commercially available charts list both DMC and Anchor color codes so you can use whichever brand you prefer.

Pattern, Scissors and Highlighter
Pattern, Scissors and Highlighter | Source

Additional items

Now that we've covered the most important items there's only a few other items we need.

  1. Scissors - Use whatever you have when you're starting. There's no need to rush out and buy yourself new scissors. After a while you may wish to invest in a small pair that you use just for stitching but for now why spend money??
  2. Pattern - In order to stitch you need a pattern to use.
  3. Highlighter - I find my highlighter is one of my best friends when stitching. As I finish a row of stitches I use the highlight to color it in the photocopy I made of the pattern. This way if I get distracted or put my project down for a while I can easily find where I left off.

Clover Pattern Author:                  Bill Souza Copyright:             2/8/2012 Printing for use on personal projects is granted by the author.
Clover Pattern Author: Bill Souza Copyright: 2/8/2012 Printing for use on personal projects is granted by the author. | Source

Materials List

Tapestry Needle
14 count Aida Cloth (white, off white, antique white recommended)
Highlight (optional)
DMC 500
DMC 561

Grid Size: 30W x 30H

Design Area: 1.43" x 1.36" (20 x 19 stitches)

Legend: Stitches

Triangle = DMC 500 blue green - vy dk

Legend: BackStitch Lines

— =DMC 561 jade - vy dk

Now that you know what you need go ahead and gather your supplies. In Part 2 we will learn how to prepare our fabric for stitching and the techniques of making a single Cross Stitch, a running cross stitch and the Back Stitch, the three fundamental stitches in Cross Stitch.


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