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How to get Neater Cross Stitch

Updated on September 3, 2019
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Hello my name is Sue and I have been cross stitching for over 30 years. I hope you find the content of this article useful.

How to get Neater Cross Stitch

I have been cross stitching for over 30 years but it wasn't until I started watching cross stitch podcasts on YouTube recently that I realised there was a lot I could to to improve the neatness of my stitches.

Neat cross stitches will look even with the top arms of the stitches always laying in the same direction. However another mark of neatness is whether your stitches lay flat.

As we stitch our thread has a tendency to twist with the repetition of pushing and pulling it through the fabric and if we don't keep an eye on this some stitches will look rounded or bulkier and more twisted than others. The usual technique for this problem is to let your needle and thread drop now and then to untwist the thread but by improving your technique you shouldn't have to do this so much.

Many of us would like to get our projects done as quickly as we can. However, I found that accepting that cross stitch isn't quick and that the finished product deserves to look the very best I can make helped me to get in the right frame of mind to achieve this.

There is an assumption made in this article that you know how to do cross stitches and that you use two strands of stranded cotton.

I am providing instructions by way of text, photographs and video.

Technique 1. Railroading

Railroading is a cross stitch technique that is probably the most popularly used to ensure neat stitching.

  • Bring your needle and thread to the starting point of your first cross stitch e.g. bottom left corner.
  • Pull your needle and thread right through ready to complete the first arm of your cross stitch.
  • Normally the next step is to insert your needle and thread into and through the opposite corner (top right). Well you are still going to do that but if you part your thread with the tip of your needle before inserting your needle into the top right corner of your first stitch then your stitches will lay flat and even. See image 1.
  • Now do exactly the same for the top arm of your cross stitch. So up with your needle and thread through the bottom right corner. Part the thread with the tip of your needle and insert your needle and thread through the top left corner. See image 2.
  • See image 3 for the completed stitch.
  • Many stitchers use the railroading technique for the top arm of each stitch only. This is because the bottom arm is mostly covered up. However I know some stitchers railroad every part of their cross stitches.

Technique 2. Reverse Needle

  • Bring your needle and thread to the starting point of your first cross stitch e.g. bottom left corner.
  • Pull your needle and thread right through ready to complete the first arm of your cross stitch.
  • Insert your needle and thread into and through the top right corner of your first cross stitch. The first arm of you cross stitch is now complete.
  • Now insert the eye of your needle through the bottom right corner of your cross stitch. Yes, that's right, the eye of your needle.
  • Complete your stitch by inserting your needle and thread through the top left corner.

This is the reverse needle technique in a nutshell. Instead of bringing the tip of your needle through your fabric from behind, you bring the eye of your needle through. See image 4. This technique causes your thread to twist less so your stitches will lay more evenly. See image 5.

The reverse needle technique tends to be loved or loathed among stitchers and that's because it can have a tendency to thin or fray your thread. However you can reduce the chances of this happening by ensuring you are using the right size needle for your fabric, not having your thread too long and by using softer fabrics. Some cross stitch fabrics are so stiff it feels like you are trying to stitch through board.

Technique 3. Thread Positioning

Being mindful of the position of your thread can also lead to neater cross stitch.

  • Bring your needle and thread to the starting point of your first cross stitch e.g. bottom left corner.
  • As you take your needle and thread to the top right corner make sure your thread is laying towards the top of your work. See image 6. Pull your needle and thread through to complete the first arm of your cross stitch.
  • Bring your needle and thread up through the bottom right corner of your first cross stitch.
  • As you take your needle and thread up to the top left corner make sure your thread is laying towards the top of your work. See image 7. Pull through and complete your cross stitch. See image 8.

If you let your thread lay towards the bottom of your work as you stitch, see image 9 then the result can be a slightly droopy looking top arm of your cross stitches, see image 10.

Of course you will still have to let your thread unwind now and then to untwist it or you could combine this technique with railroading.

Some stitcher's swear by giving their needle and thread a little reverse twist before bringing them from the back to the front of your fabric but personally I never got on with this method.

Images 11 and 12 are examples of two pieces of my cross stitch work.





How to get Neater Cross Stitch

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Techniques & Instructions for Neat Cross Stitch

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Sue Creftor

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    • renee21 profile image

      Tori Leumas 

      3 months ago

      I love the photo of the one you made with the snow and trees and fence. It's so pretty! I used to cross-stitch when I was a teenager, but I haven't done it in over a decade.

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