Cross stitch beginner instructions
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
If your piece of Aida fabric has any unwanted creases you can iron it under a tea towel. To start stitching fold the piece of fabric into quarters to give you the centre point. Using your pattern, you can start stitching from this point (where the two thick lines cross).
Each piece of thread has 6 strands which can be separated. You will see the number of strands you need for each colour in the colour chart (usually 2 or 3 for 14 count Aida).
You may find it tricky to separate threads at first as they tend to get a bit tangled. A useful trick is to ask someone to hold the end of the thread while you separate – or if there isn’t anyone available try holding it between your lips!
When you start a cross stitch there is no need to knot the thread (and it provides a neater finished design if you don’t use knots). Simply take the thread through the first hole and leave a tail at the back. When you complete the first cross just make sure that the starting thread is caught underneath your stitching thread on the back, and trim when you’ve done a few stitches.
The most common cross stitch fabric is Aida which comes in a huge variety of colours. If you wish to increase the dimensions of your cross stitch (make it bigger) you will need to buy an Aida fabric which has a lower count.. The number refers to the number of stitches per inch, so 14 stitches per inch will produce a larger finished piece than 16 stitches per inch. Please note though, if you go much above 14 you will also need to increase the number of strands that you use otherwise it may look a little bit patchy.
For more information about different cross stitch fabrics please see our guide to cross stitch fabrics
Included with your pattern chart is a colour chart. This shows you a list of the colours used, in your project – a make and a reference number. If you do run out of thread (there should be plenty as I always add 20% extra in my kits at least, but if you make lots of mistakes you may need more) you can use the make and number of buy more. Each colour will also have a symbol next to them which is used on the pattern to show you which colour to use. The colour chart includes the number of strands you should use (it’s important to take note of this) and the total number of Skeins.
The following images show you the most common stitches used in cross stitch, what they look like in a chart and what you should stitch:
A note about back stitch:
Most backstitches are done using one strand, so it’s important to check the colour chart for information about the number of strands. If there are two colours the same, it is likely that one is for cross stitch (2/3 strands) and one is for backstitch (1 strand).
There are some other stitches such as running stitch but I never use these in my patterns so I haven’t included them.
If you’re ever unsure there are brilliant YouTube videos showing in detail how to do different stitches, in particular French knots are much easier to learn using a video!
When you are stitching large areas, it is recommended to stitch half stitches in a row first and then go back along the row doing half stitches in the other direction to complete the cross: This gives a more uniform finish.
When you finish an area of colour and need to move to the next area it’s important to finish your thread (just run it under a few stitches on the back) cut and start again at the new area. If you don’t do this, you may be able to see the threads running across the back which will look messy.
Backstitch is named this because after the first stitch you always stitch back towards the stitch you have just completed, preventing the thread from coming undone. Complete one stitch and then move your needle to the end of the next stitch in the pattern and bring the needle down at the beginning of that stitch and so on.
When you run out of thread or reach the end of a section in the chart, simply run your needle under a few stitches on the back of your work and then cut the thread.
When you have completed your stitch project first of all give yourself a big pat on the back! Turn your work over and trim any long threads. If there are any creases iron face down under a clean tea towel.
I try to make my designs the right shape to fit into a standard hoop or frame. There are lots of different methods to finish and frame your project which you can find on YouTube. Have a browse and choose the method that you prefer. Sit back and enjoy!