How to read a cross stitch pattern
One of the great things about cross stitching is that the patterns are very simple to read. Unlike reading a knitting pattern which sometimes feels like you're learning a new language, cross stitch patterns are generally pretty intuitive. Having said that, there are a few tips and tricks which are worth knowing before you start your first cross stitch.
1. Finding your starting point
The middle point should always be marked and this is the point at which you should start stitching. Find the middle on your fabric by folding it into half and then folding it into half again. On most patterns the middle point is shown with some arrows or a thicker line, or sometimes on a colour pattern the line will be shown by using a contrasting colour.
2. The grid
You will also notice on the pattern that the grid is segmented into lots of tiny squares. Each one of these squares represents one stitch. There are usually larger squares marked on a pattern as well - showing 10 by 10 stitches. This is simply to make counting easier and some aida has the guide printed on it which makes things simpler for beginners - here is an example of magic guide Aida:
3. Black and white vs. colour
More kits are now coming with colour patterns as standard although many of the larger kit manufacturers still use black and white only. I find colour patterns so much easier to follow so if you are printing at home or buying a kit try to make sure it includes a colour pattern. If you download a pattern from Etsy or a cross stitch website they really should offer both black and white (for people who don't have colour printers) as well as colour.
4. The symbols
You'll see that most patterns are covered in lots of different symbols which can look a bit complicated to a newbie. But don't be put off it's actually really simple. Each symbol refers to a different colour and somewhere on the pattern there will be a key which tells you which colour the symbol is referring to. Sometimes the key is on the same page as the pattern and sometimes it's a separate thread key which may also give you instructions about the number of strands to use when you're cross stitching.
If there isn't a separate thread key, like the picture to the left or above, check the instructions or cover page as somewhere it should tell you how many strands of threads to use. If in doubt usually for 14 count aida or 28 count evenweave use 2 or 3 strands for crosses and 1 strand for back stitch and french knots. If it's a dark colour fabric I prefer to use three strands as this gives better coverage.
5. Different types of stitches
As well as full cross stitches which are represented by one small square on the pattern there are a number of other stitches that might be on a pattern. The diagram below shows how the stitches are usually displayed on a pattern and what exactly you stitch onto the fabric:
6. Mark your pattern as you go
I use a highlighter to keep track of what I've done on the pattern, particularly for larger or more complicated cross stitches. It really does save you time as you will be surprised how many times you'll find yourself counting to check where you are if you don't do this. It's also really good if you get frequently interrupted so you don't lose your place in your cross stitch and make a mistake. Obviously if you want to re-use the pattern good idea to make a copy before you start if you can.
7. Start simple
My final tip is to start simple. If a cross stitch pattern doesn't say it's suitable for a beginner I would steer clear until you've completed a few simpler patterns. With a very large or complicated pattern you are likely to make mistakes and get frustrated before you finish and there is a temptation to give up on your new cross stitch hobby before you've got started!
Good luck! And happy cross stitching!