50 tips for cross stitchers, by cross stitchers
We turn to the real experts – stitchers like you! – for their practical and ‘real’ cross stitch tips. Plus, three stitchers tell us how their stitching pals got them out of a real knotty tangle.
Ever got in a twist with your French knots, or been desperate to find a chart of a pink poodle? There are some times when you just can’t stitch solo. Perhaps a broken wrist is getting in the way of that wedding sampler – or maybe you just need a little support to restart your UFO. Or is your jumble of stash getting you down? Expand your cross stitching skills with tips from fellow stitchers. Or if you are knew to cross stitch, check out our cross stitch for beginners guide.
1. Card hunting
There aren’t many dedicated sewing shops in my area and I often have trouble finding card blanks with the correct-sized aperture for my stitching. I hit upon the idea of buying ready-made greetings cards with an appropriate sized picture on the front, cutting out the picture and then placing my stitching behind. This way you often get a verse thrown in too!
Julie Muller, Rainham
Check out our DIY aperture card tutorial for more on making your own card blanks
2. Embellish with pin badges!
I can’t afford to donate much to charity so I buy those colourful charity pins and badges that cost £1 each and use them to embellish cross stitched designs. The bonus is that they’re often themed, so if I’ve stitched a Bagpuss design, I’ll push a Bagpuss pin into the frame or card to match.
Hazel Allum, Peacehaven
3. Keep your WIPs moving
I am queen of unfinished projects but have found a way to reduce the numbers. I have two projects on the go at once and spend the first 10 minutes working on the least favourite of the two, each time I settle down to stitch. It’s surprising how quickly the project progresses and it’s such a satisfying way of completing projects that have been untouched for ages.
Mandie Bulmer, Beverley
4. Keep track of your magazine kits
Every time I receive a free kit with The World of Cross Stitching, I cut out the chart and key from the free kit and put it into a clear plastic pocket in a storage case, along with the kit. That way I know that each kit is ready to stitch and I don’t have to waste time hunting around for the chart. You can also photocopy the chart if you don’t want to cut up your magazine.
Alison Carr, Lancaster
5. Charts tip
I cover the charts in my magazine with sticky-back plastic and use an overhead projector pen to mark off the stitches as I go. I find that permanent projector pens work best as they don’t wipe off when you touch them, but they can later be removed with a little nail varnish remover.
Amanda Barnes, London
6. Stitching blocks of colour
I always work solid blocks of one colour in rows – I do all the half stitches in one direction first and then complete the cross stitches on the way back. The more methodical you are, the neater your finished designs will be.
Anna Gray, Newport Pagnell
7. Thread storage
I use a box file to store threads for large projects. I write symbols on card and use bead-headed pins to hook on the lengths of thread. Under the symbols I tape pieces of aida to park my needles. The file closes up and keeps my threads clean.
Barbara Gamble, Orford
8. Keep satin threads shiny
I love using DMC Satin threads, especially for fairy and angel wings. But don’t use too long a thread as it will lose its shine as it’s pulled through the fabric and, if you make an error, the thread isn’t reusable.
Janet Inglis, Redcar
9. Struggling to see your chart?
I have sight problems so if I buy a cross stitch chart that’s too small I scan it in to my computer, enlarge it, then print and laminate it. This also makes the chart easier to hold, and I can mark off the squares as I stitch, and then wipe the chart clean afterwards.
Kathleen Leak, Hull
10. Ask the community
“I started a project many moons ago from a US chart – ‘Needleworker’s ABC’ by Jeremiah Junction. I recently rediscovered the project while going through my stitching box but the chart was nowhere to be seen! I searched high and low but couldn’t find it. I’d already stitched the first three letters of my name and only had another three to do. So I posted a message on the forum at www.cross-stitching.com and waited with bated breath. The chart had appeared in US magazine, Cross Country Stitching, more than 10 years ago and many stitchers kindly looked in their collections for me, but no one had that issue. Then, a very lovely lady called Angela Porch from Texas contacted Jeremiah Junction. Fortunately they took pity and sent a copy of the chart to her, which she then sent on to me. I have now completed my project! And I found a new friend – I’m so grateful to Angela. It just goes to show the power of forums and Facebook groups.
Martha McIntosh, County Galway
11. Keep your hands clean
When stitching I keep baby wipes and kitchen paper nearby, so if I pet the dog or answer the phone, I can wipe my hands clean and then dry them before going back to my stitching. This way, my fabric and threads remain pristine.
Gabrielle McGuiness, Co Louth
If you do need to clean a finished piece, visit our guide on how to wash stitches
12. Using free mini kits
If there are other readers who have no one to stitch The World of Cross Stitching’s cute free kits for, can I suggest they use the aida and threads in the kits to stitch other charts on? The aida fabric is usually the perfect size for cards.
Molly Clarke, Sittingbourne
13. Keeping threads in order
I was given 248 threads when a friend’s mother-in-law died and wondered how best to store them. I have a cabinet with two drawers that I keep my stitching stash in. So I bought some small storage bins for the drawers from Screwfix (www.screwfix.com) and sorted my threads in to them in colour order.
Gill Soames, Maidstone
14. Hem your fabric
Before starting a new project, hem the outer edge of your fabric with a zigzag stitch on a sewing machine, to prevent the fabric from fraying.
Miss J Laffling, Great Yarmouth
If you have to unpick stitches and find that remnants from the thread get caught in the fabric, use a small ball of UHU White Tack (like Blu-Tack, only white) on both sides of the fabric, to remove it.
Estelle Viljoen, South Africa
16. Mark your chart as you go
I use a soft 3B pencil to mark off my cross stitch charts as I go. It can be easily erased after you’ve finished stitching.
Rex Moy, Australia
17. Just one more stitch!
Need to make just one more stitch but thread too short to stay in the needle? Remove your thread from the needle and do your last stitch with a needle threader. Push the needle threader through to the front of your fabric, put your short length of thread in to it and pull it through the fabric.
Lynn Homes, Bexleyheath
18. Start an alphabet library
If you waste stitching time looking through old magazines for alphabets to stitch on to samplers, cut them out when you see them and put them in a folder. No more wasted stitching time – hooray!
Margaret Bucknell, Llanbrynmair
19. Unlikely thread holders
Keep hold of small scarf and tie hangers, the circular kind and the mini coat hanger-style ones. Use them as thread holders – hook them on to a craft bag handle or chair back.
C Fletcher, Basildon
20. Looking for ways to use old videos?
I use clear plastic video cassette boxes to store my threads in – it’s easy to find the correct colour and they’re just the right length to lay the silks in. They stack up on my shelving unit in the front room, where I do my stitching – just above the drawers I keep my charts and projects in.
Jackie Folley, Bournemouth
21. Mounting cross stitching in apertures
When I mount cross stitching in a round or oval aperture, I cut the double-sided tape with curved nail scissors so that I can put it close to the edge of the aperture. I also frame my own work and use a camera or glasses lens cloth to make sure the glass is really clean first.
Daryl Veldmeijer-Dix, Netherlands
22. Parking your threads
My wife needed a place to store ‘in use’ threaded needles, so I invented a ‘foam pipe lagging storage system’ that sits on her frame. Each thread colour is marked on masking tape.
Glyn Davies, Merriott
23. Level up your backstitch
If you have a lot of fine backstitching to do that goes around fractional stitches, use a beading needle rather than a tapestry needle, you’ll find it easier to stitch with.
Mrs A Smith, Uxbridge
24. Sisterly support
“When I started designing my own needlepoint cushions, I realised that I’d need help stitching them up into samples. In needlepoint the whole canvas has to be covered with stitches, so it can be a lot more time-consuming than a small, cross stitched picture, for instance. The first two designs I did were a hearts cushion and an animals cushion, in a selection of pastel colours, to give a nursery feel. My sister, Emma, loves needlepoint so I asked if she’d stitch the animals cushion for me and she said she’d be glad to. While she set to work on hers, I took the hearts one and began stitching. Unfortunately, once I’d done a fair bit of it, I started having doubts about the colours – the pastel shades just looked too pale against the white background. With a sinking heart, I thought about the cushion my sister was working, which was all designed in the same shades. She had done quite a lot of it already, and I dreaded the thought that it might have all been for nothing. The next time I visited her, I tentatively asked how she was getting on with the cushion – and to my surprise, she said that she thought the colours would be better if they were bolder! Luckily the background was fine, but it did mean unpicking and re-stitching a lot of her painstaking work. Once I’d come up with a different colour palette, I asked my sister Emma what she thought – she agreed it was much better, and we decided to take it in turns to finish stitching the cushion. I’m so glad I asked my sister to help me – not only did she lighten the load in terms of stitching, but having a fresh pair of eyes was a real advantage, and her honesty helped me to make an important decision that I might not have come to on my own.”
25. Stitching on the go
I like to work on small projects when I’m out and about – it’s surprising how much I get done while waiting outside music and swimming lessons, etc. I carry my stash around in a roll-up toiletry bag; it’s lightweight with many compartments.
Julie Duesbury, Derby
26. Happy hoops
I hate the marks left on fabric by hoops, but I don’t like to remove the fabric in-between stitching sessions. So, I place the fabric over the hoop, top it off with sheets of kitchen roll and cut out the kitchen towel inside the hoop.
Jill Cadogan, via email
27. Stitching with arthritis
I have arthritis and wear a wrist support while stitching – I’d definitely recommend this to other stitchers with the same condition as me.
Cath Harrison, Wragby
28. Fridge magnets!
I was having trouble keeping my chart in an easy-to-read position when working on large designs. Then, I found some fridge-magnet note holders, which are like large pegs with a magnet on one side. They fit perfectly on my tapestry frame. I now use these to hold my chart on the frame and the magnet acts as a needle keeper while I mark off the part of the chart that I have worked.
Josie Hartopp, Sutton Bridge
Thread Heaven is brilliant for metallics. It makes stitching easier, plus it will save you money because you’ll be able to make the most of your stranded cotton rather than having to rethread all the time.
Ria North, Bath
30. Variegated threads
When using variegated thread, work one cross stitch at a time to give a nice shaded effect.
Liz Gardiner, Wolverhampton
31. Beading with a roller frame
You should remove your stitching from a hoop before adding beads, but if you’re using a roller frame just tuck a small towel or a piece of wadding between the roller and the stitching, so the beads don’t get squashed.
Elizabeth Gibson, via email
32. Chart holder
When I was a secretary I had a free-standing copy holder to hold handwritten letters, ready to type up. I thought this would also be a good tool for my cross stitch charts. I bought one and stuck a metal sheet (from a stitching shop) on the copy holder. So now I can use magnetic strips (also from stitching shop) to keep my place on the chart.
P Shaw-Brookman, London
33. Unlikely storage pots
I decided to use the cardboard centres from bandages to make my own storage pots for needles, beads, pins, fabric, markers, etc. In fact, most of what used to roll about in a workbox is now neatly stored in its own pot. I covered the pots with strips cut from an old leather coat to make them last.
Martin Crane, Ashford
34. Leftover threads
Don’t throw away leftover pieces of thread – use them to stitch bookmarks, patchwork designs and mini motifs to go on fridge magnets, etc.
Eleanor Peters, Portsmouth
35. Chart finders
“I have two Craft Bubble friends to thank for helping me with much-wanted charts. Cross Stitch Crazy printed my most-wanted chart for Christmas – All Our Yesterdays ‘The Carousel’ – in their Christmas wishlist feature in issue 130. My friend ‘tenchy’ on Craft Bubble saw the article and got in touch to offer me the chart. I have now completed it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m about to frame it myself, which is something I haven’t done before. My second bubbler is ‘Trixter’ who helped me with my search for ‘European Bistro’ and its sister chart ‘Paris Market’ by Dimensions. I am in the process of stitching ‘European Bistro’ and can’t wait to start ‘Paris Market’. They’ll both look fantastic in my kitchen. Without my two bubblers I would still be looking for these charts and I can’t thank them enough for their help.”
Chris Hunter, Bradford
36. Prevent fraying
Bind the edges of your fabric with masking tape, to help prevent the fabric from fraying as you stitch. You can cut off the taped edge when your stitching is complete.
Frances Campton, Seaford
37. Avoid knotting
To avoid getting knots in your thread, run your threaded needle through a tumble dryer sheet a few times.
Alison Kidd, Newcastle
38. Keep threads safe
I store my threads for work-in-progress in sandwich bags, the zip-lock kind. I write the thread numbers on the bags, punch a hole in the corner and keep them all together, hanging from a metal ring.
Ellen Nevison, Thetford
Saliva is the best thing for getting rid of blood from your fabric – honest!
Julia Russell, Tipton
40. Stop hoops slipping
Wrap bias binding tape around the inner ring of your stitching hoop to stop your fabric from slipping out of its grip as you stitch.
Frances Ryan, Rainham
41. Keep your stitching safe
Put your project inside a pillowcase in-between stitching sessions, to keep your work nice and clean.
Lucy Ward, Sutton-in-Ashfield
42. Before you stitch..
Be sure to check that your threads are colourfast before you start stitching. I didn’t once and was heartbroken when I washed my finished project and the colours ran.
Carol Carey, Romford
43. Keep it clean
Keep your work clean when not stitching by using a drawstring bag designed to go in a pedal bin.
Caroline Henning, Hackney
If you do need to clean a finished piece, visit our guide on how to wash stitches
44. Safe the beads 'til last
Always sew seed beads on to your designs once you’ve finished the rest of the stitching. Otherwise your thread will keep getting caught on them!
Jane Dyer, Totnes
45. Half cross stitch tip
When doing each half cross stitch, use the tip of your needle to make the two strands of thread lie neatly beside each other.
Sarah Cole, Stanmore
46. Sign your work
Sign your work by stitching your name and date to the bottom in a thread that is a couple of shades darker than the fabric you’ve worked on.
Hannah Tyler, Coulsdon
47. Wash your hands
Always wash your hands before stitching and use a non-greasy hand cream to stop your threads from snagging on rough skin.
Abigail Welch, Weymouth
48. Framing tip
I know you’re not supposed to use glass when framing cross stitch but I’m always worried that mine will get dirty, so I spray my stitching lightly with Scotchgard Protector instead.
Todd James, Lowestoft
49. Wondrous wadding
If you place wadding behind your work before framing it, it will look much more luxurious.
Martha Adams, Abercrave
50. Reach for the magnets
I use a large magnet to hold my scissors and needles. Plus, if you drop a needle, just hover the magnet over the floor in roughly the area that you dropped it and the magnet will pick it up!
Ali Smith, Castleford
51. Untangle your threads
If your thread is getting tangled, let go of the needle and let it hang down from your fabric to unwind.
Dolly Chapman, Morpeth
52. In between stitches
Take your work out of the hoop when you’re not stitching, so that the fabric doesn’t get over-stretched, creased or marked.
Louisa Pearce, Southwick