Cross stitch for beginners: FAQs

We've rounded up some of the most common questions we get from new cross stitchers and shared our answers below.

Cross stitch for beginners

Featured image = April Rose’s vintage sewing room designs from The World of Cross Stitching magazine, issue 280.

What should I do when the fabric I bought in a kit is very heavily creased?

The best way to remove a stubborn crease is to press it with a steam iron before you start stitching. Although this may not completely remove the crease, it will make it much easier to iron again with a light heat, once you’ve completed your design.

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Why do my threads twist as I stitch?

This is a common problem and happens because as you pass the needle back and forth through the work you inadvertently turn it slightly each time, causing the threads to gradually twist. To eliminate any twists in your thread you need to stop stitching every so often and just let the needle hang down from your stitching. The threads will untwist themselves and you can then carry on from where you left off.

My threads always seem to catch on the ragged edges of the canvas – what can I do to stop this happening?

Try wrapping tape over the edges of the canvas to make them smooth. Alternatively go round the edge of the canvas before you start stitching, and snip off the little ‘pegs’ that may be sticking out from the canvas.

How do I stitch on evenweave?

Designs are usually stitched over two threads on an evenweave fabric, such as 28-count jobelan. This will make your design come out the same size as it would on 14-count aida. To work this way, you need to count across and up two holes instead of only one each time you take a stitch. Try counting ‘one, two’ each time you make a stitch until you get the hang of it.

How many threads should I use on plastic canvas?

For 14-count canvas you can use either two or three strands of thread, it’s really a matter of personal preference. Two strands is easy to stitch but gives a much lighter coverage of the canvas. Stitching with three strands gives a lovely dense coverage and brings out the richness of the colours used, but it can take longer to stitch because it’s slightly harder to get the needle through the holes.

Is it better to complete each cross individually or to work them in rows?

You can use both methods to stitch a design. Some areas are more suited to one method. For example, if you are stitching a flower made up of several different colours dotted around, it’s best to complete each cross stitch individually before moving on to the next one. But if you are working a solid block of colour, work a row of half crosses and add the top arm to each stitch as you work back across the fabric. This is known as the Danish method.

How do I sew on a bead?

Attach each bead in a design with a half cross stitch using a single strand of matching cotton. Bring the needle up through the fabric ready to make a half cross as normal and thread a bead on the needle. Take the needle down in the opposite corner of the square and pull the thread taut.

What can I use evenweave for, apart from pictures?

Because the threads on evenweave are woven individually, the threads drape more easily than aida, and this makes evenweave fabric suitable for all sorts of other uses. As well as using it for stitching samplers, pictures and cards, try stitching designs to use as cushion covers and tablelinen.

Is there any specialist equipment needed to stitch on paper?

After you’ve bought the paper and thread, the only specialist item you will need to invest in is a pair of craft scissors for cutting out your design. Resist the temptation to use your embroidery scissors as the paper will blunt them.

How do I keep my stitching neat?

If you make all your cross stitches facing the same way, you are more than half way to having neat stitches. Think also about how you handle the thread. To make the strands lie evenly on top of the fabric, you need to pull out the strands one by one from the length of cotton and smooth them together to thread the needle. Try to keep your tension even, too, by pulling the thread taut but not too tight.

Can I wash my threads?

The three main manufacturers, DMC, Anchor and Madeira, all state that their stranded cotton is colourfast and can be washed at 95 degrees and ironed on a high setting. However, if you intend washing a precious design you have just completed, you may prefer to wash it gently by hand for your own piece of mind.

Can my scissors be cleaned and sharpened?

Scissors that have a screw or nut on the pivot point can be adjusted or separated to clean, oil and sharpen easily. Manufacturers of more expensive scissors with a rivet claim that their scissors are so well made that they do not need to be adjusted.

I want to stitch a design that has areas left unstitched – how do I do this on plastic canvas?

The best way to solve this problem is to choose a background colour for the unstitched areas and work this in after you have finished the main part of the design. This will mean that the canvas is covered completely and your design will stand out better.

I want to backstitch round a simple floral design, but black seems to look too harsh – what shade should I use?

Black thread CAN look very severe when added as backstitch to delicate designs. Try using a darker colour of the shade already used in the design. For example, if your flower is in shades of pink, choose a very dark pink to use as the outlining colour. You should find that this gives the stitching a much softer finish.

I tried designing a picture recently, but found that the colours looked darker when stitched on the fabric than they did in the shop.

Threads do tend to look just a touch darker when worked as cross stitch than on the skein. This is because the top arm of the cross stitch creates just a very slight shadow on the lower stitch, making the finished colour darker. Although this shouldn’t make a lot of difference to the finished design it is worth bearing in mind when you first choose your threads.

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How can I avoid getting knots in my thread?

Cut your thread length to no longer than about 18ins (45cm). This should reduce your knots. If you still get the occasional knot in your thread, use the tip of your needle to loosen the knot slightly and then pull the thread firmly. If this doesn’t work, cut off the thread below the knot and start again with a new length of thread. As you stitch, your thread will become twisted so, every now and then, let your needle hang down and the thread will naturally untwist itself.