A complete guide to cross stitch for beginners

Want to try counted cross stitch for the first time? Great idea! Here is our complete guide to cross stitch for beginners

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A complete guide to cross stitch for beginners

Cross stitch is a particular kind of embroidery worked on a gridded fabric where each stitch is a little x. Working each cross stitch in different colours you can build up amazingly detailed scenes, or create small motifs with the lovely texture and sheen of embroidery. This cross stitch for beginners guide will give you the skills and knowledge you need to start cross stitching straight away.

Because every cross stitch is composed of just two tiny stitches, it is very quick and easy to master the basics which is why cross stitch for beginners is easy to pick up and progress with quickly. This cross stitch beginner’s guide showcases ideal designs in cross stitch for beginners and will walk you through the basics of making each cross stitch and share the tips and tricks you need to cross stitch your very first design.

We’ve designed this cross stitch beginner’s guide to be a complete lesson in cross stitch for beginners, but you can use the headings below to jump to different parts of the article if there is a particular part you want to explore in more depth.

Head to How to cross stitch step-by-step

Head to What is counted cross stitch

Head to Essentials to start to cross stitch

Head to Cross stitch patterns for beginners

cross stitch for beginners

How to cross stitch step-by-step

We’ll be looking at the basics of working a cross stitch for beginners using the chevrons design shown above. This is great to showcase in a cross stitch beginner’s guide because you can use any colours you want to and you won’t have to rethread your needle too often. To recreate the design above, download our Free chevrons cross stitch pattern. 

We are stitching on 14-count aida, which is the most common gridded fabric for cross stitch and a great choice for cross stitch for beginners. It is stiff and easy to handle, with clearly defined holes in the fabric for you to use. For other kinds of fabric used, check out our cross stitch fabrics guide.

You usually use two stands of cotton for stitching on 14-count aida. Embroidery cotton comes in six stranded skeins – split it into the individual strands and put two together before you thread the needle.

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You Will Need

  • DMC stranded cotton
  • 14 count aida fabric
  • Tapestry needle

Total time:

Step 1

Start by threading your tapestry needle with two strands of stranded cotton and knot the opposite end. Take your needle down through the aida, short distance from where you want to start stitching then back up where you first stitch will start, leaving the knot on the surface. We’ll snip this off later once the thread is secure. Starting your cross stitch like this is called the waste knot method.

thread your tapesty needle

Step 2

You can- now stitch towards your starting knot, following our free chevrons cross stitch pattern chart as a guide for your stitches. Each symbol on the chart represents one cross stitch on the fabric. Work the first part of the stitch by making a diagonal stitch. This should sit from the bottom left to top right over a single aida block.

Stitch towards your knot

 

Step 3

To complete this cross stitch, make a second diagonal stitch, this time working it from bottom right to top left, crossing over your previous stitch. The different coloured chart symbols represent different colours of stranded cotton – you can  choose whichever colours you prefer for this simple design.

Complete the stitch

Step 4

Continue working towards your starting knot – your stitches will secure your starting thread on the reverse of your work. Once you reach the knot, snip it off. To finish your thread, simply pass it through the reverse of your stitches a few times so it’s secure then cut off the end.

Continue to work towards your knot
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Now make an easy cross stitched chevrons cushion

Cross stitch chevrons onto white linen fabric using your new skills for a graphic look! Cross stitch may be thought of as quite a traditional technique, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used in a modern way – just look at these contemporary chevrons, and a great project for cross stitch for beginners! Bring this classic embroidery technique up to date by using it in unexpected ways, like we’ve done here with this stitched panel on a crisp white linen – backed and framed with white cotton fabric. It’s  a creative way to incorporate graphic prints into a modern home. See our colourful chevrons in a hoop above for how to perfect this versatile stitch. 

Chevrons design creates a geometric look on this cushion

What is counted cross stitch?

Counted cross stitch designs are stitched from charts onto a clearly gridded fabric fabric, such as aida or evenweave. For each symbol you see on the chart, you need to make a cross stitch on the fabric. Counted cross stitch is different from printed or stamped cross stitch, where the pattern is printed onto the fabric and you work your cross stitch on top of it without needing to refer to a chart. In counted cross stitch you need a chart with an accompanying key to recreate your chosen cross stitch design.

The key tells you what symbols on the chart correspond with which colours of stranded cotton. Gathered’s cross stitch charts and keys are also colour tinted to help you pick out different areas of the design much more easily. They key tells you how many strands of thread to use for the cross stitch and backstitch, and whether there are any French knots or other stitches used in the design. The key also often tells you what the stitch count of the design is and gives you its finished size if it it stitched on the recommended fabric.

cross stitch beginners guide chart

The centre of most cross stitch charts is specially marked. This is the best place to start stitching, so you end up with the design stitched in the middle of the fabric. The centre of our charts on Gathered is where the heavy vertical and horizontal lines intersect – these lines are marked by triangular black arrows. To find the centre of your fabric, fold it in half horizontally, open it up and fold it vertically. When you open the fabric again, you’ll find the creases mark the centre. Start stitching with the colour that’s nearest to the centre of the chart. The charts are divided up every 10 squares, to make counting easy.

Essentials to start to cross stitch

1. Choose your project…

Make sure you choose the right level for you – if you’ve never tried cross stitch before, it’s a good idea to start with kits or charts that are marked for beginners. Absolute beginners should choose a design without fractional stitches – look for a pattern that’s made up of whole stitches, with a bit of backstitch detail, and that isn’t too large, so you can try it out and see results quickly. For any terms you are not sure about, check out our cross stitch glossary.

2. Gather your materials…

Cross stitch kits come with all the fabric, needles and thread you’ll need to sew the design inside. Before you start to stitch, sort out the threads into different shades and mark which symbol they match on the chart. Many cross stitchers use a thread sorter for this.

Beginners guide to cross stitch threads

If you’re stitching from a cross stitch chart then you’ll also need to buy some fabric, threads and a tapestry needle. The chart should say which fabrics the design is intended for. We recommend starting with aida fabric – it’s more beginner friendly than evenweave or linen fabric. You can try those later! You’ll also see a list of the threads you need in the chart key.

See our guide to needle sizes to find the size of tapestry needle you’ll need.

3. Find the centre of the chart

We recommend always starting from the middle of the design. This is usually marked in some form (for example with arrows, a ‘0’ or triangles) around the edges of a chart. Look for this symbol on the key for the colour of thread you need, plus the number of strands. Thread your needle with this colour.

4. Find the centre of your fabric

Fold your fabric in half horizontally and vertically to find the centre of that as well. The folds will make a cross, which corresponds to the cross at the centre of your chart.

5. Get stitching!

You’ve now got all of the essentials to start cross stiching and it;’d time to make your first cross stitch! Bring the needle up at the bottom left corner of a square and down at the top right corner. Then repeat in the opposite corners to complete the stitch, with one arm ‘crossing’ over the top of the other. You should leave a long tail of thread before this first stitch, so you can catch the thread under the stitches as you work, securing it in place.

You can also use the loop method to secure your thread to the fabric before starting – this only works when using a single strand of thread doubled over in the needle, creating a loop at one end. Make the first arm of your cross stitch as above, but leaving the looped end of thread hanging loose at the back of the fabric. Then pass the needle through the loop before completing the top arm.

To finish a thread, leave a thread tail of minimum 4cm (2in) on the back of the fabric, and catch it under a few nearby stitches to secure it, then trim all loose ends with embroidery scissors. We recommend finishing all the cross stitch in your design before you work the backstitch or add any French knots. – see our video guide on How to do French knots.

Cross Stitch patterns for beginners

When you are just starting out with cross stitch for beginners, it’s best to choose cross stitch patterns for beginners that use whole cross stitch and some backstitch for detail and definition. Try not to tackle cross stitch design with lots of fractional cross stitches or French knots.  Below are some free cross stitch patterns for beginners you will find on the gathered website.

How to make a cross stitch necklace

These heart designs are stitched entirely in whole cross stitches. Work them on 14-count aida rather than the wooden necklace mount for a fabulous beginner cross stitch pattern.

cross stitch for beginners heart necklace
Pretty heart shaped necklace

Free lamb cross stitch pattern

Here’s another sweet design stitched entirely in whole cross stitch. Work the pattern to build up the shape and easily practice your counting.

cross stitch for beginners lamb

Children’s cross stitch patterns: woodland pals

Not just for kids! These sweet woodland characters use while cross stitch with just a little backstitch

easy cross stitch patterns

Summer cross stitch patterns for men

Worked in whole cross stitch and backstitch. these simple summery motifs are great for beginners

cross stitch for beginners men

Click to browse more free designs in our archive of  beginner cross stitch patterns.