How to use a cross stitch pattern

We've put together this beginners' guide to help you find your way around your first cross stitch chart.

How to use a cross stitch pattern

Almost every cross stitcher will need to follow a cross stitch pattern – how to use this chart is one of the first things that new stitchers to learn. Luckily it’s very straightforward – here’s how it’s done!

What are cross stitch patterns?

Cross Stitch patterns or ‘charts‘ are printed with black-and-white symbols. They have numbered grid lines to help you find your place. Some charts include coloured boxes to help you keep track of your stitches. Work from an enlarged photocopy if you need to.

The thread numbers you need to stitch the design will listed in the first column of the chart’s key – the numbers you see there refer to the brand of cotton that you need to use to stitch the design, for example, Anchor.

For the charts in our sister magazines, you’ll usually find conversions for at least two main brands (for example, Anchor, DMC and/or Madeira) in case you prefer to stitch with these threads, but since they are not exact equivalents it’s best not to mix manufacturers’ threads in the same piece of stitching to avoid ‘patchy’ results.

If you’re stitching a chart that came with a ready-built cross stitch kit it may just include the codes for the brand of threads that came with the kit.

We’ve put together this step by step guide to talk you through how to use a cross stitch pattern for the first time.


Step 1

Make a cross stitch for each square shown on the chart. Look at the symbol in the square, then check the key to see which thread you need to stitch that square with.

Bring the needle up in the bottom left corner of the square and take it down in the top right. You now have a half cross. Bring your needle up again in the bottom right corner of the square and push it down in the top left. This is a cross stitch. Work each stitch in the same order each time.

When you need to work a row, make a line of half crosses and turn back to complete each cross in the line. Catch the thread end on the back under your first few stitches to secure it.

Step 2

If you see a small version of a symbol printed in the corner of a square on the chart you need to make a three-quarter stitch. This is a half cross combined with a tiny quarter stitch that runs from one corner of the square and stops in the middle. You need to pierce the aida fabric to make your own hole here.

Where two different symbols share the same square, you need to make a three-quarter stitch in one colour and a quarter stitch in the other.

Step 3

Backstitch outlines are added on top when all the other stitching is complete to create extra detail or highlight an area of the design. Bring the needle up at 1, down at 2, up at 3 and down at 1 again following the diagram.

Step 4

French knots provide interesting detail on a design and are shown as a dot on the chart. Bring the needle up through the fabric, hold the thread taut in your left hand, and wrap the needle around it twice. Push the needle back into the fabric close to where it came out, keeping the thread taut. Gently pull the needle and thread through the fabric until a neat knot is formed on the front.

Step 5

To finish off a thread, push the needle through three or four stitches on the back and snip the end close to where it emerges


Now that you know your way around a cross stitch pattern, why not explore our free cross stitch designs to choose what you will stitch? Click to browse our free cross stitch animal patterns. Or browse our selection of modern cross stitch patterns.