To start stitching you’ll need something to stitch on to! To get started you’ll need either aida or evenweave fabric. Both these fabrics are woven with an evenly-spaced grid of holes that you use to make your cross stitches. They come in various “counts” – this just means the number of holes per inch. 14-count aida is the most popular cross stitch fabric for beginners – it has 14 holes to the inch.
Aida is best for beginners, with regular woven blocks and obvious holes. It’s stiffer than evenweave, but will soften slightly as you work. 14-count aida is the most common. It’s harder to work fractional stitches on aida, as you’ll need to make an extra hole in the fabric, in the centre of the aida block.
Evenweave is a lovely fabric to work on when you have a little more experience. The fibres aren’t woven in blocks as with aida, so it’s softer and the fine weave has more threads-per-inch – the most commonly used is 28-count. One stitch is usually worked over two threads of the fabric so it has an equivalent design size of 14-count aida. Cross stitching fractional stitches is easier on evenweave, as there’s a central hole spare so you don’t need to split a block as for aida.
Most cross stitch designs are stitched with stranded cotton. This is a length of thread that can be divided into six individual strands. You can use all six or pull out as many strands as you need to suit the count of your fabric (you’ll usually find this information in the key of your cross stitch pattern). Designs stitched on 14-count aida are usually worked in two strands and just one strand for backstitch.
There are three main brands of cross stitch thread – DMC, Anchor and Madeira – which are all smooth and easy to stitch with, and are colourfast to 95°C. Cheaper brands are available, but they’re less durable and may not be colourfast.
For more on this, see our How many thread strands you should use? post
To cross stitch, use a tapestry needle, which has a blunt tip and larger eye than a regular sewing needle. It easily passes through the holes of aida and evenweave. Different needle sizes are available, with varying lengths and widths, so choose the best for your fabric – see our handy guide, below. Other needles are useful too… try a fine beading needle for adding bead accents. You may also prefer a sharp-tipped embroidery (or crewel) needle to split aida blocks when working fractional stitches.
You can use different needle sizes for easy stitching in different fabric counts – for example use a size 24 needle for 14-count aida and 28-count evenweave.
For more on this, see our Guide to Cross Stitch Needle Sizes.
Tools and notions
Once you’ve caught the bug, there are a few other handy staples that you’ll find useful in your cross stitch kit.
Embroidery scissors: Use embroidery scissors to cut off the thread ends cleanly. These small scissors have very sharp points.
Hoop or frame: You can use a wooden hoop or embroidery frame to hold your fabric taut while you stitch.
Thread sorter: This will help you separate out your different thread shades so they’re easy to find as you stitch. You can buy ready-made thread sorters, or simply punch holes in a piece of cardboard, writing the thread shade next to each length looped through the hole.
Bag: You might find it useful to have a bag to keep the materials for a project together, which also helps to protect your work between stitching sessions.
Needlebook: Once you’ve caught the bug, some stitchers use a small fabric needle book to store their needles safe and sound.