Cross-stitch: not just your Granny’s craft (by Alys)
This is a guest post by Alys Penfold to compliment March 2021's issue of the Procrastination Paper, which is all about Arts & Crafts.
Cross-stitch: it’s not just your Granny’s craft. It’s come a long way in the last few years and now there are some pretty awesome patterns out there, so you can stitch everything from a cat to swear words.
Like anything you do with your hands, it’s extremely therapeutic and probably one of the easiest crafts to pick up. Grab your materials, find a comfy spot, stick on a podcast or audiobook and before you know it you’ve stitched away half the day.
I gave it a go after picking up a cross-stitch kit in a shop years ago. It was a bit of a Christmas hobby which I’d get stuck into whilst I had time off work for the holidays, but when lockdown kicked in last year, like many others, I found myself with more time on my hands and decided to have a go at a more detailed pattern I’d found in a magazine a few years ago (which has taken me near on a year to finish!).
Cross-stitch kits give you everything you need so are a great way to get started with the craft. Just pop ‘cross-stitch kit’ into Etsy and you’ll have plenty to choose from. Once you’ve gained your confidence with a few pieces you can buy patterns and the materials and have a go at whatever you want - or even design your own!
If you don’t want to buy a kit, here’s what you’ll need to start:
- Embroidery needles
- Your material of choice - I recommend starting with aida or even Mill Hill perforated paper which is super easy to stitch on and ideal for scrapbooking or making cards
- The pattern of the design you’re going to stitch
- Selection of coloured threads - DMC or Anchor are considered the best. There should be a colour chart with your pattern that tells you which colours to use when.
- You might need an embroidery hoop to keep your material firm - aida is pretty firm so not always necessary. These come in different sizes - pick one that will fit all of your pattern in, or if it has different elements, to fit the section you’re working on
- Scissors to cut your thread - any will do but if you take it up as a hobby I suggest getting embroidery scissors
If you really take to cross-stitch, I’ve found these additional accessories really useful:
- A needle minder - magnetic accessory that keeps your needle safe for you
- Embroidery box to hold your different coloured threads
- Needle case - the pesky things go everywhere otherwise!
Each square on your pattern corresponds to a square on the material - look closely and you can see them, I’ve given an example with the yellow square.
Patterns usually suggest folding your material to find the middle and start from there - but I tend to start from the bottom left of the pattern. Whatever is easiest for you! Centre your pattern as much as possible, leaving space around the edge to display it in a hoop or frame afterwards.
There are loads of different techniques for cross-stitching, but I’ll just explain how to complete a full cross-stitch.
You can choose to do this in any direction you like, but once you’ve picked one, stick to it for all your other stitches so it looks uniform! For this example I’m going a>b>c>d.
Using two strands of embroidery thread, thread the needle. Bring the needle from the back of the material to the front via one of the holes (a), leaving a small tail of thread at the back. Then take the needle from the front of the material to the back via the hole that is diagonally opposite the hole you came up from (b). (picture 1) This is known as a ‘half-stitch’. (Picture 2) To turn that into a cross-stitch, you need to come up through the hole next to the first hole you came through (c) and then back down in the hole opposite that (d) (Picture 3) Ta-da! You’ve completed your first cross-stitch. You repeat this next to one another to complete a row (picture 5) - but remember to follow your pattern as the colours and places of stitches may change!
- Keep your material as firm as possible when stitching - use an embroidery hoop to do this
- It doesn’t matter what direction you make your stitches, just pick what’s most comfortable for you and then stick to it
- Don’t cut your thread too long otherwise it’ll get tangled. I find the length of my arm from elbow to fingertip works well but you can play around with it as you get more comfortable
The lingo, explained:
Aida = The most common material you’ll stitch onto for cross-stitch. There are other kinds such as evenweave and linen - but work up to these!
Count = The number of holes per inch in a piece of fabric. The higher the ‘count’ the more stitches per inch which means the design will appear smaller than if it was on a lower count.
Skein = The bundle of embroidery thread you use for cross-stitch - made up of six threads/strands and about 8 yards long.
Strand = Your skein is made up of 6 strands - you separate these to stitch your piece. Each design will be different but will usually ask you to use two or three strands for the cross-stitch. The more you use, the thicker that part of the design will be.
Back stitch = a type of stitch which usually uses one strand and adds finer detail to the design