Cross Stitch International

Art of Embroidery

Useful tips for cross-stitch

Afghan fabric tips

This fabric may be delicate and loosely woven, to make sure you don't lose any stitches in the weave, complete each whole cross stitch separately. This will strengthen the fabric, too.

If this doesn't work, buy a ready-made blanket and sew your stitchings onto it.


Write out the words, letters or/and numbers you want to stitch on a sheet of paper to see how many stitches wide each number or letter is. Divide the number of all stitches in half to find the centre. Find the central point on your fabric. This is where you start. When you stitch lettering, carry the thread across from the botton of each letter/number. If you replace one alphabet with another, get the spacing right. Some letters need more space. If you alter the colour of your lettering, pick a thread that you've already used in you stitching.


For 14 HPI aida or 28 HPI evenweave choose seed beads. They are the exact size of one cross stitch. For a smaller count as 18 HPI use petite seed beads. Not all beads are waterfast. Check the labels. Wash your work before attaching any items.

You'll need a special beading needle or a sharp needle size 10. Attach your beads with two strands of sewing cotton. It's stronger than stranded cotton.  Keep the length of sewing cotton quite short to avoid tangling. Choose sewing cotton which matches the colour of your fabric. Add beads in rows, don't jump around in colour blocks and drag threads across the back of your work. Keep your thread taut. The bead is sewn on using a half cross stitch. Make sure the stitches are in the same direction. Secure the thread before and after attaching each bead with a tiny backstitch on the reverse, to prevent them from sagging.


Aida is easy to count on. Use this if you haven't stitched much yet. Choose a design with just whole stitches and start your first project on 14 HPI aida. Always use the best quality threads and fabric you can afford. Wash your hands before starting. Keep pets, food and drink away from your stitching. Never leave your stitching in a hoop and remove also the needle. Both can leave permanent marks and needle may rust. When you're not stitching your project, keep it covered to avoid dirty marks.

Work each colour block at time, moving gradually out from the centre. Work your whole cross stitches first. When the stitches are complete finish off with backstitch detailing.


Complete all the cross stitch first. Wash and iron your work before attaching the buttons. Sew the buttons on last by using strong sewing cotton thread. Don't pull the thread too tight. For professional finish use a matching shade of cotton as your button.

Chart difficulties

Highlight the area you are in yellow highlighter. When stitched, colour in again, this time with other colour highlighter. So you know easily where you are.  You can try also  a gel-ink ball point pen for regular charts. It can be cleaned away with a damp cloth when finished.

Or keep your chart on a magnetic board and held it in place with a magnetic ruler. Position it on the row you are stitching.

Choosing colours

Place the threads in a line and squint at them. It will be obvious if one of the colours is not quite right.

Church kneeler

Use 5 HPI canvas and pure new wool yarn, for padding a high density foam pad.


Put sticky back plastic on the base of a coaster to protect it on wet surfaces.

Coloured aida

Remember the fabric colour will show through under the cross stitches and may subtly alter the thread colours you have chosen.

Colours of threads

Always use stronger colours than you think you'll need as they tend to "grey out" when stitched.

Dark fabric and lost holes

Drape a white cloth over your lap as you stitch, you will see the holes in the dark fabric easier. Stitch in good light. At night use a daylight bulb. If you use a hoop or frame invest a push light. Place it underneath a hoop or frame to see the holes better.

Dark lines

Don't drag threads across the back of your work on pale fabrics. They will show though as dark lines when you come to frame your picture. The safest option is to finish off each colour after stitching that area.

Daylight lamp

Customise your lamp to suit the way you work. Invest a daylight bulb. It's ideal for night-time stitching. Remember that the energy saving lambs are not terribly powerful.  If your eyesight is a bit weak, choose a lamp with magnification lenses.

Delicate design

Stitch it on evenweave. It gives a finer finish than aida.

Disappearing needles

Invest a pincushion or a needle case. It keeps them safe. Already lost needles? Try a magnet for finding and picking them up.


It is a softer fabric and it stretches easily. Put your evenweave into a loose hoop at first and then gradually tighten it.  Beware pulling the fabric out of shape.  Each whole cross stitch is worked over two threads. Be careful not to pull your threads too tight. And avoid dragging threads for long distances across the back of your work. If you have difficulties to see the holes, buy a magnifier with a lamp.

Eyesight problems

Photocopy charts at 200% to make them easier to see.

Fabric is turning yellowish

Try Needlework Finisher®. It is a clear drying water-based sealer. It is waterproof when dry and prevents yellowing of the fabric. If your fabric is already yellow wash it first.

Fading colours

Don't hang your work in direct sunlight, UV light will fade the thread colours.

Flat stitches

Pad your ironing board with a clean, thick, fluffy towel. Place your work right side down on top of this, and place a thin clean cloth over it. Iron on steam over the back of the stitching with a circular motion. Your stitches won't be flat as the fluffy towel underneath will cushion them.

Fractional stitches

Where two different symbols share a single square on the chart, one is a quarter stitch in one colour and the other a three-quarter stitch in another colour. Make the three-quarter stitch in the colour you want to be most prominent. It is easier to work fractional stitches on evenweave fabric as the hole in the middle of the block is more apparent than on aida.

A sharp pointed needle is handy for making holes for fractional stitches on aida.  It pierces the fabric easily.


Choose a rectangular frame that's large enough to contain the whole design. It saves time, you don't have to move a hoop around your work.


Secure the edges from fraying by:

-masking tape

-binding; sew over the edges

-Fray checkTM .It is a sealing liquid for fraying fabrics.

French knots

You'll need both hands. Place your stitching onto a flat surface. Bring your needle up through the fabric. Wrap the thread around the needle once or twice. Push the needle down into the fabric a small distance away from where you first came up. Slide the knot down the needle to the fabric and keep thread taut. Hold down the thread on the fabric with your thumb. Pull the needle all the way through and don't remove your thumb until almost all of the loop of thread has passed through. Don't pull the knot too tight. It may end up on the back of your work. Take your time and practice.

If you don't like stitching French knots you could try beads instead.

Glow-in-the-dark thread

One strand of this thread is as the same thickness as two strands of cotton. Use larger needle than normal. Cut shorter lengths than normal, because this thread is brittle. Stitch slowly.

Half cross stitch

It is used where a lighter coverage of the fabric is required. It gives a sense of perspective to a background or create a three dimensional effect to an object by providing a shadow effect.

Hand cream

It is good for your hands, but bad for your stitchings. If you must use hand cream before stitching, try a fine pair of gloves to protect your work. Hand cream leaves dirty marks on your stitchings.

Hoop or not to use hoop

If you don't use hoop, roll the fabric inwards on one side forming a thin cylinder so the back of the fabric is exposed. It will keep the front clean and avoids creasing the fabric.

Hoops can leave ugly marks on your stitching which are impossible to remove, try using a tapestry frame instead.

Large charts

Never convert large charts into colours. The number of shades is almost impossible to follow. Use always symbols, if you make your own charts by computer.

Large project

Sometimes it feels like you'll never finish it. Take a break and stitch a card.

Long lengths of threads

They don't save your time. Your thread begins to go thin and wears away as it passes through the fabric over and over again. Never work with threads longer than 38 cm (15 in).

Long stitch

It is worked over several holes of the aida. Anchor your long stitches with a couple of tiny backstitches before and after each stitch, on the back of your work. Otherwise they can sag. They are used for example to make the  narrow blades of grass look more realistic.

Loop method

If a project is stitched with two strands of thread, start off with loop method. Cut a strand of thread twice as long as you would usually use. Fold it in half and thread both ends through the needle. Make the first half of a cross stitch, leaving a loop of thread at the back.  Hold the loop with your thumb. Before you bring the needle up to make another stitch push the needle through the loop of thread and pull taut.

Metallics tips

Use as a bigger size needle as you usually do when stitching with metallic threads.

They are more prone to twisting, tangling, knotting and breaking than conventional stranded cotton, so work with shorter lengths (20 cm or 8 in)  than usual. Synthetic threads have a twist - let the needle hang frequently to return the treads's natural twist. Stitch slowly. Never take a needle in and out of the fabric in on go in a sewing motion - always use a stabbing stitch as this will reduce friction.

If metallic thread moves about in the eye causing loops, knot the thread to the needle.

When blending metallic threads with stranded cottons attach the metallic thread to the needle first before threading the cotton.

If you have used metallic threads in your work make sure you place a cloth over your work when you iron it. Direct heat might melt the metallic thread! 

And remember not all metallic threads are waterfast. Check the labels. Wash your work  before attaching metallics to be sure and safe.


Unpick your stitching using the eye of the needle, not the point.

Neat & tidy back

Tidy up as you go along. Don't leave loose ends trailing across your work. Secure the thread and remember snip off the loose end.

Easy fix for untidy back is the iron-on interfacing. It makes nasty ends disappear and stops the edges of the aida from fraying. Iron it on  after you have finished your work.

Needle don'ts

1. Don't leave your needle in your work.

2. Don't touch your needle before your hands are clean.

3. Don't ever use rusty needle or needle showing signs of corrosion.

Needle park

A handy way to store your threaded needles ia a piece of expanded polystyrene. You park your threaded needles in it. And if you are clever, you buy a box  for them. Trim the polystyrene to fit in the box.

Needle size

Check if your needle is the right size. Pull your needle through a hole in the fabric. If it's difficult - it is too large. If the needle falls through the hole - it is too fine. The right size needle slip snugly through your fabric without distorting the hole. It's easy to work and keeps your fabric and stitching perfect.

Park and stitch technique

Area with lots of colours mixed in together is quickly stitched with  several needles threaded up with the colours you need. This means you can work some stitches then park your thread at the side of your fabric and go on to the next colour.

Plastic canvas tips

It is just like aida, the only difference is that plastic canvas is more rigid. It comes in sheets and is ideal for 3D items like boxes. Start off with a waste knot. Cut around the outside of your design, leave one row of unstitched plastic canvas round the edge. Beware to not snip into the stitches. Small scissors help you reach any awkward corners.

Ready-made items and stitches

It is impossible to use the stabbing method. Use sewing stitches instead. You are working on the surface of the fabric only.

Running colours

If you are unsure about washing your stitching, treat it like a delicate woollen item. Hand wash it in cool water with a mild detergent.

If your thread colour begins to run during washing, rinse in cold water until the water is clear. Dry flat and iron between two fluffy towels.

Satin stitch

A great stitch for filling areas with a nice smooth texture. It is a series of straight stitches, worked with no gaps between.  Try to make the edges as even as possible. Keep your thread straight and don't stitch too tightly. Keep your tension even.

Save money tips

Charts save your money, because you can use up threads accumulated over the years.

Squashed stitches

Use an embroidery hoop or frame that's big enough to enclose the whole design. Moving a too small hoop around your work may squash your stitches.


Always start stitching in the centre, or as near to centre of the design as you can.

Storing your skeins

Never scrunch your skeins. Creased thread snaps easily. Store your threads in clear pockets or in boxes - anywhere where they can lie flat and free from dust.

Synthetic threads

They might be slippery, so pop them in the fridge for half an hour before using to make handling easier.

Ironing synthetics. Use a cool iron. Always iron work on the back only, and lay a clean towel across the ironing board before you start.

Tangled threads

Let the thread dangle with the needle attached and let the weight of the needle untwist the thread.

Thread blending

It's an easy way to give a different look to a design without adding more colours. For subtle shading - blend very close coloured shades or more distant colours  -  for a realistic contrast. Use one strand of each blending thread.

Thread organiser

Makes your cross-stitching easier. It will keep your threads tidy and tangle-free while you work. If you can't afford a fancy one. A piece of card punched with holes works well. Just write the thread codes along the site by the holes.

Two-hand technique

You need a hands-free frame. One hand under your work and one hand on top. You pass the needle up and down. It really saves time. Ideal if you have wrist problems.

Unpicked thread

Throw it away. Never stitch with a length of thread you have unpicked. Your stitches will be uneven and the thread will look tired.

Variegated threads tips

For a smooth seamless colour blend, unroll your skein and cut it in lengths from light to dark. Finish one length and then  join in with the same shade of colour. Your length of thread might end up being less than you usually have. If you want to intensify the effect use even shorter lengths. Make a few sample stitches to see how it will look on fabric. Stitch all the regular stranded cotton stitches first before you start with variegated one.

1. Work each whole cross stitch at a time, from one side to the other, so the colour change will be gradual

2. Work a row of half stitches then work back along the row and your stitching looks more random.

3. Work your stitches in a diagonal direction across the fabric for a distinctive look.

4. Start from a central point. Work stitches in a spiral formation and you get an interesting colour effect.

5. Work your stitches in clusters of the same colour to blend over large open areas of fabric

6. Invent some of your own, just to see what would happen!


It is soft, fabric-like synthetic material with a 14 HPI count. It's hardwearing, heat resistant, washable and shrinkproof. You can use it for placemats or ornaments.


To avoid getting a wonky finish when making up cards, stick wadding to the back of stitching with a small strip of double sided tape before seal the card. If the double sided tape can't keep it in place, try carpet tape.

Washing  stitchings tips

Just to be sure check the labels before washing anything. Regular stranded cottons of  DMC, Anchor and Madeira are colour-fast. 100% cotton fabric is washable, too. This means you can wash your work in non-biological powder, at up to 95 degrees Celsius.

1. Secure reverse threads thoroughly to avoid unravel during the washing.

2. If you are not sure are the threads colourfast or not, test-wash some samples to make sure the colours do not run.

3. A cool wash is always safest.

4. Use a mild washing detergent. Use products designed to work with your colour wash.

5. Don't ever wash a design that use special threads, beads, buttons etc.

Waste canvas tips

Ensure your waste canvas is at least 5 cm (2in) larger than the design area. Don't use a hoop or frame. Stitch through the centre of each hole as you would with aida. Make sure you use the same hole in the fabric underneath to go up and down. Avoid stitching through the strands of the waste canvas. When your design is finished, remove the tacking threads. Moisten the waste canvas. Try not to get the base fabric too wet. Mop up any excess with a dry sponge or an absorbent cloth. Remove threads with a tweezer one at a time.  Protect your stitching by backing the motif with iron-on interfacing. Wash your stitching after the waste canvas has been removed.

Waste knot start

Take your knotted thread through the fabric from the front a little way from  where you want to start. As you stitch, you secure the thread and then snip the knot away. Use a waste knot start if you have single cross stitch to make or you stitch with one or three strands of thread.

Wipe clean cross stitch charts

Have your chart laminated. It stops your chart getting dirty. And if you get it dirty, just wipe clean and continue stitching.





Fabric woven in blocks of four threads

Beading needle

It is long and flexible to pick up the tiny beads. Stitch slowly to avoid pricking your fingers. Handle with care, is fragile and snaps easily. If snapping is a problem use a size 10 sharp needle instead.


It contains just a chart and instructions to start hunting for the threads and fabric.  The charts are great if you have accumulated a lot of stranded cottons and spare fabrics.

Coton à broder

A three-ply mercerised thread for blackwork and lettering

Cotton perlé

A two-ply thread for Hardanger, drawn thread work, cutwork, smocking and some other embroideries. It comes in several thicknesses.

Easy count aida

It has a removeable grid of lines woven into the fabric every ten stitches. 14 HPI

Easy threading needle

It is specially designed with a slot and you thread it by pulling the cotton through the gap. Suitable for projects with lots of colour changes.


Fabric woven with the same number of warp and weft threads.

Flower thread

A single strand matt finish combed cotton embroidery thread.

Gold plated needle

If you have sensitive skin, change your needle for gold plated one.


22HPI fabric woven in pairs of threads


Holes per inch - the number of threads, or blocks of thread, per inch of fabric. Also called the count. The lower the HPI/count the bigger the cross stitches.


A fabric label for evenweave fabric. 28 HPI


It contains everything you need to complete the cross stitch design: chart(s), instructions, fabric, needle, threads etc.


A fabric label for evenweave fabric. 27 HPI


Evenweave fabric, but it has slubs and thicker bits of thread. It might be sometimes harder to count.


A fabric label for evenweave fabric. 25 HPI


Treatment with caustic soda and gas to give a soft sheen to thread

Metallic thread

Sparkling thread usually found in single stranded skeins

Needle threader

Ideal if you have trouble threading your needle.

Piecemaker's needle

It is shorter than average tapesty needle. It makes you stitch faster on a small area of fabric. My personal favourite.

Platinum plated needle

Ideal for marathon cross-stitching. They are durable and top quality. My second favourite.


A fabric label for evenweave fabric. 28 HPI

Rayon threads

Synthetic threads. Slippery and shiny.

Reverse stitching

Nice way to say unpicking.


It was orginally a reference tool with a collection of type of embroidery stitches worked onto a long thin strip of fabric. Samplers were used to teach the letters of the alphabet to the young children who stitched them. Small motifs, Bible verses or popular sayings included along with the name and age of the stitcher.

Shade card

It contains samples of threads of manufacturers. It shows the exact thread colours.


A length of thread coiled and bound with a paper band

Soft cotton

It is made up  strands, but should be used whole. It has a soft matt surface and can be used instead of tapestry wool. Use on 11 HPI or lower.

Stranded cotton

Six single strands of cotton loosely twisted together.

Tapestry needle

Blunt-ended needle with a large eye

Tapestry wool

A four-ply pure wool thread on canvas to stitch needlepoint designs. If used on  aida, try 6 HPI or 8 HPI.

Twin pointed needle

Ideal for a hands-free frame. This needle saves time about 60%, but it is fragile. Hold it above or below the central eye.

Variegated threads

Threads which  change colour along their length.

Waste canvas

It is used to transfer cross stitch patterns to fabrics which do not have a countable weave.