X Marks the Spot

Needlework doesn’t have to be just about serviceable sewing, there’s a lot to be said for the decorative side of things, too.

Embroidery is, in many circles, a lost art. I think a lot of that has to do with people not sitting still long enough (myself included) to finish a project. Add to that the number of stitch variations and a beginner can get a tad overwhelmed.

That said, I think there’s one embroidery style that fits the beginner bill quite well. It’s simple, the materials are easy to work with and it’s easy to make your own patterns up, even as a novice!

That style, of course, is cross stitch.

It’s easy because all you have to know how to do is form an ‘x’ with the thread. Any even-weave fabric can be used though Aida cloth is the most common since the holes between the weave are very easy to see and stitch through and to make your own patterns all it takes is some graph paper and a pencil.

I dug out my storage tote of needle craft supplies and pulled a few samples of some of my work, back when I considered this one of my primary hobbies (i.e. the 90s).

Examples of cross stitch works, mostly in progress

It’s almost embarrassing how many of these projects are unfinished; some just need the outlines stitched on and a good pressing while others I totally abandoned mid-project. I only have a couple of finished items because most of the things I finished I gave away as gifts.

There are two main types of cross stitch and each has its own fans. There’s counted cross stitch, which relies on the charted patterns and counting how many blocks get stitched for each part of the pattern, and printed cross stitch, aka stamped cross stitch, where all you have to do it stitch the exes where they’re printed on the fabric. You might thing that printed cross stitch (shown, below, in the upper left corner) would be easier, and in some ways it is, but if you’re at all obsessive about things lining up just right, the gaps in a printed cross stitch piece might just drive you batty (they do me).

Cross stitch materials and types

The counted is my favorite because you start in the center and stitch your way out, following the pattern and the image appears. Usually I’d advise that you stitch all of one color first, leaving gaps you’ll fill in as you work your way out, but in a larger or complex pattern that can lead to frustration. It’s better to work smaller sections and repeat colors than get one or two blocks off and have to undo a section because of it. Sure, it’s been a while since I had to do that but I remember it well.

While Aida cloth is the most common cross-stitch material, a sturdy linen is great for advanced projects. Aida is also found added in sections to ready-to-embroider items like quilts or fingertip towels which makes stitching up a new baby or housewarming gift an easy task. Or, if you have an item that isn’t ready to go, you can use something called waste canvas (it’s the blue and white material in the corner) that you tack into place, stitch over, then snip the edges and slide the guide threads out leaving only your embroidery behind. I’ve used that to personalize a sweatshirt for Mom, back in the day.

types of cross stitch patterns: magazine, pamphlet and graph paper diy

Patterns are pretty easy to find, too. You can either buy kits that come with everything you need or books or magazines with the patterns only and buy the embroidery floss and fabric separately. Coloring books make good sources for your own charts, just lay a transparency grid over the top or trace the design through the graph paper to figure out how many stitches it’s going to take for your image.

Of course, cross stitch does tend a bit towards the country kitschy sort of designs. But take a page from Subversive Cross Stitch and feel free to go your own way with your projects.

a hank of floss and a separated card of flosses ready to stitch

One final note. If you buy a kit, the thread that comes with the kit is going to be all looped into one hank and you’re going to need to separate it to work with it. Mom taught me to take either the chipboard insert from the package or a spare bit of thin cardboard, cut some notches along the sides, and slip the separated flosses into those notches and label them so that it would be easy to find the color thread I wanted when I wanted it.

Now, looking at all my supplies and unfinished projects, I think I know where some could find good homes. And, maybe if I start now, I could accomplish the goal I often set (but never realized) of stitching ornaments for everyone on my gift list next year!

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