Introduction to Cross Stitch

In March, last year, I wrote about cross-stitching and mentioned that I offered to do a 6-week cross-stitching course at a local high school (for adult education). It obviously didn’t push through so my dream of sharing my passion and knowledge for cross stitch was put on hold. Recently, however, I thought – why on earth should that stop me. I have a blog, there’s youtube, I don’t need to “teach” in a classroom – I can do all these online! So yesterday, I prepared my “lesson plan” in my head, and today I prepared the materials for my 1st (online) Lesson on Cross Stitch!


Briefly, cross-stitch is possibly the oldest form of embroidery and can be found all over the world. The earliest known cross-stitch work (called a “sampler” – but when you see images of the product on google, it’s not just a sampler – it’s a work of art) was created by Loara Standish at around 1653. This piece of embroidery is currently kept at the Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts. You can buy a replica pattern here.

BUT – I won’t delve too much into the history of cross-stitch because it’s readily available on the internet. Wikipedia is a good resource, as well as other numerous books in your local library.

Tools of the Trade

Cross-stitching is a very affordable hobby because you honestly don’t need a lot of equipment or materials to start stitching. Apart from the cross-stitch pattern of your choice, all you need are:

Basic Cross-Stitching Tools
  • a pair of scissors, for cutting the thread / floss
  • embroidery fabric (called evenweave. you’ll have to decide what thread count to use though, but more on that later)
  • a tapestry needle
  • embroidery floss as per your chosen pattern, and
  • if you want to, an embroidery hoop (honestly, for me this is optional)


You don’t need special scissors (eg. pinking shears, fabric shears) when you are cross-stitching. Any random pair, of any size, of whatever type, of scissors lying around in your house will do. I use a pair of ordinary paper scissors I purchased from a stationery store. It fits in my cross-stitch kit so I’ve kept it there. You’ll only use the scissors to cut the embroidery thread anyway. Well – you may have to use it to cut your fabric to a smaller size, but your regular scissors can still do the trick.

Embroidery Fabric

The best fabric to use for cross-stitching is from the even-weave family. Even-weave fabrics, such as aida cloth, linen, basket-weave and jobelan, have been woven to make sure that there are the same number of threads vertically and horizontally. These fabrics are quite distinct as the warp and weft form little squares, and these squares determine the “thread count” of the material.

You’re now probably thinking … “but what does that mean?” Well, simply put, the thread count is the number of “squares” there are in an inch of fabric.

fabric count
14 Count Aida Cloth

As you can see in the above image, there are 14 little squares in every inch of the 14-count Aida cloth (hopefully the image can be enlarged so you can physically count the squares in between the 1 and 2 inch marks of the tape measure).

Embroidery fabric comes in many colours and many thread-counts (in increments of two). I believe the smallest thread count is 8 (8 “squares” / inch) and the highest is around 22 (22 “squares” / inch, think linen).  I often use 14 count because I personally feel that if I used fabric with higher thread counts, the “squares” would be too small for me to see (I’ll have to stitch over two threads, more on that on another post) and fabrics with smaller counts well – I’d have to use more floss to make the finished product look robust. It might be difficult to understand at the moment, but I’ll go into that in another post.

If you’re just starting, I’d recommend nothing smaller than 14-count, and nothing larger than 10-count.

Tapestry Needle

The best needle to use for cross-stitching is not the ordinary sewing needle, but a tapestry needle. Why? Because:

  • The tapestry needle has a bigger “eye” than your regular sewing needle. This is because embroidery floss is slightly thicker than regular sewing thread, and there are times when you have to use 2 or more threads at one time. Can you imagine trying to insert 2 cotton threads and a metallic embroidery floss through the regular needle’s eye?
needle eye
Both eyes, up close and personal
  • The tapestry needle’s pointy tip is blunt which makes it easier to go through the “holes” of your embroidery fabric.
needle tip
it’s okay to not be the sharpest one around.

Tapestry needles come in different sizes, also in increments of two. I personally prefer to use the size 22 needles. They are not too big and cumbersome to use, nor are they too tiny and fiddly either.

Embroidery Floss

Naturally, you will need embroidery thread or embroidery floss if you want to do a bit of cross-stitching, and don’t worry – you won’t need to guess what floss you need. All patterns include a list of floss colours you need – these are usually in numerical format – using both the DMC colour code system and Anchor colour code system. Collectively, these are called embroidery floss, but a single unit is called a SKEIN.

embroidery floss
I have always used DMC, but you’re free to use whatever brand you prefer.

A skein of embroidery floss is around eight metres long and is composed of 6 individual strands of cotton thread.

Splitting up a Skein

Most cross-stitching patterns use two strands of cotton per stitch, usually of the same colour but, in some occasions, it may require you to use two or more different colours (this is called tweeding). Most of the rocks on the dragon cross-stitch below required a lot of tweeding.

the castle
My favourite work – that’s my reflection on the side.

Optional Extras

Other things you might need include:

  • an Embroidery Hoop – I used one of these when I first started as the hoop kept the fabric smooth and taut. However, I felt that it was slowing me down so, I no longer use this when I stitch.
  • Coloured Pencils / Highlighter – I use this to mark off the parts of the pattern that I’ve already done.
  • Spools –  I wrap used floss around these.
  • Masking Tape – used primarily to bind the edges of the fabric, more on that in another post
  • Seam Ripper – this came with my sewing kit so I decided to just include this in my cross-stitching caboodle. This is handy when you’ve realised you’ve skipped a whole line and need to undo several stitches in order to correct the error.

So, that’s it for the meantime. On my next post, I will cover measuring and preparing fabric for cross-stitching.

Until then – Ta ta!




Author: Viv Phillips

That's not exactly a flattering image. Eh! Anyway, when I'm not taking photos, I do acrylic painting or write about my adventures (and misadventures) in this wonderful journey called life. :)

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