How to Design a Cross Stitch Chart

This is a guide to creating your own simple cross stitch chart, based on a drawing, photograph or image, without using specialist software. Here’s the step-by-step process I followed to create the eight cat designs (bottom right), from a copyright-free picture I found on Google Images (top right). I will take you through each step in detail. These instructions focus on making sure the finished design is the size required, as well as showing you how to create a chart.

I will cover the following points:

  1. What you need
  2. Determining the size of your design
  3. Choosing and preparing the image
  4. Adjusting the size of the image
  5. Tracing your design
  6. Colours and design
  7. Finishing touches, including backstitch lettering

Before we go any further – everything you need to make these cats, including charts, fabric, and threads, is available to buy in my web shop here. Each of these designs is also available as a kit with everything you need from the needle to the card mount here.

1. What you need to design the chart

  • some graph paper, here I’ve used paper with 2mm squares
  • a ruler
  • a rubber
  • a pencil
  • a fine black permanent pen
  • colouring pencils or fine liners
  • a frame or aperture card
  • scissors for cutting paper

You might also find the following items useful:

  • a light source – this could be a lightbox, a window, or even a mobile phone inside a translucent plastic box
  • a computer and printer – I use MS Word on my MacBook

What you need to stitch your design

  • aida fabric
  • needle
  • embroidery threads
  • a hoop or frame if you use one
  • small sharp scissors

You can buy all of the things you need to stitch your design here

2. Determining the size of your design

It can be very frustrating to finish a beautiful piece of cross stitch, and then try to scour the shops for a frame or mount the right size for it. So the first thing to think about is how big you want your finished design to be. You will need to start out with a specific size of frame or mount in mind, unless you are planning to have your cross stitch piece professionally framed. If size is not an issue for you, skip ahead to point 5.

I know that I want to stitch a greetings card showing a cat. My first job is to decide on the size. I am making a greetings card using an aperture card, so the size of the card will govern the size of the piece of fabric and therefore the design.

Having cut a piece of aida that is comfortably bigger than my finished piece will be, I open out the aperture card, lay it flat on the aida fabric (see below) and carefully count the squares across the width of the fabric showing through opening, and down the length. I use the tip of a needle to help me count.  I write the numbers down and count again, just to double check.  In this example, there are 35 whole squares visible across the width, and 60 down the length. This gives the area I can stitch on.  You could work out the gauge of the fabric and do the sum based on the size of the mount, but actually counting the visible holes is the best way to be sure.

For information, the picture shows a piece of 14hpi (holes per inch) aida measuring approx 10cm x 15cm, and an A6 card with an aperture measuring 6.7cm x 11.4cm (available to buy here).

An aperture card opened flat on a piece of aida cross stitch fabric

Next, I draw a rectangle on my graph paper, 35 x 60 squares, the same as the number of squares showing in the aperture.  I can now use the paper as a “blank canvas” on which to place my design, confident that it will be the right size for my card when I stitch it.

Sometimes I draw my design directly into my rectangle on the graph paper, but I am not a confident drawer, and don’t always get the proportions right, so I find an image online, adjust it till it’s the right size, print it and transfer it to the graph paper. The next two steps show how I do that.

You may already have an image you want to base your design on, but it’s not the right size – you can scan it into your computer and then follow the instructions below.

3. Choosing and preparing the image

I  search for “copyright-free cat outline” on Google Images, and import the images into a Word document (see explanation below, you may prefer to use a different application). These are the ones that make it to my shortlist for this project.

Shortlist of cat pictures downloaded from Google Images

I now need to think about the proportions. My working area is quite tall and narrow, the rectangle on the graph paper measures 12cm x 7 cm, so I will not choose cat number 1, because the tail sticks out to the side too much. I really like cat number 2, and will definitely use that one in the future, but for this project I want a whole cat. I decide on cat number 7, as it best fits what I have in mind, and the proportions are about right.

4. Adjusting the size of the image

To get the image to the right size I use Microsoft Word – because I am comfortable with it, and I know how to use it to adjust image size easily. There are many other ways to do this, for example Paint or PhotoShop. Firstly, I need to crop any excess white space from around the edges of the cat on the image, and then use the “size and position” option, which appears on the menu when you right-click on the image in Word (or two-finger click on a Mac). I want it to fit neatly in my graph paper rectangle, which is 12cm x 7cm, so I fiddle with the dimensions of the image until I get the best fit. When fiddling with the image dimensions it’s important to keep the aspect ratio locked, so the proportions don’t skew. I want a little margin around the edges of my stitched design, so I end up with a cat that’s 9.5cm tall, and 6.25cm wide. This means there will be a little more space above and below the cat than either side, but I decide that’s OK. Then I print the picture, at that size. As long as your printer is set to print at 100%, which is the default setting, the image will be printed at the correct size.

5. Tracing your design

Because the picture I’ve printed is now the right size, I can go ahead and trace it onto my graph paper. I have a lightbox, which helps with this, but an alternative is to tape the picture to a window, with light shining from behind, and trace over it. For a home-made lightbox, you can turn on the torch on a mobile phone, and place it inside a plastic food box, then put the lid on.

Tracing the design onto graph paper and refining the shape

Once I’ve traced the picture (cat 1 above) , I move on to stage two which is blocking it out; the design needs to consist of whole squares, one per cross stitch. In picture 2 above, I have left the pencil lines of the original traced cat visible, so you can see how the new version matches up with the original. It’s sort of OK, but the head’s a bit weird. I fiddle around a bit on some rough pieces of graph paper, playing with different versions until I decide to go for a simplified shape for the head, and I finally settle on version 3. Because of the “blocky” nature of cross stitch, there comes a point when you have accept that you can’t always capture the curves the way you might want to. Although, if you’re confident with three-quarter stitches, you can smooth things out a bit more, as I have done in version 4. Having the diagonal lines allows for a bit more definition, for example in the ears, neck and foot areas. Of the eight cats in the picture near the top of this guide, only the one on the bottom right has been stitched using three-quarter stitches as in version 4, all the others are stitched using version 3, and I think they still look effective.

6. Colours and Design

Now you’ve got your outline shape, you get to play with colours and design. As you see from my eight cats, I have not tried to make an accurate representation of what a cat really looks like, although the tortoiseshell-type one is almost realistic. I have enjoyed playing with colours, particularly rainbows. At this point I usually switch to software. I use MacStitch/WinStitch, by Ursa Software (link) to create and print out my charts. However, sometimes I make the chart on paper with crayons and fine liners. I make multiple copies of my final outline shape (usually by scanning and printing), so I can play with different colour combinations, and look at them side by side before I make my final decision. It can be a bit of a mental leap to imagine what your colours and patterns will look like when they are stitched, sometimes I make little swatches and samples on scrap pieces of aida, to get an idea. I’m not going to say any more here, the best way to get a design you are happy with, is to play. This is the part of the process which is personal to you. DMC’s colour palette is immense, I have the full range of stranded thread colours available to buy here.

7. Finishing touches

The cat fits quite nicely in the aperture card, but there is space for a little embellishment, if required. I quite like it plain, (below left) but there’s space for a border, and even some backstitch lettering, if the cat is moved up or down in the aperture. The danger with a backstitch border like the one in the right hand picture below, is that it really makes any distortion of your fabric obvious. Stretching and blocking out aida fabric cross stitched pieces is really difficult unless you have the right equipment, so I usually avoid this sort of border, unless I am having a piece professionally framed.

Backstitch Lettering

Here is an alphabet I’ve designed that you are welcome to use, if you wanted to add something other than “happy birthday”.

Backstitch Alphabet

If you choose to add lettering to your design, you need to think about the position. I find it helpful to draft each word on small pieces of graph paper, and then stick them carefully in position in the correct place on the chart, see above pictures. This helps you to get the wording central.

I hope you have found this guide clear and helpful. Feel free to contact me if anything is unclear, or if you need more information. You can do this by commenting on this post, or by using the form on the contact page. You can also email me direct to nickybrungercrafts@gmail.com. About once a month I send out a newsletter with information about what’s new on my site and in my shop. You can sign up for that by filling in the short form at the bottom of my home page.

And finally, these designs and others are available as kits in my web shop, click here. A downloadable PDF with charts for all these cats is available here.

Using backstitch for outlining and adding detail in cross stitch

This article looks at using backstitch for outlining, and for adding details in cross stitch. In it I discuss the different effects you can gain by using it, or even by not using it, with plenty of illustrations along the way.

Right at the bottom of this article, you’ll find a brief description of how to form backstitch, with a couple of photos.  Click here to watch a 15 minute “how to” tutorial on my YouTube Channel.

One last thing before we get going – you can buy all the cross stitch materials you need, from charts and fabrics to the full range of DMC stranded embroidery threads and ready-made kits in my web shop, see the menu to the right, or click here.

Outlining with Backstitch

Many cross stitch charts instruct us to use backstitch in our work. When cross stitching images, the style of outlining you choose depends on the effect you want to create.

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This is Penny.  Apart from the arms, these three pictures of her are identical, but with different outlining styles. The outlining changes her appearance quite dramatically. I asked in a Facebook post which one people preferred.

Picture One

Here, each element of the picture is outlined in a darker shade of the colour of the element itself. The pale blue hair is outlined with a darker blue, the orange skirt is outlined with a darker orange, and so on. The exceptions are the face, because the hair and jumper are already outlined, and the eyes. I have used the same colour for the eyes and the outline of the eyes.

This style of outlining gives subtle definition to the work. You can see that Penny’s arms are behind her top, and she stands out well from the background. I use this style of outlining mostly with larger, more detailed designs which have several different elements.

30% of responses to my Facebook poll said they liked picture one. One person said: “I guess it would depend on the piece. Picture two if I want it to stand out or if there’s a simple one-figure focus; picture one if there’s more going on in the finished work.” Another said “I prefer picture one. My mum always taught me to do as in picture 2”. I like that comment, it reminds me that we should not necessarily always do what we’ve been taught, it’s OK to break away and try something new!

Picture Two

In this picture all the elements are outlined in black. You can clearly see all aspects of Penny, she sticks out crisply from the background, and all her details are clear. You could say this gives a cartoony look to the work. I use this style of outlining with smaller designs, for example greetings cards, where clarity and impact are important. Like the person in the comment above, this is what I was taught to do.

70% of responses to my Facebook poll said they liked picture two.

Picture Three

This picture has no outlining at all. Without it, an image like this one is unclear and even a little fuzzy. In some designs, this might be the effect you want to achieve. No one picked this picture in my Facebook poll. Let’s never mention her again.

To sum up the 1, 2 or 3 question…

It’s clear we definitely need some form of outline in cross stitch work like this, but when it comes down to it, it’s up to you whether you go for the subtle effect of picture one, or the more “popping” effect of black, as in picture two. 8% of those who answered actually said they liked both one and two. (For those who’ve spotted that adds up to 108, I included those votes in the totals).

My cousin said this in response to the Facebook poll: “That’s funny, as I’ve just finished a cross stitch of Peter Rabbit for my daughter.  I wasn’t sure whether to do the outlining, but I did it and found it quite difficult but I think it looks better with it. Out of the three I prefer option one.” 

Using backstitch for detail

These three pictures show our cute puppy first with no backstitch at all, then with added backstitch detail (eyebrows, muzzle, leg definition) and finally with all the individual elements outlined with backstitch, including the nose and eyes. Again, the choice is yours for the effect you want to achieve.

I like the last picture best. Because this design was created with beginners in mind, it uses cross stitch and backstitch only. There are no three-quarter stitches. This makes the edges of the design blocky and square. (If you don’t know about three-quarter stitches, they allow you to have a diagonally sloping edge, as they are triangular; they can be tricky for a beginner, though.) The black outline definitely accentuates the blockiness. Maybe a more subtle approach like Penny 1 above would be preferable. Having said that, it’s clearly not meant to be a realistic depiction of a dog, so I can live with the blocky edges happily. Again, it all comes down to preference.

If you like this doggy you can stitch him for yourself, there’s a chart of him here

But then… maybe we don’t want to use backstitch at all

All three designs above use cross stitch only. There is no backstitch at all. I didn’t feel it was necessary, and it would accentuate the edges, which I feel would be detrimental. The cat was designed with a specific person in mind, a young lady of 10, who’s ready for her second project. If you like him, there’s a chart with six versions of him on in the web shop, click here

I was in two minds about the elephant though. I finally decided he does need the outline, so the kits I’ve made include black thread, but the final choice is down to the individual. Looking at this again now, maybe a red outline instead of black…

And finally, my lovely, simple lotus. No outlining around the outside of the flower, but can you see where the backstitches are? I have used the darkest of the three pinks just to define the edges of the petals within the flower. This saved the pinks from running into each other. You can buy this flower as a kit in pink here, and in orangey tones here.

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In Conclusion

I hope you’ve found my thoughts on using backstitch in your work interesting and useful. My conclusion is that it’s up to you! Obviously there are times when a design just isn’t clear without it, but you can decide on your own style, and sometimes you might decide to use none at all. I’d love to read your comments and feedback.

P.S. How to sew backstitch

If you are familiar with backstitch in the context of hand sewing, this is exactly the same stitch, just using the holes in the aida fabric as a guide. It’s called backstitch, because of the way the stitches are formed. In the pictures below, the line of stitches is being formed going towards the right, but the part of the stitch visible from the front of the fabric is made “backwards”, from right to left.

In cross stitch this stitch is used largely for outlining, but also for small details and lettering. As backstitch is almost always done using a single thread, you can’t start off in the same way as for a cross stitch (as described in the “Getting Started with Cross Stitch” post.) Instead, you can run your needle under the back of a few nearby stitches  a couple of times in order to secure your thread in a similar way to how you would finish off. Alternatively, you can leave a small tail of thread behind your work and catch it down behind your first few stitches as you go. You will need to use this second method if you are starting your backstitches away from any convenient blocks of stitching.

Bring your needle up one space to the right, and then push your needle back through the hole on the left. Then repeat this sequence, moving one space to the right each time.

Come and See Me

Fabrication Crafts

I am delighted to announce that some of my products are now available to buy at the Fabrication Crafts store in York, and are available for click and collect from their website too. There are cross stitch kits, patchwork book covers and zipped pouches made with up-cycled fabrics such as denim from old jeans. 

https://shop.fabric-ation.co.uk

The shop is in Coney Street in the centre of York, and is full of beautiful and unique things made by local artists and makers. Here’s my section in the shop. 

Craft Fairs and Markets

At craft fairs and events I sell cross stitch kits and supplies, greetings cards and a range of hand made items such as tote bags, patchwork book covers and zipped pouches made with up-cycled fabrics such as denim from old jeans. 

Fairs are starting up again slowly. I have two coming up in August in York: 

8th  August –  “I Love Yorkshire” Saint Sampson’s York, 10am to 4pm

29th August – Yorkshire Artisans, Saint Sampson’s York

 

 

Every month I have a stall at Sheriff Hutton Village Market. This market is not running at the moment, but here are the current scheduled dates for 2020: 

13th September, 18th October, 15th November, 13th December. 

 

 

 

Dunnington Christmas Fair Poster inc carols 071219.jpg

How to use waste canvas

Here’s a step by step guide to using waste canvas for sewing a cross stitch design onto a garment or any close-weave fabric. I was asked to make a personalised cross stitch Christmas tree ornament for a friend’s baby. In this article I will show how I did it. 

Before we go any further, I will mention that you can buy the threads and waste canvas you need for a project like this from my web shop, see the menu on the right, or click here

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Noah’s Christmas Tree Ornament

Waste canvas is a fabric grid, like aida, which we use to cross stitch onto garments and fabrics which don’t have a clear grid pattern. The waste fabric is temporary, and is removed after stitching. The fibres are held together by a starchy glue, which softens when wet. When your design is finished, you wet the waste canvas, and pull the threads out one by one.

Here’s what to do…

Gather your materials
Gather your materials

I will be using dark green cotton, 14hpi* waste canvas and an embroidery hoop. You don’t necessarily need to use the hoop, I use one if the work is big enough, I find it makes it easier to handle. Make sure you are using enough waste canvas to cover your design, count up the holes on the chart or measure. Use enough waste canvas to leave at least a one inch/2.5 cm border around the work.

*14hpi refers to the size of the grid pattern, it means there are 14 holes per inch. An inch is around 2.5cm.

Pin the waste canvas to the fabric
Pin and tack the waste fabric to your main fabric.

If you are cross stitching your design onto a garment you will need to be very careful with positioning, on a piece of fabric like this, it’s less of an issue. However, in both cases you need to be careful to line up your waste canvas with the grain of the fabric. If you don’t, your design may not lay nice and flat, and could look wonky. This is tricky to see from the front of the fabric, generally I put in one careful row of tacking following a line of holes in the waste canvas, then turn the work over to see if it runs along the grain. I sometimes have to do this more than once.

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Is it straight? Look at the back. A good reason for using contrasting thread to tack.

Once I am satisfied it’s straight enough  – and it can take more than one attempt – I go ahead and complete the tacking, making sure to cover the whole area. I usually start with the diagonals.

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Once the tacking’s done, I put it in the hoop.

Now I am ready to sew. I have used quite a lot more waste canvas than I need for my design, partly because I tend to over estimate to “be on the safe side”, and partly so that it’s big enough for the corners to be caught down by the hoop.

While sewing take care not to split the waste canvas threads with your needle. Split and trapped threads will be really hard to pull out later. The same goes for your tacking stitches. For this reason I really keep three-quarter stitches to a minimum when I am creating my design, using mainly whole cross stitches only. I find it very hard to create a neat three-quarter stitch using waste canvas. When sewing using waste canvas I use a sharp hand-sewing needle, and not the size 26/28 tapestry needle I normally use for cross stitch.

fast forward to…

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The stitching is done

I wasn’t kidding when I said I used too much waste canvas! You really don’t need to use this much.

The next thing to do is trim away the excess, making sure you leave enough to grab with your tweezers. Then wet the waste canvas. You can do this by simply running your work under a cold tap, or by immersing it in clean, cold water. If you are stitching onto a garment you can keep most of it dry by just holding the part you are working on under the tap.

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Waste canvas wetted and ready to be removed

Give it a few moments for the starchy glue to melt and then pull the threads out one by one with a pair of tweezers. When there is a lot of stitching this can be tricky – pull firmly but slowly, and hold your fabric down flat with the other hand to stop it stretching and warping as you pull.

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Use a firm, slow, gentle pulling action

Some time and lots of careful tweezer action later…

All threads pulled
All waste canvas pulled out, ready to be pressed and made into a Christmas tree ornament

And here’s the finished ornament

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Have a look in my web-shop for PDF cross stitch charts to download, and stitch them wherever you like! 

 

 

Getting Started with Cross Stitch

This is a guide to some cross stitch basics. There are pictures and short videos to help. Here’s what’s covered:

  1. Things you need: fabric and threads
  2. Threading the needle and making a start
  3. Forming cross stitches
  4. Finishing off your thread
  5. Three quarter stitches
  6. Backstitch
  7. Things to watch out for

1. Things you need

Fabric

Cross stitch is made using fabric with a very regular weave pattern, which makes it easy to create neat, even stitches. The most commonly used fabric is called aida. It’s the fabric I always use, and is the one shown in the photos and videos on this site. You can buy small pre-cut pieces of aida in my web shop, click here. My charts are designed to be stitched on aida, and you will find a piece inside any kit you buy from me at a craft fair or on my web shop, click here for my kits. 

Aida looks like this:

fullsizeoutput_6bd.jpegAida comes in different gauges, which refers to how far apart the holes are. This is called “thread count”, or “holes per inch”, and is often abbreviated to “hpi”. (See note at the end of this post about metric vs imperial measurements). As you can see from the photo, it comes in different colours.

I work mainly on 14 count aida, and the photographs in this post are all of work done on 14 count aida.

Threads

I use DMC stranded embroidery threads . This comes in 8 metre skeins like these:

fullsizeoutput_6b5.jpeg…which I keep spooled onto bobbins like these, making sure I label them:

fullsizeoutput_6ac.jpegI have accumulated quite a stash of threads over the years. When I decided to start selling designs, I made the decision to go with DMC rather than Anchor threads, (you may have spotted that one of the skeins in the picture above is Anchor).  I chose DMC because that’s what I had more of, and my favourite craft shop stocks them. I eventually made the decision to stock DMC myself, see below. Anchor are just as good and they are pretty much interchangeable. It is possible to find a DMC/Anchor conversion chart online. I do stress that it is important to use good quality threads in your work, the colours have depth and are consistent, and the threads have a good sheen.

DMC’s standard range of stranded cotton, Mouliné Spécial,  has 500 colours, and there are several smaller, special ranges such as Light Effects (metallic) and Mouliné Étoile (a bit sparkly). The thread consists of six strands. My designs are generally stitched using two strands for standard cross stitches, and one for the backstitches used for outlining and lettering.

I am very happy to have this gorgeous thing in my hallway. You can buy the full range of DMC stranded embroidery threads in my web shop, click here

 

2. Threading the needle and making a start

I use a size 26 or 28 tapestry needle. This has a blunt end, which helps to avoid snagging threads, especially when you are working several stitches close together. This is particularly important when you have stitches of different colours next to each other. I do sometimes use a sharp sewing needle when I have a lot of three-quarter stitches to do – more about that later.

The first thing to do is cut a length of thread from the bobbin. 18 inches/45 cm is a good length. Next, separate out one thread. Do this slowly and gently, to avoid a tangle. Then bring the two ends of your thread together, and thread both through the eye of your needle. You will have a loop of thread on your needle like this:

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Decide where you want to place your first stitch. Most charts will have faint lines which cross at the centre in order to indicate the middle stitch for you, but if not count across and draw a faint ruler line down the middle, then count down the side and do the same. Where those two lines cross is your middle stitch. Once you have identified that, you can count from that to where you have decided to start your piece. I suggest stitching any blocks of pale colour first. This will keep the edges of those areas cleaner, because when you make a pale stitch next to a dark stitch, pulling the needle up through the hole between them might pull a fibre or two of the darker thread through, which can make the edge a little fuzzy.

To start your first stitch neatly, bring your needle from back to front through the hole at the bottom left corner of your chosen site, pull the thread through, leaving a tail behind. Then push your needle from front to back through the hole at the top right corner, creating a diagonal stitch. Be careful not to pull the thread all the way though. Now turn your work over, and put the needle through the loop at the end of your thread. Now gently pull until your stitch lies flat and neat against the fabric, without pulling holes out of shape. Watch this video to see that in action. (You’ll need to click the “back” button on your browser when it’s finished to come back here.)

Watch this short video to see how to start your thread and form your first cross stitch .

3. Forming cross stitches

(See the previous section for the first part of the stitch). If you are sewing just one stitch, go ahead and form the other diagonal of the cross stitch by bringing your needle up through the bottom right hole, and back down through the top left hole, as shown in the short video above. You now have one cross stitch. Throughout your work, always form your crosses in the same direction, i.e. the second diagonal, the one on the top of the finished stitch, will always go from bottom right to top left. This keeps your work neat and tidy, and, when you have blocks or areas of stitches together, you will have a regular finish, and you will be able to see the sheen on the thread.

If you have a block or patch of the same colour to stitch, start at the top left hand corner of the area and form the stitches in two parts. Go from left to right along a row, forming the first diagonal of each stitch (bottom left to top right), and then come back along the row, forming the second diagonal of each stitch (bottom right to top left). Then go down to the next row and so the same thing. Watch this video to see this in action. (You’ll need to click the “back” button on your browser when it’s finished to come back here.)

Watch this short video to see how to stitch a block of cross stitches

It’s important to mention the tension of your work at this point. You need to pull the thread through snug enough so your stitches lie flat and even, but not so taut that it distorts. Remember, snug, not taut.

4. Finishing off your thread

When your thread runs out, or when you’ve finished with a particular colour, here’s how you finish it off: after forming your last stitch, run your needle gently through the back of a few stitches and then again back the other way, taking care to do this with a light touch in order not to pull any stitches. Pull your needle away and snip the thread off as close to the back of the work as you can. You want to avoid leaving a little dangly bit, which could be visible from the right side of the work. Watch this video to see this in action. (You’ll need to click the “back” button on your browser when it’s finished to come back here.)

Watch this short video to see how to finish your thread

5. Three-quarter stitches

Some designs call for three-quarter stitches. These are triangular in shape, and make the edges of shapes look smoother and less blocky. To form a three-quarter stitch, start the same way as you would for a standard cross stitch, with a diagonal stitch as in picture 1. Then bring your needle up the same way as you would to form the second diagonal. This time you are only going half way across the square though. In effect what you are doing is catching the first diagonal stitch down. To do this,  insert the needle into the middle of the square, making sure your needle goes through the fabric just on the far side of the stitch you’ve just made (picture 2), so that when you pull the thread through, it covers the diagonal stitch and catches it down, but does not pierce the thread (picture 3).  You may find it easier to use a sharp needle when making these stitches, and not a tapestry needle, as you need to pierce the fabric rather than just push the needle through a ready-made hole as for an ordinary cross stitch.

three quarter stitch

6. Backstitch

The other main stitch used in cross stitch projects is back stitch. If you are familiar with backstitch in the context of hand sewing, this is exactly the same stitch, just using the holes as a guide. It’s called backstitch, because of the way the stitches are formed. In the pictures below, the line of stitches is being formed going towards the right, but the part of the stitch visible from the front of the fabric is made “backwards”, from right to left.

In cross stitch this stitch is used largely for outlining, but also for small details and lettering. As backstitch is almost always done using a single thread, you can’t start off in the same way as for a cross stitch. You can run your needle under the back of a few nearby stitches  a couple of times in order to secure your thread in a similar way to how you would finish off ( see above). Alternatively, you can leave a small tail of thread behind your work and catch it down behind your first few stitches as you go. You will need to use this second method if you are starting your backstitches away from any convenient blocks of stitching.

Bring your needle up one space to the right, and then push your needle back through the hole on the left. Then repeat this sequence, moving one space to the right each time.

7. Things to watch out for

Try not to carry your thread across the back of an area which will not be stitched, as it may be visible from the right side. If you have two different areas of the same colour to do, it’s better to stop and start again, unless they are quite close together, and the area between is going to have stitches which will hide it. If you carry the thread a long way across the back of the fabric without catching it down, be careful not to pull it too tight as it will distort your work. If you don’t pull it tight enough, the last stitch you made will quickly start to look loose.

Take care with your tension. You don’t want to pull your thread too tight, or you will distort the fabric, but if you don’t pull it nice and snug, then your stitches won’t be smooth and even. As I said above, snug, not taut.

Keep your cross stitches going in the same direction. I always do my first diagonal, (the one that will be underneath) from the bottom left to the top right. The second diagonal (the one that will be on top) goes from bottom right to top left.

It’s easy to get lost when following a chart. I recommend using a pencil to mark the areas stitched. I have used a highlighter in the past, but came unstuck because I couldn’t rub it out. With a larger chart I use a ruler to help me see along a line on the chart, and tick at the end of the row when it’s complete.

Note: Metric and imperial measurements – keeping it old school

Cross stitch, like patchwork, is a world which still operates largely in imperial measurements – that’s feet and inches. This is most probably because cross stitch and patchwork are very popular in the US, where the imperial system is used. Although you will buy a metre of aida here in the UK rather than a yard, the gauge is still measured in holes per inch. An inch is around 2.5cm.