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Is Cross Stitch Difficult? [What Can Go Wrong & What To Do]

If you’ve never tried cross stitch before, you might worry that it will be difficult. At XStitch Magazine, we are here to put your mind at ease.

Cross Stitch is one of the easiest forms of needlework as it combines a simple, straight stitch with a fabric that has evenly spaced holes to pass the thread through. The charts for cross stitch are similar to painting by numbers and by counting carefully and stitching slowly, you will easily learn to cross stitch.

Let’s take a look at the elements of cross stitch so that you can feel confident and start stitching right away!

What Is A Cross Stitch?

A cross stitch is two diagonal stitches, made of thread, that go through pre-determined holes in an evenweave fabric. This fabric, often called aida, is an even weave fabric because the warp and weft strands (the “horizontal” and “vertical” strands) are evenly spaced, which creates a grid of holes through which you can stitch.

This aida fabric from Zweigart has an even weave and provides the grid that your cross stitch will sit on.
This aida fabric from Zweigart has an even weave and provides the grid that your cross stitch will sit on.

Cross stitch is comprised of two stitches – a top stitch and a bottom stitch – that run diagonally between the four holes in a square of evenweave. It doesn’t matter which direction the top or bottom stitch go in, but it is nicer if you can get your bottom stitch to always follow the same direction.

Here you can see a row of cross stitches, with the bottom stitch in a forward slash direction.
Here you can see a row of cross stitches, with the bottom stitch in a forward slash direction.

What Are The Hardest Bits Of Cross Stitch?

Cross Stitch is very simple to produce as it only requires the repetition of two diagonal stitches to create each X. However there are some fiddly elements, so let’s examine those and provide solutions:

  • Threading The Needle
  • Getting Knots
  • Miscounting The Stitches
  • Losing Your Needle

Threading The Needle

This is one of the more frustrating challenges for all stitchers, regardless of experience, and when you’re starting out you can find that your thread comes out of the needle a lot. Over time you will learn how to anchor the thread against the needle to provide sufficient grip that the thread won’t come out when you pull the needle through the fabric. It is stupidly complicated to explain it in words, but by being mindful about how hard you pull the thread, you will learn to gauge it right and stop the thread from coming out too often.

When the thread does come out, you can usually suck the ends of the thread to make them come together and be firm enough to go through the eye of the needle with ease. Try holding the thread between your thumb and forefinger with no more than 1cm of thread poking up, and then guide the needle down onto the thread.

A short wet thread should be sufficiently stiff for you to guide the needle onto it
A short wet thread should be sufficiently stiff for you to guide the needle onto it

If you struggle with threading a needle, there’s nothing wrong with buying a needle threader. It can save a ton of time and they’re very cheap, so feel free to get one here!

Getting Knots

Every time you make a stitch you put a twist in your thread. Over time these small twists combine to make your thread bunch up on itself and you can unwittingly stitch through that bunch and end up with all manner of entanglement on the back of your work.

As you progress with your stitching you will come to know when the thread starts to bunch up, at which point you can let go of the needle and allow it to drop. This will allow the thread to spin and unwind, at which point you can pick up the needle and continue.

With many knots, you can work out how to loosen them, but in the worst cases, be prepared to cut the thread and unpick some of the previous stitches to a point where you have enough loose end to secure it underneath some existing stitches.

Miscounting The Stitches

This is arguably the biggest risk when doing cross stitch, as you are reliant on your counting to make sure that you follow the design correctly. There are a few techniques you can use to prevent your stitching going too far off track.

Mark off the stitches on your chart as you make them. If you are able to print a version of the chart, it is useful to highlight the ones you’ve done, or cross through them with a pen. This gives you a sense of place when looking at your work.

Add grid stitches. This involves doing some simple running stitches with a single strand of thread at specific points on the fabric. Many stitchers will grid every tenth row or column as this usually conforms with the grid in the chart. Once you have finished stitching, you can remove the grid stitches with ease. This technique is hugely helpful if you are tackling large projects.

The pink grid stitches help you place your stitches correctly
The pink grid stitches help you place your stitches correctly

Use Xs as markers. If you are stitching a long run of stitches in the same direction, we recommend doing the bottom stitches first, so you can count out the area and then double back on yourself to make the Xs. As you go, make every fifth or tenth stitch an X as a placemarker and you’ll know how many you’ve stitched!

Losing Your Needle

It can be frustrating to misplace your needle, particularly if you have other people or animals that might get impaled on it. It is easy to weave the needle into your fabric when you need to put it down, but a common choice is to get a needle minder.

Needle minders, like the yellow and white pineapple in the image above, have two magnetic parts and can be “stuck” on by putting the pieces on either side of the fabric. When you finish your stitching, particularly if you’re just getting some more thread, you can put the needle onto the minder and it should stay there, out of harm’s way.

How Do You Read A Cross Stitch Chart?

A cross stitch chart is the map by which you plot your stitching and in most cases it will consist of a grid containing letters or symbols. Each of these relates to a particular thread colour and by matching the colours to the grid, you stitch the design as intended.

You can see the number of rows and columns along the side and the letters that correspond to specific thread colours.
You can see the number of rows and columns along the side and the letters that correspond to specific thread colours.

Much like painting by numbers, it is important to make sure that you get the right colours for the right grid squares. Depending on the complexity of the design, you may want to sort your threads into the recommended order to make it easier to access them as you need to.

We recommend starting with the darker colours and also starting from the centre of the design, which should be indicated on the chart, so you can accurately place the design within your fabric. There are many schools of thought about the best way to complete a chart of many pages, but the prevailing wisdom is to stitch areas that are close to one another as this minimises the risk of miscounting.

Do not be afraid to mark off the stitches on the chart as you complete them, as this can be a great way to keep on track and also recognise your progress.

At XStitch Magazine, the charts in our magazines use Colour Blocks and Letters, so you can see the colour palette while also using the Legend to make sure you stitch the right colour in the right place. Our Stitchalong patterns also have charts that have no colour, so that you can mark off the stitches more easily.

Don’t Get Angry, Get Cross-Stitch!

In conclusion it’s important to note that all cross-stitchers have experienced the challenges listed above and none of us have died as a consequence. It can be really disheartening to have to undo stitches because of miscounting, or frustrating to thread a needle for the umpteenth time, but the more you stitch, the better you become at avoiding these errors.

Don’t let early challenges put you off from carrying on with cross stitch. The mindfulness of the craft is deeply pleasurable and you will make gifts for yourself or for others that have real meaning.

Modern Cross Stitch | XStitch Magazine

If you want some great patterns to stitch, be sure to check out our back issues,
each of which is packed with modern cross stitch designs from an international collective of creators.
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