What Is Cross Stitch?

Cross stitch is the art of creating patterns by meticulously stitching small X-shaped stitches onto a fabric.

It is a form of hand embroidery and a great introduction to the pleasure of needlework.

In our journey of discovery, we will uncover the roots of cross stitch, tracing its origins and discovering the building blocks of this craft we love.

Whether you’re a curious beginner , eager to set foot on a stitching adventure, or a seasoned stitcher in search of fresh inspiration, this article will be your guiding star, expanding your understanding and igniting your passion for cross stitch.

Get ready to delve into a world of creativity and wonder as we unravel the mysteries of this timeless craft.

Works by ABC - Eqyptian Mixtape
Works by ABC – Egyptian Mixtape from Issue 6: Mixtape 001

A Brief History of Cross-Stitch: From Pharaohs to Pixels

The Genesis: Stitching Through Time

Cross stitch’s historical roots can be traced back to around 500 AD in Egypt. Archaeologists discovered well-preserved linens with embroidery in a tomb believed to belong to a wealthy slave owner. These findings were not isolated instances; frescoes in the tomb also depicted tapestries and embroideries, suggesting a well-established craft.

The Silk Road: A Thread Connecting Worlds

Between the 6th and 8th centuries AD, both Chinese and Russian records began detailing a significant movement of embroidery. Historical ledgers indicate that tea was often traded for embroidered goods, marking the craft’s spread along ancient trade routes.

The Bayeux Tapestry: A Stitch in Time

The Bayeux Tapestry, created in the 11th century, is one of the earliest known Western embroideries. It not only depicts the events of 1066 AD in Britain but also introduced new forms of stitches, including what we now recognize as cross stitch.

The Islamic Influence: Counting the Stitches

During the period between 1100-1492 AD, Islamic states utilized cross stitches on traditionally made hemp cloth to create small, repeating patterns. This technique quickly gained traction across Europe and the Baltic States.

The Tudor Trend: Stitching with Royalty

In the early 16th century, Catherine of Aragon brought cross stitch to England, popularizing it to the extent that it adorned the shirts of Henry VIII. This marked a significant moment in England’s textile history.

The Industrial Revolution: Machines vs. Needles

The 18th century saw the invention of domestic sewing machines and the influx of cheaper threads from Germany, both of which impacted the craft’s popularity. However, cross stitch found ways to adapt and persist.

FiddlesticksAU - That 70s Cross Stitch
FiddlesticksAU – That 70s Cross Stitch from Issue 15: The 70s

The 20th Century: A Stitch Through Modern Times

The War Years: Cotton and Constraints

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 led to soaring cotton prices, relegating thread to a luxury item. During World War II, strict rationing further limited access to cotton. Interestingly, prisoners of war turned to cross stitch and embroidery as a pastime, creating pieces that sometimes carried hidden messages.

The Feminist Wave: Stitching and Suffrage

In 1918, British women gained the right to vote, which also led to increased working hours and less leisure time. Despite these societal shifts, cross stitch experienced a small resurgence, although high prices limited its accessibility to the general public.

The Swinging Sixties: A Craft Revived

The post-war 1960s brought time-saving household tools, freeing up more leisure time for women. This period saw one of the largest resurgences of cross stitch, as the craft adapted to modern tastes and sensibilities.

Ellen Schinderman - Hello Dolly
Ellen Schinderman – Hello Dolly from Issue 10: Mixtape Vol. 2

The 1980s: The Golden Era of Cross Stitch

The 1980s marked a significant era for cross stitch, with designers like Jane Greenoff and Jo Verso rising to prominence. Greenoff, founder of The Cross Stitch Guild, became a household name for her intricate designs and patterns. Jo Verso, renowned for her books like “Jo Verso’s Complete Cross Stitch Course,” brought a fresh, modern approach to traditional patterns. Their work not only elevated the craft but also made it more accessible to the masses.

The Rise of Guilds and Cross Stitch Communities

This decade also saw the formation of various cross-stitch guilds and communities, both in-person and through early computer networks.

These platforms allowed enthusiasts to share patterns, tips, and techniques, fostering a sense of global community.

The Commercial Boom: Kits, Books, and Magazines

The ’80s experienced a commercial boom in cross stitch with the widespread availability of kits, pattern books, and specialty threads. Additionally, the emergence of cross stitch magazines provided enthusiasts with a regular source of new patterns, tips, and community features. This made it easier for beginners to enter the craft and for seasoned stitchers to take on more complex projects.

The 21st Century: The New Age of Cross Stitch

Today’s cross stitch has embraced the digital age with open arms. Software and apps allow for custom pattern creation, turning any image into a stitchable design.

Websites and social media platforms have become the new guild halls, where stitchers from around the world share their creations and tips.

The Rise of the “Manbroiderer” and Mr X Stitch

The craft has also seen a significant uptick in male participation, leading to the coining of the term “manbroiderer.” This shift challenges traditional gender norms associated with needlework and opens up a broader demographic of enthusiasts.

Among these trailblazers is Mr X Stitch, a modern cross stitch icon who has been instrumental in redefining the craft for a new generation through his digital magazine, blog, and podcast.

Subversive Stitching: A Voice for Activism

Cross stitch has found a new role as a medium for social and political commentary. Subversive cross stitch, which often incorporates humor, satire, or activism, has gained a substantial following, especially among younger generations.

The Etsy Effect: Crafting as a Business

Platforms like Etsy have enabled cross stitchers to turn their hobby into a business. From selling patterns to finished pieces, the marketplace for cross stitch has never been more accessible.

The Pandemic Impact: Stitching Through Isolation

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in home-based hobbies, and cross stitch was no exception. Many turned to the craft as a form of mindfulness and a way to pass the time during lockdowns.

And here we are now, when there has never been more choice in cross stitch. It is a great time to be a stitcher!

Fuzzy Fox Designs - Pinning Down The Truth
Fuzzy Fox Designs – Pinning Down The Truth from Issue 20 – Mystery!

What is Cross Stitch?

Cross stitch is the art of creating patterns by meticulously stitching small X-shaped stitches onto a fabric. It is a form of hand embroidery and a great introduction to the pleasure of needlework.

It all begins with a design, transferred onto the fabric through the alchemy of printing or counting. The stitcher takes up their needle and thread, embarking on a mindful meditative journey from left to right, top to bottom, crossing threads with precision and grace, each stitch forming a symphony of X’s.

Full cross stitches, half cross stitch, and the elegant back stitch all play their part, breathing life into the design. And for those seeking new horizons, the realm of advanced techniques beckons—fractional stitches, specialty stitches—they offer a gateway to elevated dimensions, adding layers of depth and complexity to our stitched creations.

Cross stitch, my friends, is a testament to the power of creation. It invites us to embark on a journey of patience and perseverance, where each stitch is a step forward in our quest for beauty.

It is a haven of tranquillity, where the world fades away, and the rhythm of the needle lulls us into a state of peaceful bliss. If you are new to this and you are worried that cross stitch might be difficult, this article will put you at ease.

Through cross stitch, we bridge the realms of art and craft, imbuing threads with our creativity and breathing life into fabric.

Smart CrossStitch - Tree Mandala
SmartCrossStitch – Tree Mandala from Issue 11: Namaste

How to Start Cross-Stitch

Cross stitch is a simple craft to learn, and once you have mastered the basic stitches, the only real challenge is the complexity of the design you are stitching. 

To begin with, try stitching a simple design that you won’t mind getting wrong. You don’t want to feel like a failure early on, so practice your stitching on something that doesn’t matter and when you are comfortable with the stitching, you can move onto something more meaningful.

While an embroidery hoop is not essential in cross stitch, it does make life easier, so if you pick up a cross stitch kit, get a hoop as well.

I’ve got two great tutorial videos here that will help you get started – they explain about threading your needle, and all the steps to help you start stitching.

Once you’re going, just take your time, count carefully and make sure your needle goes through the holes, rather than the fabric. You’ll be a cross stitching whiz in no time!

Here’s one of my best cross stitch for beginners tips: Each time you bring the needle up and pull the thread through the fabric, you put a slight twist in the thread. Over time you will notice the thread bunching up at the back, and if that happens, let the needle drop, which will unravel that twist. You can then carry on stitching with the risk of surprise knots and tangles!

What is Counted Cross Stitch?

Counted cross stitch got its name for a good reason—it’s all about precision and meticulousness.

Unlike other embroidery styles such as needlepoint or tapestry, where the design is already printed on the fabric, counted cross stitch starts with a blank canvas. Stitchers like you embark on a journey of counting and stitching, carefully plotting each stitch on a grid.

Here’s how it works: You follow a pattern, usually shown on a chart or graph. This chart serves as your visual guide, mapping out the design’s details and colours. But here’s where the magic happens—the fabric itself becomes your map.

Here at XStitch, our charts use letters and numbers as the color references, and our latest issues give you charts in two formats, one with symbols only, and one with colour blocks and symbols to make it easier for you to see how the stitches will be placed.

Issue 1 Online Version18 scaled - Cross Stitch Pattern
Part of a chart by Maria Diaz from Issue 1 – Revolution

Picture the fabric as a vast landscape filled with tiny squares. Each square represents one stitch. Your task is to count the number of squares in each row and column, helping you determine where to place your stitches. Armed with a needle and thread, you embark on a rhythmic adventure, following the fabric’s grid, one stitch at a time.

The beauty of counted cross stitch lies in its precision and attention to detail. By following the chart, counting the squares, and placing each stitch with care, you bring the design to life with amazing accuracy. It’s like a symphony of counting, threading, and stitching—a creative dance guided by the fabric’s grid.

The term “counted cross stitch” perfectly captures the essence of this technique, emphasizing the significance of counting and following the fabric’s grid as the foundation of the craft. It highlights the thoughtful and deliberate nature of cross stitch, where each stitch is a little triumph and the finished design showcases your skill and dedication.

Stitchsperation - Let's Get Lost
Stitchsperation – Let’s Get Lost from Issue 17: Adventure

What does Cross Stitch Count mean?

Cross stitch count refers to the number of stitches per inch that are achieved on specific fabrics. Aida is often classified by cross stitch count and the most common counts are 14 stitches per inch and 18 stitches per inch.

The higher the count, the more stitches per inch, which makes the stitching smaller, but also increases the density of pixelation. A design of 140 stitches will be 10 inches long on 14 count fabric whereas it will only be 8 inches on 18 count. This makes for a more challenging stitch, but often leads to a more detailed image, particularly when photo-realistic images are being converted to cross stitch.

Cross stitch fabrics have a wide range of counts, from 10 to 32 stitches per inch, and the number of threads you use may vary depending on the fabric count.

Best Cross Stitch | XStitch Greatest Hits Vol. 1

Are you ready to start stitching?

If you want a shortcut to success with your cross stitching, our Greatest Hits edition is the best place to start. Featuring ten of our most popular designs, from a world-class collection of cross stitch designers, as well as a selection of our most beloved articles, it’s the only magazine you need!

Hit that image of its awesome cover or click here to get your copy today for a truly amazing price!

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