Counted Cross-Stitch Basics

From samplers and landscapes to flowers and wildlife to (and everything in between!), counted cross-stitch designs come in a variety of styles, shapes, and sizes. Designs are worked from a chart by counting stitches and are stitched on needlework fabric, with 14-ct. aida being a popular choice for beginners. Needlework fabric also comes in tighter weaves, like 28-count and higher linens and evenweaves, and are generally used by more advanced stitchers. When stitching on linen or evenweave, designs are typically stitched over two threads.

If you’re picking up a needle and floss for the first time (or just need a refresher), the general instructions and basic stitches below will get you started. Stitch diagrams are shown on aida cloth; to accommodate for linen/evenweave fabric, stitch over two fabric threads.

Getting Started

The written instructions for each project indicate where to begin stitching. For most projects the starting point is at the center. Every chart has arrows that indicate the horizontal and vertical centers. With your finger, trace along the grid to the point where the two centers meet. Compare a symbol at the center of the chart to the key and choose which floss color to stitch first. To find the center of the fabric, fold it into quarters and finger-crease or baste along the folds with a single strand of contrasting floss. Cut the cotton embroidery floss into 15" lengths and separate all six strands. Recombine the strands indicated in the project instructions and thread them into a blunt-tip needle.

To secure thread at the beginning: The most common way to secure the beginning tail of the thread is to hold it under the first four or five stitches.

To secure thread at the end: To finish, slip the threaded needle under previously stitched threads on the wrong side of the fabric for four or five stitches, weaving the thread back and forth a few times. Clip the thread.

Basic Stitches

Full Cross-Stitch: Make one cross-stitch for each symbol on the chart. For horizontal rows, stitch the first diagonal of each stitch in the row. Work back across the row, completing each stitch. Remember to embroider the stitches uniformly—that is, always work the top half of each stitch in the same direction. For aida cloth, each stitch fills one square as shown. On most linen and evenweave fabrics, work the stitches over two threads.

Half Cross-Stitch: Half-stitches can be worked in rows or columns. This stitch can slant up from left to right or down from left to right. Always bring the needle up on odd numbers and down on even numbers.

Quarter and Three-Quarter Cross-Stitch: To obtain rounded shapes in a design, use quarter cross-stitches. To make quarter cross-stitches on aida cloth, estimate the center of the square. On linen and evenweave fabrics, a quarter cross-stitch will extend from one corner to the center intersections of the threads. Three-quarter cross-stitches combine a quarter cross-stitch with a half cross-stitch. Both stitches may slant in any direction.

Backstitch: Backstitches define and outline the shapes of a design. Working from right to left, bring the needle up from the back side of the fabric, one stitch length from your starting point. Begin the next stitch by inserting the needle at your starting point and back up two stitch lengths away. Continue, keeping all the stitches the same length.

Straight Stitch: To work a straight stitch, bring the needle up from the back side of the fabric. Bring the needle down through the fabric in the desired spot to make a stitch of the desired length.

French Knot: Bring the threaded needle through the fabric and wrap the floss around the needle as shown. Tighten the twists and return the needle through the fabric at the same place. The floss will slide through the wrapped thread to make the knot.