Learn everything you’d want to know about how to do counted cross stitch in this article! We’ll cover the supplies you need, how to get started and even provide a free bee pattern!
What is the difference between counted cross stitch and stamped cross stitch?
Curious of what is the difference of counted cross stitch vs cross stitch? With counted cross stitch you are counting the threads for your cross stitching on even weave fabric. The most common cross stitch fabric is Aida cloth that comes in different sizes. It is sometimes referred to as Java canvas.
Aida cloth is a type of fabric and not a brand name. There are several different companies that make Aida cloth. It’s important to purchase all cotton or a cotton and linen blend. Aida cloth with any synthetic fibers is harder to work with, dull your needle and your threads ravel quicker while stitching.
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Linen is also used for counted stitching.
Here are different sizes of Aida cloth:
Aida cloth comes in a variety of colors. If you can’t seem to find a color you like, you can use textile paints to paint it the color you’d like! I wanted bright orange Aida cloth and used watered down textile paints to color the cloth. Don’t put too much paint on or it will be difficult to stitch – you want to still see the holes. This was perfect for my black cat cross stitch for Halloween!
Supplies for Counted Cross Stitch
You don’t need a lot of expensive supplies to begin counted cross stitch. You need a piece of Aida cloth that is big enough for your project, embroidery floss or thread in the colors needed for your stitching projects, embroidery scissors and an embroidery hoop. And, of course, a pattern for your design.
Counted cross stitch patterns can be found in books and online. There is a huge selection of custom cross stitch patterns on Etsy that are quickly downloaded and you can begin stitching right away!
Also, many embroidery artists offer cross stitch kits that give you a detailed pattern, the thread or floss you need, needle and directions.
How do I know what size Aida cloth I have?
Easy! Take a ruler and count how many holes are in 1-inch. That is the Aida cloth you have! The smaller the number, the larger the weave and easier it is to see the holes for your cross stitching.
What size Aida cloth is suitable for beginners?
I’d recommend starting with 11-count or 14-count Aida cloth.
What type of embroidery thread or floss should I use?
You can use either Perle cotton or six-strand embroidery floss. Generally, if you are using six-strand floss, use only two of the strands for counted cross stitch.
How long should I cut my thread?
I generally use a length of thread that is 18-inches or so. I don’t recommend longer thread as you’ll be dragging it back and forth through the holes in the stiff Aida cloth and it can begin to fray. This seems to be the perfect length that you aren’t threading your needle all of the time and it doesn’t start fraying.
Do you use a hoop when doing counted cross stitch?
If you are using Aida cloth, generally a hoop is not needed. The fabric is stiff enough that it holds the tension of the thread easily. If you are using an even weave linen, I’d recommend using a hoop to keep your fabric taut and the tension on your stitches even.
Should I finish the edges of the Aida cloth before I begin stitching?
If you are working on a small piece that will only take a few hours to finish, no need to finish the edges of the Aida cloth. If you are working on a large piece that you’ll be working on for several weeks (or months), it is recommended to zigzag or serge the edge of the cloth to reduce raveling. You can also use masking tape or painters tape folded over the edge, but I find that is stiffer to work with than just doing an edge stitch finish with your sewing machine.
What is a counted cross stitch pattern?
A counted cross stitch pattern is generally colored in blocks with codes for the thread or floss to use. They can be very complex, or fairly simple. The fabric is not marked and you ‘count’ the small thread blocks to stitch your design.
You can think about this as ‘paint by number’ but using thread on even weave fabric and following the design that is on a grid.
Ask the Experts!
What should newbies look for in a beginning counted cross stitch project? What kinds of designs and materials lead to success?
Jamie Chalmers of Mr. X Stitch: If you’re starting a cross stitch pattern for the first time, I recommend getting a free design from a magazine, or something that doesn’t cost much, so that you can make mistakes with freedom. If you have a stitchery that you’re happy to put in the bin if it goes wrong, that’s much less pressure than getting something with the aim of giving it for a specific reason.
If it goes well, you can give it to someone. And if it goes wrong, you’ve learned the ropes without anyone getting hurt.
Sally Wilson of Caterpillar Cross Stitch: I would recommend any design with full cross stitches, avoiding fractional stitches and backstitch which can be tricky at first. I’d also give French knots and anything else complicated a miss at first! For beginners, it’s much easier to stick to a design with fewer than 10 thread colours to keep things simple (think paint by numbers) and nothing that has ‘full coverage’ or confetti stitches (where there are individual stitches alone and unconnected to any others). It’s easier and quicker to make progress if there are blocks of the same colour rather than many colours within a small area.
Lizzy Dabczynski-Bean of Stitch People: Starting small is never a bad idea. It may even help take the pressure off to tackle a quick, easy project you don’t ‘totally love’ but like well enough so if (and when) you make mistakes, you won’t be overly disappointed.
What is your favorite way to finish a counted cross stitch project?
Jamie Chalmers of Mr. X Stitch: With a jumping punch in the air!
Sally Wilson of Caterpillar Cross Stitch: For me, nothing beats a wash, iron and mount. You can then frame the piece, or you can double mount it onto a backing board and add string or ribbon. (That way, especially if it’s a seasonal project, you can easily rotate!)
Lizzy Dabczynski-Bean of Stitch People: I like to finish projects in their hoops! Cutting circles of felt to tack onto the back is easy breezy.
What kinds of designs and materials lead to success?
Sally Wilson of Caterpillar Cross Stitch: I would recommend a beginner start stitching on 14 count aida, or if they’re a child or have poor eyesight, even 8 count aida would be a quick, easy stitch! In terms of threads, I always recommend the brand DMC because they’re great quality, silky smooth, don’t tangle and they come in some amazing shades.
What is one thing you’ve learned about counted cross stitch that no one ever told you and you had to figure out by yourself?
Jamie Chalmers of Mr. X Stitch: The easiest way to separate threads – once you’ve cut the length of thread, get all the strands between thumb & forefinger of one hand, and then pull a single strand with the other. Keep the other threads held in place and that single strand should come out very happily.
Don’t pull more than one thread at once, pull each one individually, and you’ll avoid tangles.
Sally Wilson of Caterpillar Cross Stitch: That magnetic needle minders are an essential item. (They’re also collectable and addictive!) And to use the loop method to start, especially if you’re only placing a few stitches of the same colour.
Also, don’t ever compare your finished stitches to anyone else’s. Each piece is unique and there’s no such thing as mistakes, just happy accidents!
Lizzy Dabczynski-Bean of Stitch People: There’s no such thing as cross-stitch police! It’s okay to break the rules, change the pattern if you want to, and do things your own way.
What do you love the most about doing counted cross stitch?
Jamie Chalmers of Mr. X Stitch: The meditative quality of it. That soul-soothing vibe is what made me fall in love with it in the first place.
Sally Wilson of Caterpillar Cross Stitch: I love the range of designs these days, but also how our new design platform www.loveitstitchit.com has made cross stitch design accessible for all in a really user-friendly way. I love how the community comes together, is so supportive and it’s so easy to make new friends online who share the same passion for the craft! It’s a great gift idea because you as the stitcher get all of the calming, mindfulness benefits of the act of stitching, but then you also get a beautiful work to keep and admire or to pass on as a truly special gift that will be treasured.
Cross stitch is great if you’re struggling with mental health because it can ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Lizzy Dabczynski-Bean of Stitch People: I love to see something magnificent built out of tiny things. It’s a good life parallel. We are stronger together!
What do you struggle with when doing counted cross stitch and how do you deal with it?
Jamie Chalmers of Mr. X Stitch: My full truth now is that I struggle to find time to do cross stitch, which is ironic given that my work is about cross stitch. I guess it’s like cobblers’ boots.
Sally Wilson of Caterpillar Cross Stitch: Sometimes having too much choice and a long wish list! Losing motivation halfway through, but that’s where the Caterpillar Cross Stitch Facebook group really comes into its own by offering support and encouragement 24/7! But mainly, finding the time to complete all of the beautiful projects that we want to do!
Lizzy Dabczynski-Bean of Stitch People: Making time for it. I wish I had good advice. Many of my hobbies feel like a “luxury” to me and I have a psychological block about taking the time for myself to do things I enjoy. My advice for that would be…therapy! (Yes, seriously!) And taking the time to work through whatever challenges you face around why you may not feel you deserve to have “you” time, quiet time, creatively fulfilling time, etc.
How to start a counted cross stitch
Find the center of your pattern. A counted cross stitch pattern is also referred to as a chart. Most patterns are marked with center arrows for both the horizontal and vertical centers. Count how many rows up and spaces to the left to locate the first stitch on your pattern. Mark the center of your cloth. Count the rows up and spaces to the left of your cloth’s center mark to begin stitching. See the step-by-step tutorial above.
What can go wrong?
The biggest thing that can go wrong is you don’t get your spaces correct, and then future rows don’t line up. You can unstitch the rows and redo the stitching or try to find a way to incorporate the stitches in error into your design. Sometimes the errors aren’t too noticeable, and sometimes they make the design more interesting.
Can I design my own cross stitch pattern?
Yes! Get some graph paper and color pencils and have fun designing your own pattern!
Want to add some bling to your counted cross stitch? Add some beads when making your second stitch to enhance eyes or add texture to flowers.
Popular designs and patterns for counted cross stitch include making Christmas ornaments for your Christmas tree or adding Christmas trees to a cross stitched wall hanging, documenting a birth record, stitching baby bibs or adding teddy bears to your design for a little one.
Download the FREE mini counted cross stitch pattern for the Scary Black Cat – perfect for beginners!
Download the FREE mini counted cross stitch pattern for Candy Corn – perfect for beginners!
Finishing your project in a hoop? Learn how to finish your hoop embroidery with our step-by-step tutorial!
Browse through more hand embroidery projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.