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Modern Cross-Stitch Projects

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2004


Counted cross-stitch may be one of the easiest of all embroidery techniques, but worked in rows, these hand-stitched Xs can add surprisingly sophisticated patterns and rich texture to almost any fabric. While the craft dates back centuries, the stylish designs here prove that it can be fresh and fun. Best of all, the work goes quickly because of some carefully chosen materials. Coarse fabrics such as burlap and heavy linen make it simple to position and space your stitches (the loose weave of the cloth provides a built-in grid), and pearl cotton (a thick, glossy thread akin to embroidery floss) is comfortable to work with.

Because the weight of the thread you're using is similar to that of the thread used to make the fabric itself, these embellishments appear as if they were woven right into the cloth. You'll need a tapestry needle and, if you like, an embroidery hoop to keep the work flat and the tension even. If you're new to the craft, practice a bit before launching into a project. Then settle into a chair and enjoy. Even in the small amount of time today's schedules allow, you can create something the old-fashioned way: by hand.

Try making our Embellished tote.


  • Sewing machine

  • Linen or burlap

  • Iron


  1. Zigzag raw edges of fabric on a sewing machine. Machine-wash linen or burlap (but not mohair) in cold water, then put it in the dryer. The fabric will wrinkle and fray. Dampen it, then steam-iron.

  2. To keep the Xs uniform, use the weave of the fabric as a guide, or grid, counting threads as you stitch (the height and width of each X should be equal). To start a row of 3-by-3 cross-stitches, for example, you would count up 3 threads from where your needle emerges through the fabric and then over 3 threads, reentering directly diagonal from where you started.

  3. Make a row of diagonal strokes in one direction (\\\); then, working in the other direction, add the second diagonal to complete the Xs. Move on to the row above. When your thread runs out, avoid knotting it. Instead, weave the end through the back of five or six stitches on the wrong side of the fabric.

  4. Cross-stitch patterns are usually printed on graph paper; a dot inside a square indicates where a stitch should be made on the fabric. You can draw your own patterns on graph paper, or download and print our designs. Most patterns can be completed by using the row technique described above. When making solid images without a pattern or graph paper, start by stitching the outline in individual Xs, then fill in using the row technique.

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