A classic craft gets an appealing update with customizable projects in fresh designs.

By Melinda Page
March 13, 2020

Counted cross-stitch—a series of handstitched Xs—is one of the easiest and most well-known embroidery techniques. Delightfully simple, they lend surprisingly sophisticated style and rich texture to almost any fabric. The symmetry of these evenly spaced Xs is immensely pleasing; you can also try your hand at the variation known as herringbone cross-stitch, which results in a zigzag pattern that is often used to embellish borders.

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 three-by-three cross-stitches, for example, count up three threads from where your needle emerges through the fabric and then over three threads, re-entering diagonally across from where you started. Work a row of diagonal strokes in one direction (\\\); then, working in the other direction, add the second diagonal (///) to complete the Xs. Move to the row above. When your thread runs out, do not knot it. Instead, weave the end through the back of five or six stitches on the wrong side of the fabric.

Related: An Essential Guide to Embroidery Stitches for Beginners

Tools and Materials

For tools and materials, you will need Aida cloth, an embroidery hoop, embroidery scissors, embroidery floss and a needle. Loose-weave fabrics such as burlap and heavy linen make it simple to position and space counted cross-stitches (the loose weave of the cloth provides a built-in grid, much like gingham). (With its neat, uniform checks, gingham makes an excellent background for cross-stitching. Instead of counting threads, use the squares as a grid for your pattern, keeping your stitches inside the boxes.) If you're new to cross-stitch, practice on scraps of fabric before launching into a project. You can use embroidery floss; perle cotton is comfortable to work with and complements the weave of heavier fabrics. If you choose thread of a weight that is similar to that of the fabric you're using, the crosses will appear to be woven right into the cloth.

Pictured: Charles Craft Reserve Fiddler's 18-Count Aida Cloth, in Light Oatmeal, 20" by 24", $7.53, amazon.com. Frank Edmunds Wooden Embroidery Hoop, starting from $6.40, purlsoho.com. DMC Embroidery Needles, $3, michaels.com. DMC Satin Embroidery Floss, $1 per skein, michaels.com. Gingher "Stork" Embroidery Scissors, $12.79, amazon.com. Zweigart 14-Count Aida Cloth, in Confederate Grey, 18" by 21", amazon.com.

How to Cross Stitch

It's a cinch to cross-stitch: Use the weave of fabric called aida cloth to make X-shaped stitches in neat rows. Follow our templates to make these animals. Or turn any design into a cross-stitch pattern by printing our grid onto acetate and placing it over the design.

First, center the fabric in an embroidery hoop. Count the stitches in each row of the template. Using the fabric's weave as a grid, make that number of stitches; first create a row of evenly spaced diagonal lines, then stitch back over the row, creating Xs. To make a half cross-stitch (for a diagonal line in your design), make the first stitch from the corner to the grid's middle, and then the second stitch as normal. When the design is complete, trim excess cloth.

Use a backstitch to create thin lines. Insert the needle from the wrong side of the fabric, coming out at 1. Insert needle at 2, pull back out at 3, and pull thread tight. Insert needle again at 1, and pull it out past 3, creating equal stitches. Insert needle at 3 and continue.

Choosing Cross-Stitch Patterns

Counted 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 use preprinted designs. To make your own pattern, refer to an old sampler, lettering book, or any eye-catching imagery for inspiration. Photocopy letters to desired size, then trace onto graph paper. Use dots—one per square—to mark out the letter on the graph paper. If you prefer, you can use a disappearing-ink fabric pen to make dots directly on the fabric. Then, working bottom to top and left to right, cross-stitch the letter one row at a time. Most patterns can be completed by using the row-by-row technique described on the opposite page. 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.

Most crafts projects require you to pack it in when you leave the house. But not the whimsical little samplers pictured here, which are just the size to pack up and take with you. Since cross-stitch is one of the easiest stitches to master, you'll also have the satisfaction of completing a small-scale design in an afternoon. And while cross-stitch traditionally conjures a folksy image, we've created fun graphic motifs that will look right at home in modern spaces. Personalize these handmade items with initials to turn them into meaningful gifts. Gather your supplies—you don't need many—slip them into a pouch for convenient toting, and take your crafts show on the road.

Frame your menagerie in four- and five-inch wooden embroidery hoops. For added polish, give the hoops a coat of primer followed by high-gloss enamel spray paint. The small silhouettes make a big impression, especially when displayed in groups. If you're stitching single-color designs like these, you'll find it easier to make the outline first and then fill it in.

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