Our society is full of fast-moving high technology and relentless business. It seems as though we never slow down—there isn’t enough time in a day to get everything done. But relaxation is necessary, even critical, to our health. We need to find moments where we slow down the pace and enjoy life’s little pleasures, whether that means basking in the sun, savoring a great meal, reading a good book, or doing needlework. One type of needlework that makes for a great relaxing hobby is cross-stitch. It’s cheap, easy to learn, and the end product can be a wonderful gift.
About Cross Stitch for Beginners
Counted cross stitch as a needlecraft has been around for almost as long as people have been sewing embroidery and embellishments into the material. In modern cross stitch, colored floss is stitched onto even-weave cloth in little X’s according to a design pattern. Even-weave cloth and Aida fabric are specially made for this—the weave forms little squares with small holes at each corner already made for the needle. Because the stitcher doesn’t need to push the needle through the fabric as is the case in most other needlework, the needle itself has a dull tip, plus a slightly wider eye for the floss which has a larger diameter than thread. The floss is made in a wide variety of colors and textures, which means the potential for patterns is endless. Sometimes the pattern designs are stamped directly onto the cloth to show which color to use in which squares. When using a blank cloth and separate pattern, the floss color corresponds to symbols on the pattern and the stitcher has to count squares on the cloth to know where to put a specific colored X. Hence the term counted cross stitch.
Beginners should either buy a small kit that has everything included or hunt down a seasoned cross stitcher who has all the necessary materials and feels like sharing. A kit has the correct size cloth and amount of floss, plus needle, pattern, and in some cases a hoop. They may even include small scissors, but these can be found separately with no trouble. Even-weave cloth comes in different sizes according to how many squares per inch, from large squares like 6 count to very fine linens which can be as small as 40 count. Beginners should start with a large-squared cloth in 14 count or less, since the squares will be much easier to see.
Threading the needle for cross stitch is done differently than in sewing. The floss is not knotted, but pulled through the needle eye just a couple of inches, enough to keep the needle from slipping off the floss while you stitch. For cloth counts of 14 or less, usually, three strands of floss are used. For greater than 14 count, two strands are used or even one strand for the very fine count.
If you don’t have cloth that has the pattern stamped on it, it’s usually easiest to begin stitching from the center of the pattern. The pattern will indicate with arrows which row and column meet in the center of the pattern. Instead of counting the squares of the cloth to find the exact center, the easy way to start is to fold the cloth in half, and then in half again, so that the creases make an X showing the approximate middle of the cloth. Many people find it helpful to place their cloth in a hoop, to stretch the fabric evenly and give the stitcher a good visual area. If you use a hoop, remember to always remove it when you take a break from stitching, or the hoop will leave a ring in your fabric that will be hard to get out.
Once you have your needle threaded with floss and the cloth creased to indicate the center, choose your beginning square and push the needle up through a hole at one of the square’s corners. It doesn’t matter which corner you use, but it is important to always make the first cross of your X in the same direction for every square. If you don’t, then the top cross of the X will be going in different directions all across your final picture, which will give it a messy look. Once you have your needle through the fabric, pull the floss through until you have a couple of inches left on the backside of the cloth. Later, you will thread this tag of floss on your needle and run it under stitches to secure it. There is no need to knot in cross-stitch. When you’ve pulled the floss through far enough, push your needle through the hole that is diagonal across the square from the first hole. To complete the X, pull the needle back up through one of the remaining holes and back down the last hole. Continue making your X’s according to the symbols and directions on the pattern.
When you’ve completed a section or are close to the end of your floss, simply run the needle under a few stitches at the backside of the cloth to secure it and cut off the dangling strands. Rethread your needle with a new length of floss and begin again, this time securing the trailing end of your floss in the strands at the backside of the cloth before making your first X.
Simple but Beautiful
Cross stitching can be a great way to relax, or to occupy yourself while waiting, such as at the doctor’s office or the airport. You’re not only doing something fun and interesting, but you’re creating a lovely picture at the same time. It’s simple to learn, easy to do, yet you produce a beautiful work of art that will be admired by all who see it. What more can you ask for in a hobby?