If you have just started cross stitching or are thinking about giving it a go, then hurrah! I think it’s the most amazing hobby for so many reasons but in a nutshell it's mindful creativity that you can take anywhere!
But for all that cross stitch is, on the face of it, a very easy concept of making little Xs on fabric, there are a surprising number of things that can trip you up when you start out. A lot of it is just practice, practice and more practice, but there are some things you can learn that will make things so much easier.
And that's where my 15 tips come in because they are the things I wish I knew right from the get go when I learned to cross stitch.
Even if you are not a beginner to cross stitch then you might well still learn something here!
For several of the tips I’ll be linking to another article or video that goes into more depth on that topic, otherwise this would end up as a very long read!
If you would prefer to watch rather than read (and this might be helpful for some of the more visual tips) then you can head over to the video >>>
Let's dive into those tips...
Tip 1 – there are no rules in cross stitch
This is something I feel very passionate about, which is why I say it so often; there is no wrong way to do cross stitch.
Despite what you may hear from some cross stitchers that you ‘must never do this’ or you ‘should do it like this’ there really is only one way to do cross stitch right and that’s the way that you like to do it.
If it’s stressing you out doing something one way, try another way. You can find a lot of tips and advice out there, so take it all in, then choose what works for you, and ignore the rest and yes, that includes mine!
Tip 2 - have good light
It seems kind of obvious, but what seems like good light generally might not be good enough for cross stitch. It’s not good for your eyes to stitch in poor light, but it’s also not good for your cross stitch. I know this from experience; it’s usually when I’ve gone away from home, stitched in less good light and looked at my stitching later on and realised it did not look as neat as it could have.
At home I have a daylight LED lamp which is fantastic because the light is great and I can angle it over my work. So if you can get one of these then definitely do, but otherwise just get as much light and as bright a light as you can.
And recently I bought a mini clip on LED light that I can take with me if I travel to friends and family or on holiday…I just have to remember to take it! You can find other solutions for travelling too such as neck lights.
Tip 3 - have all the top arms of your crosses going the same way
This is probably the easiest thing you can do to make your cross stitch look really neat and lovely.
But it’s also not an obvious thing if no-one tells you, and in fact I have one of my earliest cross stitch pieces all framed up and on display and yup, the top arms go in different directions! I still love it and it’s a great reminder that we all need to learn these things.
It doesn't matter which way your top arm slants, the idea is simply to have them all going the same direction, either / / / / / or \ \ \ \ \ rather than / \ \ / /.
Here's a little heart stitched twice; one with the top arms in different directions and one with them all slanting the same way and I personally think the one with the top arms all consistent looks a lot nicer.
This is as close as I will ever come to having a rule in cross stitch and even then, if making the top arms all go the same way takes the fun out of it for you, then you absolutely don’t have to do it.
Tip 4 – count and mark off!
No matter how long you’ve been stitching, I’m pretty sure you never get to a point where you don’t make mistakes due to counting errors; if you do I haven’t got there yet!
So double and even triple checking can help to reduce that risk, and where you can, check your placement of stitches against multiple reference points.
**this is very much easier to see in action on the video!
The second part to this tip is keeping track of what you’ve stitched and where you are in a pattern as this will be super helpful to reduce errors, and I have a quick video showing you how to mark off your progress on your chart;
Tip 5 - keep it clean!
I’m not talking about the theme of your cross stitch here as there are some awesome and very naughty designs out there if that's what you're looking for…I’m talking literally.
Washing your hands before you sit down to start cross stitching is a great habit to get into. Your hands may look clean but they can transfer invisible oils or dirt onto your fabric, which may not cause any immediate problems, or maybe not even any problems in the longer term, but it is possible this could affect the integrity and colours of the fabric or threads over time.
Now, of course, you can mitigate this by washing your project when it’s finished too, but a belt and braces approach here doesn’t hurt!
Tip 6 - wash and press your finished cross stitch pieces
Ok, let’s talk about this since I just mentioned washing, and it’s another thing I feel strongly about. If you have spent hours of time and effort creating a beautiful thing it seems crazy to me not to take those extra few minutes to make it look top notch. And believe me…you absolutely can tell the difference!
Even if you are not going to frame or finish the piece in some way, then you can still wash and press it before you store it, so that if and when you do want to do something with it, it’s in good condition and not dirty or full of creases that are now much harder to shift.
Tip 7 – is to learn the loop method
This is a method you can use to start your cross stitch thread and it really is something I wish I’d known earlier, because it saves so much time, especially when you know how to do it from the front of your cross stitching and not just the back.
You can find out all about this in How to do the Loop Method to Start your Cross Stitch Thread, and there's a video link in there too so you can watch it in action.
Go and see just how easy it is and what a game changer it is!
Tip 8 - get organised
It’s pretty inevitable that the longer you cross stitch stash the more your stash will grow with threads, fabric, patterns and all that lovely stitchy stuff, so you will probably want to find ways to keep everything organised but I’m not going to get into that here because that’s a whole big topic.
So I just want to share my number one recommendation if you are just starting out, and that's to get a bag or box to put all your supplies for each cross stitch project in.
It can be absolutely anything; an empty biscuit tin, a plastic ziplock bag, a cute pouch…anything to keep the supplies for your project all together so you don’t lose anything, it will keep it all clean, and you can take it out and about with you if you wish.
I love these cute pouches from Sarah Ashford;
Now, an additional note to this is that if you have pets or children then make sure to place your project bags/boxes somewhere out of reach because I've heard too many horror stories of projects that were eaten, cut up, ripped, vomited on...just ewwwww.
Also while we are touching on organisation (which is one of my favourite topics btw!), if you are someone who loves to really plan out projects, then you might find my cross stitch project planner sheet helpful, and these also come with a tracker sheet if you would love the extra motivation too!
Tip 9 - buy good quality supplies and equipment
Often with cross stitch supplies, you do get what you pay for! Cheaper fabric may have bigger, more visible holes or be horribly stiff and scratchy, cheaper threads may knot and tangle more and cheaper needles may bend and break.
It’s always worth having good quality supplies because it will be nicer to stitch with and the end result will look even lovelier.
Here’s a little related bonus tip; buy all your thread at the start of a project to make sure you have enough to avoid dye lot changes and the colours not matching. If you want to know more about this then take a look at this video;
Tip 10 - start with the right supplies
While we are talking supplies, there are 3 basic supplies you need and that’s fabric, thread and a needle, and I would add proper embroidery scissors too.
And choosing the right supplies as a beginner van make your life much easier. Now, again I am not going to dive into detail but want to briefly touch on each of these.
There are lots of gorgeous fabrics available but some are easier to work with than others. I recommend starting with Aida, not evenweave or linen, and I suggest looking for 14 count (not 16 or 18) because the stitches you make will be bigger so it’s much easier to see what you are doing and get the hang of it.
If you are really struggling then go to 11 count Aida for even bigger stitches, until you are confident and then move to 14 count.
You can use any brand or even unbranded threads but following on from what I said earlier about cheap threads...if you want to save yourself some tangly nonsense then I recommend starting with DMC brand threads
Look for needles labelled as tapestry or cross stitch needles, which have a blunt rounded tip that is perfect for cross stitch. You don’t want a sharp needle! They do come in different sizes and you will likely want size 24 or 26 to start with. For much more on needles you can have a read of my article What are the Best Needles for Cross Stitch?
Buy some embroidery scissors! Even a cheap pair will cut your threads much more cleanly and neatly than whatever scissors you have kicking around the house. And then save them just for your cross stitch so they stay nice and sharp; don’t let anyone else use them for other things!
Tip 11 – is to read all the instructions first!
Because there is absolutely nothing worse than getting part way through a project and realising you have used the wrong colour or the wrong number of strands. Just saying.
Tip 12 - untwist your thread as you stitch
If you want to reduce knots and tangles then this is an important one…it will make your stitching so much more enjoyable.
My article How to Untwist Embroidery Thread explains more about this and I’ll show you 3 easy methods for untwisting your threads.
Tip 13 – start from the middle
…at least for your first few projects. There are reasons to start your stitching from the corner but it will certainly make life easier to start from the middle and you won’t risk getting the design off centre on your fabric and running out of space to complete the design.
Your chart should have the centre marked in some way; usually with arrows at the sides and top/bottom and may also have a vertical and horizontal line.
Here’s how that looks on one of my patterns…
While we are talking about where to start I always recommend to choose a nice big block of colour that’s as close to the middle as possible for your first section of stitching. This will give you a nice big area to run in thread ends at the start.
Tip 14 - safe needle parking
I highly recommend that you don’t leave your needle parked (at the end of a stitching session) in an area of fabric that is visible when the stitching is completed
It can stretch the holes which just doesn't look especially nice, or if you leave it for long enough it can even leave a rusty mark!
If you leave the needle with thread in it and leave the thread sitting in a hole, the thread can discolour the hole, leaving a coloured mark on your fabric.
When I’ve finished a stitching session I like to leave my needle way up at the top of my fabric, but anywhere around the edge is a good choice.
If you do leave a needle or thread parked on the design area, if it’s somewhere that will eventually be covered with stitches then that obviously won't be a problem either.
Tip 15 - stitch what you love!
This might sound obvious but pick cross stitch patterns that you are really drawn to because you want to look forward to and enjoy your stitching time.
Yes, it’s probably ideal to pick something small and easy for your first few projects so you can practice and get some quick wins. But if there is a project you really adore and it’s a bit bigger or more complicated and you are feeling adventurous then do it!
And I’m going to say that it's totally ok to even leave a project unfinished if you start stitching it and then realise that you just don't love it. This might be a little bit of a controversial view but I genuinely believe that you can simply ditch projects that don't bring you joy.
I know some people out there will just absolutely have to finish that project no matter what and that's fine, but to everyone else I say please don't keep slogging away on something you don't love because life is too short to stitch something you are not enjoying, especially when there are more than enough other projects out there to find just the right one that you will love.
I just have one final bonus tip for you, and that’s to learn the lingo. Of course, this one isn’t really essential but can help you understand what other cross stitchers are on about because sometimes it can feel like a foreign language!
There are a lot of funny terms and acronyms, so if you want to know all about those then check out my handy PDF guide to Cross Stitch Terms and Acronyms.
That's the end of my tips and I want to finish up by saying please don’t worry if your first cross stitch projects don’t look how you wanted them to.
There may be people out there who can just cross stitch like a pro from the minute they pick up a pattern but that's not how it is for most of us, and I also think we can all learn and improve all the time.
As I said at the start of this article, cross stitch is pretty simple to pick up but it can take a while to really feel that you are producing the best stitching that you can. The only way to get good at something is by not being good at it first and practicing until you are!
I do hope that my tips will make your cross stitch easier, neater and more fun! And I'd love for you to share with me which tip you found most helpful.
Until next time... happy stitching!