- Kat Waskett
5 ways to stop your cross stitch fabric fraying
Updated: May 17
Do you prepare the edges of your fabric before you start cross stitching?
Or do you just dive in and then you end up with something that looks a bit like this...
Now, if this fraying of the fabric edges doesn't bother you then I suspect this isn't the blog post for you!
But if it drives you just a little bit (or a lot!) crazy then read on to find out how you can stop it happening.
Or if you'd prefer to watch this as a video then just click below >>>
I'm gonna be 100% honest with you right now and say that if I have a really tiny design which will only take me a few hours to stitch I don't prepare the edges as it likely won't have time to fray very much.
One exception to this is if I'm stitching on linen or evenweave which will fray way more easily than Aida.
Certainly for larger projects I would definitely recommend preparing the fabric edges to stop them fraying.
And here's why...
Fraying can cause your threads to catch on the edges as you stitch, which is really rather annoying, wastes valuable stitching time and can 'rough up' your threads so they knot and tangle more easily. (Find out how to reduce that knotty problem!)
If your fabric frays a lot then you might end up with less fabric for finishing than you had intended...also annoying.
So now the question is...what is the best way to prepare the fabric edges?
There's no 'best way' because there are lots of options and different people will prefer different methods, but I am going to share 5 methods you could use to prepare the edges of your fabric and each have pros and cons.
These methods will work for all kinds of fabric whether it is Aida, evenweave or linen.
1. Deliberately fray the edges
No equipment or products are needed for this method (yay!) as you just pull out a couple of rows of threads from along each edge and then it is unlikely to fray any further as you stitch.
I gave this a go and found it pretty straightforward to pull out 2 rows of threads. However, I can't see myself adopting this method because it just increases the chances of your thread catching on the frayed edges as you stitch, maybe even more than without doing anything!
2. Use pinking shears
I actually bought some pinking shears to try this method and I can report that it works really well as long as you have good quality pinking shears designed for cutting fabric.
They glide through the fabric easily but are quite heavy and a bit unwieldy to use, and if you are a little obsessive like me then allow extra time for lining the scissors up on each cut so the saw tooth pattern is continuous!
Although the fabric edge won't fray any further you may find tiny bits of thread may come off the edges as you stitch. This is not necessarily a problem unless you have a partner who really hates when you leave little pieces of thread everywhere - lol! (Yep, I have one of those!)
If you use this method then don't forget you will lose a little bit of your fabric allowance, but only around 5mm on each edge as you can cut just a really thin section off. If you are trimming a section away from a larger piece of fabric then you could even use the pinking shears to cut directly from this and then you won't lose any.
If you have hand problems then this might not be the method for you and I am also not sure how well it would work for a really long running project but certainly for small projects it's quick and easy, and cheap; my pinking shears cost about £8.
I do also worry that threads might also catch on the saw tooth edge in the same way as the fraying method.
3. Tape the edges
This is a really quick and easy method; you simply put tape along the edge of your fabric and fold it over to cover the edges. I have seen various tapes recommended for this including masking tape, washi tape, and micropore/surgical tape but I would suggest avoiding Sellotape!
I have never been a huge fan of this as I often find it starts coming unstuck in the middle of the project, especially if it is a long running project. This might just be that I didn't have the best tape for this as I know a lot of people love this method and have found tape that works for them.
It may also leave a sticky edge when you take it off afterwards, but this can be removed by washing or you can simply cut it off, although this will reduce the size of your fabric for finishing so make sure you add a little extra at the start to account for this.
4. Sew the edges
There are a few ways you can do this;
- use a sewing machine to stitch a zig zag line along each edge, or if you have a fancy machine that can do overlocking then you can use this feature
- hand stitch along each edge using a whip stitch, blanket stitch or even just a line of tacking stitches
- use the 'turn and tack' method; turn a hem and iron it flat then make a wide running stitch (tacking stitch) along it
I have often hand stitched the edges with a whip stitch as it is a very durable method for larger and lengthy projects and I like the way it looks too.
Although sewing the edges in some way is the most time consuming method (maybe not if you have a sewing machine!) the advantages are that it it doesn't leave any residue on your work and doesn't need trimming off at the end.
5. Use a seam sealant product
There are lots of products out there marketed as seam sealants and the ingredients vary but essentially they are all liquids that can be applied to the edges of fabric to seal it.
They are generally pretty easy to use as they come in a bottle with a fine tip to make it easy to squeeze a line of liquid along each edge of the fabric. It's easiest to do this by holding the fabric vertically and running the tip along the edges while squeezing the bottle/tube gently to apply the liquid along the fabric edge.
You need to allow time for the product to dry but all of the ones I tested were dry within 20 minutes and some a lot quicker than that.
The sealed edge is non-toxic and can be left in place, but I still cut off the edges to avoid having any chemical residue anywhere near my stitching and to make sure there is no risk of staining or rotting of the fabric edges over time.
As you would expect, I tested some of these products so I could report back on which I liked the best. Spoiler alert...they're all good!
Liquid plastic type
- Prym Fray Check (you may also find this as Dritz brand which is now owned by Prym so it's the same product); this product is a nylon in an alcohol base, so it is flammable but only in liquid form, and when dry it is non-flammable and non-toxic. I found it easy to apply, it dries completely clear in around 5 minutes and I even found one version of this that has a handy applicator, although I honestly don't think it's worth paying for that.
- Tailor Fray Block; as with the Fray Check this is flammable but only until dried, then it is non-flammable, non-toxic and even washable and dry cleanable! It is easy to apply although I found it a little harder to control the amount coming out compared with the Prym Fray Check due to the metal tube. It was totally dry within 10-15 minutes depending on the amount of liquid applied. Lots of people say it leaves the fabric edge softer than Fray Check and I would agree with this. I found Fray Check made the fabric edges a bit scratchy when stitching but Fray Block didn't.
- Aleene's Stop Fraying Permanent Fabric Adhesive; this is washable, and non-toxic. It dried clear within 15 minutes and the fabric edge was still nice and soft. I note that the product says it takes 24 hours to dry but it definitely doesn't if you are just sealing the edges of fabric.
- HiTack Fray Stop Glue; also non-toxic and washable and apparently has a permanent effect if ironed so another reason to cut it off before you wash and iron your project! This was the hardest to apply as it was the thickest liquid and I had to rub along the edge to get a nice even coverage but it dried clear within 20 minutes and was still nice and soft on the fabric edges.
For all of these products I would make sure you have a glass mat or similar to lay the fabric on to dry. The HiTack Fray Stop Glue was the only one that actually stuck a little to my glass mat once it had dried.
I think the main downside to the seam sealants is that they are the most expensive option, although a little does go a long way. Back when I bought these, the cheapest was the HiTack at around £4 for 60ml and the most expensive was the Prym Fray Check at around £6 for 22ml (or around £9 with the applicator!)
Ok, so that brings us to the end of my round up of ways to stop your cross stitch fabric edge fraying and after all that testing do I have a favourite?
Well, no not really!
I think each method is good in different situations. I will continue to test out using the pinking shears and seam sealant (any of them!) for smaller projects and whip stitching the edges of larger projects. Maybe I'll even give tape another try!
If this post has convinced you of the advantages of preparing before you start stitching then take a look at the other things you can do to plan and prepare for a new cross stitch project.
Until next time...happy (and non-frayed!) stitching!