English vs. Danish Method for Cross Stitch...which is better?!
Do you cross stitch the Danish way or the English way?
There’s a pretty good chance you have no idea and you probably do both!
So, I want to share what the differences are between these two cross stitch methods, how that affects the appearance and ease of cross stitching, and when you might want to use each of them.
Because (spoiler alert!) they are both good, and as with everything in cross stitch, which you use comes down to personal preference!
I found this topic fascinating and took quite a deep dive into it, so here are some handy section links if you need them;
You can also watch this as a video if you prefer (it has all the same information and the practical stuff is easier to see in action!) >>>
What are the English and Danish methods for cross stitching?
This seems the obvious place to start, and very simply, the English method is to make a full cross stitch and then another one and then another one and so on. So, one full cross stitch at a time.
The Danish method is to make a row of half cross stitches, so that’s the bottom arms of your cross stitches, and then go back across them to make the top arm and complete the full cross stitch.
Now you know that, I bet you’ve done both of these at times but didn’t know they actually had names!
I certainly use both methods because they do have pros and cons, and there are situations where each is more useful.
When I like to use the Danish method
I find the Danish method brilliant for blocks and rows of colour so would use it for almost everything on this Pots of Love pattern;
One reason I like this method is because it’s usually a little bit quicker and easier to work this way as you are essentially ‘batching’ the work by doing all the bottom arms first and then the top arms.
But the main reason I prefer to use this method is that I also find it looks neater when I stitch whole rows this way rather than one individual full stitch at a time.
I'll start with comparing the two methods to stitch a block of colour, working in horizontal rows;
I definitely find the block stitched with the Danish method to be a little neater looking overall, and I’ll come back to why this might be the case later.
Now, I’m aware that some cross stitchers like to complete blocks of colour in vertical columns instead of rows, and this is interesting because I have also seen recommendations not to use the Danish method for vertical columns of stitches.
So I have also stitched a block in each method, working in vertical columns;
I think the difference is even more obvious and this time it is indeed the English method that appears neater.
These tests have shown that for my personal stitching style, stitching horizontal rows using the Danish method is the way to go for me to get the neatest stitches, unless I have a single column of vertical stitches when it would be best for me to use the English method and complete one full cross stitch at a time.
Why do the methods vary in neatness of stitching?
This essentially comes down to the direction that the thread is pulled on the back of your work as you make your stitches.
Firstly, this can very subtly alter the shape of the cross stitch on the front and if you pull the thread in different directions on the back of your work for each stitch then they may look very slightly inconsistent on the front.
When I stitch horizontal rows with the Danish method, the thread makes exactly the same pattern and is pulled in exactly the same direction on the back for every single cross stitch, so they look identical from the front and that consistency makes it look neat overall.
When I stitch horizontal rows with the English method the way the thread lies on the back will be different for each alternate row because the nature of the method means I work left to right along one row and then back the other way from right to left on the next row. So although each stitch is neat, they look slightly different on each row, and that affects the overall impression of neatness.
Secondly, the direction the thread is pulled can make it easier or harder to get the needle through holes with thread already in them as the thread on the back may 'block' the holes. In this case, it can be difficult to push the needle neatly through a hole without distorting the threads of cross stitches you’ve already completed and pushing them so they separate slightly or don’t lie as neatly.
Again, consistency in making each stitch in the same way will help to avoid this, although it probably won't eliminate it as you may need to make stitches slightly differently as you move around a design.
A really important caveat here is that not all cross stitchers will work their stitches exactly the same as me so the thread could be pulled in slightly different directions than for my stitches and therefore what is neatest for me might not be neatest for you!
When the English method might be better
Although I generally prefer to use the Danish method where I can, there are a number of situations where I would use the English method.
1. Confetti stitches
These are multiple stitches of a single colour that are scattered apart from each other, like the polka dots on this Pots of Love pattern, and , as I've already mentioned, the vertical columns of one stitch wide;
Working confetti stitches with the Danish method would use a lot more thread and make the back less neat as you would need to run your thread a long way on the back of the work multiple times.
Instead I would work each full cross individually and then move to the next one, so only travelling between each stitch once.
2. Travelling around a pattern
The English method can be great to travel around your pattern so you might use it to get your thread from one part of the design to the other. For example, you could stitch a row in the English method in order to end up where you need to do the next stitches of that colour.
Now, given what I said about how I find this less neat, I don’t always do this and instead I complete the row the Danish way and then take my thread across the back, tucking it under a few stitches as I go.
3. Variegated thread
This allows the colour changes in variegated thread to be the most defined, but there’s no reason you can’t do Danish for this, it will just look different.
What other differences are there between the methods?
They look different on the back
A row of completed stitches using the English method will have a combination of vertical and diagonal stitches, and with the Danish method you will only have vertical stitches.
I like the way it looks with all vertical stitches, but you might prefer the other way or more likely might not care one way or the other! Some cross stitchers also find one way easier to run the needle under to secure threads but you’d have to test to see which you prefer, and I don’t find any difference.
Interestingly, the combination of vertical and diagonal stitches on the back is also why the English method is considered more durable as it holds the fabric together better and causes less stress on the threads and fabric. I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed my cross stitch needing to be more durable but maybe that was useful in the past!
Does one method use more thread?
The diagonal stitch on the back is also the reason that you will hear that stitching with the English method uses more thread, because for each cross stitch there are 2 vertical lines on the back for the Danish method but one vertical and one diagonal line for the English method.
Since a diagonal line across a square will always be longer than a line along one side, you would expect it to use very slightly more thread.
But when I stitched my samples I found that I used exactly the same amount of thread for the horizontal blocks of either method.
And that’s because whilst each stitch technically uses a teeny bit more thread for the English method, when you move from 1 row to the next you only have to cross 1 block on the back with the English method compared with 2 blocks with the Danish method so it basically cancels out.
When I stitched in vertical columns, I did find that I used more thread for the English method by quite a bit as the thread travelled quite a long way on the back between each stitch; I used 34cm instead of 30cm for the Danish method.
Is one method quicker?
Earlier I also said that it is often considered quicker to stitch with the Danish method, but I actually didn’t find any difference in the time it took to stitch the blocks using any of the four options. I suspect this is because they were simple blocks, and any perceived increased speed from the Danish method is down to it just being easier to count and follow the pattern not the speed of the actual stitching.
Why are they know as the English and Danish methods?
Finally, if you’ve been waiting to hear why the methods are named as such then I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you because I can’t find a reason anywhere!
Cross stitching spread across Europe in the early 1500s so it was probably being done in England and Denmark at the same time, so although it could refer to the ways it developed in each of these countries no-one knows for sure!
I am going to finish up by saying what I always say…there’s no right or wrong way to make your cross stitches so do it however you like best.
I really enjoy the nitty gritty details and understanding exactly how what I’m doing affects my stitching and I’m sure some of you do too!
So, are you a Danish method or an English method? Or a bit of both like me!
Until next time... happy stitching!