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  • Kat Waskett

How to cross stitch without a hoop - 7 tips for stitching 'in hand'

This article is not about converting you to cross stitching without an embroidery hoop…well, maybe a little bit!

But only if it works for you; it's not for everyone!

It’s more about giving you some tips to get started with it, and setting you up for success if you want to give it a try (or another try!) so you can really decide if you like it or not.

If you'd like to watch this as a video instead of reading then I got you covered...

If you’ve ever seen any of my videos where you can see me stitching, you’ll notice that I don’t ever use an embroidery hoop to hold my fabric. Instead I stitch ‘in hand’ which is exactly what it sounds like!

If you’re curious why I don’t use a hoop then head over to ‘Do I need to use a hoop for cross stitch?’ for some context.

But if you want to try stitching in hand, then I have some tips to share that I think will help, and I have a recommendation for you at the end of this article to help you practice.

Tip #1 - stay small

Choose a small project to start with as it’s much easier to hold a small project in your hands when you first try it out. Many of my patterns are quite small, so something like this cute coffee cup would be ideal.

Cross stitch of a coffee cup and quote 'but first coffee' with embroidery threads and scissors peeking in at the sides

Although starting small is good, there is no limit to how big a project you can stitch in hand. I have a Heaven and Earth Designs pattern which will be 71 x 54 cm when completed and I am stitching that in hand! But that does bring me on to…

Tip #2 - roll it up

For bigger projects, it's really helpful to roll up any excess fabric and if you need to, clip it out of the way while you stitch in hand. If your project is really small you won’t need to do this this but even for slightly bigger projects I either roll the edge up and just hold it while I’m working to allow me easier access to the bit I’m stitching on, or I actually clip it in place with tiny sewing clips.

Partially completed cross stitch rolled up and clipped with sewing clips, with scissors and a skein of embroidery thread laying on top

I do like to roll my fabric rather than folding it, as I find it avoids making creases but you could fold it if you prefer. I use little clips top and bottom as they can be easily put on and taken off, as I tend not to store the project rolled up, although you absolutely could.

Tip #3 - work from a corner

This also follows on really neatly from the previous tip, and that’s to start working the design from a corner. I know it's easier to start working from the middle of a design so you know it’s centred properly on your fabric, but if you are brave enough to work from a corner then this means you can always be working away from completed stitching to reduce the amount you are touching it.

This is another good reason to start with smaller designs as it’s easier to be sure you have started stitching in the right place and as long as you have a decently sized bit of fabric you’ll have some wiggle room anyway.

Now, if getting the right size of fabric is a bit of a game of chance for you then go and check out my blog post on ‘How big should my cross stitch fabric be’ and that will set you straight.

Tip #4 - clean hands!

You might have guessed this was coming after what I just said about touching your work. I find that stitching in hand allows me more control of my needle and makes for faster stitching, but the flip side of this is that I am potentially touching my fabric and my completed stitches more than I might if I was using a hoop.

So definitely make sure your hands are clean before you start a stitching session and don’t eat while you stitch…unless you use chopsticks because apparently that’s a thing!

Tip #5 - the perfect grip

Try not to hold your fabric too tight. After you've been stitching in hand for a bit you’ll probably find a way to hold the fabric that feels right to you but however you do it, you don’t want to hold it so tight or in a really odd way so that it gets pulled out of shape or that the pressure of your fingers creates ‘divots’ in your fabric.

There’s no really good way for me to tell you how to do this…it’s a matter of finding the way that works for you so experiment!

Tip #6 - practice your tension

Practice getting the right amount of tension in your thread so your stitches are not too loose or too tight. This is probably one of the main reasons cross stitchers are worried about trying to stitch without a hoop, but it is honestly not a problem…you just need a little practice.

I like to pull my thread through pretty quickly and then maybe just give an extra little very slight pull to ensure that it’s fully pulled through and not too loose. As long as you don't tug really hard on the thread and 'strangle' your stitches it will look fine.

Tip #7 - stitch light colours last

The idea here is to stitch pale colours last so they don’t get dirty if you end up touching them. But full transparency here…I don’t do this because when I stitch I don’t like to leave gaps to go back and fill in! So I just work in whatever order it comes, and of course, if you are working from one corner outwards this will minimise touching your stitching anyway.

Time to practice!

If you'd like a cute free pattern that's perfect to practice stitching in hand then how about my flip flop design that you can find on the free patterns page of my website?

Cross stitch of a stripy pair of flip flops on linen framed in a wooden embroidery hoop with skeins of thread and a pair of scissors around it

And here’s a bonus tip; you’ll see that I stitched that design on linen and I would definitely say don’t use linen for your first go at stitching in hand! It’s softer than Aida so it’s harder to get the hang of holding it and to get the right thread tension. Try it on Aida first!

I also have lots of other small patterns in my shop on Etsy that would be perfect for stitching in hand.

I do hope you found these tips helpful and that you’ll discover the joy of stitching in hand, even if you don’t do it all the time. It’s just nice to have the choice depending on the project you’re working on and especially when you want to take it out and about with you because that’s definitely easier without lugging a hoop around.

Until next time, happy stitching!


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