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Stitching Techniques And Tips

Stitching Techniques And Tips

An introduction to working cross stitch, blackwork and needlepoint designs with some useful tips and advice for beginners.


Various fabrics

Several types of fabric are available and most are easily obtainable in white or cream. However, it may be more difficult to obtain colours and so the colour required may determine the choice of fabric.
  • Aida is the most commonly available fabric in the UK but personally I find it hard to work with - although that is purely a personal opinion! When using Aida a cross is worked across one block.
  • Several kinds of evenweave fabric are available and when using these a cross is worked over two threads. Thus when using evenweave fabric a 28 count is equivalent to 14 in Aida, 22 count is equivalent to 11, and so on.
    For special projects such as table linen and doilies more specific fabrics are available in varying sizes and shapes and often with lace edges. Finished bands can also be used ranging from 1 to 8 inches and with various edge treatments.
Some shades of stranded cottons

Stranded cotton is needed for most counted thread projects since it can easily be divided into a smaller number of strands, two being the most common for cross stitches and one or two for backstitch depending on the effect required. The choice of manufacturer is also most likely to be determined by the local availability.

On my charts I give the equivalents for Anchor, DMC and Madeira but bear in mind that these are approximate and that the finished design may appear slightly different from the on-screen image.

When using the designs for soft furnishings such as cushions or curtain tie backs it may be a good idea to match the shades to existing furnishings.
Some Kreinik braids
For some projects a blending filament may be suggested. These are threaded with the stranded cotton and give a sparkle to the stitches without adding bulk.


All the work is done with blunt ended tapestry needles - usually a size 24 - but, as always, it's a matter of personal preference.


I have always used hoop frames for counted thread work, and find the wooden type with a screw tightener best. It's difficult to get the tension required with a plastic frame. It is always best if possible to use a hoop large enough to accommodate the whole project but if not and earlier stitches are trapped, then remove the hoop at the end of a session.

Other Tools

The only other tool you really need is a pair of good embroidery scissors. Good light is essential (especially for weary eyes!) and you may find a magnifying tool useful especially when working on darker fabrics. If stitching in the evening shine a bright light, ideally a daylight lamp, directly on your work.

Getting Started

Cut a piece of your chosen fabric large enough to complete the design with an allowance of an extra 3 inches (9cm) all round. Take your time and get it right the first time - remember «measure twice, cut once». Don't scrimp on the length of thread used for starting and finishing especially if the completed article is to be used regularly and laundered.

It is also worth taking the time to finish the raw edges of the fabric as it is likely to fray as you work and interfere with your needle and thread. You can put tape all round the edges but I find running over it with a zigzag stitch on a sewing machine is the most effective.

Fold the fabric in half and mark the centre line with a needle and then fold in half in the other direction and you should then locate the centre stitch. Start stitching with a block of colour as near as possible to the centre, first passing the thread from the front further along the first line and leaving a tail at the front of the work. This leading thread should be caught up with the stitching but check that it is indeed firm before pulling through and cutting off the excess. Later starting and ending threads can be passed through rows of worked stitches but take care that a dark colour does not shine through light.

I usually work with a length of thread 4 times the length of the skein approximetely 66 cms and wind the remaining strands back round the skein. As the skein gets smaller, the excess strands can be wound around its ends - trapping the labels. It is annoying to lose the number of the shade.

Cross stitches are normally worked bottom left to top right and then bottom right to top left, but if course if you find another way easier it doesn't matter, as long as you are consistent. You can work the first half of the stitch all across a row and then return with the second half, ending up at the left again ready to start the next row.
Mill Hill seed beads
When beads are used, thread smaller beads on the second half of the cross. Larger beads may require long stitches and small eyed beads may need to be added later with a beading needle. Refer to the individual chart.

In most cases backstitches are added after all the crosses are worked. Care must be taken with backstitches within the design - only one half of the cross stitch should be worked if the backstitch uses a diagonal. Care must also be taken at edges where half stitches are being used. In areas where there are a great many backstitches it may be worth tent stitching over that area. Backstitches are worked across the same number of threads as the crosses, one for Aida and two for evenweave.

Making Up

If the finished work is to be used as a picture, it will need to be mounted on stiff card before framing. If necessary wash and press the material while it's damp, taking care not to crush the stitches. I find that crochet cotton works well as a lacing thread. Fold the embroidery over the card taking care to centre it carefully. On the wrong side start at the centre of the longest side and work alternate lengths outwards to the corner, turning over frequently to check that the fabric grain is still straight. When you have reached the corners then lace the other sides again starting at the centres.

Working Blackwork designs

Most of the instructions for cross stitch also apply to blackwork. However, it is best to work the outline backstitch first. If using a strong colour on a light fabric you must take special care to get the stitches right first time because any unpicking will leave traces on the fabric. Add the filler stitches after the outlines are complete.

Needlepoint Designs

These are normally worked on canvas and stitches cover the complete area. It is possible on fine work to use stranded cotton or soft embroidery cotton and on coarser work to use wools. The needles used are correspondingly larger to suit the threads. When working on canvas it is a good idea to stretch the canvas on a wooden frame - an artist's stretcher frame if possible. A stretcher frame has two pairs of sides which slot together at the corners for making up in different sizes and reuse. Stretch the canvas securing with drawing pins at the centre each side and then half way between each centre and the corners and then again half way between each pair of tacks keeping the canvas as taut as possible until the complete canvas is stretched with pins two to three inches apart. If possible, pin on the vertical edge of the frame rather than the horizontal so that the pins don't pop out when working. Needlepoint designs can be worked completely in tent stitch, cross stitch or using several different stitches.

Some designs can be worked on evenweave fabric or Aida and then the fabric can form part of the picture. This differs from cross stitch in that various different stitches can be used to give texture. For example, using larger stitches in the foreground and smaller ones in the background can give a feeling of depth.
by Anne Peden on Sun, 24 Sep 2006, 10:40
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