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Counted cross-stitch

user-149526 | Posted in General Discussion on

I’m new to Threads thanks to the urging of both my sister and my daughter.  I have a very complicated counted cross-stitch project that I’ve been afraid to start.  This is a Christmas stocking project for our new son-in-law that’s been promised for 2003, a pattern that I photocopied years ago from a serious, art-quality book that I no longer can access. 

With lots of experience in needlepoint and just about every other kind of sewing/handwork, it shouldn’t feel so intimidating to me but it is.  What are your suggestions for approaching and doing cross-stitch that will make the completed project worthy of my time and a valuable keepsake to welcome our son-in-law to the traditions of our family? 

Small things, big things, whatever you can think of will be most welcome.  With summer approaching I’d like to get started on it now.

Thanks so much!  Sharyn


  1. Crafty_Manx | | #1

    I don't know if this would apply to your project, but when I do a cross-stitch project I over the edges of my fabric with masking tape to prevent fraying.  Also, if you've got to work close to an edge and you have trouble hooping it, sew a scrap of muslin or something to the edge.  Then you can position the design closer to the center of the hoop and just remove the muslin when you finish the project.

    Good luck!


    1. user-149526 | | #4

      Good idea!  I hadn't really thought about using a hoop, but this isn't needlepoint is it!  I assume you just iron the next section flat when you move the hoop.  I have about an inch of selvage on the fabric so I think I'll serge the edge for stability.  Thanks for your quick reply.  This is the first time I've used any kind of on-line forum and I'm already very pleased with the results.  Sharyn

  2. rjf | | #2

    Do you have thread? pattern? fabric? just a picture? hoops? needles?  Do you anticipate leaving some fabric unembroidered?  Sometimes it's helpful to make the chart bigger.  I made thread holders by cutting strips of cardboard, 2in by 8in approximately, and then cutting small "L" shapes along the top.  Label each "L" with a thread number.  It's a place to store the long pieces left when you need to change color.  The needles will stick in the edge of the cardboard.  No knots!!!!  Leave a tail when you start and slide it under when you've finished a few stitches.  Start in the exact middle of the picture and the exact middle of the cloth.  Whenever possible, start new stitches next to finished stitches......that way, you have less chance of miscounting and "counting" is the operative word!  Be careful, it's addictve......just one more row........ just one more stitch.......                          rjf

    1. user-149526 | | #5

      Thank you for so many good ideas.  Yes, I bought all the necessities months ago when I was first inspired by the pattern.  I even bought a thread organizer system.  Then I got scared and have been avoiding that part of my closet ever since...hah! 

      The website you provided in your second reply is a real gem.  I'm in the process of printing it right now as a quick reference.  That and your suggestion to start in the middle of the fabric are enough to get me started.  Thank you so much!  Sharyn

      1. kai230 | | #6

        Oooh, I'm wanting to know what type of picture! This is all so inspiring. I haven't done cross-stitch but have been considering doing some embroidery again--nothing fancy, tho, e.g., to conceal a ripped front shoulder in my fave silk blouse (I have worn the thing to death).

        The site did say starting in the center is one option, but it may depend on the design and your stitching direction. Great resource, thanks rjf!

        You picked one of the best forums to start with! Check out the other Taunton ones--loaded w/info. Welcome :-)

      2. rjf | | #8

        How does the cross stitch go?  How big is the piece going to be?  rjf

        1. user-149526 | | #9

          Thanks for asking . . . just yesterday I bought a large Q-snap frame on which to work.  I've read every word--more than once--of the great website you recommended .  Actually, I printed it and will continue to refer to sections as they apply to my project. 

          The finished size is stocking-shaped and overall 14" x 28".  Most of it will be covered in cross-stitch.  You can see I have my work cut out for me but I feel so much more confident and prepared to begin.  The weather is lovely here in the northwoods so the garden has repeatedly pulled me out of the house.  Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy so I plan to make a beginning.  I'll keep you posted from time to time.  Sharyn

          1. JeanetteR | | #10

            Dear Sharyn,

            I'm unsure what a q-snap frame is, but if you use a hoop, for cross-stitch always take it off at the end of each session, to prevent marking the fabric and  'bruising' the stitches

            If you should need to press your work, only do so from the wrong side, using a linen tea-towel or pressing cloth.  It shouldn't need pressing during the working, but may need washing and pressing before lacing and framing, due to the natural oils on your hands.

            The really big thing with cross-stitch is to have all the tops of the stitches going in the same direction - this is obvious, you probably already know these tips!  I hope you enjoy stitching your masterpeice. 

          2. user-149526 | | #11

            Thank you for your comments.  I've begun the project and things are moving along well enough.  I still can't quite figure out  when I should work left to right/right to left or down from the top or up from the bottom.  The back of my work is not beautiful but then it's not awful either.  I expect things to get easier as the project continues.  I will take your advice to remove the frame each evening as I put the work away.  Thanks.  Sharyn

          3. rjf | | #12

            I always worked from the finished portion out so that could be up, down, left or right, assuming I started in the center.  I don't think it matters as long as you keep the cross in the right direction.  It's kind of maze-like trying to figure the longest run of one color one way and then back with the crosses.  Have fun.   rjf

          4. JeanetteR | | #13

            Hello again, and I hope that you're having a lot of fun creating the heirloom!  I really agree with RJF's comments about beginning in the centre and just working outwards.  The only two larger cross stitch projects I finished were of flowers, when I realised that if you just keep working out from the centre, having stiched a centre vertical and horizontal line in contrasting sewing cotton, it really didn't matter too much when I lost count and inevitably ended up with a few half width stiches to compensate.  Being floral, it really didn't matter, whereas a geometric pattern would have been crucial.  My Mum reckons the best way to do this if you get lost (as I do!), is to take the time initially to make a running stich grid each 10 across and 10 stitches down, to correspond with the grid on the pattern, this way it's really easy to work out where you are.  She's a great cross-stitcher, and does beautiful Hardanger embroidery where it really is crucial to have every thread counted correctly.

          5. user-149526 | | #14

            Hi!  I did make a single vertical and one horizontal stitch to help orient myself.  Just by beginner's luck I started in the upper left quarter of the pattern.  I wanted to work all the stitches in one color first before changing to another color.  That didn't work out for all the obvious reasons.  So I've been working beside completed stitches and it's really much easier. 

            I'm using #14 Aida cloth in this project and find that if I work in a manner that forms little ladders on the backside it gets hard to push the needle through the tiny holes in the cloth.  I experimented using a "continental" needlepoint stitch on the first half of each stitch and then coming back with what I'm going to call the "ladder" stitch on the cross, the thread is more evenly distributed at the back of the work.  I hope this isn't too hopelessly amateurish.  I've been told not to mix stitches but it looks the same from the front.  Any thoughts?

            Thanks for all the support and suggestions.  Sharyn

          6. JeanetteR | | #15


            The only type of stitch I've done is the ladder on the back one, but if it looks the same on the front and all the top 'legs' go the same way, it shouldn't matter.  The main thing would be to get a nice rythm going so that your tension is nice and even. 

            Have you seen those new John James brand needles that are two-pointed?  I've not tried them, as since finding stumpwork, cross-stitch interests me less, but they look good.  The theory is that with two points and a single centred eye, you don't have to turn the needle underneath your work to come up again, or one top either.  They sound intriguing!  You could get a few sore fingers from the points though!

            I thought of another tip that you probably already know - with DMC embroidery threads, the newly cut end pulled from the skein is the one to thread from, it makes a difference to how much the thread fuzzes.  I cut off just the two or however many threads you're using at a time, to avoid threading from the wrong end.  Don't try and use every inch of thread, if it goes fuzzy, end off, it's only thread!  If they over-twist allow the thread and needle to dangle and hang to find its comfortable amount of twist.  Personally I like evenweave linen in preference to Aida-cloth.

            Sharyn, just to enjoy the 'doing of it', the journey, not be in too much of a hurry to finish.  When my twins go down for their nap, out comes the embroidery and a cup of tea, and sitting in our dining room with the sun coming through the window on my back (it's winter in Australia), and some classical music playing, it is my bliss. 

            Edited 6/11/2003 3:31:42 AM ET by Jeanette

          7. rjf | | #16

            "just to enjoy the 'doing of it', the journey, not be in too much of a hurry to finish.  When my twins go down for their nap, out comes the embroidery and a cup of tea, and sitting in our dining room with the sun coming through the window on my back (it's winter in Australia), and some classical music playing, it is my bliss. "

            That sounds wonderful!  Life sometimes gets so frantic that I think I'll never get to sit like that but then comes a rainy day and I weave for a few hours.  It's as satisfying as I remember counted cross-stitch.                         rjf

          8. user-149526 | | #18

            To all of you who've been so kind in your guidance . . . I'm beginning to enjoy this project very much!  Not just the cross-stitching but the sense of long-distance friendship that your words give.  Just the realization that you live all over the world and that our enjoyment of creating beautiful things unites us is a wonderful thing.  I'm reside in the hidden valley region of southwestern Wisconsin, USA.  Besides in the U.S., my children live in Germany and Norway.  I've traveled the world and find good people everywhere and in great abundance. 

            Thank you so much--all of you--for reminding me!  Sharyn

          9. Tish | | #17

            Sharyn, the mixed stitches shouldn't be any problem in most circumstances.  The continental style is more durable, and is the preferred stitch for anything that gets wear, like cushions.  If you've done needlepoint, you're probably already familiar with the heavier stitches that are preferred for upholstery.  Also, in any item with stuffing behind the stitching, the continental stitches might stand out from the background more than the ladder-backed stitches.  This would be a very minute difference.  I would have to say that in my judgement you have not committed any stitchery sins at all and don't worry about it.

            (How's that for reassurence worded in a worrisome way?)

            Jeannette is right about enjoying the process.  And that running stitch tip is fantastic!

          10. rjf | | #19

            Tish, I remember my mother and grandmother doing needlepoint with the continental stitch and it always distorted the fabric into a diamond shape.  It could be blocked back to a rectangle but it was a hard job.  Does the embroidery hoop prevent that when you're doing cross-stitch?  I used to work as a picture framer and many of the jobs were framing needlework, crewel in particular.  The first part was always to wash and block, then stretch over some kind of backing.  It always worked out very well except for one piece of "traditional" embroidery in cotton floss.  Fortunately, I warned the customer that blacks and reds occasionally run but she said go ahead and, by golly, the red did run but the black was okay.  Maybe today, it's more colorfast.  For some reason, the wool for crewel work didn't have that problem.

            Love your "rich new pastures of ignorance"! It's exactly how I feel about weaving.  rjf

          11. Tish | | #20

            Hoops and frames help to minimize the distortion.  I don't think that there is really any way around it.  I could be more careful about the tension I put on the stitches, I guess.  I rely on the blocking to take care of it.  I think that most kits do not provide enough thread for the continental stitch.

            This discussion is making me twitch to get back to cross stitch.  I have a pair of adaptations of Cicely Mary Barker's "Flower Faeries" that I bought years a go and never opened-- but if I do that when will I weave? 

            That science quote is from the first director of the EPA

          12. rjf | | #21

            "This discussion is making me twitch to get back to cross stitch."

            Me too!  And it's one of the few things that keeps me awake after supper when I wouldn't be weaving anyway. Since I've been retired, I've found way too many fun things to do.  Cognitive disonance!  Somehow, I keep thinking there's enough time for all the things I want to do but suddenly there's supper to cook and groceries to buy (not necessarily in that order).  Maybe a glasses case since I lost my favorite one. 

            Have you been reading the discussion about Parents' magazine about home sewn clothes for kids?                         rjf

          13. JeanetteR | | #22

            It is a lovely thing when life allows you time to persue your pleasures in between all the necessary jobs that just have to get done!  Personally, I'm very skimpy with the time I allow for housework, look it just fills all the available time you allow, like water spreading to fill a bowl, or even like King Canute holding back the tide, so I simply don't allot much.  You know how if a friend is dropping over you can run through and tidy up amazingly if there's only 20 minutes' notice, well that's how I do the minumum all the time!  It leaves so much more time for stitching!  When I'm dead and gone, I'll never be remembered for how much housework was/wasn't done, but hopefully some of my embroideries will be cherished.  I can even sneak in a bit of stitching when the twins are playing in the afternoons now they're nearly 3 1/2, not just nap-time and after their bedtime!

          14. carolfresia | | #23

            And with 3 1/2 year old twins, trying to keep things straightened up and in order all the time has to be pretty  much a lost cause! I'm like you--once massive pick-up session every few days during the week, and before bedtime on the weekends. Otherwise it's a full-time job. Mind you, I've stepped on plenty of legos and little doll accessories and cursed, but the alternative is more tedious!


          15. JeanetteR | | #25

            Yes, you have to learn to let some of the little things go or it'd drive you crazy.  Our lounge-room looks like pre-school most of the time, with a tidy-up once a day when the darlings are in bed.  Those legos are built tough and don't they hurt on the old insteps when you tread on one unsuspectingly! 

          16. JeanetteR | | #24


            Yes, I really enjoy this sense of community in this forum, too.  It is very enjoyable to be able to feel a part of a worldwide sisterhood (with excuse-me's to Doc!) who share similar interests, and gain from others' experience and knowledge. 

  3. rjf | | #3

    I just found this on google:


    It looks thorough and understandable    rjf

  4. Tish | | #7

    Dear Sharon,

    As the veteran of several "fine art" type cross stitch stockings, I have a few suggestions.  One is that you need to use a hoop, unlike needlepoint.  The stitching can pull the fabric out of true if it isn't stretched.  I prefer to do the line stitching that highlights the design  on a square embroidery frame, rather than in a round hoop, but that's personal preference.  Don't worry about the embroidery that gets flattened in the hoop.  Your finishing steps should include steaming with an iron from the wrong side, and that will perk up the stitches. 

    Work in GOOD light!

    There are a couple techniques for cross stitch.  One looks like little vertical stitches on the back, and the other looks like long diagonal stitches on the back.  With one you go over the line one way making all of your forward cross lines, and in the other you come back and finish the crosses.  The other completes each x before starting the next.  For a stocking, either one will be fine because you don't really get much wear with a Christmas stocking.  But don't blend them. Do the entire stocking in the same stitch.

    I used to do needlepoint too.  I could actually stitch while walking to school!  But of course, I was always late arriving...  Needle point is a good background for cross stitch.  Much of what is common sense for one is also common sense for the other.

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