How to Start Cross Stitching: An In-Depth Tutorial

Hey there! I’m so glad you’re wanting to learn how to start cross stitching. It can be difficult to find an in-depth and easy-to-follow tutorial online when you are teaching yourself a new skill, so I created the ultimate beginners guide for you! When I was learning how to start cross stitching, I found myself skipping around from tutorial to tutorial to get all of the information I needed. I wanted to create a resource for you that was easy-to-follow and had everything you needed (and none of the stuff you don’t) to complete your first cross stitch project.

If you prefer a video tutorial, you can watch my YouTube video below:

Let’s get started!

Pattern: Mod Flowers by Hailey Stitches

How to Find a Cross Stitch Pattern

The first step is to find a cross stitch pattern. In this tutorial, I am going to be referencing my FREE cross stitch pattern called Mod Flowers. I created this pattern specifically for this tutorial with beginners in mind. You can download the pattern here and follow along.

You may already have a pattern in mind, which is great! If not, review my tips below for finding a good beginner cross stitch pattern. These are only suggestions, so feel free to take what you think is helpful and disregard anything that doesn’t feel right for you.

What Size Cross Stitch Pattern Should I Choose?

As a beginner, I highly recommend a smaller project to get started. Starting small will keep you motivated to keep going and your first finished cross stitch piece will give you great satisfaction. Cross stitch patterns are definitely marathons and not sprints, so start small! I suggest a pattern no larger than an 8” square. Finding a pattern that will fit entirely within an embroidery hoop is a great parameter to use when you’re shopping around.

Should I Choose a Free or Paid Pattern?

Either! There are plenty of free patterns available online. One resource that I love is DMC’s library of free cross stitch patterns. There’s a little bit of something for everyone, and they make it so easy to purchase the floss when you download the pattern.

There are a ton of great paid patterns to choose from as well. You can search Pinterest or Etsy for some fun options. If you’re not sure what to search for, I recommend typing “Modern Cross Stitch Patterns” into the search bar and go from there. Cross stitch patterns can range in price, but the majority of the patterns hover around $5 – $15. I love supporting independent designers, but I started my journey with a free DMC pattern because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest in a craft that I didn’t know if I’d love!

How Many Colors?

Each pattern will have its own amount of colors that the pattern calls for. The more colors a pattern has, typically the more detailed or “difficult” the pattern can be. For beginners, I’d look for a pattern that has around 3 – 10 colors. Anything more than 10 could be a bit overwhelming because you’ll have to change out the floss colors frequently and organizing the thread can be time-consuming and tedious for a beginner!

If you’d like to follow along with my in-depth video tutorial and this blog post, you can download my free pattern. This pattern will finish in an 8” hoop, it has 3 colors, and is completely free! I designed this pattern with beginners in mind, so you’ll get great practice changing colors, counting the fabric squares, and finishing your project in a hoop.

How To Read A Cross Stitch Pattern – Part One

After you have chosen your pattern, print it or pull it up on your computer or tablet. Every pattern will be a little bit different, but they all have the same basic information included so that you can stitch the pattern design. In this section, we’ll go over how to use your pattern to locate what supplies you’ll need to complete the project. I’ll be using my free pattern for reference, but you will easily be able to apply these principles to whatever pattern you chose!

HELPFUL TIP: Patterns will usually have several different versions available if you’re using a PDF pattern. There is typically a black and white version and a color version. You only need to print one of these, so choose whichever format you prefer.

Finished Pattern Size:

A screenshot of my free Mod Flowers cross stitch pattern

The first thing you want to look for is the finished pattern size. This will help you know how large the fabric will need to be to finish this project. The pattern size will vary depending on what type of fabric you use. For beginners, I recommend using a 14 count white Aida.

Cross Stitch Fabric for Beginners

There are a ton of different fabric sizes and types that you can cross stitch on. Because today’s post is focused on beginners, I’ll tell you exactly what to purchase to make your first cross stitch project a breeze. Look for a 14 count white Aida. 14 count means the number of squares per inch in the fabric, white is the easiest color to see the stitches on and Aida is the type of fabric. Aida is a stiff, evenweave fabric that is perfect for beginners.

When choosing a fabric, you’ll want to be sure that the height and width of the fabric will be larger than your stitched project. Add an extra 3 inches to each side of your fabric to account for a border and extra room for when you finish your project. If your finished piece isn’t a round number, go ahead and round up. If your finished piece will be 7”x7”, you’ll need at least a 13”x13” square of fabric. If your finished piece will be 5.7″ x 5.7” like our example pattern, you’ll need at least a 12”x12” piece of fabric. A 3″ border all the way around is a great starting point.

HELPFUL TIP: Now that we’re digging a bit deeper into cross stitch jargon, I suggest saving my Cross Stitch Terms and Acronyms Guide to reference when you come across a term that you may not know!

Embroidery Floss

Don’t let the name fool you! Although we are cross stitching, we use embroidery floss. Floss is also referred to as thread, and these terms are used interchangeably. Your pattern will tell you exactly what color floss you need and how many skeins. Most patterns come with suggested DMC colors and some patterns may have a conversion for another type or brand of floss. Here is an example of what this will look like:

A screenshot of my free Mod Flowers cross stitch pattern

Cross Stitch Supplies

We’ve already determined from the pattern what type and size of fabric and colors of floss that we need. The rest of the supplies you’ll need may or may not be listed on your pattern. Let’s quickly touch on each of those items.

Tapestry Needle

For cross stitch, a blunt-tipped tapestry needle is what you’ll need. It will easily go through the holes in the Aida fabric and it means fewer pokes and pinches for you! It is suggested that you use a size 24 needle with 14 count fabric. Save my handy fabric and needle guide for future projects!

Emboridery Hoop

There are several different hoops, devices, and methods you can use when it comes to holding the fabric you will be stitching on. For your first project, I suggest using a wooden embroidery hoop. They are very inexpensive and are great for framing your finished piece. You’ll want to get a hoop slightly larger than your finished project. The pattern may or may not suggest the size that will work best. My free pattern will finish nicely in an 8” embroidery hoop.

If you prefer to finish your project in a frame, that’s completely fine! I still suggest using an embroidery hoop to help you stitch your piece. It’ll keep the fabric taut and help you keep your stitches even.

Scissors

You will need scissors to help you cut your fabric and floss. While there are specific embroidery scissors, there’s no need to spend $20 on a pair. Any scissors you have at home will work perfectly fine! I use this pair by Fiskars.

Here’s a complete checklist of everything you need in order to get started with cross stitch.

All in all, the supplies for this project cost less than $15. I love how affordable cross stitch can be! Keep in mind that if you need to purchase a pair of scissors, the price may be a bit more expensive.


HELPFUL TIP: I’ve created two shopping guides to help make gathering all of your supplies a breeze. These shopping lists are specifically for my free pattern, but each of these retailers will have exactly what you need for your own pattern, too!

PREPARING TO STITCH

We’re almost there, folks! Just a few more steps before we can get started stitching. First, be sure that your pattern is either printed or pulled up on an electronic device. Your pattern is your instructions for completing the design, so have it in whatever format you feel the most comfortable with.

Trim the Fabric

Next, we will trim our fabric down. This step is technically optional, but it will be a lot easier for you to handle your stitching if there isn’t a ton of excess fabric hanging over the sides of the hoop. For a quick refresh, take the finished measurements of your pattern (this can be found on your pattern), and add 3” to each side. If the finished piece measures 5.7”x5.7”, cut out a piece of fabric that measures 12”x12”.

While you’re stitching, your fabric may unravel a bit on the edges. This is totally normal and should not interfere with your final stitched piece. There are ways to minimize the unraveling, such as masking tape or serging the edges, but I find that step completely unnecessary for a beginner stitcher.

Add Fabric to the Hoop

Next, we will insert the fabric into the hoop. Because the Aida fabric is so stiff, this process may be a bit difficult. Keep trying, I promise it will get easier! Here is step-by-step instructions to put your fabric in the hoop:

Step 1: Unscrew the hoop tension screw until the inner hoop can easily be removed. Remove the inner hoop and place it on a flat surface.

Step 2: Lay the fabric on top of the inner hoop. Try to center the fabric over the hoop the best you can, but it’s okay if it’s not perfect.

Step 3: Place the outer hoop on top and insert the inner hoop back into the outer hoop. I find it easiest to keep everything flat on the table and use downward pressure to get the outer hoop in place. You may have to loosen the tension of the outer hoop quite a bit in order to get the hoop in place.

Step 4: Once the inner hoop is back inside the outer hoop, you can start to tighten the tension screw. As you tighten, try to keep the fabric taut and centered.

This part is the trickiest step when starting a cross-stitch project and you’ll get better at it as you go. I found this step super difficult when I first started!

HELPFUL TIP: If you need more visual guidance, check out my YouTube video and skip ahead to 4:03.

How to Read a Cross Stitch Pattern – Part Two

We are almost ready to get stitching! Yay! Before we start stitching, let’s get more familiar with how to read a cross stitch pattern. We’ve already discovered how to find the supplies you need for the pattern, so now let’s dig in deeper to the chart.

In the table that shows you the DMC colors, you’ll see a symbol for each color. This symbol represents the DMC color in the pattern. Every time you see this symbol in the pattern, you’ll stitch it with the correlating color. It is the exact same methodology as a paint by number or diamond painting.

The red lines that run in the center of the pattern signify the middle points. This is especially helpful if you are starting to stitch your pattern in the center. There is no right or wrong place to start stitching. I change up where I start depending on each pattern. For the video tutorial, I started in the center. To find the center point, I found the point where the red lines intersect in the pattern.

How to Prepare Your Cross Stitch Floss

Finally, we’ve arrived. It’s officially time to start cross stitching! There are several ways to start a cross stitch project, but today we’re going to start with the loop method. It’s not as technical or scary as it sounds, I promise! This is by far the easiest way to start a project that I’ve found because there’s no need to deal with tying knots or having any extra loose ends in the back of your piece.

To start, choose the color that you’re going to start with. For this pattern, we’re starting with DMC 3052. Pull the thread from the side of the DMC that has the longer tag. When you pull from this side, it tends to pull out cleanly and resists any knotting. Knots happen, but I’ve found that pulling from this end reduces that chance! For a beginner, a piece of thread about the length of your forearm is a great place to start. Because the loop method we’re starting with will have us fold the thread in half, pull out two forearm lengths of floss. I measure a “forearm length” from my fingertips holding the floss to my elbow. Cut the length that you pulled out from the skein.


If you look closely, there are 6 individual strands of embroidery floss. When you’re stitching on 14 count Aida, most patterns will tell you to stitch with 2 strands of embroidery floss. Because we’ll be folding this long length of floss in half, let’s pull out one strand. If your floss was ever going to get in a tangled mess, now is the time. It’s unavoidable, but I find that this method makes it much less likely to do so. Lay your length of thread flat on the table. Make sure it’s untangled. Grab one end of the floss and start to pull out one individual strand. Go slowly and watch for tangles – they’re easier to undo before you pull them tightly. Now you’ll have one long piece of embroidery floss. Yay! You can set the remaining 5 pieces to the side until we need them again. Now we’ll start the loop method.

How to do the Loop Method in Cross Stitch

Fold the length of the thread in half. Match up the two ends of the floss and thread them through the needle. There are gadgets to help you with this if you need! Here’s a link to my favorite needle threader. This notion is completely optional but may help you if you’re struggling to thread your needle. I usually will lick the end of the thread so it’s easier to poke through the needle. Now that it’s threaded, pull the thread through several inches so you don’t have to worry about accidentally unthreading it.


From the back of your piece, poke the needle through the center point of your fabric in the hoop. It’s okay if this is not the perfect center of your project. We can adjust the fabric and re-center it when we’re done stitching.

Pull the needle and thread about half of the length of thread through the fabric. Now, poke the needle through the hole that is diagonal to the original hole. Once your needle is through the fabric, flip your project over.

You will now see the loop that formed from the folded floss.

Pull the needle through that loop and pull taut. You don’t want to pull it so tightly that the fabric warps, but you want to pull it tight enough that all of the thread is completely through the loop.

That’s it! Loop method complete! Now let’s finish our first cross stitch.

How to Complete a Cross Stitch

Flip your piece back over and insert your needle from the back of your work into the hole directly below the hole you just stitched in.

Pull the thread and needle all the way through to the front. Now we can finish the cross stitch. Insert the needle into the hole diagonal from the hole you just stitched in.

Pull the needle and thread taut. Congratulations, you completed your very first cross stitch!

HELPFUL TIP: To keep a nice and even look, be sure to keep all of your crossed stitches going the same way. You can choose if you want to cross them from left to right, or right to left, but try to keep them all in the same direction. This is the key to having a professional-looking project when you’re all done.

How to Cross Stitch Faster

To help you speed up your stitching, try to do several stitches at once. This is very helpful if you have a large area that is all one color. Do half stitches, or only one cross of the cross stitch all the way to the end of a row. Then, come back and finish cross all of the stitches. As a beginner, I recommend going one row at a time with this method, because it can be easy to lose track of where you are and to miscount. If you do a large section this way, it can be a pain to undo all of those stitches and fix a mistake!

How to End a Thread in Cross Stitch

If you are running out of thread, you’ll want to be sure to stop stitching before it gets too short. We’ll need some length to secure the thread and make sure your beautiful stitches don’t unravel. When there are two or three inches of thread left, it’s a good time to end the thread.

To do this, flip your project over so you can see the back. Take the thread and needle and run it under 3 or 4 of the stitches that you’ve already completed. Pull it taut, and cut the thread. Cut the thread close to the last stitch that you ran it under so you don’t have long tails in the back of your project. Long tails can cause knots and other problems when you continue stitching on your project.

How to Change Colors in Cross Stitch

Most cross stitch patterns are made up of several different colors. If you are done using one color in a project but you still have floss left, you can cut it and save it. I usually only save longer lengths of floss so that I’m not having to thread and re-thread my needle as often. There is plenty of floss in this pattern, so don’t feel bad for getting rid of the leftover bits. When I first started, I wanted to use every strand of floss if I could, but I quickly realized that it’s not necessary and most patterns will be generous with their floss estimations.

When you need to change colors, you will end the thread using the instructions above. Then, you’ll complete the loop method with your strand of floss in the new color and start your cross stitches.

Moving From One Part of the Pattern to Another

In my free pattern, all of the flowers, circles, and leaves are close together. This means that if you finish a part of the pattern and want to move to another part with the same color, it will be no big deal. For example, you could easily move from leaf to leaf without ending your green floss. You would just complete your last cross stitch in one leaf and start up at the next, without ever cutting the thread. You may want to be careful about having long pieces of unstitched thread behind the white fabric because it could be visible through the fabric. Some stitchers don’t mind this, and some do. It’s all up to personal preference!

How to Untangle Embroidery Floss

The last thing I want to touch on is untangling embroidery floss. It is completely normal for the floss to twist as you are stitching. If you find the floss starts to tangle, it can be helpful to let go of the needle and let it hang from the working thread of your project. It will automatically untangle itself, and you can continue to stitch.

Knots are also very common when working with embroidery floss. Usually, they are slip knots and can easily be resolved by putting your needle into the loop of the knot and pulling gently. Sometimes, they become knots that you are unable to get unknotted. That’s okay! Just cut your thread and start a new piece.


Now you have all of the resources you need in order to start your cross stitch project. If you’d like to follow along using my free cross stitch pattern, you can download the pattern here.

Ready to fully finish your project in a wooden embroidery hoop? You can check out my in-depth tutorial here!

Do you have any helpful tips for beginner stitchers? If so, I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments below.

xo, Hailey


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