6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Cross Stitch

This post is for anyone thinking of getting into cross stitch or about to start their first cross stitch project.

When I got back into cross stitch, I hadn't done any since I was very young and under supervision, so getting back into it I found a few things I didn't remember or were different to my expectations.

1. Cross stitch takes time

The first thing I found was that I had completely unrealistic expectations about how long any stitching was going to take me. The first project I bought was quite a large full coverage piece, which is consigned to my WIP (work in progress) pile still to this day and I doubt I will ever finish. This was because prior to taking up cross stitch I had been more used to crafts such as knitting and tapestry, working with much thicker materials and seeing my projects grow relatively quickly. Most cross stitch is finer work using embroidery thread, which is a lot thinner than materials like wool and covers a much smaller area. Because of the expectations I had in the beginning, I found my progress painfully slow and I did abandon that first project. However, after readjusting my expectations and trying some smaller projects, I found a level I enjoyed and also began to enjoy the slow pace of cross stitching.

2. It will get easier and quicker

Following on from the above, cross stitch is extra slow when you're a beginner. It takes time to get used to the materials, to thread the needle, to poke around to find the right hole in the fabric and to get to know the right speed to pull the thread through to avoid it snagging or knotting. To start with I found it really frustrating with constant knotting but as I gained familiarity with the materials, I found the right way to handle the thread so that it knotted less and if it did knot, I got quicker at fixing it. Also, the more stitching I did, the quicker I got at finding the right hole without turning over the fabric every time and eventually it started to become second nature.

3. Embroidery thread usually needs separating

Embroidery thread showing strands

Most embroidery thread is supplied as six strands twisted together; however, most patterns require you to separate out the strands and only use a specified number of strands.

Of course I didn't realise this when I bought my first kit and decided to jump straight in without reading the instructions properly and so I used the full thread. It took a while of finding stitching with the full thread really hard going, not enjoying the stitching process at all, and wondering why the thread was running out so quickly before I looked at the instructions properly and realised I was meant to only use two strands. I know it's not just me that made this mistake though as I often get messages from my customers who have done the same thing.

4. Count, count again and then check the counting

When doing counted cross stitch, I have lost so many hours of stitching, thinking it's all going great and then when I come to meet up with one of the early stitches I placed, finding I'm in slightly the wrong place. Then follows the process of working backwards through what you've just done and trying to work out where you've gone wrong. Then the decision of whether to undo the whole lot or try to make it work slightly wrong and running into problems later on. This still happens to me now because I still give myself unrealistic stitching deadlines (I will never learn!) and then it takes twice as long. Anyway, when moving to another area of the pattern, I recommend counting it out twice on both the chart and the fabric, placing your stitch and then double-checking your counting as so often I seem to end up one square out after placing the stitch. It is also good to check against a second reference point (if you have another area of stitches already done you can check you are in the right place relative to them as well). This slows the process but it saves so much time in the long run.

5. Use good quality materials

When I first started designing my own patterns, I didn't have much of a thread stash and bought a multipack of threads from the local supermarket to try things out. I hadn't cross stitched in a little while and couldn't believe the amount of problems with the threads knotting I was having, thinking maybe cross stitch was a lot harder than I remembered. However, when I moved on to some DMC thread I really noticed the difference and how much smoother it was to stitch with. This isn't the case with all cheap/unbranded threads, but it was in this case so it's worth getting good quality as a beginner or it might unnecessarily put you off a potential hobby. With fabric, look for a smooth aida fabric with a distinct weave and easy-to-see holes. If you don't plan to use a hoop, a relatively stiff fabric will be easier to handle.

6. Good lighting is key

So many times I have done a bit of stitching in the evening, with dim light, and returned to it in the morning to find I've missed holes and gone through the weave of the fabric slightly so that my stitches are wonky, or that there's stitches I've missed or haven't crossed. Good lighting is especially important when you're a beginner and not used to the fabric and also when your thread colour is similar to the fabric colour. I think bright daylight is best for stitching in and try to get my stitching done then, but it's difficult during the winter months, so a craft lamp or daylight lightbulb is essential.


I thought I would write this post because I know from personal experience it is quite easy to make mistakes and just give up in the beginning but patience and perseverance are important as you are learning, as well as avoiding some of the common pitfalls mentioned above.

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