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Monday, January 12, 2015

Embroidery & Equations

So the other day I was walking down the street
and a lady came up to me and said,"Quick, if 3x=12, solve for X"
"x=4" I answered...
Just another day where I used my algebra in everyday life...
Funny, you don't believe me? Wonder why...
While it's true I can't say that any situation like this has ever occurred in an everyday life, there is one thing I use often that I did learn in algebra class and that is crosstitch.
The story is that one of my good friends sat behind me in math class and Roberta taught me how to crosstitch little hearts on aida and from that point I was hooked. The first pattern I ever learned was this:
                                                               xx   xx
So let me share one of my favorite pastimes so that you may enjoy it too.
An example of stamped crosstitch
There are two styles of crosstitch: stamped crosstitch and and counted crosstitch. Stamped crosstitch is typically sold in kits and the patterns are stamped in ink that disappears as soon as you wash it. (A bad situation when it accidently is placed in the wash and it wasn't finished!) You follow a pattern of symbols to know which color to put down and essentially cover those areas in crosstitch. These come in projects that include pillowcases, quilts, tableclothes, etc.

One of my favorite pieces that hangs in my kitchen. It reads:
"I hear your footsteps in the hall, you are home again and
safe. All the burdens of the day are lightened, and all the

night's noises are music to my ears".
 The second type of crosstitch is counted crosstitch. In counted crosstitch, you purchase all the components and a pattern separately. You place your stitches on the fabric in relation to other stitches to build the picture.
While you can crosstitch on just about any fabric, the easiest is evenweave fabric known as aida. With aida fabric, there are equal weft and warp threads so it forms a square-like formation that makes it easier to count. The lower the number of the aida you purchase, the larger the holes. The larger the aida count, the finer the cloth and you typically have to go over two threads to get a more solid and larger design.
I prefer aida 14 as it's easy to get, comes in a large amount of colors and is easy to see without being too large. Additionally you need to purchase floss. Your pattern will tell you what type of floss but typically I use DMC. There are conversions between DMC and Anchor, the two most common brands, but there are also many speciality manufacturers that have wonderful colors and threads to choose from so never limit yourself.


Tools for Crosstitch Needed:

Embroidery Floss
Item to be embroidered
Fray check or masking tape (optional)

General Directions:

After obtaining your materials, fold fabric in half and then half again to determine your center. Once you have determined the center you have a decision to make; do you want to start from the center and work out or do you want to start from the nearest corner and work your way down. Neither one is more correct than the other it's simply a personal choice.

Determine the center of your pattern.

Follow the arrow at the top down until it meets
the arrow at the side's line across. You have
now found the center or your piece.
All patterns will show a small arrow at the top and side(s) of the pattern to help you locate the absolute center of the piece. Follow the line going from the top until it meets the center line going across. This is your center. If you are working from the center then count to the nearest image from the center point. Find the top portion of that image, in this example you could choose either the cat or the hat and stitch that motif.

Or, as in this example, I choose to start from the border as I knew the design was small enough to use only a portion of my fabric and I could then use the rest for another project, I started from the end leaving at least 1-2 inches or so that I could easily frame it.

Next determine how many threads to use.

A typical pattern requires 2 to 3 threads. Each floss you buy wil typically be made of six plys to make the thread. You separate the plys into either 2 or 3 threads depending upon the pattern, the thickness required or desired. As you can see in the grape piece, I went heavy, using all 6 plyes at once because this is a tablecloth that will be getting used so I want it to be durable. In the house piece above, 3 plyes were used for most of the piece but the trees and skyline were done in 2 plies that were not crossed to show a faded or shadow effect.

How to begin.

When you first begin to crosstitch your piece, leave at least 1/2" to 1" of thread on the back and hold it with your finger. We do not knot our threads in crosstich, rather we hide or bury them in the work. You can crosstitch each individual stitch but the quickest way to stitch is to stitch across the number of threads in one direction and then when you reach the end of the row, cross in the opposite direction on the way back.

 As you cross back, hold your "tail" in the path of the new stitching so that your new stitching stitches over the thread effectively burying the tail in the work and anchoring it.

When you come  to the point where you are adding another color into the motif, simply skip that stitch block for the amount of stitches called for in your pattern. Once you have finished color one that you are working with, re-thread  your needle with the new color and, going into several stitches on the back, bury the thread end of the new color under the old and begin filling in the missing spaces, burying your thread underneath existing stitches as you go to make the back of the work as neat as you can.

Once  you have one motif done, simply choose the next and count from a stitch in your finished motif to the next one you need to begin to determine the space in between and  to know where the placement is. In this way, you complete your entire piece.

Now, an optional thing you can do is either apply a line of fray check to the end of your fabric if it's aida or run a piece of masking tape along the edges if you are bothered by a bit of fray. I used to do the masking tape but did not like the residue it left on the piece and certainly wouldn't frame it with that on it (as masking tape is acidic and will cause your piece to eventually yellow). Also, you may from time to time see the sticky boards to frame your piece. I personally do not recommend them either as even if they say they are archival, ultimately your piece will become tacky as the adhesive in the boards will leach to the front. If you are putting glass in front of the piece that may not be a big issue but if not, any dust is going to be attracted to that tack and your piece may not be nice for long.

I hope you enjoyed this little tutorial on crosstitch. Crosstitch is not only a decorative hobby, it was once considered a useful skill used to teach schoolgirls sewing techniques that they would need to employ in their future homekeeping skills. The oldest samplers in this country date that are still in existance, date back to the seventeenth century. They are so important because they record the female experiences in this country that were often not recorded or considered important to their male counterparts. In these samplers we can see births, deaths, marriages and important events through the eyes of the ladies that lived in these times. Isn't it time your record your life events for posterity. Start your sampler today to leave to future generations so that they can see what was and is important in your life.


  1. This is a wonderful tutorial you have put together. My mother used to do printed cross stitch but not counted cross stitch. I have tried but it's too complicated for me. Your completed pieces are truly works of art.

  2. I learned how to do cross-stitch many moons ago and still have a project unfinished... This post inspired me to continue on! :) Thanks for sharing!