Ask Jo: Cross-Stitch

Well, well…lookie what happened!  Many of you got interested in cross-stitch!!  I got a lot of questions about cross-stitch after I’ve been blogging about it lately.  I honestly think cross-stitch is super hot and popular right now because of covid.  It’s an easy hobby to do with minimal entry cost which is awesome.

Judy wrote:
Jo, after looking at all the various blogs of quilters who also do cross-stitch, I’ve decided to pick cross-stitch up again. I’m struggling with working on linen, even though I have 2 large pieces that I did in my younger years that are on linen.
Your pieces are beautiful, I’m starting small with ornaments, so hopefully, I can get back in the swing of things. Thanks so much for the inspiration.”

This is a common problem.  I had the problem myself.  I started cross-stitching in the 80s using Aida.  I loved it.  I did a big Paula Vaughan piece.  All of her cross stitch had quilts in it.  They were beautiful.  I stitched this one….

Pink ribbon paula Vaughan's counted cross stitch kit | Etsy

When the kids were little I stitched a lot.  As they aged, I quit cross-stitching and moved to quilting.  When I started cross-stitching again, I was terrible at it.

I didn’t want to stitch on Aida so I bought linen.  I could not do it.  I bought a pattern and everything I needed.  I sat down to try, no luck.  I felt like a clumsy ox.  I just couldn’t wrap my head around seeing two threads and stitching over them.  I quit.

Kelli bought a project at the same time and with her, it clicked.  She was showing me what she was doing and I was so sad I couldn’t make mine work.  Fast forward to me seeing this piece.

B51 Gratitude Turns What We Have into Enough Inspiration BoxerI loved the words on the bigger piece.  I was bound and determined that I was going to figure cross-stitch out.  I really wanted that stitched and in my house.

I looked up a shop that had it and found one an hour from my house.  YAHOO!!  Kelli and I went.  I got the stuff.  I told the shop owner my problem and she said get a good light with magnification.

I bought one immediately.  I have this…Here is an Amazon link for it.

This didn’t make it a breeze, but it did make it easier.

I still struggled and was so slow, but I found I could do it with magnification.  My first piece was far from perfect…but it was okay and I was proud of myself.  I wanted to quit a couple times but spending the money on the lamp kept me in the game.  I didn’t want to spend that money for nothing.

Here are some things I learned.
-The more you cross-stitch, the easier it is to see the threads.  As with anything practice helps you improve.
-Once you get a few stitches into the piece, other stitches are based off the first stitches so, the more you stitch on a piece the easier it gets.
-You do get muscle memory when stitching.  Your hand learns about how far the next stitch is going to be away.

So..stick with it.

Next question…
Judy wrote:
“Do you have a specific magnifier you could recommend? Maybe that’s my problem.”

I think this is the same Judy who wrote the first question.  I do have the magnifier I showed in the photo above.  When I first bought the lamp, I used magnification ALL OF THE TIME.  If I did one stitch, I used it.

Time has passed.  I’ve practiced more.  I not longer use the magnification portion of the lamp unless I’m stitching one floss thread over one linen thread on 40 count.  Most everyone needs a magnifier for that.

My eyes are so trained now that I can stitch in the doctor waiting room without the best light.  Of course, I try to sit by natural light, but, I can easily do it and I’m stitching on 40 count which is a “more advanced” linen.

You eyes truly do learn.

I stitched for awhile on 28 count…I moved to 32 and this year I finally took the dive and moved to 40 count.  The reason why??  I wanted to stitch this…

By accomplishing this, I’ve gotten to a place that I want to be with my stitching.  I’ve always dreamed of stitching samplers.  Now, I can and I’m so glad I put in the hard work and fought through the frustrations of re-learning to cross-stitch.  It was totally worth it!

Becky wrote:
How do you know where to start on linen or working over to? Top, middle and how to determine where? Love the over two look, but just don’t know how to start a piece..thanks Jo!

Becky this is something I struggled with when I started too.  A lot of people say fold your fabric in half and half again to find the middle and start there.  I hated that.

Kelli helped me learn to start in the upper left hand corner.  This is what you need to do.  Figure out who is going to finish your project once it’s done.  If you take it to a framer, they want 2-3″ on each side of extra blank fabric.  If you do it yourself, you can do 2″ for sure.  So find the size of your design and add about 4″ to the width and length.  That’s how big you need your fabric to be.

For example you are working on a piece that has a design size of 4 x 6.  You would fabric that is 8 x 10.  We added 4″ to each number.  That is giving 2″ of room all around the design.  Now measure 2″ in from the top and 2″ in from the side and this where to put your first stitch.

They make cute corner gauges like THIS ONE from Etsy.

Corner Gauge Cross Stitch corner square tool image 0You can lay this in the corner and easily see where to put your first stitch.  But it isn’t anything you NEED.

Sandra asked:
I am getting back into counted cross stitch and, while I have several good local quilt shops for quilting supplies, I find that availability of cross stitch supplies is lacking in my area.

Do you buy your linen cloth locally, near where you live, or through internet shopping? If it is through internet shopping, could you recommend a vendor? Or several, if you have more than one?  Also, do you use DMC thread, or something else. When I cross stitched in the past, DMC was it…now there seem to be other brands, but I don’t know anything about them. Any information you could pass on would be very greatly appreciated. Because there is such a difference in price between DMC and the other brands, I would like to get an opinion from someone I trust to give me an honest assessment.  Thanks so much!

Well…that’s a lot of question.  Let me see if I can tackle them one at a time.

Cross-stitch has taken off crazily in 2020.  So many people like me and some of you who cross-stitched years ago are trying it again.  I think many people got “locked up” because of covid and are wanting hobbies again.  It’s wonderful.

That means, getting cross stitch supplies can be challenging.  There aren’t a lot of local shops.  Local shops don’t always have what we need.  Shops aren’t alwasy open.  Linen and floss production was effected by covid and they’ve never truly caught up.  So…the first thing I want to tell you is this.  Even if you try to find things online, it will likely mean ordering from more than one place.

So, I’ve had luck ordering from
Needlecase Goodies on Etsy.  Nancy owns this shop.  She’s an Iowa girl and has top notch service.  I’ve personally met Nancy and recommend her 100%.  Her service is top notch.

123 Stitch in online.  They are good.  I like the fact that if you find a chart that you like, you can often click a button and order the whole kit.  That’s awesome and convenient.  Shipping has been as good as can be.  They have the option that if something isn’t in stock, you can be notified when it comes back in stock via email…quickest shipping anywhere.

Fat Quarter Shop.  The same Fat Quarter Shop you may have used to get quilting stuff.  My personal experience is that I have waited a bit for things to get to me.  It hasn’t been the post office’s problem, the orders just don’t get processed quickly…but they have a pretty good selection.

-My local shop Stitchery Nook is an hour away from me.  I don’t like making the drive or going out for that matter, so…I call them or order online.  I love the gals there.  They have an online shop so anyone can order from them.  They are pretty quick with turn around unless they don’t have it in stock.

-I’ve gotten so I am stitching more samplers.  Samplers sometimes need silk thread or a different linen that isn’t stocked everywhere.  For that, I’ve started using The Attic out of Mesa Arizona.  They don’t have an online shop really.  I just email them what I want and they fill the order.  It’s not a good site to “browse”.  You have to know what you are looking for.

I have ordered once from Kitten Stitcher/Shakespeares Peddler.  I have good luck there too.

There are others that I hear are good…I’ve not tried them.
Country Stitches
Fire Poppies
The Silver Needle
Dying to Stitch

Now for floss.  When I was first stitching back in the 80’s, I was all about DMC floss.  That’s what there was.  Now I’ve dabbled in other floss…

There are three main brands of cotton floss that many call “Fancy Floss”.  They often have a little variegation to them.  The brand are:
Classic Color Works
Weeks Dye Works
Gentle Arts (GAST)

There really isn’t a big difference between them except, Classic Color Works’ thread is already cut into lengths.  Some people love that.  I like it but the lengths seem a little long for me but it doesn’t stop me from using it.

Now…I took some pictures so you can see what the variegated thread does.

Check out the row of green diamonds.  Can you see the slight color variegation?  I think that adds so much to the piece.  That row runs all the way across the piece.  As a quilter who is used to mixing fabrics, I like the variegation.

Check out the red fruits on the tree…see the variegation.  I like it.  The fruit seems more like we would naturally see fruit.

Check out the light greenish color around the flowers.  See how it looks moteled?  I love that variegation.  It gives the whole piece a little more depth.

For some things, I think paying the extra money for the “Fancy Floss”, is totally worth it.

For other pieces like what I stitched below…it’s not worth it and really the amount that is stitched in each color is so little that the variegation wouldn’t even show so I would not use fancy floss in a piece like this.

So…I use a mix.  Some designers stick mostly with a single company.  Some mix and match.  I appreciate Teresa Kogut designs as she will pick seven Fancy Flosses and then DMC the rest.

Some designers like the one who did the “my soul” in the above picture called for Fancy Floss for that…Hmm.  I don’t think it’s necessary.

The good news is that many give the option to use either and I often do mix and match.  I’m trying to get better about substituing something different if I don’t want a certain color.  For example in this..

Little Sheep Virtues No. 4 - Courage by Little House Needleworks Counted  Cross Stitch PatternI stitched this but don’t have purple in my house so I changed out the purple.  This is much more fitting for my decor.  I’m so glad I did.

I’ve watched floss tube and many talk about stitching with silk.  To date, I haven’t tried that.  It’s even more expensive than Fancy Floss.  I did kit up a project that uses 5 silks as a treat for my birthday.  I haven’t stitched on it yet but hope to soon.

I watch a floss tube by Brenda and Serial Starter.  I think on every single episode Brenda (who I love) says, stitch what you want to stitch with.  It doesn’t matter if it’s DMC, Fancy Floss, Aida or Linen.  It doesn’t matter if it’s samplers or small pincushions.  Stitch what you love.  Stitching is supposed to enjoyable.  I totally agree.

The longer I am stitching, the more my tastes are changing.  I don’t recommend going whole hog and buying lots.  Two years ago when I really jumped into cross stitch, I never dreamed I’d be stitching what I am now.  I made the mistake of buying to many supplies that were 28 and 32 count.  I bought to many charts that I am not longer interested in.  Happily, I have sold them for about what I paid for them on a Facebook group called Stash Unload cross stitch only.

Now I’m trying not to buy too much of what I love now…and that’s samplers.

There really has been a lot of interest in cross stitch here on the blog.  If I got enough interest, I would be willing to see if I could get someone to put kits together and we could all do a cross stitch along…in cross stitch world, they are call SALs (Stitch a Longs).  We could all stitch the same thing.  It would be small and I’d shoot videos to give you an idea how to do it from start to finish…let me know if that sounds interesting.  It would be an easy beginning project.

46 thoughts on “Ask Jo: Cross-Stitch”

  1. When I was doing counted cross stitch thirty – forty years ago I found a good many patterns in the Leisure Arts magazine. Don’t know is they still publish free patterns are not. Probably are available on Etsy or eBay. My sister always did the P. Buckley Moss pictures…beautiful! It is a very enjoyable art craft.

    1. Jennifer Harris

      Cross stitcher 48 years ago! Finished a bell pull and need to have it assembled. No one around here. Any shops that do that? Nervous about sending it in the mail ! Too many hours invested. Thanks. Also eyesight much worse. Haven’t used the fancy floss. Appreciate your article.

    2. Cross Stitch is my passion. I’ve been doing it for many years. Started out in the early 80s. Made stockings for my children, then grandchildren, now Great-grandchildren.
      I get a lot of my supplies through Herrschners. Also DMC.

  2. Getting ready to move and I packed all of my cross stitch supplies into one bin so that I can start that again…I think I’ve taken about a 25 year hiatus, but would like to take it up again. I do have lots and lots of books and pamphlets, though, that will not make the trip. There are just way too many of them and I decided that I can only take those that I believe I really want to work. I, too, put cross stitching aside in favor of quilting, but I think quiet evening times might just be the right time to start again!

  3. Thanks for the information. I started crossed stitching 40+ years my early 20’s. Of course over the years my tastes have changed. Then quilting took over and cross stitch went on the back burner until 2020!!! I picked up a piece I started 6 years ago and finished it. Then another finish and even finished them to be displayed. And it felt so good. I’m currently working on the same Newcastle Bouquet you finished. I’m working on 40 ct and boy it’s hard right now. I invested in a magnifying lamp too. I didn’t start in the left corner but instead am working on the border. My big fear is that it won’t match up…ugh. But I will persevere. I also made project bags, thread drops, least my stitching projects look pretty!!!

    1. Oh Karen! You encouraged me by telling us about your finish! I have 3, yes 3, big pieces in progress that I really want to finish. It can be done!!! I really want to use some lovely thrifted variegated silk to stitch up some Irish blessing samplers, but I refuse to start one until after I have a finish.

  4. Jackie Trembley

    Hi Jo! A SAL with a smallish to medium project would be a great idea and I’d participate. I do have a tip to pass along. I think I heard on Brenda and the Serial Starter. If you use a normal sized post-it in the corner, that should give you 3” in from both edges as a place to start. Thanks for all you do with your blog. You’re a blessing to us all!

  5. Janet Hasselblad

    Hi, if a pattern says the sample/picture is stitched on 40 ct, or something else, can that same pattern be stitched on 12, 14, 18, etc?

    1. Yes Janet. You can stitch it on anything you want. It might change the finished size of the project is the only concern. I bought the chart “Consider the Lillies”. The designer made it for 28 count but when I do mine, it will be on 40 count.

    2. Janet- it CAN be stitched on whatever “Evenweave” fabric you’d like. BUT, the stitch count determines the size of the finished piece. So for example, if you stitched a project over 2 threads on 40 count linen that had a stitch count of 240 (H) by 360 (W), the stitched are would be 12” by 18”. If you chose to stitch that same project on 14 count Aida cloth, the area would measure @17 1/8” by 25 3/4”. It all depends on the intricacy of the chart and the look you want too. An example would be the sheep virtue that Jo did and pictured above. It could become very pixelated if you changed the fabrics to something that would make it larger.
      Sorry for rambling, but wanted to cover all the bases on the question!

  6. I have ordered from Silver Needle and really like them. The first time I ordered a few charts(the “hope” virtue and a christmas ornament) and linen. They came and I thought “what was I thinking?!? When I saw the linen. But in 2020 I picked them up and have been working on them.

    Late in the fall last year I had bought a halloween chart from a quilt shop I enjoy shopping at. They don’t sell the fabric. So I went to the Silver needle website. I wasn’t sure what to get for the look I wanted so I sent them a question. In a few days they called me and we discussed the options. I made a choice (28 ct linen) and I was very happy with it when it arrived. I have been stitching on it and agree with you, Jo that you start to get a feel for where the needle should go. I do still check periodically!

  7. I haven’t stitched since the 80s and my older eyes really struggled too. With your encouragement and a magnifier I pressed on. My first 2 small projects were so so, but you’re right, you really do get better with practice. I’m blessed I have a shop within a few miles of my house, and ladies that have been so helpful. Thanks so much for sharing pictures of yours, I can’t wait to move on to bigger projects.

  8. Hi Jo, I would love to Sal! I took up cross stitch again after about 30 years when I saw several of your samplers. I’m still using Aida but will try linen when I finish my current project. Love your blog! Thanks for sharing your life and family. And Happy New Year!

  9. I think a SAL sounds like fun! I took up cross stitch in ‘88. I’m pretty sure I still have all my cross stitch magazine subscriptions through the years. I used Aida cloth back them, in various counts. I preferred the details of those patterns that used 1/2 and 1/4 stitches for the details it gives. I have been thinking about starting again, goodness knows I have the supplies! I even found my special cross stitch stitch removing scissors the other day when purging things from my studio baskets. Must be a sign!!

  10. Now you have me thinking about starting cross-stitch again! I have SO many patterns, fabric, floss that it wouldn’t take much to get going. I have a lot of pieces that I finished years ago and never framed… including some of those Paula Vaughan designs. I bought a lot when I worked at a shop that carried quilting and cross-stitch supplies… but at least I got a discount! LOL!

  11. Like so many others, I too cross stitched in the 80’s. I bought a small kit a couple of years ago and made so many mistakes, I stopped. I am still interested though. I would like to do a SAL. I gave all my projects from the 80’s away so have none left.

  12. Hi Jo
    I have been cross stitching for many years now and like most of your readers I started on Aida. If I could give a few hints from my experience to those who are struggling with linen I would say first of all don’t think that pieces done on Aida are inferior in any way. They are just different. If you hate working on linen but like working on Aida then carry on with what you are doing. It should be enjoyable not an ordeal.
    To work on linen don’t buy pure white. It’s hard on the eyes and will show up every mistake. Antique white is a better choice but I always feel that samplers look nicer done on darker fabric as the antique ones would have been. Get a good magnifier I have one that I hang round my neck and work in a good light. Lastly and I feel this is the most important stretch the area you are working on on a good tight frame. I use the coloured plastic ones that are meant to be used as frames and take your work off the frame when you stop working on it. I have never found that the stitches get crushed and I have made dozens this way.
    Samplers look lovel on linen but pictures look nicer on even weave as you don’t get the thick threads that are part of the charm of linen but can spoil the look of a picture.
    What a lecture, do hope it helps. I have had hours of pleasure cross stitching so don’t give up.

  13. Amazingly enough, I first started cross stitching when my mom sent me some smalls that were Christmas ornaments when I was stationed in Antarctica over Christmas back in the 80’s. Since then I have cross stitched ornaments every year for family and made larger projects for our homes. I’ve really enjoyed cross stitching – very relaxing – and now my grand daughters “sew” with me.

  14. There seems to be a problem with the link in the previous post. I couldn’t read the second half and couldn’t leave you a comment to alert you . Hope you can fix it.

  15. A SAL is just the nudge I need to get me started cross stitching again. Count (no pun intended) me in. BTW I love Brenda and the Serial Starter and have watched every episode after stumbling on to their Utube. It seems to me that their go to linen is mostly 40 count. Unfortunately, I live in an area that is void of cross stitch shops and will need to depend on on-line shopping – thus I don’t have the ability to look and feel before making purchases. Terry

  16. Hi, Jo. I only want to add a couple of things to your excellent explanations, especially for those who have resumed cross stitching after many years away.
    1. The “fancy floss” and many of the overdyed fabrics are not colorfast like DMC. Back in the 80’s when we stitched on Aida with DMC, it was common practice to wash our finished pieces, but that isn’t recommended if using fancy floss or overdyed fabrics.
    2. The 123Stitch website has some really good informational tools available, including how to calculate fabric size, etc., under the Free and Fun tab. It’s not really hidden, but I don’t think it’s an obvious place to look.
    3. also provides a lot of good resources.
    There are so many more options these days that it can be overwhelming when you first come back to stitching. I only skipped the 90’s, resuming in the early 2000’s, but I remember being intimidated by all the new things. The main thing is to stitch what you want, on what you want, and with what you want.
    Happy Stitching!

  17. When it comes to magnifiers, I had very poor luck with the ones that hang around your neck and prop up on your chest. By the time I got the light where it needed to be, I still couldn’t see due to reflections from the light on the magnifier. And if it’s not comfortable to hold the project where the magnifier is, you’re out of luck. Lamps with a magnifier like you use, or with magnifier surrounded by the light, seem to be OK, but more and more I find myself putting readers on over my regular glasses.

    Another tip I just learned recently – if you grid your fabric, use fishing line. I’ve been using sewing thread but fishing line would be even less likely to be snagged by your needle when you don’t want to remove the grid lines yet. And there are absolutely no worries about pen markings ever coming back in the future.

    Thank you for the links to suppliers. My “local” LNS retired last year, SO glad I splurged on fabrics and threads then, but still nice to have options. Needlecase Goodies… Nancy… I wonder if she’s the same person that had a LNS in Cedar Rapids by the name of The Needlecase years ago?

    1. JustGail…YES, it is the same Nancy and she is providing the same great service with her Etsy shop. It’s really a popular shop.

  18. A SAL would be just the thing to get me started again. I haven’t cross stitched for years. I have really enjoyed seeing what you have been working on….just my style. I vote YES!

  19. Does anyone know who might be able to create a cross stitch design – I have 2 sayings that I would love to work up into cross stitch pieces.

    1. There is a program called PCStitch. It is a computer program that you can design software with. They have a limited version on their site for free.

  20. What is the difference between cross stitch and needle point? I just started doing cross stitch??? I picked up a neat little project for a vintage Valentines Day storage jar, the lid is supposed to be cross stitched with a beautiful heart design. It was the first time ever doing this type of thing (hopefully I did it right) and now I’m addicted. Looking to improve, learn terms, tricks, stitches, whatever else will help me. I always buy vintage cross stitch/needle point/crewel pieces when I see them in the thrift stores. I think it’s amazing the talent and time involved on some of the completed ones I’ve come across!

      1. With needlepoint, you cover the entire surface with stitches, both the designed area and also the background. There are hundreds of different stitches that cover a large number of threads as you work. The cross stitch can be worked on needlepoint canvas.

        Cross stitch leaves the background unstitched so the background is the fabric.

  21. Jo,
    Love your blog ! So much info., inspiration, and generosity !!
    Just curious to know the designers/websites and pattern names of the 3 pieces you show here. I’d love to do them all … especially the sampler … ESPECIALLY after 2020 !!!!
    Thanks again for all you do here.
    Be well and safe,
    Anne Marie

    1. Anne Marie the pieces are:
      Seeking Refuge by The Scarlett House
      Sheep Virtues by Little House Needleworks
      Gratitude by Lizza Kate
      I am currently working on Heaven and Nature by Teresa Kogut

  22. I have been doing counted cross stitch for over 40 years but IAM also frustrated by the difficulty in obtaining the supplies and patterns that I want to stitch. I have a library of cross stitch books and patterns that just about fills 3 two-drawer filing cabinets! I would love to get connected with a service that supplies charts no longer in print stitchers to offer up my inventory and help. Is there a service like this? Thanks for any help available!!!

    1. I know Blackbird Designs has a group that allows people to borrow out of print charts but I don’t know any other place. If you want to sell them, there is a group called stash unload on Facebook.

  23. I love to cross stitch. I have been counted cross stitch for a long time. I make a lot of them and I give them to my family for presents. I ordered from the Stitchery Magazine. Thanks for the other stores online to try.

  24. I loved counted cross stitch as a kid, but switched to making suits and dresses for work, then to quilts for retirement. I ordered an easy kit with 14 count aida. About right for my old eyes. Then I bought a magnifier lamp and it’s the cat’s meow. So I ordered a couple couple cross-stitch books from Thriftbooks, and picked out a William Morris design, sweet. I found the evenweave fabric but not the DMC threads yet. I also think it is muscle memory, hope I get some of that

    1. I frame small things myself. Big things go to either Total Framing or to The Stitchery Nook in Osage Iowa. I stuff my own pillows and do my own wall hangings

  25. Thank you for all your help. I like your advice about figuring out how much fabric you need and adding 4 inches to get 2 inches of border. Then I can start in the upper left-hand corner rather than in the middle. The advice about pulling the thread from the numbers end of the DMC floss was very useful.

    I am doing the Blessings stitch along on 14-count Aida. It is going well. I have finished 3 of the pumpkins and have started working on number 4. I left out the Blessings letters so that I will display it.

    I am feeling more confident cross stitching.

    I found that I needed to grid my project after making mistakes (Ripping them out) without it. Then I had to redo my grids because I miscounted them.

    I have used Easy-count grid lines by R & E Designs (100 yard roll) for gridding (Similar to fishing line) . It is red and works very well. I use a pattern of stitches — one run over 6 cross-stitches and leave 4 cross-stitches blank.

    I would be interested in doing another stitch along. I would also do it on 14-count ‘Aida’.

    I am planning to start and complete a carousel horse on 14-count ‘Aida’ that will measure 11″ by 12″. I have bought a 14.5 ” by 18″ ‘Aida’ fabric so that I can start at the upper left-hand corner.

    I have 2 other big cross-stitch projects to do. One is a carousel horse and one is Santa with polar bears. I started them in the middle, which has been confusing. I also want to do a stitch-along of the periodic table.

    So I plan to cross stitch for a long time.

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