In the past two years, I’ve taken up the needle and thread and started cross-stitching. It’s a relaxing and focusing thing to do, particularly when you’re stressed, nervous or worried. Regardless of your mental state, it’s still something worth doing because depending on the pattern, the results can be beautiful and meaningful, fun and playful, or even subversive. In a future post, I’ll write about the craftivism movement, but for this post I’ll be focusing on my favourite cross-stitch pattern purveyors (so far), with a few photos of my successful projects!
Embroidery and cross-stitching are usually seen as a craft traditionally taken up by women (and often devalued as a result despite the skill and patience it takes), but in recent years this has been changing, with people like Mr X Stitch showing that the art of needle and thread can be just as fun for men too. I’m a big believer in challenging gender norms anyway and don’t believe that any craft or art form should be off limits for anyone. Stitching and fabric art is just another way to express yourself. It’s very satisfying finishing a cross-stitch project and hanging it up on the wall or displaying it on a shelf. You can even create your own cross stitch patterns and pictures using online generators or illustrations and blank charts of your own (or taking elements of different patterns and putting them together).
The first pattern I tried was a kit from Merrie and Bright Calligraphy on Etsy – a ‘be brave’ pattern with a feather. It used 14 count Aida fabric. The thread count refers to the number of threads or squares per linear inch in the material. Basically, the higher the thread count, the smaller the squares, and the smaller or tighter the pattern will be. Most people begin with 14 count because it’s easier to see the squares. When cross-stitching, you use embroidery floss, and cut a length of thread, but separate the threads into pairs of two. You thread those two threads into a needle and tie them at the ends to begin.
Some patterns use backstitch which only needs one thread, or two if you want the thread to stand out more. Backstitch is basically for stitching outlines of objects or for creating delicate pictures as part of a pattern. I used backstitch for the first time when I did a Pride and Prejudice pattern by Stitchrovia. It takes a little getting used to, but the beauty of stitching is that you can always correct yourself by pulling the stitches out and starting again – believe me, I do this far too often for my own liking! In some of the projects I’ve done, I’ve always made a couple of mistakes, but it gets easier and more intuitive the more you do it.
I eventually progressed onto using 16 count and 18 count Aida fabric, and it’s much more challenging. I did a pattern for a friend’s birthday present on black 18 count fabric and it was by far the hardest cross-stitch project I’ve done. It was easier to see the squares if I put a light coloured background behind it and worked on it when it was bright outside. I also prefer using plastic hoops to wooden hoops, because they tend to be more comfortable to hold and don’t cause so much strain on the wrist or hand. They also hold the fabric a bit tighter. However, for finishing, sometimes a wooden hoop – maybe painted – looks great, so it’s always handy to have a few wooden hoops of different sizes.
Another great thing is that cross-stitching is generally an inexpensive thing to do if you find places with cheaper fabric, hoops, and floss. I like using Sew and So, but their hoops and fabric can be expensive. I found that, interestingly enough, Aida fabric was cheaper from John Lewis. You can buy books with cross-stitch patterns, or source some downloads from Etsy. So far, my favourite Etsy shops for cross-stitch patterns are Stitchrovia (the Pride and Prejudice pattern), Peacock and Fig, Dance Needle, Cup of Tea Creative, and Velvet Pony Design (my current work in progress, the floral deer). I also bought I Got 99 Problems But a Stitch Ain’t One: Cross Stitch With Attitude by Genevieve Brading, owner of Floss and Mischief, which has a few cheeky and fun modern designs. I’m interested in buying Really Cross Stitch by Rayna Fahey, which has lots of feminist slogans and empowering projects. Searching for patterns on Pinterest and Etsy comes up with some great stuff.
Mostly though, cross-stitching and embroidery is quite a mindful and fun thing to do, if you have the patience for it and need something you can focus on. My Gran, my Mum’s Mum, was an accomplished stitcher, and completed some wonderful works of art that I was always fascinated by. I hope to learn more embroidery techniques and create my own patterns – there’s always something new to learn. Working with thread is wonderful – so tactile and calming – and I’m looking forward to learning more about the craft.
I’m also including a video by Mr X Stitch, Jamie Chalmers, below – it has closed captions (even though they’re auto generated, they’re not too bad).