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Cross Stitch & Embroidery Tutorials


Kathleen M. Dyer -- <>
For rec.crafts.textiles.needlework
February 18, 2001

Copyright 1994-2001 Kathleen M. Dyer
All Rights Reserved.
Permission is granted to redistribute this article in its entirety for noncommercial use provided that this copyright notice is not removed or altered and that no portion of this work is sold either by itself or as part of a larger work without the express written permission of the author.

Table of Contents

1. Selecting the Fabric - Aida vs. Evenweaves/Linen

2. Selecting the Floss/Thread/Fiber

3. Selecting the Needle

4. Setting the Floss Color

5. Preparing the Fabric

6. Hoop or Hand?

7. Thread Length

8. Number of Strands to Use

9. Where to Start Stitching

10. How to Start the Thread

11. Making the X

12. Fractional Stitches and Instructions for Eyes 

13. Carrying Threads Over

14. How to End the Thread

15. Backstitching

16. Preventing Twists and Knots

16.1 Railroading
16.2 Laying Tools
17. Where Am I?

18. Stitching On Linens, Other Evenweaves and Afghans

19. Stitching Over One

20. Tweeding

21. Using Variegated Floss

22. French Knots

23. Beads

24. Signing and Dating

25. Cleaning and Storing

26. Soft Hands

27. Mounting, Matting and Framing

28. Changing Skin and Hair Tones

29. Stitching on Other Backgrounds

29.1 Silk Gauze
29.2 Waste Canvas
30. Equipment
30.1 Needles
30.2 Hoops, Scroll Bars and Such
30.3 Magnifiers and Lamps
31. The Debates
31.1 Warp and Weft and Why and Why Not
31.2 The Right Side of the Linen
31.3 The Right End of the Floss
32. The Amount of Floss for Cross Stitch

A. About the Needlework FAQs

A.1 General Comments
A.2 How to Find the FAQs

1. Selecting the Fabric - Aida vs. Evenweaves/Linen

Counted cross stitch has few rules. The main one is to enjoy yourself. You may follow or ignore any of the tips listed in this FAQ and still be a "real" cross stitcher.

People often learn to do counted cross stitch on aida and later learn to stitch on linen or other evenweaves as they become more experienced. Many stitchers who know how to work on linen prefer it to aida. As always though, this is a matter of personal choice. Some very experienced stitchers prefer aida.

An evenweave is any fabric which has the same number of threads per inch in both the vertical and horizontal directions. The individual threads might not all be the same thickness--you can see this in linen--but the number of threads is the same.

Aida is worked with one X over one square, while linen and other evenweaves are generally worked over two threads. This means that a 28 count (28 threads per inch) linen produces the same size picture as a 14 count (14 squares per inch) aida. See section "18. Stitching On Linens and Other Evenweaves" for a more detailed explanation of stitching "over two."

There is a traditional rule which says to stitch on aida using a hoop and stitch on linen "in the hand". In actual practice, people do whatever works best for them. See section "6. Hoop or Hand?" for a discussion of the "in-the-hand vs. in-a-hoop" debate. See section "30.2 Hoops, Scroll Bars and Such" for more information on the equipment itself.

Most evenweaves aren't as stiff as most aida. This can be a plus or minus, depending on your own preferences. The difference in stiffness isn't usually a factor if the fabric is worked in a hoop or in scroll bars.

Fractional stitches (1/4 stitches and 3/4 stitches ) can be much easier to do on an evenweave material. On aida, the needle needs to punch through the middle of the little square in order to complete the stitch. This can made somewhat easier by using a small sized needle (#26 or #28). No "punching through" is needed on an evenweave, as the needle simply goes between the two threads. See section "12. Fractional Stitches" for a more detailed explanation of fractional stitches.

Some people find it easier to see the holes on linen and other evenweaves, others find the aida easier.

The look of the cloth in the background is also important when selecting a fabric. Both texture and color should be considered.

Aida is generally less expensive. Whatever fabric you choose to work on, always buy the best quality you can afford. The amount of time invested in a project can be quite large and is far more valuable than a small savings up front.

Also make sure to know the fiber content and if the fabric requires any special care. For information on fiber content see the "Needlework FAQ: Fabric".

2. Selecting the Floss/Thread/Fiber

Commercial charts suggest which type and color of thread to use. Kits even supply the thread for you. However, there are times when you want to select the thread yourself.

Situation: The floss supplied in a kit is of poor quality.

If you are lucky, the chart supplied with the kit lists color numbers and a brand name. This doesn't happen very often, at least with kits that supply ugly floss. If there is no list, try to get a color card for one of the big-name brands of floss such as DMC or Anchor. Look for one which includes thread samples. Match the colors from the kit with the colors on the card as carefully as you can. Do it in natural light. Write down the numbers of the colors you need on the chart next to the correct symbol. If you can't find a color card, take the bad floss with you to your local needlework store and do the matching there. Be careful, because the lighting in some stores can make the colors look wrong.
Situation: You want to use a different brand of floss than suggested.
Some charts supply color number information for two or three manufacturers' floss. If not, try to find a floss conversion chart. Commercial ones are available and there are conversion charts in the "Needlework FAQ: Threads, Fibers, Embellishments".
Situation: You created the chart yourself, or you want a different texture or finish.
If you are experienced enough to create your own chart, you are probably experienced enough to select fibers. Consider using the many new types of fibers which are now available, such as metallics and hand painted silks. Always keep in mind the final use of whatever you are stitching. For example, don't use a non-colorfast silk for a baby's bib.
Situation: You want to use different colors than suggested.
If it is a geometric design or a simple picture with no shading, replace the colors anyway you like. More care must be taken for complex pictures. Compare the values of the old set of colors and the new set to make sure they are the same. You can do this by looking at the threads through red glass or cellophane, or by photocopying them in black-and-white.
While we're on the topic of fibers, here is a definition, just in case you ever see references to "Z-twist" or "S-twist."
From: Noeline McCaughan <>...
Just to make things a little clearer -"Z" and "S" are used to describe the twist in a yarn - any yarn regardless of what fibre it is spun from. Just take a piece of thick yarn and hold it up in front of your eyes. If the twist goes from top right to bottom left it is called "Z" (the slant of the twist equaling the slant of the downstroke in the letter). If it slopes from top left to right bottom it is of course an "S".

3. Selecting the Needle

Counted thread stitch should be done with a tapestry needle. Tapestry needles have blunt points and much larger eyes than sewing needles. The blunt points prevent the needles from piercing fabric threads.

Tapestry needles come in a variety of sizes. A larger size number means a smaller needle. Cross stitching usually requires a #22, #24, #26 or #28 needle.

One traditional rule says you should use a #22 needle if the fabric is 14 count (14 threads per inch) or less, a #24 or #26 needle if the fabric count is 16-18 count, and a #26 needle if the fabric is finer than 18.

The needle should be large enough to move the fabric threads out of the way just a tiny bit. This reduces the friction and wear on your stitching fiber.

The floss or fiber thickness and number of strands used can also affect the choice needle size.

The usual "rule" holds--find a size (or sizes) you like.

Some people lose the finish on their needles over time. Besides being ugly, this can make the needle more difficult to use. Special finishes, such as gold and platinum, are available. They cost more but some stitchers find they last longer. Try different finishes until you find the one that works best for you.

Chair arms are very convenient for holding needles, but such use can cause other members of the household to acquire a more intimate acquaintance with the tools of your craft than either they or you desire. A pin cushion is an obvious solution. Needle safes also work well. These are small, flat cases lined on the inside faces with magnets. Needle safes can cost from US$5 for a small plastic one to more than US$30 for a good, handcrafted, wood-and-brass box. People have also had good results with magnetic paperclip holders, available in any place that sells office supplies.

4. Setting the Floss Color

Floss is generally colorfast, but some people like to be very cautious when using dark or intense colors in heirloom quality projects. If you choose to be this cautious, do the following.
  • Remove the floss from the paper wrapper.
  • Place each skein of floss in a separate glass container containing cool or room temperature distilled water. Some people recommend adding vinegar or salt to the water, but the usefulness of the vinegar or salt varies with the type of dye and may even cause damage.
  • Rinse the floss in the distilled water.
  • If the water does not remain clear, replace the water and rinse again.
  • Repeat until the water stays clear.
  • Place the wet floss on a white paper towel to dry. The floss color should not bleed onto the white towel. If it does, rinse the floss again.
Obviously, you should not do this if you know the floss was dyed with a non-colorfast dye. 

5. Preparing the Fabric

The following suggestions are very conservative and cautious. It is safest to list many things of which a stitcher might want to be aware. You are then free to use or ignore whatever you choose.

Trim off any selvage edges, as the tightly woven edge may cause uneven tension in the fabric.

Some people recommend stitching on a project so that the warp threads go from top to bottom, with what was the selvage edge at the side. See section "31.1 Warp and Weft and Why and Why Not" for a more detailed explanation of how you determine the warp and weft and why you may want to do so.

Make sure the fabric is actually the count you think it is. Mark one inch of fabric using pins or some other method. Count the number of squares or threads. If the count is very different than what you believed, you will need to cut the fabric to match the true count. For example, if your 32 count linen is actually 30 count, the stitches and the project will be larger than expected. A bigger piece of fabric will be needed.

Cut the fabric to size for the project. Allow at least an extra 3" to 4" on each edge.

Pre-rinse very dark or very red fabrics to make sure the color will not run. Rinse until the water is clear. Obviously, you should not do this if you know the fabric was dyed with a non-colorfast dye.

If there are folds, make sure they will come out. Dampen and press the fabric.

Prepare the edges. Some of the options:

  • Use a sewing machine to do a zigzag stitch.
  • Use a serger to serge the edges.
  • Fold the edge of the cloth over and baste it by hand.
  • Overcast the edges by hand with a whipstitch.
  • Use Fraycheck or masking tape, but then allow another half inch (1/2") all the way around so you can cut off the chemically tainted fabric when you are through stitching. Chemicals of any sort may cause deterioration years later.
  • Let them fray! Many fabrics will only fray a small amount. If the fraying doesn't bother you, just let it happen.

6. Hoop or Hand?

There is a traditional rule which says to stitch on aida using a hoop and stitch on linen "in the hand". In actual practice, people do whatever works best for them. Many who like their fabric taut do tend to avoid hoops in favor of scroll bars or Q-Snaps when working on linen or other evenweaves, as hoops may damage the fabric or leave marks. See section "30.2 Hoops, Scroll Bars and Such" for more information on the equipment itself. See section "18. Stitching On Linens and Other Evenweaves" for a more detailed explanation stitching on linen.

Some people find it easier to control the tension of their thread with one method, some find it easier with the other. The most important thing is to use what works best for you.

For the purpose of this discussion, let's use the word "bars" to refer to all those things which can be used to hold the fabric taut--hoops, stretcher bars, scroll bars and Q-Snaps.

Advantages of "in the hand":

  • Stitching can be done with the sewing method, which requires less motion on the part of the stitcher than the stab method. The sewing method can be much faster.
  • There are no worries about squashing existing stitches or leaving hoop marks.
  • The project is much easier to transport without the weight and bulk of bars.
  • Some people like the feel of the fabric in their hand. It's part of the enjoyment of stitching.
Advantages of bars:
  • They can keep the fabric taut, for those who prefer this. They can be used with the fabric loose, for those who like the sewing method.
  • More of the fabric is immediately visible than if it were draped over a hand.
  • Most bars can be used with lap stands or floor stands. The stands allow "two handed stitching", where one hand is kept above and one hand below the project. Good quality stands are like fine furniture, and keep the current project on display.
  • People who have trouble holding projects for long periods of time also may find stands useful--they help avoid or reduce effects from tendonitis, arthritis and cramping.

7. Thread Length

Floss should be cut about 18"-20" long, or twice that if the thread will be doubled for the loop method. Some people like to use one arm length when doubling. See section "10. How to Start the Thread" for more information about the loop method.

Metallics or any fibers with rough surfaces should be cut somewhat shorter to help prevent fraying.

Separate the floss into individual strands and then recombine them. This is known as "stripping" the floss. There is less twisting and knotting, and the stitches lie flatter. To separate a thread from the others, hold onto the top end of the thread between your thumb and forefinger. Pull down on it with the other thumb and forefinger, taking all the other threads with you. It looks like a knot will form. Have faith. Everything comes out just fine.

8. Number of Strands to Use

The number of strands of floss to use is, as with most of counted cross stitch, open to individual choice. Traditionally, a certain amount of the background cloth should be visible. However, some people prefer a full, covered look. Some common choices are two or three strands for 14 stitches per inch, two strands for 18 stitches per inch, and three or four strands for 11 stitches per inch. Try a few stitches on a scrap of the project's fabric to see if the look is what you want.

9. Where to Start Stitching

You're finally ready to make that first stitch on a new piece of fabric. What's the right location in which to start? The center of the cloth? The upper left? The lower right?

The design should be centered. Find the center of the fabric by folding it in half, then folding it in half the other way. Mark the center with a pin, a stitch, or some other method.

While the design itself should be centered, where you start stitching that design is up to you. Here are some different schools of thought.

  • Let the design itself determine the starting location. Each design has its own best place to start.
  • Start in the middle. It makes it easy to be sure everything is centered. The center of the design is often more interesting to work on.
  • The starting location depends on the direction you stitch. Try to have your needle come up through the hole with the fewest existing stitches and down through the hole with the most. For example, someone who stitches like this:
  • should start at the upper left corner of the design:

10. How to Start the Thread

And now for a strong suggestion--do not knot the thread. An exception might be made for a special case, such as an isolated stitch with no other stitches near it in the design.
  • Knots can create lumps and bumps on the front when the picture is mounted.
  • Floss can catch on knots while you are stitching.
  • Knots can lead to uneven thread tension and distorted fabric.
  • Knots can pop through to the front on a loosely woven fabric.
  • Knots are harder to undo if you make a mistake.
  • Knots make the back look messy. A good general rule is that a neat back means a better looking front.
So, what is it you should do? There are several methods listed below. Many people use more than one, depending on the circumstances.

Running Under

Run the thread under four or five of the stitches on the back, if they are right next to where you want to start. You may choose to whip stitch around the second or third stitch as you are running under. This helps to lock the thread in.

Sometimes dark colors show through when woven under lighter colors. Check to make sure this isn't happening.

A variation--if you stitch in a manner that leaves vertical lines on the back, try whip stitching or weaving the thread up (or down) a few of these vertical stitches. This technique makes for a very neat looking back.

Loop Method

The loop method only works for even numbers of strands.

For two strands, start with one long strand about 36"-40" long. Fold it in half. Thread the needle so the two ends are near the needle and the "loop" is the end farthest from the needle. Start the stitch with the loop end dangling a little bit below the cloth. When the needle comes back down to the underside, run it between the loop and the cloth, and gently pull the loop tight.

Knotless Waste Knot

Start the thread from the top side, an inch or two from where you want to begin stitching. Leave a tail of thread on the top side. Careful placement of the tail before you start will cause the tail on the back to be covered as you stitch. When you have completed some stitches, pull the tail to the back side. Run it under the new stitches if necessary.

Waste Knot

This is similar to the knotless waste knot described above. One difference is that the tail on the front is knotted, to act as an anchor. Start the thread from the top side. Careful placement of the knot will cause the tail on the back to be covered as you stitch. The remaining tail on the back is run under the new stitches if necessary.

Away Waste Knot

This is similar to the waste knot described above. The tail on the front is knotted, to act as an anchor. Start the thread from the top side. It should be placed out of the way so the tail does not get covered while you stitch. At a later time, the knot on the front is cut away and the remaining tail on the back is run under existing stitches. An away waste knot gives you much more control over the tension and the way the first and last stitches appear from the front.

11. Making the X

One of the few rules in counted cross stitch is that all the stitches should go in the same direction. It doesn't matter if the bottom half goes "/" and the top goes "\", or vice versa. Just make sure that every stitch in the project is done the same way. And to be perfectly honest, there are exceptions to this rule such as 3/4 stitches.

Stitchers who use the traditional method complete each X as they go:


Stitchers who use the Danish method do the bottom stitches first, and complete the X's as they return:

Many people use a mix of the two methods. They may use the Danish method for most stitches, but do the occasional isolated stitch as a complete X. Another school recommends doing rows with the Danish method and columns with the traditional method. This causes the thread on the back to make vertical lines.

Apparently, some antique samplers which were done in the traditional method survive today because the X's hold the fabric together, and the thread forming the X's themselves is less stressed. The "one-X-at-a-time" approach works well when stitching over one thread, rather than the usual two, as it helps stop the thread from disappearing behind the fabric.

Many people find the Danish method to be faster, and to result in less confusion about current location.

Choose a method which you like, preferably one which results in neat backs. While a neat back isn't required for a good looking front, it usually helps.

For Metallic Floss Stitches, pls use short lengths of floss, make each stitch twice, make two half stitches, then return with two half stitches.


12. Fractional Stitches and Instructions for Eyes

Fractional stitches (1/4, 1/2 and 3/4) are simply cross stitches with missing arms. They are used to provide a rounded look to a picture (1/4 and 3/4), or an airy look (1/2).

Fractional stitches (1/4 and 3/4) can be much easier to do on linen or other evenweaves. On aida, the needle needs to punch through the middle of the little square in order to complete the stitch. This can made somewhat easier by using a small sized needle (#26 or #28). No "punching through" is needed on linen, as the needle simply goes between the two threads.

A 1/4 stitch is done by coming up from one corner of the square and going down in the center.

quarter st 1 1/4 stitches on your chart     quarter st 2 1/4 stitches on fabric

A 3/4 stitch is most often done by stitching the short arm first, like a quarter stitch. It is completed with a 1/2 stitch to make the other two arms. Note that this is an exception to the rule that all stitches must go in the same direction, as the long arm of the 3/4 stitch may go either "/" or "\". There are some occasions where people choose to do the 1/2 stitch first and anchor it down with the 1/4 stitch in order to achieve a certain effect.

3 quarter 1 3/4 stitches on your chart     3 quarter 2 3/4 stitches on the fabric

Frequently, a 1/4 stitch and a 3/4 stitch share a single square. This means that a decision is left up to the stitcher. Which side is the 1/4 and which the 3/4?

As in just about every other area, this is up to you. Here are some different methods. Each provides its own distinct look.

  • If there is a backstitch dividing the two sides, stitch two 1/4 stitches and let the backstitch divide them.
  • Determine which side is in the foreground of the picture, and make that side the 3/4 stitch.
  • If neither side is in the foreground, make the 1/4 stitch in whichever of the two colors gets there first. Fill in the 3/4 stitch as you come by with the second color.
  • Make two 3/4 stitches.
Sometimes a pattern calls for an entire area to be filled with 1/2 stitches rather than full cross stitches. If there are no definite instructions, it is up to you to decide which direction the 1/2 stitches should go--the same as the bottom half of a full cross stitch or the same as the top half. "Bottom" half stitches are more intuitive for some people. "Top" half stitches tend to blend into the background more, which might be the effect you want. Sometimes the picture itself makes a direction obvious. For example, 1/2 stitches used to represent feathers in a wing should probably slant the way the feathers themselves would slant.

Instructions for Eyes

Add a little white stitch to eyes with 1 strand where marked "0", make a short stitch that just covers the intersection.

13. Carrying Threads Over

You can carry thread over on the back if there is no stitching between two areas of the design, but only for short distances. This means three or four squares on aida, or four threads on linen.

The thread can be carried farther if the region between the two areas has been (or will be) filled in with other stitches. How far? This depends on the relative darkness of the colors. The carried thread should be woven under the existing stitches, but sometimes dark colors show through when woven under lighter colors. Check to make sure this isn't happening. Even under the best conditions, you probably shouldn't carry the thread more than a distance of five or six stitches.

Try to plan your work so that it isn't necessary to travel very far to do the next stitch.

What if a design has individual stitches with no other stitches near by? Imagine a design that represents snowflakes by individual, scattered cross stitches. It calls for each cross stitch to be done with three strands of white floss on a dark fabric. You try traveling from stitch to stitch, but the white floss shows through the fabric. What to do?

Try the following. Use one strand of floss, but stitch the first half of the stitch three times. Now you have the first slant done, with three strands of floss showing. Do the same for the second half of the stitch. When you travel to the next stitch, a single strand in the background won't show through as much as three strands.

Or, if you want to get a little more radical, use knots--one of the few cases where I think using knots is good. Use a single strand to do the stitch as described above. Then take the two ends and tie a square knot to anchor the stitch and cut the ends short. A knot made with a single strand won't be very large and shouldn't create a lump on the front. If you plan on entering the piece in a contest, don't use knots.

14. How to End the Thread

Not surprisingly, the techniques for ending the thread resemble those for starting the thread.

And now for a strong suggestion--do not knot the thread. An exception might be made for a special case, such as an isolated stitch with no other stitches near it in the design.

One good method is to run the thread under four or five of the stitches on the back. You may choose to whip stitch around one of the stitches as you are running under. This helps to lock the thread in.

Sometimes dark colors show through when woven under lighter colors. Check to make sure this isn't happening.

If you stitch in a manner that leaves vertical lines on the back, try whip stitching or weaving up (or down) a few of these vertical stitches. This technique makes for a very neat looking back.

15. Backstitching

Any backstitching should be done after all the cross stitches in the area are complete. The number of strands to use should be given in the chart instructions. Most often a single strand is used.  Backstitching is part of some designs as outline or as lettering.  The purpose of backstitch is to form a continuous line with each stitch touching.  It may travel in any direction.

A common way to start and end the thread is to run it under four or five of the existing cross stitches on the back if they are right next to where you want to start. You may choose to whip stitch around the second or third stitch as you are running under. This helps to lock the thread in.

Backstitching can be done left-to-right, right-to-left, top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, or even on a diagonal. It all depends on where the outlines need to be. A backstitch from left-to-right would go like this (up on the odd numbers and down on the even):

To turn a corner without leaving a diagonal on the back side (up on the odd numbers and down on the even):

Some people prefer the double running stitch (also known as a Holbein stitch) to a backstitch. This is especially true if the backstitch will leave them stranded in the middle of nowhere. To do a double running stitch, go forward doing every other stitch (up on the odd numbers and down on the even):

Then come back, filling in the gaps:

To keep the line from looking staggered, be consistent on the return trip. Always come up on one side of the stitch that is already there, and go down on the other side. For example, come up above on stitch 7 and down below on stitch 8.

When there is a backstitch over one or two squares and the symbol is the same on either side of the backstitch, make a full cross stitch in that square. Add the backstitch last in the color indicated in the instructions

back 1 back 2 back 3 back 4


16. Preventing Twists and Knots

Separate the floss into individual strands and then recombine them. This is known as "stripping" the floss. There is less twisting and knotting, and the stitches lie flatter. To separate a thread from the others, hold onto the top end of the thread between your thumb and forefinger. Pull down on it with the other thumb and forefinger, taking all the other threads with you. It looks like a knot will form. Have faith. Everything comes out just fine.

Run each separated strand of floss over a damp sponge just before using it. This makes the floss lie much smoother and flatter. Some fibers, such as silk, should not be dampened.

If you know which direction you tend to twist the needle, give it a little bit of a twist the opposite direction after each stitch.

Try threading the needle with the "right" end of the floss. See section "31.3 The Right End of the Floss" for more information.

Let the thread dangle every so often and untwist it.

16.1 Railroading

You can use a technique called railroading to prevent twisting. On the top half of the cross stitch, pull the needle and thread through to the front to start the stitch in the usual manner. Then put the tip of the needle between the two threads right where they come through the fabric so that the needle is pointing in the direction it needs to go to complete the stitch, and take it over to finish the stitch.

The dot in the diagram below represents where the needle is must go to complete the stitch.

In case the directions above don't make sense, here is another description.

From: Martha Beth Lewis <>...

Here is some lovely ascii art to get you started:


Bring the needle to the front of the work at o. You'll be going down at x, but don't do anything yet.

Take the thread coming out of o and lay it -on the surface- of the work. Put your finger at # on the two threads and hold them to the surface of the work. The threads should be lying from o to #, crossing x. Imagine they are two golf clubs lying parallel to each other on either side of the cup (the "cup" in this analogy is x).

Keeping your finger at #, put the needle in at x -between- the two threads. Lift your finger from #.

Now pull the thread all the way to the back. You will see that your two threads are lying perfectly parallel.

What railroading does is eliminate the twist in the thread, causing the stitch to lie beautifully bcs the two strands are completely parallel. The twist in the thread is actually transferred further up the tail of the thread, so you'll have to untwist a little more often than if you are not railroading your sts. By this I mean let the needle dangle from the underside of your work.

Railroading also makes the surface of the work flatter, improves floss coverage, and (some say) maximizes light reflected by the floss.

Railroading adds time to each stitch. Those who stitch in competitions railroad all the time. Judges can tell the difference.

A short cut is to railroad only the half of the stitch that lies on top, as this is the one that is seen most clearly, although some stitchers say that they can see the bottom leg of the stitch clearly, too.

Try an experiment. Do a row or two of "unrailroaded" and some of "full railroaded." You'll see a definite difference. Now do a row of "half railroaded." What do you think? Is there enough of a difference to merit the extra time?

You get used to railroading and it becomes second nature, but it does add a lot of time to finishing the project. It's up to you whether you think the result is worth the extra time. As I mentioned above, judges seem to know the difference!

16.2 Laying Tools

A laying tool can help keep threads untwisted when you stitch with multiple strands of floss and other fibers. Using it requires an extra hand, so having the needlework in a frame on a stand helps.

Many things can be used as laying tools--a very large tapestry needle, a very small knitting needle, a trolley needle, or even a real laying tool.

Start your stitch by pulling the needle and thread through to the front as usual. Lightly pull the thread away from the direction of the stitch. Use the laying tool to stroke the thread against the fabric near where the thread emerges from the fabric. This should make the strands lie flat and parallel. Complete this part of the stitch by putting the needle into the fabric and pulling it to the back as usual. As you pull the thread through to the back, use the laying tool to keep a small amount of tension in the thread. This will keep those newly stroked strands parallel.

17. Where Am I?

There are many approaches to keeping track of location. Find the method that is easiest for you:
  • Mark off the symbols on the chart with a highlighter or pencil as you finish the corresponding stitches.
  • Some people like to see the shapes of the different areas. Color in the entire chart before starting to stitch, using distinctive colors for each symbol. The colors don't need to be close to the real floss colors.
  • A suggestion from Judy Latting <> combines the two above methods...
  • Using highlighters, I use yellow to mark the symbols of the color I am going to work with next. I have the symbol count in my pattern info, so I count as I go to make sure I get them all. This allows me to plot the most efficient course of stitches that I can through the chart. As I complete these stitches, I go over the yellow with a pink highlighter. Now when I look at the chart, anything that is orange is done.
  • Laminate the chart with clear contact paper. Mark off the parts as you finish them with a fine tip dry erase pen. The chart can be wiped clean with a paper towel when you are through. Be careful not to get the ink against your project.
  • Put the chart on a metal board, and use a magnetic straight edge that can be moved along the chart as you stitch. A variation on this is to use non-magnetic plastic strips on a non-metal board.
  • Use Post-It notes. They are easy to move, and very portable.
  • Baste a grid onto the fabric. Some people like a 10x10 stitch grid. Others just use one horizontal and one vertical line through the center. A variation is to baste a small "ruler" near the edge of the fabric, outside the area of the picture. Be careful to use a thread color that doesn't show too strongly against the fabric, just in case the basting thread leaves little fuzzy remnants behind. Use a thread that can't be pierced with your needle so that the thread can be pulled out easily when you are finished. You can pull the thread out as you reach it, or stitch over it and pull it out later. Some people find that monofilament and quilting threads work well. Experiment to find out which method works best for you.
  • Count twice. Count from two different locations.

18. Stitching On Linens, Other Evenweaves and Afghans

An evenweave is any fabric which has the same number of threads per inch in both the vertical and horizontal directions. The individual threads might not all be the same thickness--you can see this in linen--but the number of threads is the same. Evenweave fabrics may be made of linen, cotton, man-made fibers and blends.

Linen may be an evenweave or an unevenweave fabric. Sometimes an unevenweave linen is used when recreating an old sampler. For the purposes of this FAQ, we'll assume we're always discussing evenweave fabrics.

For a look at the "aida vs. linen" debate, see section "1. Selecting the Fabric - Aida vs. Evenweaves/Linen". For information on the fiber content of different fabrics, see the "Needlework FAQ: Fabric".

There is a traditional rule which says to stitch on aida using a hoop and stitch on linen "in the hand". In actual practice, people do whatever works best for them. See section "6. Hoop or Hand?" for a discussion of the "in-the-hand vs. in-a-hoop" debate. See section "30.2 Hoops, Scroll Bars and Such" for more information on the equipment itself.

Evenweaves are generally worked "over two" threads. This means that a 28 count (28 threads per inch) linen produces the same size picture as a 14 count (14 squares per inch) aida.

Experienced stitchers of evenweaves recommend starting next to a vertical thread. This is easier to explain using a picture.

If you start your X's like "/", then...

Come up at 1 and go down at 2 (or vice versa). If you start your X's the other way, like "\", then...

Reasons for starting next to a vertical thread:

  • Stitches started next to horizontal threads sometimes can roll under to the back side of the fabric.
  • Starting next to a vertical thread makes it easy to tell when you have mistakenly gone over 1 or 3 threads.

Sewing Motion

sewing motionA sewing stitch, one scooping movement in and out, is used with linen. Stitches should be neither loose and sloppy nor so tight that the spaces between the linen threads are enlarged. If light can be seen across the top of a row of stitches, the tension is too tight. Correct tension results in flat stitches that do not distort the background weave.

sewing motion 2

Do the bottom stitches first, then cross back.

                   reverse sideThe reverse side will be vertical lines.

180 Degrees

It is very helpful sometimes to turn your work upside down (180 degrees), turning the chart as well, but never turn the work only halfway around (90 degrees). This causes the direction of the top stitch to change, disrupting the texture of the finished piece.

How to Cross Stitch on Clothing with Linen

clothing 1STEP ONE: Choose clothing.

Determine placement of design and where you would like the center of your design to be on the piece of clothing you have chosen to stitch.   Mark the center with a straight pin.

clothing 2 STEP TWO: Prepare the fabric for stitching.

The size of the linen will determine the size of the design. When stitched on 20ct, for example, the design will be 10 stitches to the inch.  Add 4" to 6" to the design area to determine the size to cut the fabric. Stitch the edges of the fabric to prevent raveling (slip stitched by hand or zigzagged on the sewing machine). Fold the linen in half top to bottom and baste a line using light colored thread from side to side along the fold. Fold again from side to side and baste another line vertically through the center of the fabric along the fold. Match the center of the fabric (where basted lines intersect) to the place marked on the clothing in STEP ONE.

Pin the linen in place over the shirt. Baste the edges of the linen to the shirt; remove pins.

Find the center of the design on the chart. Count up and to the left (or right) to the desired starting place. Count the same number of stitches (count 2 linen threads for each stitch or chart square) on the linen to find the starting place. Mark with a pin. Place a hoop on the garment around the area where you will be stitching. Thread a needle with the proper color and number of strands and start stitching. For example, on 20ct. linen you will cross stitch with 4 strands and backstitch with 1 strand.

clothing 3STEP THREE: Remove the basting threads

Remove the basting threads that mark the center, after the design has been started, so that you do not stitch over them. Continue using the hoop. Work all the cross stitch first, then add the backstitch. Take care to make your stitches as even as possible, and use the STAB-STITCH method (poke and pull) rather than a sewing method (in and out of the fabric in one motion) and be sure not to "catch" any of the linen threads with your needle. End your threads securely by running under several stitches on the back (at least 6).

clothing 4STEP FOUR: After the stitching is finished

Pull out basting threads, holding linen to clothing.  Cut around the very edge of the linen where it is slip stitched by hand or zigzagged on the sewing machine.  Begin at any corner and pull threads of linen one at a time.

Linen thread will come out from under cross stitch as long as you take care not to "catch" or pierce any of the linen threads while stitching.

clothing 5 STEP FIVE: Wash and press

 Use cold water and mild soap to wash. Rinse in cold water. Press on reverse side of stitching. Now the clothing is ready to wear!

®Simon & Schuster, Inc. Licensed by Limited Media. 

Raggedy Ann and Andy and associated characters are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


How to Stitch on Afghans

When stitching on an afghan, each cross stitch is made up 2 threads and over 2 threads.

Be sure to stitch on the right side of the fabric (pattern is raised).  Each square on the chart equals 2 threads on the fabric.  Start by a vertical thread and you will stay by a  vertical thread.

Buy all of a floss color at one time to insure the same dye lot. Separate your floss strands and put them back together.  This will help your floss lie more smoothly.

Do not turn your fabric 90° because your stitches will not cross in the same direction. You may turn the fabric (and the chart) 180°.  End threads by weaving under stitches on the back vertically.  Stitch the center design first, then the border.

Afghan fabrics are not meant to be lined or backed with iron-on fusing.


19. Stitching Over One

Stitching "over one" refers to stitching a picture on linen or another evenweave over one fabric thread. This is often done with one strand of floss, or "one over one".

In the previous section, we found that stitching over two threads of a 28 count linen produces the same size picture as a 14 count aida. But stitching over one thread of a 28 count linen produces a picture only one quarter the area.

There can be a problem with stitches rolling or slipping to the wrong side of the fabric. This is much less likely to happen when each X is completed before starting the next. There are additional techniques to prevent the problem. Two are described below.

On the diagram below, come up through the fabric on the odd numbers and go down on the even.

Each X goes over one thread intersection of the fabric. Each fabric intersection has either a horizontal fabric thread on top or a vertical fabric thread on top.

Suppose you make the first half of the first stitch by coming up at 1 and going down at 2. Your stitch is going over a horizontal fabric thread. Because of this, you should go horizontally underneath to find the starting hole for the second half of the cross stitch. So, come up at 3 and go down at 4.

Make the first half of the next stitch. Because you just went down at 4, you must come up at 5 and down at 6. Your stitch is going over a vertical fabric thread. Because of this, you should go vertically underneath to find the starting hole for the second half of the cross stitch. So, come up at 7 and go down at 8.

A second approach uses the Danish method of doing the bottom stitches first along a row, and completing the X's on the return trip. But to prevent the stitches rolling to the wrong side of the fabric a continental stitch is used rather than a half stitch. This looks like a half-stitch from in front, but the back is a long diagonal. For these diagrams, come up at the odd numbers and down at the even.
On the outward trip:

On the return trip, to complete the X:

20. Tweeding

Tweeding, sometimes called blended needle or blended thread, is the use of two or more colors of thread in the needle at the same time.

How the two colors should lie in relation to each other is up to you. Some people prefer to have each stitch look the same. Other people will let each color fall how it may (subject to no twisting) from stitch to stitch.

21. Using Variegated Floss

Variegated floss is used to create interesting effects and one-of-a-kind pictures. While you are always free to do as the spirit moves you, there are some more organized approaches. The following is one method, but is by no means the only one. Read DMC's pamphlet #15235 "Cross Stitch with Variegated Floss" for information on another.

Remove the floss from the skein and wind it lengthwise around a yardstick. Those of you living in countries on the metric system might have to saw a few centimeters off the end of a meter stick. Carefully cut the floss at the middle and at each end, to give you four groups of floss. Two groups should be lighter and two should be darker, overall. Combine the two lighter groups together and consider them to be one group. Do the same with the two darker groups. As you stitch the design, complete each X as you go.

22. French Knots

This FAQ focuses on counted cross stitch, but there is one other stitch that should be discussed. That is the French Knot. It shows up in many counted cross stitch designs.

To make a French Knot:

french knot

  • Use one strand of floss, bring the needle and thread up from the back to the front of the fabric at the place where the knot is to be made.
  • Put the point of the needle back into the fabric a very short distance away from where it came up. Don't pull the needle all the way through to the back. On linen, the distance would be one fabric thread. On Aida, poke the needle into a neighboring square.
  • Wrap the thread once or twice around the needle and pull it tight.
  • Continuing to pull it tight, slide the two wraps down the needle until they are against the fabric. At this time, it should look like a French Knot with a needle sticking through it.
  • Holding the knot tight, finish pulling the needle and the remaining thread through to the back of the fabric.

23. Beads

It is common for designs to require beads. Beading should be done after the cross stitching and backstitching.

The thread may be beading thread, floss that matches the color of the bead, floss that matches the color of the background fabric, quilting thread, or any kind of transparent thread. Each will produce a different effect, with a light-colored thread brightening the bead's color and a dark colored thread deadening the color.

The needle may be a beading needle or a #28 tapestry needle.

The simplest method to attach a bead is with a half stitch or quarter stitch.

One method to keep the beads from drooping or sliding requires two strands of floss. Attach the bead using a half stitch, coming up through the first hole, through the bead, and down through the second (diagonal) hole. Then, come back up through the first hole, split the two strands of floss around the bead so one goes on each side, and go back down through the second hole.

Another technique, which is said to work well for a row, starts with the beads attached along the row with half stitches. At the end of the row, the thread is run back to the beginning by going through the beads, above the fabric.

Yet another method uses a full cross stitch. Attach the bead using a half stitch, then complete the cross stitch while going through the bead again. The order and direction of the two half stitches determines whether the hole in the bead points side-to-side or top-to-bottom.

How to Add Beads

pmr1 front

Add beads to your project after all other stitching and any necessary laundering is done.  A #28 Tapestry needle or a beading needle is required for adding small beads.  Use the loop method (see Fig. 2 & 3) to anchor one doubled strand of floss on the back of the project.  Use the color of floss indicated in parentheses where beads are listed.

Bring the needle up where indicated on the chart by the symbol for bead (A) and pass through the bead (Fig. 1). Pass through the fabric (B) and then, if this is the beginning of the new thread, through the loop to anchor the thread (Fig. 2 & 3).  Next, bring the needle up as if to cross a stitch (C), pass through the bead again and go down through the fabric (D) and anchor with a small securing stitch on the back.

Loop Method

pmr1 back

To use any time an even number of floss strands is called for --2, 4 or 6.  When two strands are required, take one strand 30" long and fold it in half.  Thread the needle and pull the loop end lower than the 2 cut ends.  Bring the needle up through the fabric until the cut ends appear.  As the needle goes back through to make the first half cross, take the needle through the loop and it will lock, leaving no tail on the back of the fabric.

24. Signing and Dating

Should you sign and date your work? If it is intended to be entered in a competition, possibly not. Find out the rules first. Otherwise, go for it! Be proud of your skill. Signing can make a piece more valuable as the years go by.

Samplers usually incorporate the stitcher's initials and the year into the design. All other designs require a little more creativity on the signer's part.

Some people use permanent ink and sign on the edge, where it will be hidden by the mat or frame. Personally, why would you want to hide this interesting and valuable information?

Some people find a way to stitch their name and the date with teeny letters, over one or two threads. Try out some variations on scrap cloth until you find a look you like.

Don't abbreviate the year. Stitch "2000" rather than "'00." Your stitching may survive you by many years, and even though you may think the project is unimportant, later generations may disagree.

There are several things you can do to make a signature visible but unobtrusive. For example, use a thread color that is only a shade or two darker than the fabric. Or incorporate the signature into a shadow, using the shadow's color. Or put it below an object, using the object's color. Or figure out a way to make it part of the design...

25. Cleaning and Storing

Obviously, when it comes to cleaning needlework on bibs, towels, clothing and napkins, do whatever it takes to get the piece clean. If this means throwing it into the washing machine with detergent and bleach, so be it.

However, the heirloom-to-be deserves special treatment or it may become the heirloom-that-never-was. Here are some suggestions that are very conservative and cautious. It is safest to list many things that a stitcher might want to know. You are then free to use or ignore whatever you choose.

While you are stitching:

  • Always wash your hands before stitching, and keep them clean while you work. Don't use hand lotion before stitching. Keep your hands out of your hair, off your face, out of the popcorn, away from the pizza and far from the chocolate bar. See section "26. Soft Hands" for information on how to overcome the effects of all that washing.
  • No smoking near the project.
  • Watch out for ink from highlighters, and toner from photocopies.
  • Needlework projects, especially those in scroll frames, make very nice cat beds. You may choose to view any fur that works its way into the project as part of the design. If not, try using a lint remover or tweezers.
  • Don't store linens or fine fabrics in plastic for the long term. The plastic can trap moisture and, over time, release chemicals. However, storing projects in plastic while they are in progress can help to keep them clean. This is assuming it takes less than 5 years to complete the project :-).
  • If you want to store a project-in-progress for a more than a few days, roll it rather than fold it. Wrap it in cloth, preferably white.
  • If you use a hoop, remove the project from the hoop after every stitching session.
  • Put your project in the hoop or bars backwards. This method is sometimes called having the project "in the well." It prevents the front of the design from touching anything when the bars are set down. It also provides more room on the back of the project for ending threads.
  • Try not to hold on to the project in a way that leaves your hand touching the front of the fabric. For example, fold any extra fabric forward and hold the project there. Some people like to use a layer of tissue, white flannel or plastic wrap on top of the project, with an opening in the center to stitch through. These can be fitted into a hoop, and provide something to hold onto.

  • Pam Holmes <> suggested...

    I am right handed and usually hold my work with my left hand. To prevent stains, I wear a white cotton glove on my left hand. It works wonders :) I just completed a bell pull (6 months of regular contact) and there were no dark stains lurking anywhere :}
When you are done stitching:
  • Launder the project when completed, unless you used non-colorfast fabric or fibers. No matter how often you wash your hands before stitching there will be skin oils left which may cause stains and damage later on.
  • Avoid anything which cause the project to have long term (many year) exposure to chemicals.
  • Do not dry clean if at all possible. The chemicals can be gritty and may have long term effects. If the piece is lost at the cleaners, you will only be reimbursed for the cost of the materials. Some fabrics and fibers (wool and silk) may require dry cleaning. If this is the case, go to a very reputable cleaner, and have a long talk about the best way for them to do the cleaning.
  • Hand wash each piece individually in cold or lukewarm water. For extremely delicate objects, use room temperature distilled water.

  • To clean, use something which is pH balanced and has no whitening agents. This means something like Orvus paste (also used for washing horses and cows), Quilt Soap (which is Orvus soap packaged in small containers for people who don't need a gallon of it), Treasure Wash, etc. Orvus is actually a trade name for sodium lauryl sulfate. Try using one teaspoon per gallon of water. Do not use Woolite, strong detergents or chlorine bleach as they may make the colors bleed. Let the project soak for several minutes. Rinse thoroughly, but don't scrub or wring. If the colors run, repeat the process immediately until the water rinses clear.
  • Remove the piece from the water and place it on a clean, white, terry cloth towel. Roll it up like a jelly roll, to remove the excess water.

  • Unroll it while still damp, lay it face down on a couple of towels and iron with a dry iron at the wool or linen setting until it is dry. Try not to move the iron back and forth. You may use a pressing cloth, in fact you should use a pressing cloth if there are metallics. The process of ironing until dry prevents uneven drying and puckering of the cloth and threads. Let the project air dry another 24 hours before framing.
  • Laundering Afghans:  Wash on gentle cycle (cold water) using mild soap (Easy Wash, Ivory Flakes). Dry on permanent press setting.  Remove while still damp, shake and air dry.


When catastrophe strikes, all the tips listed above should be ignored. Just do what you have to. People on this newsgroup have used detergent, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, Goop and ice to remove soda pop, rust, mold, vomit, catsup and bleeding dyes.

Bleeding Floss

You look down at the lovely counted cross stitch picture that took you six months to complete. To your horror, you see that the dye from one of the floss colors has "bled" onto the fabric. What to do?

You may be out of luck if the fibers aren't washable. But if they are washable, or if you decide that things are so bad you have nothing to lose, try the following.

If the bleeding happens while you are washing the project, don't let it dry. Rinse and soak the project in cold water. Keep rinsing and soaking it until the bleeding is gone and the water rinses clear. The process could take a few minutes or several hours.

If you see bleeding on a dry project, put very cold water into your sink or a flat, nonmetallic pan. Have the water just deep enough to cover the project as it lays flat on the bottom of the sink. Pour in a layer of ice. Let everything soak without any scrubbing. Replace the water and ice as needed. The process could takes days.


From melaina, who posted using a friend's account, on treating rust stains:
...I had a brand new white cotton sweater that was laid to dry over a chair (dumb I know) but it had about 20 different rust spots on it some were about 1 inch square. Anyway my mom found a remedy in an old stain guide. AND IT WORKED!!!!! First make sure to test it that it does not make the color run or fade. Here it is.............


I just dabbed the stains with a clean cloth soaked in the solution and then they faded away to brand new white again. After it dried I washed it and all was fine. I have washed the sweater a few times and the stains have not reappeared. I do not know what this will do to needlework cloths or if it will cause any premature discoloration or breakdown of the fabric though in some cases it may be worth a try, huh.

oh yeah, you can buy the oxalic acid at a pharmacy, or a chemical place. It was really inexpensive ($0.79 canadian for 25 grams).

Scorch Marks

People on the rec.crafts.textiles.needlework newsgroup have suggested the following for the removal of scorch marks. Try these only if you are facing a catastrophe, as they may affect the colors.
  • White vinegar or lemon juice.
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in 1/2 cup of cold water.
  • 3-percent solution of peroxide. This could bleach the fabric, so only use it on whites


For pencil marks, try an art gum eraser available from most art supplies stores.

Miscellaneous Stains

Mary L. Tod <> credits Barbara Knaupf, the owner of The Stitching Post with the following recipe:
This is the magic recipe I got from the Stitching Post when I discovered blotchy green stains all over my "Angel of Grace" at the time I took it in for framing. (The stains were a STUPID error caused by my using a brand-new, never been washed, green towel to dry). I just about lost it when I noticed all the spots. The recipe worked like a charm! Piece was saved, and so was my mental health! Here goes:
2 Tbsp Ivory Snow
1 Tbsp Snowy Bleach
1 gal warm water
Make however many gallons-worth to cover your fabric, and soak overnight, or for as long as it takes! Mine came out in 24 hours. I don't know if this will do the trick for hi-liter, but they don't call it *magic* for nothing!
Tyrie J. Grubic <> reported a cleaning method that was discovered at Cross Stitch Corner in Bellevue, Washington, when attempting a last-ditch, nothing-to-lose stain removal:
Anyway, it works, does *not* damage the piece at all, does not cause any bleeding of colors, etc...Here's the method:

First of all, store the Goop in the fridge. Goop kept at room temperature after being opened will break down in a few months and be useless. Do *not* use this broken-down version on your piece.

On a clean, flat surface, spread out the piece, backside up. Cover it in Goop. Lather it on. On any especially dirty places, or any places where the stitching is dense, place it on the front side as well. Leave it for 30 minutes. If you won't be able to get it back in 30 minutes, put it in a plastic bag, but leave it open, or it will get moldy. Do not leave it in the bag very long.

Using cold water and a mild liquid soap...rinse the goop out. Continue rinsing in clear, cold water until the water is clear.

From there, continue as recommended earlier and press between clean, white towels.

26. Soft Hands

Many people find that their efforts to keep their hands clean to protect the needlework results in another problem--dry hands.

Sometimes a cream or lotion must used. This shouldn't affect your needlework if care is taken. The most important characteristic of any cream you choose to use is that it not be greasy.

People on the newsgroup recommend Au Ver a Soie Hand Lotion, Acid Mantle Lotion, and Udder Cream.

Udder Cream was developed for use on cows' udders, hence the name. It is available in feed stores and, increasingly, needlework shops.

There is sometimes confusion about what is and what is not Udder Cream. It is not the same as Bag Balm. In fact, different products are sold under the name of Udder Cream, and not all are kind to needlework.

Excerpted from a posting by Tara R. Scholtz <>:

...I've found three! And all have green metal tins!!! The one with the strawberries (?) is the greasy stuff. It's also yellow (the strawberry tin that is). The strawberry tin and its bigger counterpart is marked trademarked by one company (forget which one) and that is only mentioned in *some* publications, I couldn't find that trademark - but the name is used by other companies anyways. Farnham has its own bag balm - the green tin for that also says bag balm. Real confusing.

...Not always - the blue Udder Cream (same name, different company) is *very* greasy. In my horse & livestock catalogues and stores I have so far found about 5 different concoctions of "Udder Cream." If you want the non-greasy stuff (and want to make *sure* it is the non-greasy stuff before buying several pounds of it), just stick to the little cow-decorated jars found in stitchery stores.

...Horse products don't seem to undergo *any* sort of regulation (ya'll gotta go see the horse shampoos and conditioners, they're almost outnumbering the drug stores! I about *died* when Jeri Redding jumped in on the bandwagon & produced his own line of equine shampoo, etc.). Many items are not trademarked and are considered fair game by other companies when it comes to naming a product. Hence, livestock supply catalogues list the manufacturer as well as the product name. (Which is why I spent a fortune trying to find "Udder Cream" - only to find I can only get the one produced by Redex at the stitchery stores near me.)

...If you want Bag Balm, watch out for the YELLOW stuff - that's greasy and no good for stitching. Still great for hands though.

If you want Udder Cream - get Redex Industries. It SHOULD be WHITE. AVOID BLUE & YELLOW.

Excerpts from another posting by Tara R. Scholtz <>:
The white stuff by Redex Industries, Inc. is used as hand lotion. It is greaseless and stainless but does contain lanolin & allantoin (which causes problems for some people)...

There are other hand lotions available in the needlework market which are also touted as greaseless and stainless but does NOT contain lanolin. One is called "Creative Hands" (with aloe vera)...

27. Mounting, Matting and Framing

Not all needlework needs to be framed like a picture. Needlework can be found on pillows, linens, clothing, box lids, jewelry, light switch plates, and so on.

While you may not think the twenty little holiday ornaments you finished late last night have great value, this is not your decision to make. Fifty years from now, they may be someone's pride and joy. And you don't want to be the person who messes up someone's priceless collection of early twentyfirst century needlework, do you?

If you are going to frame your project, here are some suggestions. They are very conservative and cautious. It is safest to list many things that a stitcher might want to know. You are then free to use or ignore whatever you choose. If you take your work to a shop to get it framed, ask the people there if they do conservation framing. Make sure they are aware of the following issues.

  • Don't do anything which cannot be undone several years later.
  • Avoid anything which cause the project to have long term exposure to chemicals, metal or acid.
  • Cut any selvage edge before framing.
  • Zig-zag each edge, or stitch unbleached muslin to each edge.
  • Use acid free foam core or acid-free white mat board as a backing. These are available in framing stores, art supply stores and office supply stores. Have it cut at the store, or use an X-acto knife at home. Make it 1/8 inch smaller than the frame you will be using. Avoid normal cardboard and paper, as they have high acid contents. The acid can damage fabric over time. Do not use sticky board. The chemicals can damage your fabric, and the glue can provide lunch for bugs.
  • Center the piece on the backing. Fold the extra fabric to the back and tuck in the corners. The fabric on the front should be taut but not stretched. You may want to use straight pins pushed into the edge of the backing to temporarily hold the fabric in place. Use unwaxed dental floss, quilting thread or some other strong thread to lace the fabric to the backing. Lace the long edges first, sewing from the left to the right and back to the left, somewhat like lacing a shoe with only one end of the shoe lace. Keep the stitches about an inch apart. Make sure the thread is evenly tight. Repeat the lacing for the short edges. Remove the pins, as even rust-free pins may rust over time.
  • If you use matboard, make sure it is acid-free rag matboard. Consider using acid-free rag matboard even for double and triple matted pieces, where not all of the matboard is touching the fabric. The regular matboard ages much faster, and it releases fumes.
  • Should you use glass? As with everything else, it's up to you. On the one hand, glass can protect against dust and pollution. On the other hand, it may trap moisture and cause mildew. If you use glass, make sure it does not touch the needlework. Spacers or matboard are good for this. Regular glass is O.K. Standard non-glare glass is bad, as it actually lets more ultraviolet light in, and may release chemicals. Conservation glass or UV glass is very good, but expensive. Figure out how much the project is worth to you, and be willing to pay accordingly.

28. Changing Skin and Hair Tones

At times, you may want to change the skin and/or hair colors of a figure in a chart to make it look more like someone you know. Although some charts print alternate floss colors, this is still rare. The type of chart most likely to give multiple colors for hair and skin is one with a wedding theme.

Marilyn Leavitt-Imblum, the designer of the Lavender & Lace, Butternut Road, and Told in a Garden designs, has alternative skin colors on some designs. Lists for Asian, African American and Native American are also available from her offices in Maine.

Included below, with the very kind permission of Marilyn Leavitt-Imblum, is a quote from a post she made to rec.crafts.textiles.needlework...

Keep in mind that you are going from light to dark, this is a color range. Going up or down the scale will lighten or darken the range. DMC
   African American:
          Skin......  -   3772
                      +   632
                      E   632+898
                      Lips in 356 and outline features in the 632+898 blend
                      Eyes and brows are outlined in 3371
          Hair... Most designs have 4-6 hair shades...the darkest 2-3 shades
                  I make 310 black. Then use 3371 for one or two shades and
                  the lightest symbol with 3031
   Native American
          Skin....light to dark
          Hair...light to dark
By finding the colors asked for on a design and laying them out light to dark you can match the shades you want to replace them with. Make a new legend for your replacement colors.

29. Stitching on Other Backgrounds

29.1 Silk Gauze

Stitching on silk gauze is actually a form of petit point, but a person experienced with either form of needlework should have no trouble stitching on silk gauze (except possibly for vision difficulties).

The fabric is a special silk mesh originally made for the medical profession for the treatment of burn victims. Although several mesh sizes are available, the one most commonly used for stitching is 40-count. This means 40 stitches to the inch, or 1600 stitches to the square inch. The gauze is extremely expensive, at over US$300 (yes, three hundred dollars) per yard. Luckily, a little goes a long way. The gauze sold for stitching may come mounted in a cardboard frame, and is sold in sizes such as 5"x7". Keep the gauze in the frame while stitching, and remove it after you are done.

The thread used for stitching may be cotton floss or silk. Use one strand of thread. It does not need to be very long--probably 10" or so.

The needle should be small and sharp, such as a small crewel needle.

The chart may be just about any counted cross stitch chart. Keep in mind that you will not be able to do any quarter stitches. Also, any additions such as beads will be too big. Note that we follow the counted cross stitch tradition rather than the needlepoint when it comes to filling in the background--we do not fill in the background unless the chart calls for it. The gauze is allowed to show.

The stitch is a continental stitch rather than a cross stitch. This looks like a half-stitch from in front, but the back is a long diagonal. For this diagram, come up at the odd numbers and down at the even:

Do not carry thread across the back in an area that will not be stitched. It will show through.

If you have trouble seeing the work area (and most people will), use a magnifying lamp and hold the gauze over a dark background.

29.2 Waste Canvas

This is a way to do counted stitch needlework on non-evenweave fabrics. Waste canvas is a special type of evenweave fabric which comes in a variety of mesh sizes. The fabric is unusual in that its threads are held in place with starch. The waste canvas is used by basting it onto a non-evenweave fabric, such as the front of a sweatshirt. This provides a grid for doing counted cross stitch or other counted thread stitches. Once the stitching is complete, the waste canvas is removed by dampening the canvas to remove the starch which binds its threads together. These threads are then removed one at a time, with tweezers.

30. Equipment

30.1 Needles

Here are some comments from Wombat <>...
Well, I showed up for a class/meeting with the #10 needle I thought I would need, only to discover I was supposed to have a #10 sharp and I had a #10 crewel. A #28 tapestry did suffice and I then went home and did research.

Eyes. The choices run from round to oval to long or short oval. Round eyes are the smallest and long oval the largest. Short ovals are a lot like a round, but much bulgier. The larger the eye, the less it rubs on the fiber you are using. Perle cotton needs an oval eye, as does crewel wool. Sewing thread does just fine in a round eye. Larger needles have larger eyes, but the basic shape does not change.

Diameters. This is what makes one needle a different size from another. The fatter the needle the smaller the size number. There are two different size ranges, one goes from 1-15 and the other from 13-28. In either range a big number means a small needle. As needles get smaller, they also get shorter. A lower number means a longer, fatter needle with a bigger eye.

Points. Tapestry needles are blunt, all the other needles have a sharp point. A glovers or leather needle has a triangular point with teeny cutting edges to cut a triangular hole in the leather as you use it. Some sailmaking needles have this, too. Even beading needles are usually sharp, but they are often so tiny that it's hard to tell.

Shape. Well, they are all long and skinny, but the eye creates a bulge or no bulge that will make a difference if you are doing bullion or french knots. For easier bullion knots, you want a smooth needle. A needle with a round eye has the least bulge. A needle with an oval eye has the biggest bulge. Rug needles and upholstery needles have curves in them, to do a 'scoop' stitch on fabric that you can't get to the back of.

Length. Some needles are supposed to be very long, like beading or milliners or doll making needles. Some are about as short as you would ever want to think about, like betweens that measure less than one inch. The length varies with the purpose, but the larger diameter needles are also longer than the same type of needle in a smaller size. So a size 18 tapestry is going to be longer and fatter than a size 24 tapestry.

So, lets put this all together and list what characteristics go with which type of needle.

Tapestry. Oval eye (smallest sizes have long oval), medium length, blunt. Sizes from 13-28. Common uses; cross stitch, needlepoint, counted thread work.

Embroidery/Crewel. Oval eye, medium length, sharp. Sizes from 1-13. Common uses; crewel work, ribbon embroidery, wool embroidery, smocking with specialty fibers.

Sharps. Round eye, medium length, sharp. Sizes from 1-13. Common uses; hand sewing, bullion knots or french knots in counted work, smocking.

Betweens. Round eye, short length, sharp. Sizes from 1-13, not often found larger than 7. Common uses; hand quilting, fine needlework such as shadow work embroidery or some French hand sewing.

Beading. Round eye, very long length, sharp. Sizes from 10-15 in the 13-28 size range. Common uses; beading, applying sequins.

Different manufacturers make needles a bit larger eyed, or fatter or longer or with different metals and finishes. This is just a general list of characteristics for some of the more usual types of needles.

(Thanks to Joan, the manager of G-Street Fabrics Notions department and to Barbara, manager of the Bernina department, for pointing me to the most useful articles.)

30.2 Hoops, Scroll Bars and Such

There is a traditional rule which says to stitch on aida using a hoop and stitch on linen "in the hand". In actual practice, people do whatever works best for them. Most who like their fabric taut do tend to avoid hoops in favor of scroll bars or Q-Snaps when working on linen, as hoops may damage the fabric. See section " 6. Hoop or Hand?" for the "in-a-hoop vs. in-the-hand" debate. The discussion in this section assumes that you have decided to use a hoop or the like.

Tip--Put your project in the hoop or bars backwards. This method is sometimes called having the project "in the well." It prevents the front of the design from touching anything when the bars are set down. It also provides more room on the back of the project for ending threads.


Most of the following items may be used with a stand. Some people like the stands, as they can then do "two handed" stitching. This is a method where one hand is always above the cloth and the other is always below. People who have trouble holding projects for long periods of time also may find stands useful--they help avoid or reduce effects from tendonitis, arthritis and cramping.

There are lap stands which either straddle the lap of the stitcher or are anchored on one side and have a part to sit on. The bigger stands are floor models and may take up a great deal of space. Some of them come with chart holders, lamp holders and even magazine racks.

One side benefit is that stands are usually in plain view with the current project highly visible, ready to be complimented and begging to be worked on. People with cats may find that felines appreciate stands too, to the dismay of the stitcher.


Standard hoops are made of wood or plastic. They are inexpensive and widely available. While most are circular, there are some oval shaped ones. A variation on the hoop consists of a plastic outer ring and a metal inner spring/ring.

Common complaints about hoops:

  • Having to move the hoop as stitching progresses can be a nuisance.
  • A hoop placed over existing stitches may distort them.
  • Marks, stains or creases may be left in the fabric.
Make sure your hoops are clean. Plastic hoops can be washed in the dishwasher.

Remove the hoop when you are not working.

Scroll Bars

A set of scroll bars consists of two wooden scroll bars and two spacers. The fabric is attached to the scroll bars (which look like dowel rods). The spacers hold the scroll bars apart. They may be attached with wing nuts (cheaper) or with wooden knobs (more expensive).

There are several methods for attaching the fabric. A bar may have a strip of heavy-duty material stapled to it. The fabric for the project is then basted on, using a strong thread such as quilting or carpet thread. Another style has a slit in the bar into which the edge of the fabric is placed. A third style uses a groove in the bar and a tube or rod to hold the fabric in the groove.

Scroll rods and spacer bars are available in many sizes. Select a scroll rod size that is slightly wider than your fabric. Any fabric longer than the spacer bars is rolled up onto the scroll rods.

Much more of the project is "in-range" than with a hoop. Tension is not even in the horizontal and vertical directions, but this isn't too noticeable if the scroll tension is kept very tight.

It is possible to purchase a basic set of scroll bars quite cheaply, so you can experiment and see if you like them.

Suggestions--Mark the center of the scroll rod, to make it easier to center the fabric. When attaching the fabric to the scroll rod, work from the center and work out to the edges.


Q-Snaps are manufactured by the Q-Snap Corporation, located in the USA in Parsons, Tennessee. Q-Snaps consist of four pieces of white plastic pipe, about 1" in diameter, which are joined at the corners to form a square or rectangle. The fabric is held onto each side by a shell of plastic which snaps down over the pipe.

Q-Snaps are sold in packages of four sides, in lengths of 6 inches, 8 inches, 11 inches and 17 inches. They are then assembled by the user to form, for example, an 8x11 inch rectangle.

People who use them like their versatility. The fabric creases caused by hoops doesn't seem to occur. The tension is even in both the vertical and horizontal directions, unlike scroll bars.

Stretcher Bars

Stretcher bars are made of wood. They are sold in packages of two sides. I have seen them in lengths from 4"-40". The sides are assembled to form a square or rectangle.

With stretcher bars, the entire project area is visible at all times. Some people prefer to use stretcher bars only with stiffer fabrics, such as canvas, but other stitchers like them even for soft linens/evenweaves.

The edges of the fabric should be prepared in some way to make them stronger and to stop them from fraying. Basting, hemming or binding tape are recommended by different people. The fabric is then attached to the frame with quilting tacks or staples. Start at the center of each side and work out to the edges. The fabric should be taut, but not distorted. The tension is even in both the vertical and horizontal directions, unlike scroll bars.

30.3 Magnifiers and Lamps

Good lighting, of the proper strength and color, can make a world of difference in the ease with which you can sort thread colors or see those teeny holes in the fabric. While natural lighting is the best, most of us don't want to limit our stitching time to daylight hours.

Below are some extracts from postings about this topic.

From: Gillian Cannon <>...

Fluorescent lamps (tubes) come in different colors, just as do incandescent lamps. Designer Warm White in a fluorescent lamp will give you true "daylight" colors. If you do not get the correct color of incandescent lamp (and they are harder to get true colors from) you will have major color changes. This is information from my daughter, the interior designer, and her technical notes on lighting...
Also, as I originally mentioned, the heat is a large factor from incandescent lamps as well as the focused light which, in conjunction with a magnifier, can cause fires.
From: Gillian Cannon <>...
There has been some discussion on several conferences about light bulbs (technically called lamps) for use with cross stitch or other work that requires "true" colors.

After consulting with a lighting expert here are his suggestions: Fluorescents can give the closest to "natural light" of any artificial source.

For circular fluorescents (e.g., for use in Dazors), the Design 50 has 5000 Kelvins and is closest to natural daylight. The Designer Cool White is also close to natural light but is not available in circular form.

The second best artificial light is halogen, with the Daylight lamp, which is 6500 Kelvins.

The poorest form of commonly used artificial light is the incandescent lamp, but you can get "color corrected daylight" bulbs at a lighting specialty store.

Magnifiers can also be a big help. There are inexpensive types which clip onto glasses. Another kind hangs around the user's neck and is braced against the chest. A third type is attached to a head band.

An important safety note for any type of magnifier--keep the lens out of direct sunlight when not in use. The magnifier can concentrate the sunlight and start a fire. Placing a storage cover of fabric on the magnifier is sufficient to prevent this from happening.

There are lamps with magnifiers incorporated. One well known brand is Dazor.

Magnifying lamp pluses:

  • Different lenses for different magnification levels.
  • Choice of fluorescent or incandescent bulbs.
  • Floor models have weighted bases, so the arm can be extended without tipping the lamp over.
  • Bases come with wheels (optionally).
  • There are models (without bases) which can be clamped onto scroll stands.
Magnifying lamp minuses:
  • Very expensive
  • Very heavy

31. The Debates

As you have seen in other parts of this FAQ, there are some topics in needlework about which even the professionals don't agree.

This section lists and discusses some of the more energetically debated issues.

31.1 Warp and Weft and Why and Why Not

Does it matter which way the fabric's warp and weft threads go when doing a counted cross stitch project?

In weaving, warp threads run up-and-down while weft threads run side-to-side. The selvage runs up-and-down, in the same direction as the warp threads.

If you want to determine the warp and weft on a piece of linen that has no selvage:

  • Remove a thread from each direction. The warp thread will be straighter and the weft thread will be wavier.
  • If the fabric is square, remove a thread from each direction. The shorter thread is the warp and the longer thread is the weft.
  • Lightly stretch the fabric. The warp threads won't stretch as much as the weft threads.
Some people recommend stitching on a project so that the warp threads go from top to bottom. If a finished project is to be suspended from the top, such as a bell pull, it could make a difference. The warp threads may distort less from the weight of the project.

Do the warp and weft directions generally affect counted cross stitch? There are strong opinions on both sides of the issue. If you notice a difference, then do what works best.

31.2 The Right Side of the Linen

Does linen have a front side and a back side? If it does, should you care?

The "linen has a front" camp:

  • Over time, stitches done on the wrong side may become distorted.
  • Pull lightly on the bias. The corners of the fabric will curl towards the front.
The "linen does not have a front" and "linen has a front but it does not matter" camps:
  • Some linen has a shinier side, but that is due to processing after the weaving is done.
  • If an expert has trouble telling the difference, it must not matter very much.
  • Weavers for one of the big stitching fabric companies say the two sides are identical.

31.3 The Right End of the Floss

You may have read posts which talked about "the right end" or "the direction" of the thread. Let's talk about what it means and why you should or shouldn't care. Yes, this is another of those issues where the professionals disagree.

Here are condensed comments from the different schools of thought.

School 1: Floss has a right end, and the end matters.

  • The end that comes out of the skein first is the right end.
  • If the floss is already cut, hold the two ends in one hand, between the thumb and forefinger. Allow about one half inch from each end to stick up. Now tap lightly down onto both ends at once with your other forefinger. The end that spreads more, or "blossoms" is the "right" end.
  • To find the right end for a single strand of floss, hold it up and run it between your thumb and forefinger. The direction that feels smoother is the right direction, and the top is the right end.
  • The needle should be threaded with the right end. The stitches lie better, and knots are less likely to happen.
  • It is bad form to stitch without paying attention to thread direction.
  • Some people find it easier to separate a strand when it is removed from the right end. They have less problem with tangling.
School 2: Floss has a right end, and the end doesn't matter.
  • If it takes a magnifying glass to see the difference in the stitches, keeping track of the right end of the thread is a waste of time.
  • The loop method of starting stitches (where by definition one strand is the right way and one the wrong) can help keep the back of the picture neat.
School 3: Floss does not have a right end.
  • There is no difference, and the tests for the "right" end give inconsistent results.
  • The big floss manufacturers claim that their floss does not have a nap, and therefore does not have a right end.
  • Modern processing methods result in flosses and yarns which do not have a right end.

32. The Amount of Floss for Cross Stitch

The amount of floss needed for any project can vary among stitchers. The chart below should be used as a general guide only. You may get fewer stitches per skein if you are doing a very complex project or if you make loose stitches.

The equation used to derive this chart is described at the end.

Find the count (number of stitches per inch) in the left-hand column and go across. Find the number of strands of floss used at the top of the chart and go down. The number of stitches per skein of floss is where these two intersect.



Strands of Floss
  1 2 3 4 5 6
6 1530 765 510 382 306 255
7 1785 892 595 446 357 297
8 2040 1020 680 510 408 340
9 2295 1147 765 573 459 382
10 2550 1275 850 637 510 425
11 2805 1402 935 701 561 467
12 3060 1530 1020 765 612 510
13 3315 1657 1105 828 663 552
14 3570 1785 1190 892 714 595
15 3825 1912 1275 956 765 637
16 4080 2040 1360 1020 816 680
17 4335 2167 1445 1083 867 722
18 4590 2295 1530 1147 918 765
19 4845 2422 1615 1211 969 807
20 5100 2550 1700 1275 1020 850
21 5355 2677 1785 1338 1071 892
22 5610 2805 1870 1402 1122 935
23 5865 2932 1955 1466 1173 977
24 6120 3060 2040 1530 1224 1020
25 6375 3187 2125 1593 1275 1062
26 6630 3315 2210 1657 1326 1105
27 6885 3442 2295 1721 1377 1147
28 7140 3570 2380 1785 1428 1190
29 7395 3697 2465 1848 1479 1232
30 7650 3825 2550 1912 1530 1275
31 7905 3952 2635 1976 1581 1317
32 8160 4080 2720 2040 1632 1360
33 8415 4207 2805 2103 1683 1402
34 8670 4335 2890 2167 1734 1445
35 8925 4462 2975 2231 1785 1487
36 9180 4590 3060 2295 1836 1530
37 9435 4717 3145 2358 1887 1572
38 9690 4845 3230 2422 1938 1615
39 9945 4972 3315 2486 1989 1657
40 10200 5100 3400 2550 2040 1700

For you folks who like to know the details, here is how the chart was derived. As you will see, there was a fair amount of approximating going on.

A skein of floss is approximately 8-1/2 yards long. Assume most people stitch with an 18" length of floss. This gives 17 segments of 18" each per skein.

Most of the time, people stitch with more than one strand. There are 6 strands of floss per skein. So 6/strands_used is the number of pieces per segment.

Allow 3" per 18" length for securing the beginning and ending, and for general waste. This gives 15" of usable thread per 18" piece.

Now, how many inches of floss does each X take? Using the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate the length of each half stitch on 14 count fabric, and allowing for the vertical lengths on the back, and allowing a little for slop, we get 6/count (where count is the number of stitches per inch). Remember, I said there was a fair amount of approximating going on.

So the final equation is:

stitches_per_skein = 17 * (15 / (6/count)) * (6/strands_used)
I used this equation in a perl script to produce the chart above.

A. About the Needlework FAQs

A.1 General Comments

Welcome. This is one of several Needlework Frequently Asked Questions (Needlework FAQs) documents for the rec.crafts.textiles.needlework Usenet newsgroup on the Internet.

The FAQs are a collection of information that should be of use to people who do many kinds of needlework. They include lists of magazines, mail order companies, guilds, events--even conversion tables. The hints and tips contained here have been collected from many people who have been kind enough to share their wisdom with rec.crafts.textiles.needlework.

Although efforts are made to make sure that the information in this FAQ is correct, this document is provided as is, with no warranties or guarantees of any kind either expressed or implied. Any commercial products or services are listed as a courtesy to the reader. No endorsement or value judgement is expressed or implied.

Please send comments and corrections to me.

Kathleen M. Dyer
The FAQs are successors to the original "Counted Cross Stitch FAQ", first posted to the old rec.crafts.textiles newsgroup on April 20, 1994. Thanks to the people who have given permission for their messages and postings to be quoted directly. Special thanks to those people who read the draft of the original "Counted Cross Stitch FAQ" for their time, care and suggestions.

A.2 How to Find the FAQs

The Needlework FAQs are posted regularly to the rec.crafts.textiles.needlework newsgroup.

Author/Editor: Kathleen Dyer <>
Posting frequency: Monthly, first weekend after the 15th.
Web and plain text versions at: <>

Needlework FAQ: Activities and Events
Online activities and real world consumer shows and classes.
Needlework FAQ: Competitions, Selling Designs or Needlework
Tips for entering competitions, selling finished products, and selling designs.
Needlework FAQ: Computer Software
Information about nearly two dozen computer software companies and their products for designing charts and maintaining databases.
Needlework FAQ: Counted Cross Stitch Tutorial
Discusses everything from selecting the fabric to framing the picture (and most things in between).
Needlework FAQ: Creating Cross Stitch Charts
Different ways to create your own cross stitch charts.
Needlework FAQ: Designers and Design Companies
Needlework designers from around the world.
Needlework FAQ: Fabric
Information about evenweave fabrics from 6-count to 45-count, including fiber content.
Needlework FAQ: Threads, Fibers, Embellishments
Color names or conversion charts for DMC, Anchor, J&P Coates, Marlette, Medicis, Madeira, Au Ver A Soie, Mill Hill beads, Danish Flower Thread, DMC Flower Thread, Ginny Thompson Flower Thread, Kreinik Metallics.
Needlework FAQ: Magazines
Information about needlework magazines from North America, Europe and Australia.
Needlework FAQ: Manufacturers and Distributors
Contact information for manufacturers and distributors from the small, specialty companies to the big name brands.
Needlework FAQ: Organizations
Needlework guilds and organizations in North America, Europe and Australia.
Needlework FAQ: Retailers
Needlework stores and retailers from Singapore to Texas (and places between).
Needlework FAQ: Stitching and Embroidery Techniques
Short descriptions of different embroidery techniques.
Author/Editor: Kathleen Dyer <>
Posting frequency: Weekly
Plain text versions at: <>
Needlework FAQs and Periodic Postings
List of many of the regular RCTN posts.
Rec.crafts.textiles.needlework Mini-FAQ
Very short list of tips about Usenet and RCTN.
Welcome to rec.crafts.textiles.needlework
Tips about Usenet and RCTN.

Copyright 1994-2001 Kathleen M. Dyer
All Rights Reserved.

Last modified: February 18, 2001

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