25 pro cross stitch tips for beginners and beyond

14 January 2021
We chat to top cross stitch designers and experts who share their favourite cross stitch tips and tricks!

If you're new to cross stitching, or wanting to improve your stitch skills, these cross stitch tips will help you to get started!

This simple guide aims to give you advice on stitching techniques, creativity, organising your work and useful tools to have in your sewing box. Happy stitching!

Pro cross stitch tips

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Tips to help improve your stitching techniques

cross stitching flowers

1. "Start with small projects"

Ruth Oliver from The Maker Arcade suggests to "Start small. If you're new to stitching, don’t try a huge project as it can be overwhelming. Accomplish some smaller pieces to get your confidence. Our kits are no bigger than 12cm in diameter and can be smashed in a few evenings!” (CrossStitcher August 2019). 

2. "Use two strands to backstitch neatly"

Hannah Braniff from Hannah Hand Makes states she likes "to use two strands for my backstitch, but that can cause a few problems sometimes. So... 1. I ‘railroad’ my stitches, so I put the needle in between my two threads before putting the needle back down to make the two strands sit parallel to each other, and flat. 2. If I need to do a ‘jump’ over a few squares without bringing my needle down then I like to purposely twist my threads together, rather than railroad them, so that the threads don’t separate, as this can look a little messy” (CrossStitcher October 2020). 

3. "Avoid new threads tangling"

For those of you who struggle with tangling threads, Lucy Heaton has a trick that can help... “When you pull thread from a DMC skein, always pull it from the end with the number on the label, such a little thing but saves getting all in a tangle!” (CrossStitcher September 2020)

4. "Press your work correctly"

Cheryl McKinnon from Tiny Modernist Cross Stitch highlights a top tip for when pressing your work: “When pressing your finished cross stitch, always use an ironing board or clean, white towel and press with the right-side down to avoid flattening your stitches" (CrossStitcher Summer 2020).

5. "With French knots practice makes perfect"

Laura Strutt, a.k.a. Made Peachy states that “French knots can often get a bit of bad press, and I have to agree sometimes they are rather fiddly. I often work a few ‘warm-up knots’ on a scrap of fabric before starting on my final piece to make sure I’m bringing my ‘A’ game! It’s easy to tug too hard and damage the fabric when working these stitches, so I have found that a swipe of beeswax or thread conditioner along the length of the floss can really make light work of drawing the knot into position” (CrossStitcher June 2020). 

6. "Hold the thread when working French knots"

Like Laura Strutt, Stephanie Carswell from Hawthorne Handmade also has a great tip when making a French knot. She states to "hold the working thread taut until the last possible moment to avoid losing the knot or getting in a tangle” (CrossStitcher October 2019). 

7. "Help Kreinik threads to relax" 

The editor of our very own CrossStitcher magazine, Susan Penny says that “When using Kreinik threads, besides using shorter lengths to avoid tangles I recommend stitching slowly, and moistening the thread lightly with a damp sponge to help it relax, if it becomes difficult to work with" (CrossStitcher November 2020). 

8. "Use a bigger needle for metallics"

Stitching metallic thread can be a little fiddly. Lucie Heaton suggests using "a needle one size bigger than usual, for example, a size 26 cross stitch needle is usually used on 14 count fabric, so go up to a size 24 needle for metallic thread. This will help to make a slightly bigger hole for the thread to slide through” (CrossStitcher September 2019). 

9. "Relax when stitching"

“Stitching is meant to be relaxing! Don’t waste time worrying about what the back of your piece looks like, or if you’re doing it ‘right’ – just take your time and enjoy the process and the calm that it brings…” (Stephanie Carswell, a.k.a. Hawthorne Handmade, CrossStitcher May 2020). 

10. "Keep your tension relaxed"

“Stitch happy – cross stitching can be really therapeutic but if you’re anxiously waiting for exam results or really upset about something, then your thread tension is likely to be tighter than your usual stitches. This will be noticeable because the stitches will appear flatter in those areas and more aida will be showing” (Sarah Cookland, a.k.a. Sarah Cookland Designs, CrossStitcher Summer 2019). 

Tips on creativity

heart cross stitch design

11. “Go for pretty projects that are useful too”

Here's some useful advice to boost your creativity from Hannah Sturrock from Bobo Stitch: “I always encourage people to make pretty and useful cross stitch. This often means getting off the plain old white aida and onto something more exciting. For example, try stitching your favourite pattern onto a jute shopping bag (roughly the same as 12 count for size), use coloured aida or an equivalent size even weave and make your stitching into bunting or buy a piece of soluble canvas and stitch your favourite pattern onto a t-shirt, hoody or pillow case!” (CrossStitcher December 2020). 

12. "Choose your own colours"

“Pick out your favourite coloured skeins and create your own personalised colour palette. This way you can stitch designs in colours that you love” (Sarah Cookland, a.k.a. Sarah Cookland Designs, CrossStitcher August 2020 issue).

13. "Use whipped backstitch"

Stephanie Carswell from Hawthorne Handmade suggests using “whipped backstitch to make your outlines stand out and get your curves to look smooth- once you get to the end of a line go back along the stitches weaving your thread in and out of the stitches on top of the fabric” (CrossStitcher January 2020).

14. "Use tweeding to widen your colour range"

“When designing your own special cross stitch for a family member or a friend and you find that the colour you wanted doesn’t quite fit with the standard, stranded cotton range shades, you can do something about this by using a technique called ‘tweeding’. This technique is extremely simple and very helpful. All you need to do is thread your needle with one strand of two different shades in the needle at the same time to make an optical illusion of the colour you were after. I have used this on many designs and have found it to be very effective” (Amanda Butler, a.k.a. Amanda J Butler Designs, CrossStitcher June 2019). 

Can’t get enough of cross stitching? CrossStitcher magazine is for you, packed with designs to create and inspire, charts to keep you happily absorbed for hours, expert interviews, all the latest from the world of cross stitch and SEW much more! 

Tips for organising your work

cross stitch hoops

15. "Keep your stitching tidy"

An important tip for any stitcher is to 'Keep it tidy!' Whenever possible, stitch in blocks of colour and secure the ends by going under a row of stitches on the back. A spaghetti junction on the back of the project can lead to tangles, bumps and knots, which can all be easily avoided” (Sarah Cookland, a.k.a. Sarah Cookland Designs, CrossStitcher March 2020). 

16. "Check your work"

Another useful tip from Sarah Cookland is: “Always check your work thoroughly before taking it to be framed. Forgetting to add finishing touches such as French knots or beads that can’t be added on afterwards would be such a shame!” (CrossStitcher November 2019). 

17. "Keep threads in order"

“After many years of disorganised stash of threads, I decided this year to get organised. I’ve been sorting my threads in a specialised thread box and it saves me so much time as I can see at an instant which threads I already have, so I don’t make any double purchases” (Susan Penny, CrossStitcher February 2020). 

18."Keep stock of your thread stash"

Not having the right thread or amount of it can be a nightmare when you are desperately wanting to start of project! Kerry Morgan has come up with a great tip in preventing this! “I have created a spreadsheet on my computer to track which threads I have, so when I start a new project I just check to see if I have it ‘in stock’. I find it so much more efficient than having to look through my organisers to see if I have a particular thread” (CrossStitcher July 2019).

19. "Study your cross stitch chart before you begin your stitching"

“Sometimes we’re so eager to make a start on our stitching that we forgot to take a few minutes to familiarise ourselves with the pattern. It’s important to take a good look to see what’s involved and where to use the different thread colours in the design. Take note too of any detailing such as backstitching, French knots or beading. Understanding your pattern beforehand helps to achieve good progress with your stitching” (Nia Rhind, a.k.a. Nia Cross Stitch, CrossStitcher March 2019). 

Read our interview with Nia Rhind and find out all about her love for lettering! 

Useful cross stitching tools

20. "Use a hoop to frame your work"

Framing your work in an embroidery hoop is a really easy and cost-effective way to finish your projects. To really make your needlework pop, pick out a coloured or pattern hoop in a complementary colour. It will really make your work come alive” (Ruth Caig, a.k.a. Stitch Kits Crafts, CrossStitcher January 2021). 

21. "Use an inexpensive lamp"

“You don’t need to buy an expensive lamp for your stitching, why not start out with a flexible clip-on lamp (made for reading or camping) as a cheaper alternative?" (Sally Wilson, a.k.a. Caterpillar Cross Stitch, CrossStitcher July 2020). 

Don't miss our interview with Sally of Caterpillar Cross Stitch!

22. "Keep your scissors close"

“A top tip someone in my community recently share is to wear your scissors on a lanyard around your neck so you don’t lose them. I’ve been doing this and love it!” (Hannah Baxter, a.k.a. Hannah Hand Makes, CrossStitcher December 2019). 

23. "Use a thread winder"

“When I’m stitching I like to get spare lengths of thread sorted onto bobbins, and the Embroidery Thread Winder from Willow Fabrics is a real time saver for this! You can use it with plastic or cardboard bobbins and it’s quite therapeutic to get all your threads wound neatly and stored in order” (Susan Penny, CrossStitcher January 2019). 

24. "Use a q-snaps frame"

“I find q-snaps frames are great for working with linen/lugana, as they don’t mark the fabric, but you can just roll your aida to stitch in-hand if you prefer” (Cheryl McKinnon, a.k.a. Tiny Modernist Cross Stitch, CrossStitcher February 2019). 

25. "Make your fabric easier to hold in a hoop"

“Sometimes fabric from a kit can be too small to be able to hold in a hoop and sew right to the edge. To solve this I’ve sewn normal dress cotton around the edge of the evenweave, so allowing me to hold the fabric and sew right to the edges of the design. I’ll leave the cotton there too once I’m finished as it will help when it comes to stretching the sewing for framing. This is also a really good way to use up small pieces of fabric that otherwise might be too small with your chosen border allowance” (Durene Jones, a.k.a. Durene Jones Cross Stitch, CrossStitcher May 2019). 

Enjoy this interview with Durene Jones and be sure to check out her six-part, garden-themed SAL (stitch-a-long)!

Enjoyed these top tips? Get more great advice in our cross stitch guide for beginners!

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