Cross stitch for beginners: a handy guide to get you started

01 May 2020
Cross stitch kit for beginners
New to cross stitch? Our handy cross stitch for beginners guide will take you through all the basic equipment, techniques and stitches you need to get started.

So, you’d like to learn cross stitch… great choice! It’s no wonder it’s such a popular hobby for new and experienced crafters alike – wonderfully accessible with endless design possibilities! The cross stitch world really is your oyster! All you need is a few essentials and you’re ready to go.

Aside from the beautiful creations, cross stitch is a great, mindful activity, not to mention extremely satisfying when you see the fruits of your labour!

We might be biased… but we’re sure you’ll soon be hooked! Ready? Let’s get started with the cross stitch basics… 

Cross stitch essentials – what kit do I need to start stitching?

Cross stitch basics for beginners

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Aida is an ideal choice for cross stitch beginners. 14 count aida is the most common, although it’s available in a huge variety of colours and counts. Each cross stitch is worked over a single aida block, making counting and keeping your place easy.


Evenweave is much simpler to work with than you might think. Start with a 25 or 28 count evenweave, such as Zweigart Lugana. Once you’re confident, try your hand at a linen version.

Top tip! Start with aida and evenweave fabric before progressing on to linen.

Thread and fabric for cross stitch


For basic stitching you’ll need a tapestry needle that has a blunt tip and large eye. Use a size 24 needle for most aidas, and a size 26 for evenweaves and linens. Use a sharp embroidery needle for finer details such as backstitch and French knots.

Embroidery scissors

Embroidery scissors are an absolute must-have. Keep yours sharp by only using them to cut threads

Stranded cotton

Embroidery thread is also called stranded cotton. Each thread length is made up of six strands of cotton twisted together. The chart key on your pattern will tell you how many strands you’ll need to stitch with.

Hoops and frames

Though not absolutely essential, using an embroidery hoop or frame will help you to keep an even stitching tension.

Reading a cross stitch pattern

Cross stitch patterns are a doddle when you get used to them. There are two elements to get to grips with – the cross stich chart and key.

Following a cross stitch pattern with a cross stitch chart

Cross stitch chart

Each square on the chart represents a single cross stitch. Start from the centre of the design and your fabric. To find your fabric’s centre, fold it in half and into quarters.

Cross stitch key

All the symbols that appear on the chart are listed in the key with their corresponding thread codes beside them. The key also tells you the different stitches used in the design. The closest column of thread codes listed next to the chart symbols is the thread brand that’s used in the design. Similar colour matches are listed alongside it. Where no close match can be found, you may have to use a different brand of thread for that shade.

Cross stitch for beginners

Stitching on aida 

1. Cut a 40cm thread length, and thread your needle with two of the six strands.

2. Knot one end and start with a waste knot (opposite).

3. Make a diagonal half cross stitch across a single aida block.

Stitching on aida - making a diagonal half cross stitch

4. Make a second diagonal stitch to make the cross. You can work a row of half cross stitches first, then work back on yourself to complete the stitches. All the top stitches should face the same way.

Stitching on aida  -making a diagonal stitch to make a cross

Stitching on evenweave

Instead of taking your needle diagonally across a single aida block, take your needle diagonally across two evenweave threads, creating a half cross stitch as before.

Stitching on evenweave

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Starting a thread

Away waste knot

1. Knot one end of your thread and take it down through the front of your fabric, 2cm from your starting point.

2. Bring it back up to the front of the fabric to make your first stitch.

3. Begin stitching your design, making sure you stitch over your starting thread with each stitch.

4. Once you’re happy that your starting thread is secure, snip off the knot.

5. To secure your thread when you’ve finished stitching, weave it through the back of your stitches.

Away waste knot

Loop knot

1. Working in two strands makes a loop knot the neatest method.

2. Cut a single length of thread, twice as long as normal. Fold in half to create a loop at one end.

3. Thread your needle with the two tail ends.

4. Bring your needle up to the front of your fabric, leaving a small loop of thread on the reverse.

5. Make a half cross stitch, passing your needle through the loop on the reverse, as shown.

6. Pull all the way to secure the thread then continue with your stitching. 

Loop knot


These stitches are great for adding a bit more detail to your work. Fractionals are charted either as two symbols opposite one another in a square, or as a symbol opposite an empty space.

1. Start with a quarter stitch, working from one corner into the centre (with aida, you’ll need to pierce the fabric).

2. Make a quarter stitch in your second colour, coming up from the opposite corner and back down the centre.

3. Finish with a half cross stitch.

Fractional stitch

Adding backstitch outlines and details

1. Work your backstitch once you’ve finished the cross stitch.

2. To secure your thread, weave it through the back of your stitches, then bring your needle up to the surface.

Working a back stitch

3. Make each backstitch over one thread of fabric on aida and two threads if you work on evenweave. Follow the chart to see where to place each one.

Making a back stitch

French knots

Go dotty with this simple way to add neat knots to your designs

1. Bring your needle up at your starting point and wrap your thread once or twice around the needle. Use one strand for a small knot and two for a chunkier knot.

2. Hold your thread end firmly and take your needle down, ever so slightly away from where you came up.

3. Slide the twisted thread down the needle, so it rests on the fabric’s surface.

Adding French knots

4. Feed the needle gently through the fabric. Try to keep your thread as taut as possible to prevent the knot becoming loose.

5. Gently pull your thread through to tighten the knot, so that it sits neatly on the surface.

Keep practising your French knots until you are happy you have perfected the technique.

French knots

Now you’ve got to grips with the cross stitch basics, explore the Stitching blog where you'll find a growing library of stitching advice and inspiration to get stuck into!

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