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What Are Cross-Stitches?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cross-stitches are the individual crossed stitches that make up a single X in an embroidered design using this technique. In general, the production of cross-stitches is relatively uniform, and the way in which the stitches are made makes a difference primarily on the back of the work. The design portrayed by the stitches arises not from the construction of each stitch but in the way in which the stitches relate to one another in the finished piece, both in terms of color and location. Designs made solely from cross-stitches have a unique look, but the images that can be made using this technique are limited only by patience and planning.

The way in which cross-stitches are made is usually very straightforward. These designs are typically made on fabric that has distinct and even holes caused by the way in which the fabric is woven. Looking at embroidery fabric is typically enough to make it clear which way it should be oriented, but if there is confusion, looking at diagrams can be helpful.

In order to make a single crossed stitch, a needle and embroidery thread are brought through one hole and then down again through a hole directly diagonal from the original hole. Next, the stitcher brings the needle up either through the hole directly below the last hole or above the original hole. Whichever of those holes was not used in the last step is the hole through which the thread must be brought down again to form one complete X in the design. Each of the stitches used to make the X should be of even length, and if a person were to outline the X, it should form a square rather than a rectangle.

This is not typically how cross-stitch is done, as there are usually many stitches in the same color in a design. As such, one leg of each X is usually done in a single row and then stitched back to form a number of cross-stitches. When working vertically on columns of stitches, it is possible to complete each X while working. Which strategy is best depends on the design.

This simple stitch can be used to create patterns much in the same way pixels make up an image. Cross-stitches are usually in a single color, but these colors can be placed strategically in a design to create full images. Photorealistic cross-stitch is even possible if someone has enough colors and the design is worked in sufficient detail. As such, much of the difficulty in this craft involves planning the initial design, counting out the stitches, and having enough patience to finish a complex pattern. Given that the actual stitch involved is uniform and extremely easy to execute, cross-stitch is often considered a good craft for embroidery beginners.

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