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Cross Stitch Fundamentals: Getting to Know Your Materials

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Cross stitch can seem quite daunting if you're new to the game. Even if you've got a few projects under your belt, it can be confusing knowing what you need to start your own projects once you've tried of all those geese in bonnet kits at your local craft store.

There's a little bit of jargon to be busted so in this tutorial you'll learn exactly what materials you need to go it alone and get stitching.


1. Material Facts

Just what is that fabric called? You know, the one with the holes in? It took me a lot of flustered mumbling in craft stores before I realised that a) It's called aida; b) I could buy it online and save myself the embarrassment and c) it's pronounced eye-ee-da, like the opera.

Aida

It was invented back in 1890 by Zweigart around the same time as Verdi's opera reached the top of the pops, and, the legend goes, they decided to capitalise on the popularity of the opera. Phew! History lesson over. Realistically, you can call it whatever you like - ask for cross stitch fabric and everyone will know what you mean.

Aida comes in many colours and sizes and is essentially many groups of threads woven together with clearly defined holes for ease of stitching.

You'll see aida listed as 14 count, 16 count and so on. This refers to the number of holes per inch (HPI) and also the number of cross stitches you'll fit in one inch - e.g. 14 count aida will fit 14 stitches per inch.

The bigger the number, the less distance between holes there is and the smaller your finished design will be. Big number = small stitches. 14 count is the most popular size and most craft stores will carry this. Aida comes in many colours - white and cream are the classic colours, but you can find pink, black, green, glittery ... the possibilities are endless!

If you want to work out how big a design will be once you've stitched it up, you can divide the number of stitches by the count of the fabric to find out, for example:

140 stitches tall on 14 count aida = 10 inches tall.


2. Get Thready

Embroidery thread or floss is what you'll be stitching with. Floss is made up of six strands of cotton loosely wound together, but you'll very rarely use all six strands at once. Most patterns will tell you how many strands to use, but a good rule of thumb is to use two or three strands if you're not sure. The more strands you use, the bulkier your stitches will be.

Floss

There are two main brands of floss - DMC and Anchor. Most patterns and kits you'll find will use one of these two brands and they are very widely available.

Many stitchers tend to favour one over the other, but they're pretty much the same with only minor variations in shades. Anchor and DMC are wise to this fact and handily there are conversion charts online like this one so you can find the same colour in each brand.

Floss Bobbins

Like all thread, the minute your back is turned, it will try to tie itself in knots, so it's a good idea to invest in some cardboard or plastic bobbins to wind your threads around. This will keep them in good shape and make it easier to keep track of what shades you have.


3. To the Point

Once you have your fabric and threads sorted, you'll need something to actually sew with. There are a huge variety of needles available but for cross stitch, as you don't actually need to pierce anything, the best needle to use has a blunted end.

You'll occasionally find packs of needles labelled 'cross stitch', but generally they are named tapestry needles. The smaller sized tapestry needles are perfect for cross stitch as they have the blunt tip but a larger eye for threading.

Needles

As with aida, the higher the number, the smaller the needle. As a guide, I use size 24 for stitching onto 14 count aida. If you use finer aida, such as 18 count, you may wish to use a smaller needle, like a 28, so as not to distort the fabric when you pull the larger needle through.

Needles are usually made of nickel, but if you have allergies, or are feeling fancy, splash out on gold-plated needles - they won't rust and will be kinder to your fingers.


4. Hoop-la!

To hoop or not to hoop? That was Shakespeare's real question. Using a hoop will keep your fabric at an even tension whilst you stitch. I also find it easier to grip a hoop than to try and keep my fabric taut in a Vulcan death grip. Avoid cross stitch claw and hoop up, I say.

Hoopla

You'll find hoops in most craft stores in various sizes and colours. Wooden hoops are the most popular, but plastic hoops are available in jazzy colours, too. For large designs, you can also use free-standing hoops, which will leave both hands free for stitching.

The bigger the hoop, the less you'll need to move it. Hoops can leave rings on your fabric, but you can minimise this by removing your work from the hoop between stitching sessions when you're not using it. Rings will also press out with an iron under a cloth later, so don't let that put you off.


5. Snip-Snap

Last but not least, you'll need some scissors to snip up your fabric and threads. It's a good idea to invest in two pairs of scissors - one for fabric and one for thread.

Scissors

I use a pair of standard dressmaking scissors to cut my aida up - they are sturdier, longer and I find it easier to cut long, straight lines with them.

For cutting threads, I use a pair of embroidery scissors. These are small with a pointed end, and are useful for not just snipping thread, but also unpicking any mistakes you may make. Using them only for thread will keep them sharp and stainless steel is the perfect choice for anti-rusting.

You can find all sorts of different scissor designs on the market, but it's a kind of unwritten rite of cross stitch passage to have the classic stork scissors!


Get Stitching!

Now you have all you need to get started - you just need to select a design to stitch. Oh, and maybe treat yourself to a little sewing box to keep all this in...

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