Counted cross stitch kits - the things you need to know

Like counted cross stitch kits, stitchers are all different. You may be organised, careful and methodical unlike me. I can virtually guarantee that the back of your stitching looks neater than mine and you will never ever find that your borders don't quite meet in the middle!

Faced with a new cross stitch kit however, I am like a 4-year-old on Christmas Day. There is an irresistible need to rip the packaging off, thread a needle and jump straight in. It doesn't matter that there are at least three other designs all in various stages of completion in the cupboard.

This is a NEW KIT and I want to get aquainted with it NOW!

The resulting suggestions are therefore all the result of personal experience.

Check the contents of your counted cross stitch kits

Check everything is there that is meant to be there. For example the beads are enclosed but what about the beading needle? My kits are painstakingly put together by my own hands. I can make mistakes and the faster you tell me -the quicker I can put right any mistakes.

Read the instructions

I've been cross stitching for years, why should I need to carefully read an instruction sheet? The reason being is that this is where the designer explains that she has got that effect by using three strands of thread in one part and a single strand elsewhere, rather than the expected two strands. There may also be helpful tips on the best way to use a speciality thread you haven't used before. There may even be a speciality stitch that you haven't encountered before.

Sorting the threads

Some counted cross stitch kits have the threads pre-sorted and threaded onto a card. These are probably more expensive kits since it takes time to do this.

More commonly, your threads will come in bundles with a separate card. When there are a lot of colours and subtle shading in the design then sorting those shades yourself can be tricky. There are ways of making it much easier.

  • Sort in daylight. Artificial light distorts colour and makes it harder to spot the differences
  • If possible involve a friend - the job goes a lot faster.
  • Each thread bundle may have an easily recognised colour to identify it in the accompanying instructions.

In the case of the third point above the instructions may tell you that Black is in Bundle A and all the other shades in Bundle A will also be listed.

Some manufacturers of counted cross stitch kits will also tell you how many strands there are of each colour. Sort one bundle at a time. If A has DMC 415, light grey, and you put that on the card - you know that when you get to Bundle C, the only other light grey must be DMC 762 as per the instructions. A manufacturers shade card can be invaluable when sorting threads. If needs be, borrow one. That's what stitching friends are for. We love to share.

About the fabric

I can't put the design on the fabric the wrong way, can I?

I did. Photographs on the cover of counted cross stitch kits can be deceptive and the design, a large one, looked square when it was actually rectangular. As I started stitching I really wasn't paying enough attention. Some very experienced stitchers have made this mistake probably because they were distracted at the wrong moment.

The amount of un-stitched fabric around a design varies dependent on its size, but as a general rule with medium to large designs between 2 and 3 inches free around every side is necessary to allow for easy framing. My wonderful framer has managed with half an inch on one side, due to my inattention, but he wasn't happy.

Oh yes and you are better off doing something about those edges before you start, otherwise they may fray. Those of you who stitch on evenweave will be in no doubt about this one!

There are few things more annoying than to be stitching happily away only to discover you have just incorporated several loose fabric threads into the back of your embroidery. You can hem your fabric, stitch a line of zig-zag stitches around it with a sewing machine or iron on interfacing to bind your edges.

Personally I have been binding my edges with masking tape for years -it's quick and cheap. You just have to take care undoing it at the end and if there is any mark on the edge of your fabric, it's hidden by the framing process.

The chart or pattern

It helps to know that copyright law allows you to make a copy of a chart for personal use. That means you can pop down your local copy shop and have a copy you can write on. Not only can you find the four arrows on each of the four outer edges of your chart and draw pencil lines to find the intercepting point [the centre] of the design, but you can also mark off what you have stitched and where you finished stitching last. You can, if you like, have the chart enlarged.

If, like me, you have several counted cross stitch kits on the go at once, your chart will spend a lot of time folded up in the workbag. As time goes on the folds in the paper chart start to show signs of wear. One evening, you get the chart out and it either falls apart or you find you can't read the line that the fold crosses. This is where having a photocopy is invaluable because the vital information isn't really lost.

Friends Who Stitch

These are invaluable. They are the ones who know just what a disaster the latest mishap is. They'll have stories of their own mistakes and perhaps a solution to your latest dilemma. They do not accuse you of making a drama out of a crisis, they sympathise. They usually, eventually, make you see the funny side.

Have fun

I hope these tips will help you get the best from your counted cross stitch kits. Enjoy!