Top Tips for Beginner Cross Stitchers

If you already feel ready to try your first Cross stitch project then please look at our recommended Anchor Beginners and Easy Kits. Otherwise, we hope you find out guide below helpful.

If you are new to Cross Stitch don't worry - following these tips will get you off to a good start!

  • 1. Don’t attempt to tackle a large or complex project - start off with a small design, preferably one using whole stitches and backstitch.
  • 2. Start stitching the largest area of colour first.
  • 3. Keep your top stitches facing in the same direction \ or / but not both.  This ensures a neat finish to your work.
  • 4. Backstitches should be worked last.
  • 5. If your thread gets twisted during stitching, simply let the needle hang down loosely so that the twist unravels itself.
  • 6. Count, count, COUNT! Mistakes are easier to fix if spotted early.
  • 7. Never leave the needle in your work when putting it away – this may mark or distort the fabric.
  • 8. Try to work in good light - daylight is best, and causes least strain on the eyes. But NEVER leave your stitching or threads in direct sunlight as this can bleach the colours out very quickly!

How do I start?

It is best to buy a small kit that you really like for your first project. That way you will finish it fairly quickly and not get disheartened. All of the kiks on our site will contain everything you need – the fabric, the threads, the chart, instructions and a needle.

The only thing you might want to buy extra is an Embroidery Hoop to keep your fabric stretched to an even tension. Make sure you buy one that is about an inch larger around the edge than the design. 

Don’t forget that most embroidery rings or hoops are circular whereas most designs are rectangular. Measure the DIAGONAL of the design to find the size you need.

Please see ‘Using an embroidery hoop or tapestry frame’ below for more details.

Preparing your fabric

To ensure that your Cross stitch is correctly positioned when you are stitching it, you need to be certain that it is in the right place on your fabric.  It is therefore important to know where to work the first stitch, and because one of the golden rules of Cross stitch is that you begin close to the centre of the design, you need a simple way of determining where the centre of the design should be.

Unless your project states otherwise, the centre of the design will be at the centre of the fabric, and if this is so, then just follow these steps to find your starting point.

  • 1.  Fold your fabric in half along one side, and pinch gently to mark the central thread
  • 2.  Tack some brightly coloured sewing cotton across the fabric following the line of this thread.  This cotton is referred to as a 'guide-line'.
  • 3.  Repeat this process along the second side of the fabric, so that you have a cross of coloured thread on the fabric.  This will be easy to remove when you have finished.
  • 4.  The point where your 'guide-lines' cross will mark the centre of the fabric, and the point where your centre stitch should be positioned.
  • 5.  Draw the same cross on your chart in a clear pencil line.  Usually there are arrows on two sides of the design to help you draw these. Where a project calls for you to position the centre of the design away from the centre of the fabric there will be specific instructions to follow and you will need to tack guidelines along the threads indicated by the instructions rather than along central threads.

After stitching your guidelines, always press the fabric carefully before you start the project, and, especially if you are using an even-weave material, it is advisable to hem around the edges so that they do not fray.

Hint: Never remove your tacking until the project is finished, because you can use the guide-lines as helpful reference points when you are working.

Here is a useful tip from one of our customers:

"Thanks for a wonderful newsletter.  I have another tip to help when doing a large project, tack your centre lines as you say, but also tack lines in at every 10 holes so you can keep track, all the charts are in blocks of 10 so that way you can’t go wrong and wont have to unpick!"

Using an Embroidery Hoop or Tapestry Frame

It is possible to stitch many projects without using either an Embroidery Hoop or a Tapestry Frame, but it will be much easier to keep your stitches even and result in a neater finished piece if one is used.

Embroidery hoops

Hoops come in many sizes and are suitable for smaller designs, ensure that the design fits completely inside the hoop without having to alter its position. Traditional hoops are wooden and consist of two rings, one inside the other, with an adjustable screw attachment on the outer ring, which is tightened to hold the fabric in place.  Plastic hoops are also available, which clip together to secure the fabric. To fix your fabric in a wooden hoop: 1.  Loosen the tension screw and separate the ring into two rings. 2.  After tacking the guidelines, place the fabric over the inner ring so that the centre of the design is in the centre of the ring, and with the tension screw loosened press the outer ring over it. 2.   Smooth the fabric and straighten the weave before tightening the screw. 3.  Fix your fabric securely enough to keep it taut but do not stretch it too much as it will easily distort the weave.

Tapestry Frames

Frames should be used if the design is too big for a hoop. There are many different types available including hand-held and floor-standing variations.  Frames usually comprise two rollers, with tapes attached, and two flat pieces, which hold the rollers at a set distance apart.

Using a tapestry frame:

1. After making the guidelines, fix your fabric to the tapes on both rollers with tack-ing stitches and then oversew the tapes and fabric together, keeping the fabric flat but undistorted.

2. Hem the sides of your fabric to stop them fraying on the rollers.

3. Don't leave worked fabric wound tightly on to a frame for long periods as the stitching will become flattened and lifeless.

4. If your piece of material is too small to fit the frame, you can make it larger by tacking off-cuts of the same type of fabric to the top and bottom of your material and then fixing these to the frame.


Stranded embroidery cotton is the thread most commonly used in Cross stitch embroidery.

It is supplied in skeins, normally 8 metres long, and there are several ranges readily obtainable including DMC Stranded Cotton, Anchor Stranded Cotton and many others. Cotton is made up of six strands. You will almost always have to separate out these strands to use a smaller number when you are stitching.

Most embroidery is worked with only two strands of cotton in the needle, but some projects may use one or three strands, particularly for back-stitching.  It is very important that you are sure of how many strands you should be using.  One of the most common errors made by beginners is to use the wrong number of strands when stitching.

Separating the strands

If your threads are not already cut to length, take a piece which is about the length from your fingertips to just above your elbow. This will give you a comfortable length to sew with. To separate the threads, hold the threads near one end, separate out ONE strand. Pull it gently while pinching the remaining threads hard to stop them tangling.  Repeat this for the second strand.

Do not try to do two strands at once; it doesn’t work.

Hint - Store your unused working lengths of cotton on an organizer card, which you can also use for easy reference while you are stitching. Many kits come with an organiser card but if yours doesn’t, get a piece of fairly stiff card and punch some circular holes which are large enough to hold the thread comfortably.  It is useful to label the threads with the symbols used on the chart. Do this at the start and you will save hours searching!


You must use blunt-ended tapestry needles for cross stitching.  Size 24 is suitable for most projects, but you will need the smaller size 26 on finer fabrics and for detailed work such as outlining.

Hint - if the thread becomes very twisted when you are stitching, allow the needle to hang freely from the underside of the fabric to untwist it naturally.

What is stitch count?

Stitch count is the number of stitches from one side of a design to the other and from top to bottom.  If you are buying a pattern in the form of a chart or book, it may well talk about stitch count but not tell you how large the finished design will be.

To work out the size of the finished design is very easy. All you do is divide the stitch count of the design by the count of the fabric. For example If the stitch count is 280 x 140 and you are using a 14 count fabric, then the finished design will be 20" by 10".

Do you recommend any kits for beginners?

We recommend two different types of kits that would suit a beginner. Either you can work on a kit that is aimed at children. Alternatively, Anchor have a range of kits that are for beginners but are specially aimed for beginners.

Have a look at Cross stitch kits aimed at children to see if anything interests you.

The other types of kits we recommend are the Anchor Beginners and Easy Kits


If you have any questions, or find yourself stuck or in need of help, we would be only too happy to help you out! Visit our Contact Us page where you can either send us an email or call us