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Cross Stitching Guide

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

New to cross stitching and don’t know where to start? This is our quick-start guide that will have you up and running in no time.

Please note, this is not a definitive guide. In cross stitching, there are a ton of ways to do every step. These are just the ways that work for us. Feel free to do additional research and explore other methods - there are many incredible websites and YouTube videos out there dedicated to this needle art.


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Cross stitching is like a Choose Your Own Adventure - After the first stitch of a pattern,

you do you.


Picking your Pattern:

Feel free to pick any pattern that speaks to you, but keep in mind that it’s easiest to start with designs that have larger sections or blocks of color. This way you are doing less color switching and it’s easier to get into the swing of things. Once you’ve mastered the basics, the sky's the limit for designs!

Now that you've picked your pattern, let’s go over some lingo so all this will be easier to understand:

Floss: The thread that is used. Usually made up of 6 individual strands.

Aida: the most commonly used fabric or canvas in cross stitching, bearing a grid-like pattern and generally a touch stiff to make stitching easier.

Aida fabric count: the number of holes per inch, which in turn determines the number of stitches per inch. The most common aida is 14 count. Other common counts are 11,16,18, and 20

  • Rule of thumb: the higher the number, the smaller the stitches will be. For example: 11-count aida will have 11 squares per inch, and an 18-count aida will have a tighter pattern because it will have 18 squares per square inch.


Ok, now that we’re through the driest part...

Get your Fabric Ready:

1. Find the center of your aida by folding it into quarters. Fold in half once, and then fold again

2. Pinch the inside corner and slide a needle though the tip to mark the center

3. Unfold the aida

4. Separate the hoop

5. Use your needle to center the aida in your hoop, and secure the fabric in the hoop.

*Get the fabric taut enough so that there isn't too much give when you push on it, but doesn't need to be so tight that it starts stretching the weave*

Pick your First Color!

Generally, it is easiest to start your cross stitch from the center and move outwards. The patterns we sell are called Counted Cross Stitch, which means there is no pattern printed on your fabric and you will need to rely on counting your stitches as you work.

1. Find the center of the pattern. Most patterns will show you the two center lines, either by using arrows at the edges or with a red line. Find the intersection of those lines. (See Below)

2. Use the Color and Symbol Key to select the floss color that most directly sits in the middle of your pattern.

Here is a sample pattern and Symbol Key - use the arrows on the pattern to find the middle (shown as a star):

Separate your Floss.

In a piece of floss, there are 6 strands. For 14-count aida, most designs call for 1 strand of floss, doubled over.

There are many ways to do this, but our personal favorite is what we dubbed the “shimmy” method.

  1. Pull enough floss out of the packet off the bobbin to equal two forearm lengths and cut. Any longer and the risk of knots becomes higher.

  2. To separate a single strand, hold onto one strand of the floss and lightly pull the remaining 5 strands down between 2-5 inches.

  3. Now, holding below the bunch, pull down until all the bunching flattens.

  4. Repeat this until the 5 strands are fully separated from the single piece you will use.

Thread the Needle

Using a threader:

  1. Double over the piece of floss so one end has a loop and the other is the two ends.

  2. Put the metal part of the threader through the eye of the needle, all the way to the base.

  3. Thread the two ends through the middle of the threader and pull about 3 inches worth of the floss through.

  4. Gently pull the threader out of the needle, and it will pull the floss through with it. It might get stuck a little because you’re pulling four strands through at once but don’t yank it too hard if using a threader with a plastic handle, you might break the threader.

  5. Once the threader is out of the eye of the needle, remove it from the floss by fully pulling the split end through. You should be left with a tail that is about 2-3in long (the loop end of the floss will be farthest from the needle)

Without a threader:

  1. Double over the piece of floss so one end has a loop and the other is the two ends

  2. If the floss has fuzzy edges, give them a quick snip with a pair of sharp scissors

  3. Thread the two ends into the needle and pull it through until you have approximately 2-3 inches pulled through

Basic Stitch

Now, there are several ways to do your stitches. It’s really all down to personal preference and you are free to find and choose whatever way you like best.

  • Overall, the whole gist of cross stitching is creating X’s over each “cross” or square. Here is the basic pattern of the stitch:

Start your Stitch!

Now, there are several ways to start your stitch. It’s really all down to personal

preference and you are free to find and choose whatever way you like best.

At The Activity Hive, we prefer the loop method because it gives you a slightly cleaner look than using a knot (and we think it’s faster and easier!).

The loop method: With your doubled over piece of floss, thread it downward from the front of the aida in the bottom left hand quadrant of the square you designated (highlighted with a box in picture 1 below), and pull through until there is approximately 2-3 inches of the loop still left on top.

Step-by-step anchoring (video guides below):

Then bring the needle back up through the top right hole. Thread the needle through the loop and pull taut (but not too tight! You want to make it secure but don’t want to stretch out the fabric)

Now put the needle through the hole you just came through, so the tie you created is now on the backside of the fabric. You might need to give a small tug to get it full in the back, but again, don’t pull so hard that it stretches the fabric out.

Then come upwards through the top left hole and down through the bottom right hole.

YAY! You’ve created your first cross stitch!

From here, you can decide which direction you want to go. Right, left, up, down, there’s no real wrong way to go (unless of course if you aren’t following the pattern, but honestly it’s for none of us to judge if that’s what you want to do).

Overall, the most important thing to keep a uniform and clean look on the front is by consistently doing the:

first stitch: Bottom Left or Upper Right

second stitch: Top Left or Bottom Right

Finishing off a Thread

When you get to the last couple inches of your thread and it gets difficult to stitch - it’s time to secure the thread.

With your needle at the backside of your canvas, simply take your needle horizontal to the fabric and thread through 4-5 stitches to secure the floss.

Remove the needle and snip the ends, leaving about 2 mm of floss

And that’s how you cross stitch!


Hot Tips:

1. Keep a marker or pen with you to mark off the squares on your pattern sheet as you go along. It will make counting and keeping track of your stitches MUCH easier.

2. Once you get going, It’s best to do your lighter colors first because when you’re filling in colors next to each other, you can pull through small amounts of the adjacent color. It’s more noticeable when you're stitching a light color next to an existing dark color.

3. When you’re filling in an odd shape, figure out a plan of action. Thinking about a route will help you from ending up in an inconvenient place. But also, you do you, and if you live that chaotic life - do it up. Also see The Continental Stitch



My floss keeps getting knotted!

Try shortening the length you start with. Stick to cutting the floss at around two arm lengths long (start at your finger tips, loop around your elbow and come back to your hand). You double it over so you end up using a piece that is one arm's length.

Also try to keep track of what the floss looks like on the back side. Every handful of stitches do a check that you aren't stitching through any errant floss by accident.

Make sure to always pull the string taut each stitch. Not so tight that it will start to warp the fabric but just enough tension to make sure the floss has gone fully through before continuing to the next stitch.

Lastly, let the needle and thread dangle every so often to untwist it. As you're working, the floss will start to spin around and can make it more prone to knotting.

My stitches look thin!

Make sure you’re not pulling the floss too tightly. That can make it appear thinner. You want to pull the string taut each stitch; not so tight that it will start to warp the fabric but just enough tension to make sure the floss has gone fully through before continuing to the next stitch.

From use, the floss also starts to get thinner towards the end of the strand, so you may want to tie off the current strand and start a new one.


Fun Fact: During the dying process, some pigments get absorbed more than others, which can affect the appearance and thickness of the floss. In general you'll find lighter colors appear thinner than darker colors.


If the floss is twisting around itself, it can also cause the stitches to look a little thinner - especially with lighter colors. Let the needle and thread dangle every so often to untwist it. This will help the stitches lay "flatter". Here's an (exaggerated) illustration of what happens when the floss starts twisting:

There is a more advanced technique called "railroading" that is commonly used in competition settings (yes, there are cross stitching competitions!) but it can be more time consuming. Until our next blug about more advanced stitching, feel free to search online for railroading for cross stitching.

I missed a stitch or stitched the wrong space!

Whoops! Happens to all of us. There are a few solutions to fix a hole or a wrong stitch

  1. If you’re not too far along, you can try to unstitch it. This can be tedious but if you catch it fast enough, this may be your best option. Just make sure you are going through the exact hole you are trying to get out of - because aida is a wider weave, it’s easy to land right next to the hole by accident, and that’s real pain to get out of. A good tip is to actually take the needle off the strand and use it to pick out the correct stitches. Just make sure you have enough length left on it to get the needle back into the floss!

  2. Does it bother you? Sometimes it doesn’t necessarily matter and you can leave it with the incorrect stitch.. but in some patterns it could really affect the image… however if it doesn’t bother you, let it be. As the Japanese say - it’s Wabi-sabi, the idea that there is beauty in the imperfect.

  3. You can stitch over it with the appropriate color. If you are doing a darker color over a lighter color, this is easier. But sometimes it just won’t give the proper coverage you need.

  4. Cut the thread and start again. Yes, this is a sad option but sometimes it’s actually the easiest option. Just be careful about snipping the correct floss and leave yourself enough length to tie it off.

How do I get in and out of a tight section?

While the basic stitches are completed one after another, you can also try the Continental Stitch which basically just means that do half stitches until you reach your destination and then complete the stitch on the way back. This is a method that some cross-stitchers use 100% of the time. (Again, it's all personal preference, no way is the "correct way")

Here is a visual:

Still have questions? Ask below or email us at!

Don’t forget to tag @activityhive and add #AHcrossstitch (yes, that's three s's) on photos of your in-progress or completed cross stitches for your chance to be featured on our website and Instagram!

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