Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Need some help choosing your first cross stitch project? I remember what that was like. This blog unpacks the 5 things I look for when selecting any cross stitch pattern but I’ve tailored the writing for first time stitchers. I hope this helps you take the leap into a fantastic new hobby.
1. Project Size
Let me start by saying that cross stitching is super fun, addictive and enjoyable — but it actually takes much longer than you realise to complete a project. So I do recommend starting small.
A great first time project would be something:
- No bigger than 10cm wide/high (55 x 55 stitches).
- With no background (ie, not full coverage).
- Stitched on 14 count Aida white cloth.
Aida cloth is a special type of embroidery fabric that looks a little bit like mesh. It has distinct squares and holes for each and every stitch. The number 14 simply refers to the size of the squares (ie, 14 square per inch).
If you want to learn more about Aida Cloth and evenweave fabrics, read our article Equipment Essentials for Cross Stitching.
Have a look at the images below for some ideas. The two projects on the top would be perfect for beginners, the two on the bottom are better suited to intermediate and advanced stitchers.
IMAGE DESCRIPTIONS FROM LEFT TO RIGHT (ABOVE)
- You could start with this simple heart on plain white Aida cloth in all pink. It’s a great little project for beginners and you could add extra colours once you get going with the stitches. Even better, if you find you don’t like cross stitching, you haven’t wasted a heap of money on thread and fabric.
- This little star design would also be a cute first-time project. It has just two colours and you could use the finished piece on a mini-tote or hoop decoration. Despite being small, this little project will still take you a few hours to complete.
- Even though this larger floral design looks nice, it’s a lot harder to complete than you realise. There are a lot of colours and different stitch variations too. This piece could take several weeks (or more) to finish.
- Full coverage cross stitch (like the one shown in the above right) cover every square on the fabric, and they are challenging. Full coverage pieces can take months (and even years) to finish, so start with something easier and get some experience before you tackle your favourite Van Gogh.
Remember, the main benefit of starting with a small cross stitch project is that you’ll finish it quickly. When you are getting started in any new skill or hobby quick wins are important, and it does feel amazing to hold a finished piece in your hand. Even small ones.
2. Number of Threads
After you’ve reviewed the size of the project and made sure it’s manageable, now see how many different coloured threads you’ll need. You want something that only uses a few different colours, definitely no more than 10 — and a single colour would be ideal.
Apart from being much easier to complete, doing a project with just one or two different threads doesn’t force you into buying a whole heap of embroidery floss only to find out after a couple of rows — you simply hate cross stitching.
Our Mermaid Song pattern (below) is simply gorgeous but you definitely don’t want to be working with 100+ colours on your first project.
3. Colour Tones
Next, I suggest looking at the colour tones — both the thread and the background fabric. It’s much, much easier to work with contrasting colours than a heap of threads that are very similar in tone. Just think for a minute about how easy it is to distinguish jade green, royal blue, yellow, and red from each other.
Not so easy to separate white, cream, mocha, and beige — especially against a white background.
If you look at the banner image (below) you’ll notice that the background fabric is white, and each of the threads are on a continuum from white >> cream >> caramel >> mocha >> brown. When similar colours are stitched side by side it’s very easy to make mistakes, and it can be difficult to tell if you have actually completed the whole stitch.
Even though this cross stitch piece (above) has been significantly enlarged, it’s still difficult to separate the white and cream stitches from the fabric.
4. Colour Changes
Even projects with only a few colours can still be tricky to complete. Don’t purchase your pattern or kit until you’ve checked out the amount of thread changes across each row.
If you need some help understanding how all the symbols and grid markings, read our article Understanding Cross Stitch Patterns.
Easier projects have large blocks of a single colour, whereas advanced and challenging projects splatter colours like confetti to give the design more depth. Here’s a comparison (below) of two different cupcake designs to give you an idea of what to look for.
You can see that the pink cupcake with cherry (left) requires a lot of of quick thread changes to capture the detail of the frosting and crinkled cupcake linker. It’s a tricky project to complete, but produces a very cool cross stitch that looks just like a real cupcake.
Whereas the rainbow cupcake (right) sits on a blank background and has large blocks of single colour. The end result is much flatter, but it’s also very easy to stitch. You can have this one finished in a couple of sessions.
Love our cupcake patterns? You can download them for free from the store. You’ll find another 20 (or so) freebies as well.
5. Stitch Variations
Finally, check the pattern and see if the project requires any stitching variations. You definitely want your first project to only contain full cross stitches.
You may not realise but sometimes projects have sections of:
- Back stitch (used for defining edges and text)
- Half-stitch (used to make a shaded area lighter).
- Beads and french knots (used to add texture and shine)
These stitching variations can be really fun to do, and give your project added depth and texture — but I don’t recommend them for a first-time project. Just keep things simple.
And it’s not because you can’t handle it. Use your first project to work out if cross stitch is for you, get something finished quickly, and open yourself to a new hobby and art form.
If you’re anything like me you’ll never look back, and before you know it you’ll be full expressing your creativity in cross stitch.
HOW I STARTED CROSS STITCHING
My very first cross stitch was a tiny project from the Allura’s Australia in Cross-Stitch book. Sadly now out of print. It was 1994 and I was in my early 20s working at a flour mill in western NSW (Australia).
Each week a man would call into the front office and drop off 5-10 books and an order form. He would then return at the end of the week to collect money and give you your book order.
One week Allura’s Australia in Cross-Stitch was in the bundle of books and I was simply mesmerised. I had never seen a cross stitch pattern before and I think I spent every lunch hour pouring over the glossy pages and the fantastic patterns. My name was on the top of the order form and I counted the days until the book selling man would return and I could finally take the book home.
That was the beginning of my cross stitch journey and I stitched many of the designs in the book. I became quite a regular at the local cross stitch store too.
Before I wrap up here’s another few considerations when choosing your first cross stitch.
Time: How much time do you have to stitch the project? If you want a gift for a special event like a wedding or birthday, you don’t want to get yourself frazzled by choosing something complicated.
Budget: Don’t forget to factor in the cost of the fabric, thread, stitching accessories, and display equipment. Framing cross stitch projects (especially behind glass) is ridiculously expensive.
Usage: Before you start a new project, have a good plan for how you will do with the finished piece. It could be displayed in a photo frame, in a bamboo hoop, on a canvas tote bag, or on a cushion. You can also make fantastic greeting cards, Christmas decorations, and bunting displays. It feels awesome when you can actually use or display your finished work.
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PS: Here are a few store links to some very easy cross stitch projects — perfect for first timers and beginners.