We almost called this page "Quick Start" instead of Getting Started because it would get the information you need to you in the least amount of time.
There is something about that phrase, though, that implies skipping over information you may need. Truth is, everyone who reads this page will get something different from it.
If you have been cross stitching for years, you might even skip this page, or glean from it the few tips you need in order to understand the charts for our designs.
On the other hand, you may be just starting out in cross stitch. If so, you might click on every link here.
Someone else's journey might be somewhere in between, just visiting those pages if they need some brush-up or to learn a technique they haven't mastered.
Getting Started is something that everyone does at the beginning of every project.
Whatever the case, we guarantee that in addition to liking the finished item, you will also enjoy the journey.
The best way to proceed from here is to click on any link you want to follow. To get back here, just use the back button in your browser, or, if you have followed a few additional links, just click on the "Getting Started" button on the menu at the left on any page.
Step 1 - Review the Chart
You can eliminate most surprises by reading the pattern instructions and reviewing the chart thoroughly before you begin stitching. I know. This part may not be especially exciting, but it still beats the alternative. Look at it as an investigation, a way to look forward to doing the actual stitching.
Identify any unfamiliar stitches listed in the pattern heading "Stitch Complexity," and see the how-to page that explains that stitch. Whether this is review for you or a first look at a particular stitch, each page has tips that you may not have seen before.
Step 2 - Select and Prepare Your Fabric
If you want to stitch the design exactly as it is shown in the photograph, simply use the materials described in the pattern.
But if you have a favorite fabric type and thread count, or if you have a specific size in mind for the finished piece, translate thread count to inches to determine your initial fabric size. (See our handy Stitch Counts table to quickly figure the size you want.)
Next, decide how you'll display the finished design and add enough inches to the length and width before cutting the fabric. Be generous.
My secret to always having enough: Start with the size of the pattern. On all sides, add the extra I think I'll need to frame it, sew with, or whatever. Then I add some more.
Then, do what carpenters do: Measure twice, cut once.
Treat the outside edges of your fabric to prevent fraying. Find and mark the center. Baste in gridlines to match the gridlines on the pattern. (Basting the gridlines is optional on very small patterns.)
See our how-to page on preparing fabric for cross stitch for tips on gridlines and ways you can prevent fraying.
Step 3 - Select and Prepare Your Floss
You can use the colors listed in the pattern or substitute your own. It's a good idea to write the numbers of your alternate colors beside the symbols on your pattern legend.
I've even been known to rewrite the entire pattern legend. On a clean sheet of paper, I copy the symbol and floss number. Next to them, I write the number of the alternate floss colors I've chosen in a different color.
(Why include the old number? Sometimes a pattern will give directions based on the floss number, without the symbol given.)
I even cut a 1/2 inch piece of the actual floss and tape it next to its number/symbol.
A little bit of extra time in this preparation stage pays off later in faster, easier stitching (and fewer mistakes).
If you're using fabric with a different thread count, you may need to adjust the number of strands of floss you'll use. There is no hard a fast rule about how many strands you should use on varying fabric counts. I've seen several tables, but each one is different.
Like many of these decisions, floss coverage it is a matter of personal taste. Check out our Floss Strand Coverage page to see some samples. Remember that cross stitch is more art than science.
Look at our examples and pick the one you like best. If you are still uncertain, work a few cross stitches in the corner of your fabric to decide which looks best.
If you will be stitching a design on something that will be worn or washed, you may want to launder the floss before stitching.
Many floss manufacturers claim that their floss is will not run.
Recently, I've seen that instances floss running can be attributed to ecological standards that have banned some of the chemicals that were once used to make the floss colorfast. I can't say with certainty. However, many companies do provide instructions for laundering prior to stitching.
When we started building this site, I had not seen floss color run. I expected to tell you that I had never had it happen to me. As I was embroidering my Baby Quilt squares, I would pin the completed designs on the wall.
Looking up one day, I noticed that the heart border around my Rubber Ducky square seem to be losing definition. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the DMC orange #947 used for the heart border was bleeding into the white Aida cloth. The only moisture that had contact with this piece was the steam from my iron.
Horrified, I immediately cut a large strand of that same floss and I ran it under the tap. When I pressed it between the folds of a white towel, it did bleed. It is recommended that you launder the floss until no color runs.
Since many of my projects are decorative, this has not made a big impact. However, on my next project that will be laundered, I'll pre-wash all the floss I use. "Better safe than sorry," certainly applies here.
As you use each color, cut the floss into strips of 15 to 18 inches. Separate the strands, one thread at a time, and then recombine them in the number of threads you will use. This makes for fuller, thicker stitches.
Step 4 - Stitch the Design
Now, the fun part!
Some of this may seem simple, but read on! Thar be nuggets here! (You'll have to excuse me. As I write this, International Talk Like a Pirate Day was just a couple of days ago!)
Each square containing a symbol represents one cross stitch. Refer to the legend to see which color to use. Squares with more than one symbol show where combination stitches are used, usually a quarter cross stitch and a three quarter cross stitch.
Small symbols tucked into one corner of a square stand for either a quarter stitch or three quarter stitch alone.
If there is a French knot on top of a cross stitch, the symbol representing it may obscure the symbol for the underlying cross stitch. Referring to the photograph of the stitched pattern will clarify what the underlying stitches are. Trust your common sense.
If you are working over two threads on fabric such as linen, the placement of the first stitch is critical. The first diagonal of the first cross stitch must start and end where a vertical fabric thread crosses over a horizontal thread. Otherwise the stitch will be unstable and the fabric will pucker.
See our illustrated tutorial on working over two threads to see what is meant by this.
If there is a specific order to follow when stitching, your pattern should explain this. If nothing is mentioned, the general rule is to work cross stitches and quarter stitches first.
Think three-dimensionally: begin with the subjects farthest away in the background, then work your way forward. Objects in the front of the design will be the last ones stitched. Work the backstitches in the same back-to-front manner.
Finally, add any French Knots and specialty stitches. See the following pages for specialty stitches:
Your pattern may include daisy stitches as a border or as part of a flower or leaf.
Sometimes straight stitches are used in a design to represent anything that requires straight lines.
See our tutorial pages for everything from a basic cross stitch row to waste knots and even the finer points of the cross stitch sewing method.
If you have any questions about these instructions or those on any of our patterns, or if you have a suggestion to make, please let us know by using to our contact page. Be assured that we will never use your email address for any other purpose.
Return from Getting Started to How to... for tips, techniques and lessons to make your cross stitch experience even more fun!
Return from Getting Started to Better Cross Stitch Patterns Home Page