Preparing Fabric for Cross Stitch

When preparing fabric for cross stitch, I often remember that old saying, "For every minute spent preparing, you will save an hour." I don't doubt that for a moment. A single misplaced stitch can mean time spent ripping out whole rows, something none of us wants to do.

A few short steps preparing now can save a lot of time and even more aggravation later.

From finding the center of the fabric, to treating the edges and basting in grid lines, these steps will seem so simple you might be tempted to skip some of them. Don't.

You won't regret the tiny amount of effort and time they require. If you doubt that, just leave them out on your next project! (No, forget I said that!)

Finding the Center

Most pattern instructions ask you to find the center of the fabric in order to center the design. Just follow these diagrams and you'll quickly complete the first step in preparing fabric for cross stitch.

Decide how you'll display the finished design, then add enough inches to both the length and width. It's better to trim off excess fabric once you are done cross stitching than it is to finish embroidering, only to find that you didn't allow enough room around the edges to complete your project.

1. Cut the fabric to size.

2. Fold into half, aligning edges.

3. Fold in half again, aligning the edges. Insert a pin into the center point.

4. Unfold the fabric...

5. ...placing the pin into the center square.

The pin marks the center of the fabric.

Preparing Fabric: Securing the Edges

The next step in preparing fabric for cross stitch can be done in one of three methods. However, I found out the hard way that one of them is vastly superior to the others.

When I began cross stitching, I wanted to do everything just right. Although I remembered taping the edges years before, it seemed a bit "old fashioned." (It was much later that I read about the problems with adhesive residue.)

As I shopped for supplies, I selected a product called Fray Block. At home, fabric in one hand and Fray Block in the other, I expected to squeeze a long trail of glue-like substance to my cloth. It was like water! I had to hold the fabric in the air and quickly run the tip along the edges. Gravity did the work -- no squeezing needed.

Was I surprised!

It was invisible when dry. Surely, I thought, this cannot possibly work. It's like water, for Pete's sake!

On the way to my sewing machine, I reasoned that a zigzag around the same edges I had treated was just going that extra step. Believe it or not, I also stitched a straight stitch around the inside of the zigzag! Talk about preparing fabric with a vengeance!

Unfortunately, as I cross stitched my project, my floss would often "catch" in the edges. The sewing seemed to separate the tiny threads in the Aida cloth, turning them into tiny, protruding spines.

Despite this, I used the same method on several projects. Finally, away from home and my trusty sewing machine, I had to rely on Fray Block alone. 

Floss Catches on Edges

What a difference! Not only did my Aida cloth not fray, but the edges remained softer and did not catch my floss as I stitched.

Now, my embroidery basket always includes a tube of Fray Block. For securing edges, I use this method and product exclusively. In addition, I use it in applications where I need to keep the ends of my floss from fraying as well.

Method 1: Use a sewing machine to zigzag close the raw edges of the fabric.

Method 2: Apply a liquid specifically designed to prevent fraying along the raw edges of your fabric.

Method 3: Fold tape over the raw edges of your fabric. Do this only if you plan to cut the taped edges completely off. Simply removing it leaves an (often invisible) adhesive residue that collects dirt.

Katherine Recommends: "Don't bother with sewing machines or tape when you can accomplish the goal more effectively with an easier method. When preparing fabric for cross stitch, use Fray Block."

You can buy fray block online at Amazon.

Stitching in Grid Lines

I consider this a necessary step for keeping your sanity. Always anxious to "get to the stitching," I have skipped this step more than once.

After all, I am an experienced stitcher, I reason. I have completed extremely detailed pieces with lots of floss changes. Surely I don't need to do this any more. Every time I talk myself past this step in preparing fabric, I regret it. So does everyone around me.

Do this easy step in preparing your fabric, and a good portion of your counting will be done ahead of time.

Remember in school when teachers told you to check your answers? In addition, you turned the numbers around and subtracted one from the other to prove your answer. It's something like that.

Say you're in the middle of stitching. On your pattern, for example, you see that the cross stitches in #321 red floss start two squares away from the #319 green you just finished.

With grid lines on your fabric that match the grid lines on your pattern, you can also see that the green starts 7 squares from grid line x. If you have counted both ways and end up at the same square, you're starting in the right place.

Here's how to do it.

Step 1. Once you've cut your fabric and treated the edges, select a contrasting floss color not included in the pattern you'll be stitching. Avoid the darkest colors, however, as the floss can leave a stain on light fabrics over time.

You only need to baste your grid lines either horizontally or vertically as long as each "stitch" goes into and out of the fabric every ten squares, where the perpendicular lines intersect on your chart.

Step 2. Find the center square on your pattern. If you haven't marked it on your fabric yet, do so now. (See Find the Center, above.)

Step 3. Moving from the center, find the closest point where a horizontal gridline intersects a vertical line. Mark it with a pin, count ten squares along the same line, mark again, and so on, to the edge of your fabric.

Step 4. Using a single thread for each line, knot the thread. Stitch the entire length of your pattern. At the end of that line, knot or secure the thread and cut. Envision these lines as long running stitches that go in and out of the fabric every ten squares.

Step 5. Repeat the process for every line in the pattern. As you go, frequently count the lengths of your stitches to be certain you are marking exactly ten squares. You can then depend on them for counting throughout the rest of your stitching.

(You will be Snipping the grid lines out of your way as the cross stitches overtake them. At first, I carried my thread from row to row, but as I cut and pulled out sections along the way, the remaining threads would slip out before I wanted them to.)

Of all the steps used in preparing fabric for cross stitch, using grid lines ranks as the most important. It will save much more time than it takes to implement. If you haven't tried it before, you'll see an immediate difference in your productivity, and you will enjoy cross stitch even more.

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