Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cross Stitching Tips and Tricks

A while back, someone asked me tips and tricks I would recommend to a new cross stitcher. I can’t remember everything I suggested, but these are some of the tips I remember.

1. Don’t cut your floss too long. A 16- to 18-inch length is perfect. It won’t get too tangled, but you won’t be rethreading needles too often either.

2. Separate the length of floss into individual threads. The popular cotton flosses from DMC, Weeks Dye Works, Sampler Threads and Crescent Colors are 6-ply threads. If I am stitching on fabrics that are 14-count or 28-count (over two), or a tighter weave, I separate into 6 strands and then reassemble into 3 2-strand sets. If I am stitching on fabrics with a looser weave, I reassemble into 2 3-strand sets.

3. Straighten the floss by dampening it. As part of the separating step, I also dampen the floss and pull it straight to get rid of any kinks or twists. As I separate the strands, I lay them out flat and by the time I begin to reassemble them they are dry.

I used to dampen the floss by putting on a washcloth and lightly spraying with water from a clean travel-size spray bottle. But several years ago I discovered a cool little plastic rectangular box with a sponge in it. You get the sponge wet, simply pull the 6-strand length of floss across the top – and voila, it’s damp but not too wet. The plastic box has a lid, so the sponge stays damp.

During the 10 or so years I’ve had this little gizmo, I’ve had to replace the sponge a few times. I just cut a piece to fit from a new household sponge and I’m good to go. I’ve tried to find another one, but even after searching dozens of on-line stitching shops, I’ve had no success. I hope mine never breaks because it is so handy.

4. Make your stitches consistent. In other words, make sure the top “cross” stitches all go in the same direction. I typically begin a stitch from upper left down to lower right, and complete it from upper right to lower left.

5. Complete one stitch at a time if you are using an overdyed, variegated floss. This makes the subtle color changes more visible in your stitching. However, if you’re using solid-color floss, you can do the first part of the stitch for an entire row and then go back and do the top cross stitch. If you have a large area to fill in, this makes a lovelier finish because the floss lies more evenly and flat.

6. Use a hoop. My preference is a spring hoop, but a tension screw-hoop will work fine. You can certainly stitch without a hoop, but I think the stitching turns out neater if you use one. My preferred hoop is a 5-inch spring hoop. It allows for a large enough area for stitching, is easy to put on/take off, and is small for travelling (when I get most of my stitching done).

You’ll also notice that I put it on upside-down. By using it this way, my hands are mostly holding on to the hoop and not touching the top of the fabric, so the fabric is less likely to get soiled if I have lotion or something on my hands. There is also nothing underneath for my thread to get caught on. Since I am right-handed, the spring handles are positioned in the 11:00 position. If you are left-handed, position them in the 1:00 position.

7. Thread many needles at one time. This is probably obvious to most people, but I had to learn it for myself. When I first learned to do counted cross stitch (in about 1982), someone gave me a needle. I had a variety of floss skeins that had been passed down to me, so I would thread the one needle I had, stitch with one color until it was time to use a different color, pull out the old thread and rethread the needle with a different color, and repeat throughout the project. The result was lots of pieces of thread that I needed to keep track of until I needed that color again. I was probably mid-way through my second project when it dawned on me that needles were cheap and I could thread lots of them with all of the colors I needed for the project and not waste time threading/rethreading the needle whenever I needed to switch colors or even when I needed more of the same color. DUH!

8. Choose the right size needle for the project. If I’m stitching with 2 strands of floss, I typically use a #26 cross-stitch needle. If I’m stitching with 3 strands, I use a #24 needle. A few years ago I was introduced to the shorter, petite needles – and I love using them. It’s easy to eke out a couple more stitches from a length of floss, which is often just enough to keep from having to rethread a needle.

9. Don’t leave a project in the hoop when you aren’t stitching. If you do, you may stretch the fabric, damage existing stitches, or create creases.

10. Don’t skimp on fabric size. Admittedly I like to use up pieces of fabric for small projects. However, if the fabric is too small, I won’t be able to use my hoop. Or, when stitching close to the edge, some of the fabric won’t be caught in the hoop. Whenever possible, you’ll want your fabric to be 1-1/2 to 2 inches bigger all the way around the design area.

11. And lastly, don’t be afraid to do your own thing! If you love a design, but the colors just aren’t you, don’t hesitate to substitute colors you love. For example, La-D-Da’s design named “A – Z & Between” is on my list of projects to stitch. But lavender and pink simply won’t work in my house. So, I’ll be switching the colors to something that is more “me”. If you change colors, it’s important to select a color in the same value as the design – that is if you want a similar look, just in a different colorway.

I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for stitching. I’m sure there are many more that I haven’t yet discovered!


Deb said...

I think all your suggestions are great Nancy. The only one I don't do is putting my fabric in a hoop. If it's Aida cloth, there's not too much of a problem, but with linen, I've heard that it's not good for the fabric due to the way it's woven (not as tight as an Aida cloth or Aida). With that said, I use scroll rods instead of a hoop and like using them a lot, but, I do occasionally use a hoop for small designs. I just make sure that I take the fabric out the minute I'm done working on it for the night.

I usually, too, allow 2-3 inches around my piece. Primarily because sometimes I can't count straight and I like the extra fabric around the sides.

I guess one other thing would be that if you're using over-dyed fabric or threads, thread them with kid gloves. You can't wash those.

LiahonaGirl said...

Great comments Deb! I forgot to mention scroll bars. I do use them as well, but usually only on larger project that I'm not likely to take along while traveling. Hoops are definitely optional -- they are just a personal preference for me.

And, definitely, you need to be extra careful with the overdyed flosses. I've never had a problem with my dampening technique while using them, but I spilled a little water on a Shepherd's Bush project using overdyed floss, and one of the blues bled into the creamy fabric. Soooo sad!

Linda said...

Do you always use a hoop for cross stitch and samplers? I never have, but I'm wondering if I'd have more control and a better stitch.

LiahonaGirl said...

Hi Linda.
Yes, I always do. I like the stability it gives the piece while stitching, and I think it makes the stitches more even. I learned to do counted cross stitch without a hoop, but I've been happier with my results since using one.

I've never had a problem with the fabric being distorted as a result of using a hoop as Deb suggested above, but I never leave the hoop on except while I'm stitching. And it gets moved around the piece enough that no one area gets a lot of stress from the hoop.

Linda said...

Hi Nancy,
Thanks for responding. I've been working on a sampler on linen, and sometimes the fabric "shifts", know what I mean? Need to dig ot the hoop! Like you, we were never to use a frame for counted cross stitch, and I actually, usually, like the feel of the fabric in my hands that way. Aida had more body, I think, and that's why it works well without a hoop in that situation.

Anonymous said...

i use a wooden lap frame thats the way to go it makes the stitches neater, i also use a thing called a trolley kneedle, it fits on your finger and as you stitch you put the thread over the trolley kneedle. and it makes smoother stitching

fizz said...

i use a wooden frame, with stretcher bars, and i use something called a trolley kneedle. its a gadget that fits on your finger, while you are stitching the thread goes over the kneedle, it makes for a more uniform and neater stitch. also i always leave about two to three inches of material at the ends, so i can have it custom framed

Holly Rustman said...

Hello! I loved reading your tips, and I just had 1 tip to add. When doing counted cross stitch I had always found that my count was off. There is nothing more disheartening that doing a section and realizing you are off by 1 or two and have to rip it all out and redo! I now scan my chart into the computer, enlarge it and print it out section by section. This way while working on it, I use a highlighter to "color in" what I have done. I have never been "off" since doing this! I hope this helps someone.

Anonymous said...

In regards to threading multiple needles at a time, is this possible to do with projects that you travel with? I take my projects to and from work with me every day. I have some project cards, as well as a needle card holder - but I found both lacking in keeping my needles secure and the threads neat. Any travel friendly suggestions would be great!

Also, I find the fabric of the projects I purchase sometimes to be rather stiff and so hard to position in a hoop over and over again. Is it possible to soften this fabric and not cause damage to the piece?

As you might be able to tell, I'm new to all this! Any help would be great :D

lacicake said...

I have a question for all you experienced cross stitchers. Now, please humor me, because I have never been a crafty person, and have only now recently gotten into it. When doing a counted cross stitch, I know you start from the middle. Let's say you're doing a tree, with 3 different shades of green to add depth to the design. What is the best way to stitch an object with multiple colors? Do I do all of the dark green at once? Do I change colors as a change in the graph? I hope this question make sense to someone, and I'm sorry it's so basic... it's just that the back of all my cross stitches I have done while learning are a hot, tangled mess, and by the time I get to the end, it's so hard to get stitches through because of all the floss built up on the back. Help!

LiahonaGirl said...

Hi lacicake: Here's what I do. I stitch as much as makes sense in one color -- until the counting gets too complicated without filling in with other colors. But if I can keep going without errors with one color thread, I'll keep going until I simply want to work in another color. The other consideration is that I don't want the thread to travel very far behind the design. So if I'm going to have to cut the thread anyway to avoid long jumps between stitches, I might switch to another color at that point. I usually have multiple needles threaded with the different colors, so it's easy to switch. I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I love all of the suggestions and hints given so far! One thing about stitchers is that we are never afraid to share techniques. Nothing is a secret! I like a trolley needle too but if I don't have one, I will railroad my stitch by placing the needle between the two strands. Also, for a prettier piece, separate the strands and use two separate pieces of floss. There is the loop method to secure your floss but you may see the difference in the nap between the two. Depends on the piece. A baby bib doesn't matter but if you stitch an heirloom piece you will want the separate thread. Also, don't be afraid to use magnification; even if you are young. Make sure you can see adequately. If working on dark fabric, put a piece of white cloth, like a pillow case on your lap to help see the holes in the fabric. Sometimes I will put a light upside down on my lap to better see what I am doing.

Samantha Kimball said...

Re: Tip No. 3

Your gizmo for dampening floss looks like a stamp moistener. Since many stamps now have adhesive backs, these items aren't as popular but you can still find them if you know what they are called.

b david greenwell said...

Hi, I'm the rare man that loves to cross stitch. I'm currently working on a project that has lots of quarter stitches. Needless to say, prior to the backstitching being done, it appears that there is a lot of space in the middle of the design. I was advised that I make them three quarter stitches, however, that looked worse. When the backstitching is done will the gaps be filled in?

y0ttabyte said...

Here's another rare man who loves to cross stitch. I've seen little plastic boxes just like that at the Container Store in New York. There are lots of different colors, sizes, and shapes.

y0ttabyte said...

Here's another rare man who loves to cross stitch. I've seen those little plastic boxes at a place called the Container Store here in New York. They have lots of different shapes and sizes, many of them quite small like the one you have pictured. Maybe you could order some online?

Cathleen Collins said...

I am working on a difficult pattern that has many different colors with only a few stitches in each. for example, in a 30 x 30 stitch section it uses 41 different colors. How is the best way to do this? Many of the colors are so close in shade that it is hard to keep up with which is which if I have them on different needles. The back is becoming such a mess that it is hard to get the needle through and keep other threads from coming through with the needle. Any suggestions?

Marla Goihl said...

Hi. Ive completed a x-stitch piece and would now like to adhere it to a cigar box project . any ideas how to do that? Also are there any tips to protect it from getting dirty or snagged?

Chris Arlington said...

I've got the same little floss straightener I freak out if I can't find it. I've replaced the sponge a few times . I let it dry out between uses so it doesn't mould. Ask me how know lol . Today in 201i it is hard to find those sponges??
So glad I found you and you use it too. I only use DMV so I haven't had bleeding issues.

Shane Marshal said...

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