How to frame cross stitch
How To Frame Cross Stitch
So you've spent hours meticulously stitching an awesome pattern, and you're pretty pleased with your handiwork. It deserves to be displayed, right? But to the beginner stitcher, framing your work can seem daunting, and finished cross stitch pieces, and other forms of embroidery too, often end up relegated to the bottom of the sewing box, with the intention of getting to them one day. Well, framing is actually really easy to do at home and your work will stay looking good for years with the method below. It must be added though, that any good framers will stretch and frame your piece for you, with or without matting, and their work will last decades. So if you have an heirloom piece or something particularly precious, it might be worth investing in the professional service. If you prefer the DIY route, read on!
(While I won't claim that this is the definitive or traditionally correct method of framing, it is my tried and tested method which has always served me, and my stitches, well!)
A word about frames
Not all frames are created equal, as I'm sure you're aware if you've ever framed photographs or artwork. For framing cross stitch, there are definitely right and wrong frame choices that go beyond whether you like the look of the frame. The aida and threads add more bulk that your average photo or poster, and the frame will have to be able to accommodate this. You might also want to add spacers, to create space between the cross stitch and the glass, so bear this in mind when choosing a frame. To decide whether a frame is suitable or not, have a look at the back. The way in which the back board is secured, and the depth of the frame will give you an indication. Below is a few examples of good and bad frame choices, based solely on the back.
Frames with this back are fairly common, and are only really suited for photographs. The two little tabs rotate to hold the back panel in place, which must be flush with the rest of the back. There is usually no room for the bulk of a cross stitch piece, so best to avoid.
Similarly, this frame is also suited best for photographs or completely flat artwork. The back slides into the frame, with no wiggle room for bulky items. It won't be able to hold a cross stitch piece.
This frame is a great choice. The clips at the back swivel to clip under the ridge of the frame, and are slightly springy, so can accommodate items of greater thickness. Flexibility is what you're looking for! I bought this frame at my local Hobbycraft (you can find it here) but I'm sure other art supply stores have similar versions.
Ikea frames commonly have these little flexible metal tabs at the back, and the wooden back plate isn't flush with the edge of the frame, which means there is a bit of space for your stitches. This is the frame I will be using for this tutorial. It also includes wooden spacers, which are black to match the frame and creates a shadow box effect and allows a gap between the cross stitch and the glass.
Spacers are a good option if you don't want your stitches to be pressed against the glass, but not every frame can accommodate them. They are by no means necessary - here's a project I completed about 4 years ago that was framed with no spacers and is no worse for wear for it. The stitches don't look crushed or distorted.
Pattern from weelittlestitches
The spacers in my frame are quite deep, but you can get packs of spacers from most framing or art shops which aren't quite so dramatic. You can get spacers that give a space of 1/16 of an inch, so if you don't have a lot of room to work you still have options. A third option is removing the glass entirely. Traditionally, needlework is framed without glass, and in some frames the glass is easily removed. Bear in mind though, that it will be more likely to get dirty, from general dust, steam or odours in your home, and will likely need cleaned more often than if you had put it behind glass.
Gather your supplies
You will need:
your finished cross stitch
mounting board or thick card
frame (and spacers if you are using them)
embroidery thread and needle
scissors (and possibly a craft knife)
glass cleaner (Windowlene, Windex etc) and a cloth
pins (or masking tape)
iron and ironing board
Let's get framing!
The pattern I'm framing in this tutorial is our Kapow comic sound fx pattern.
We will be using the lacing method to frame our cross stitch. This method requires that your aida is slightly bigger than the frame you are planning to use - usually an inch on each side will suffice. The reason we do this is to keep the aida nice and taut in the frame, just as it would be in an embroidery hoop. If you were to cut it to the exact size of the frame, over time it might slip and sag, or, at the very least, it would look wrinkly and baggy. Your work deserves to look its best! We also won't be using any glue or tape, because not only can it severely damage your work over time, it also means that the stitching can't be easily removed if you want to change the frame or give it a wash.
Begin by cleaning the inside of the glass in your frame. If you can remove it, do so, and clean with glass cleaner and a soft cloth. Try not to touch the clean surface as you put it back in the frame. Put a white towel or sheet on your ironing board (I use a muslin cloth) and then place your cross stitch face down on top of it. Put another cloth on top of this and press in an up and down motion with a medium hot iron. Continue until any creases or folds in your aida are gone.
Next, take the back plate of your frame, which is usually wood or particle board, and place it on your mounting board, then trace around it. I'm using some white budget range mounting board I had left over from framing some photos (this stuff.) The benefit of using mounting board, is that it is a perfect thickness, it is acid free, so won't discolour or damage your work over time, and you can get it in a range of colours. It is best to try and use a colour that matches your aida, so as it doesn't show through unstitched holes too obviously. A white card background with dark aida might ruin the look of your work, and vice versa. Mounting boards usually come in big sheets, so you'll be able to frame multiple pieces of stitching from one purchase. If you can't get hold of some, though, you can use any card you have to hand. The Avengers pattern above was framed using cereal box card! While it won't have the same acid free properties as mounting board, I've not noticed any issues in four years.
I also removed the stand from the back of my frame, as I want to hang it on the wall, and the stand was getting in the way. That's why there's a little hinge still attached to the back. Once you've traced your back, use a craft knife or scissors to cut it out, slightly inside the line you've drawn. Check that it fits into your frame easily. It is also worth quickly putting your cross stitch face down over the back of the frame, then inserting the card, to make sure both can fit in. If it is too tight, gradually trim your card until it fits. Go slowly - you don't want to remove too much and end up with the card being too small!
Now things get a bit more tricky. Place your cross stitch face down on a clean white towel and place the card you just cut out on the back. You will want to centre your work on this card. There are a few methods you can try to get the perfect positioning. You might want to flip your work over and work from the front so as you can better judge if the position is right. You can also mark with a pencil the middle point on each side of the card to help. You might find it best to count stitches and aida squares to make sure it is perfect. Really, though, this part always comes down to trial and error and your own judgement. Spend some time, making sure you are happy with the placement. Fold the aida over the card, folding the two long sides first, then the two short sides. If you aren't happy that it is centred, you can press out these fold marks with an iron and try again. You can also trim the excess aida away now if it is too big, being sure to leave an inch or two on each side. Remember, when you are handling your work to have clean hands, and put down a clean white towel, to avoid your stitches getting grubby.
When you are happy, insert pins through your aida into the mount board to secure it. Start by placing one pin in the middle of each side. Make sure the pins don't go through to the stitches at the front. You will want to make sure that your aida is pulled tight at this stage, but not so tight that the card starts to bow and bend. If you are not using mounting board, and your card is not thick enough to hold pins, use a little bit of masking tape at the back to secure your aida. When you have one pin in each side, start pinning (or taping at the back) all along the two long edges, making sure your aida is still nice and tight.
I've removed my white cloth to make the images clearer, but you should still be using one to protect your stitches from your work surface
Once it is pinned securely, it is time to start lacing! Take a length of embroidery thread, as long as you are comfortable working with. We will be using all 6 strands of the floss, and it will be less likely to twist and knot than it does when you are cross stitching with 2 or 3 strands, but you will still want to avoid tangles as much as possible, so bear that in mind when cutting your floss. Thread your needle, and tie a knot in one end of the floss, large enough that it won't pass through your aida. Then, on the reverse of your work, at the very edge of the board on one side, come up through a hole in the aida about 1cm from the cut edge, and bring your needle across the mounting board and come down through a hole opposite on the other side. Then come back up two or three holes along on the same side, and bring it back across the board and down again on the opposite side. It should look like this.
Don't leave large gaps between the strands, as your aida will end up not being pulled taut enough in these areas which may create a ripply look at the front. To make things a bit easier, before crossing over the board again, I insert my needle like this, usually leaving two holes in between.
You will end up creating a laddered effect with the thread. Every so often, pull on all the threads to tighten them up. Be careful not to pull so tight that the card bends. If you run out of thread, just tie on a new length with a strong knot, being sure to tighten up all your threads by pulling on them one at a time first. You don't want to end up with a lot of slack that you can't tighten up because the knot won't pass through the aida.
When you reach the end of the board, pull all the threads tight one final time, and tie off your thread. You can now remove the pins.
Fold and pin the two short sides, making sure that the corners fold neatly and aren't visible from the front.
Repeat the lacing in the exact same way as before, being sure that your needle passes through two layers of aida at the corners. When you're done, the back should look something like this.
It doesn't matter if it's not perfectly neat, as long as you are happy with how the front looks. Your stitching should now be stretched nice and tight and held firmly in place. Remember, if you aren't happy with it, maybe it's a bit off centre, you can always snip the threads and start the process again. Best to be 100% happy than to end up with something that will niggle at you every time you see it! You want to enjoy your hard work, not think 'oh, I wish I had taken more time with that lacing!'
When you're happy, pop it into your clean frame, face down, naturally, and put the back board in place, closing any tabs or clips to secure it.
Voilà! Remember you can get the pattern for this piece in store now.
Now all that's left to do is hang it up, put it on a shelf or wrap it in colourful paper for a truly awesome handmade gift! Whatever you do with your framed work, you can be safe in the knowledge that it is secure, safe and looks beautiful. Well done you :)