Using a Counted Cross Stitch Pattern: Reading, Understanding and Stitching.
Here at Capes and Crafts, we understand that using a counted cross stitch pattern for the first time can be confusing. We've had a variety of questions from customers on all aspects of a pattern, and we're always happy to point people in the right direction so they can get started. We know it's exciting when you've got a new project to get stuck into, and we don't want anyone to lose their enthusiam for cross stitch when confronted by symbols and words they don't understand. So, if you are completely new to the craft, before you move onto the stitching itself, let's have a look at what makes a counted cross stitch pattern.
Counted cross stitch refers to a cross stitch pattern which is not printed directly onto the aida. Instead, the pattern is on a separate pattern sheet, and it is up to the stitcher to count the squares and stitches to find out where to put each stitch. The stitches on the pattern are arranged in a grid, which corresponds to the squares on aida cloth. You should always start a cross stitch project in the centre.
Above is an example of a complete Capes and Crafts pattern. This is our Powerpuff Girls pattern which is three pages long and can be found on our free pattern page. Our patterns will always consist of one or more pattern grid pages, and an information sheet at the end. The amount of pages a pattern grid takes up will depend on how complex the pattern is, as well as how big it is. Below I've highlighted some of the important parts on each page.
The pattern title and the designer name (in this case it's us!) are at the top of every page, followed by the pattern grid area. This may be split over multiple pages, so on the first page you might only see a segment of the total pattern.
You might also find the centre markers on the first page, but this will depend on how many pages your pattern takes up. Rest assured, they will turn up on subsequent pages if not on the first page. There will be a black triangle at the top and the left hand side of the pattern grid, which you simply follow into the centre. It is useful to mark the pattern centre (if you have printed it out, which we recommend.)
You'll also notice that the pattern grid is marked along the top and side with a stitch count every ten stitches. This is to help you with counting your stitches, though you may not need it on simpler patterns.
Full cross stitches are represented by coloured squares with a symbol inside (more on that in a bit), while squares that are left blank are unstitched areas.
Finally, the bottom of the page contains the copyright information right beneath the grid (which is usually my name and the year it was designed) as well as our web address and the page number. Nothing fancy!
Depending on your pattern, you might have several more pages of pattern grid before you get to this page, which is the last page of the pattern itself, and in this case, it's page 2! You'll already be familiar with the details of the pattern, but one new thing to watch out for is the overlap from the previous page. This will be two columns, or two rows, depending on the layout of your pattern, which are greyed out and are basically stitches that you will already have stitched (or spaces you have counted) from the previous page. They are included to help you continue on with your counting without having to go back and forth between pages. You may find them at the left side or top, or sometimes both. Do NOT stitch these stitches again!!
Also on this page will be the floss legend, which is a slightly abbreviated version of the legend on the information sheet at the end of the pattern. At this stage, it only lists DMC floss shades and is a quick reference guide for you while you are stitching. The first box contains the floss colour and symbol as it appears on the pattern grid. The symbol does not mean anything beyond helping you differentiate between colours on the chart. If you print in black and white, or have a few similar shades in a pattern, the symbol will mean you are able to tell them apart. Be aware though, that each symbol is not linked with a shade permanently, and may not be the same across all Capes and Crafts pattern. For example, the semi-circle is for light blue in this pattern, but may be for green in another. Always check which symbol corresponds with which colour before stitching.
The second box is the colour alone, to help you see it more clearly. The colours represented in the pattern are not identical to the physical floss. They are a close colour our cross stitch software assigns to each shade number, so don't worry if your actual floss seems dramatically different! After the boxes, comes the shade number for DMC, which can be found on the label of the skein of floss. If you have any special stitches in your pattern, such as backstitches or french knots, these will be added to the bottom of this legend, and labelled as such, as you can see next.
It's worth noting that backstitches, fractional stitches and French knots look a little different in patterns than full crosses. Have a look below.
Three quarter stitches form a triangle shape in a sqaure. Sometimes, but not always, there will be another three quarter stitch sharing the square which creates a full x effect in two different colours. The little triangles which indicate a three quarter stitch will have the same colour and symbol as full crosses in the same shade and so won't be singled out in the legend.
French knots will appear on the pattern as little circles, with the shade symbol in the middle. These can be placed in the centre of a cross stitch, meaning you will have to use a little bit of force to get your needle through the aida strands, or in a hole in the aida, which is much easier. To make things a bit simpler, they are highlighted in the legend, with a 'French Knots' heading, and the little circles with the symbols inside next to the shade number.
Similarly, backstitches are also highlighted in the legend, with the stitches represented as a line, as they are in the pattern grid. Some backstitches will be stitched into holes, while others will be stitched in between holes and will require the needle to push through the aida strands. Backstitches are drawn as thick lines on the pattern, and may cross over cross stitches, making the symbol a bit trickier to read. In this case, the colour of the cross stitch square is useful.
Finally, at the end of every pattern you will find an information sheet, with loads of helpful details. First the author (us!), copyright (me!) and our website are all listed and self explanatory. Next comes fabric, which refers to the aida count the pattern was designed on. You can, of course, stitch the pattern onto any count you like, or even linen or hardanger if you feel confident, but the measurements that follow apply to the pattern stitched on the fabric listed. This is nearly always 14 count aida.
Grid size is also listed, and might be of some use, though I've never really needed to refer to it. Basically this is the amount of squares, stitched or otherwise, on your pattern grid. In this case it is 100 x 100. Please be aware that this is not the size of the finished pattern, nor is it the size of aida you should cut!
The design area is the last thing on the list, and maybe the most useful! It lists the measurements of the finished deign at it's largest points, both width and height wise. This is listed in inches and then stitches in brackets, is always written as width x height, and will be super useful when it comes to cutting your aida. For example, the above pattern is 6.86" x 6.86". I might decide, looking at these measurements, to frame this in a 8" x 10" frame. So I will need to cut my aida big enough to fit the frame, and fold over at the back for proper framing (framing tutorial coming soon! Just trust me on this bit.) I'll want an inch extra on all sides, so for this project, I'll need to cut (or buy) my aida at least 10" x 12".
The stitches measurement is useful too, especially if you are planning on stitching onto a different count of aida. You can work out your measurements in inches for your aida count, and then use the method above to figure out how much you need. Just divide the stitch measurements by your aida count to get the height and width. So, if I decided to stitch the pattern above on 18 count aida, I would take the measurement in stitches, which is 96 x 96 stitches and divide each by 18 to get 5.34" x 5.34". Using this I could then figure out how much aida to use.
After this list of information comes a sightly expanded legend, which includes all the information we previously discussed, as well as some new additions. After the coloured boxes is a number in square brackets. This is the number of strands to use when stitching. It pretty much always says 2 for full crosses on 14 count aida. The pattern software doesn't automatically state how many strands to use for backstitch and french knots, but I include this info further down the page. Next comes the DMC shade number which we're familiar with, and then the equivalent Anchor shade number. Our program automatically makes this conversion for us, but periodically we like to check that it is indeed correct, so we're confident you'll be able to get a pretty close match if you decide to use Anchor floss. We would suggest that you write these floss numbers next to the colours on the small legend on the pattern page, to avoid confusion. Finally, you'll also find the name of the DMC floss shade, just in case!
Following all of that is a little note, written by yours truly, with some helpful tips and a reminder to use one strand of floss for backstitch and 2 for French knots! If you've purchased a pattern as part of a kit, you'll also find instructions here on how to assemble your coaster, bookmark or pendant.
Phew! So as you've seen, there's quite a few elements involved in a counted cross stitch pattern, and most of these are things that will come up in one form or another in patterns from other designers and companies. Some of the information given here is specific to us and how we design and arrange our patterns (statements like 'nearly always' using 14 count aida simply wouldn't be true for another company. It's our personal preference here at C&C towers.) Once you're familiar with how a pattern is arranged, though, you'll be able to tackle any pattern you fancy, and move on to complex patterns confidently.
So go forth and stitch!