If you have cross stitched or done any other kind of needlework, such as tapestry, before, you will no doubt be familiar with the tools and materials required. We've noticed, however, that there are plenty of complete beginners out there, who would love to stitch some of the unique and contemporary patterns available but who just don't know where to begin, and might even be a little intimidated by all the threads and needles and yarns available in their local craft store. There are no such thing as stupid questions, but sometimes, you might not want to venture an obvious sounding question about which needle to buy. If this sounds like you, we're here to help! This shopping guide will begin at the very beginning, so as you can purchase that pattern you've had your eye on and get all your supplies together with no trouble at all!
Where to shop: We all have our favourite places to shop for supplies. We, for example, visit a little independent craft store in the village next to ours, where we know we can get everything we need and great service too. When you're just starting out, an independent shop, staffed with lovely, passionate people who know their product inside out can be an invaluable resource, and if you know of such a place near you, we urge you to shop there, and take advantage of their advice and experience. We know though, that this isn't always an option, so your next best place is one of the chain craft stores. In the UK, you should check out Hobbycraft. In the US, Hobby Lobby or Michael's. And of course, you can always rely on internet retailers to stock absolutely everything you need. Have a look at our retailer list for more information about the best places to shop. And if you have a store recommendation, please do let us know so we can add it to the list!
What to buy: As a general rule, there are a few things you will absolutely need to buy to get started stitching, whether you are working on one of our patterns or not. Below I'll list the different items and talk about them in a little bit more detail.
This is the fabric you use for cross stitching. It comes in different counts (often written as ct on packaging) and this essentially means the number of stitches per inch. Aida with a low count (for example, 10 or 11 ct) will have fewer stitches per inch, and patterns stitched on it will be bigger because there will be a larger distance between the holes. Aida with a higher count (for example, 20 or 22 ct) will have more stitches per inch and patterns stitched on it will be smaller. Remember, the higher the count, the smaller the finished pattern. We design all our patterns for 14 count aida, which is the most common count, the easiest to get, and tends to be available in the widest colour range. You can buy it pre-packaged, often rolled or folded, or cut from a bolt in a store (this is often how online retailers sell it too.) Common aida brands include DMC, Charles Craft and Zweigart, as well as craft store own brands. We have found that the brand doesn't matter too much, though some have better colour ranges than others.
When deciding what quantity of aida to buy, have a look at the finished stitched area of your pattern (this is always included on the information sheet at the end of our patterns.) Your aida will need to be slightly bigger than this at the very least. Next, think about how you will frame it when it is done. Some of our patterns are designed for specific hoop sizes, while others are designed to fit standard frame sizes. Even if the pattern is not specifically designed for a frame size, use the finished pattern area measurement to figure out what size and type of frame you will be using (more on this below.) Then buy aida that is about 2 inches bigger than your frame on all sides. This will be useful for framing later. So, if your pattern is around 8" x 10" and you will be putting it in a frame that size, buy aida that is around 12" x 14". And if your finished piece will be living in a 6 inch hoop, buy aida that measures around 10" x 10". If you can only buy larger than your required size, you can always cut it to fit later.
There are different schools of thought on how to pronounce aida. We pronounce it ay-dah, but it is also popularly pronounced eye-ee-dah, like the opera. As far as we're aware there is no definitive answer, so you can pronounce it either way. If in doubt, just call it cross stitch fabric. Evenweave linen fabric can also be used for cross stitch, but for beginners, and probably most stitchers, it is best to stick with aida.
Often called cotton embroidery thread or six-stranded floss, this is the thread that you'll be using to stitch your design. The main manufacturers are DMC and Anchor, and whichever you end up using is entirely down to you. There isn't a huge amount of difference between them and the shades in each mostly match up. Our patterns come with floss lists in both DMC and Anchor but if you want to convert from one to the other for a pattern that doesn't list both, there are conversion charts widely available online, like this one. Some retailers will only stock one brand, and that will influence your choice, while others may have one brand cheaper than the other, and that will be the deciding factor. There is no right or wrong choice and we don't recommend one over the other.
Floss comes in bundles called skeins, as seen in the picture above. Both DMC and Anchor have two paper or plastic bands around their skeins. The top one will have the brand logo while the bottom has the barcode and shade number. When you see DMC-XXX or ANC-XXX written on a pattern, where XXX is a 3 or 4 digit number, this is the floss shade you need (ANC is an abbreviation for Anchor.) Some patterns even include the skein quantities for each colour so you know how much to buy. Floss is usually organised in store in ascending shade numbers, so it should be simple to find the colours you want. Sometimes the floss is in little containers on shelves, or sometimes you'll find a branded carousel type display with the floss hanging on little hooks. A single skein is 8m long and usually you will only be using two strands at a time for cross stitching.
We also recommend using Kreinik for your metallic thread needs. Kreinik fine #8 braid is easier to work with, in our experience, than DMC metallics, which tend to fray and unravel while you work with them. When using Kreinik #8 braid, you only need to use one strand for cross stitching, rather than two. If you are stitching on a higher count aida than 14, you can use very fine #4 braid instead, which as the name suggests, is thinner, and comes in all the same colours. It comes on spools rather than in skeins, and not every retailer stocks it but it is readily available online.
There are other brands available, and off brand floss versions too. Be careful when deciding what to use. Cheaper, unbranded floss can fray and snag as you work, or worse, break, and the colours can bleed. DMC, Anchor and Kreinik are definitely what we recommend, as we can vouch for their quality, but there's no harm in using a cheap multipack of floss to practice your stitches when you're starting out. Just be sure to switch to a decent brand when it comes to stitching your first project.
You'll obviously need a needle to do your stitching, but not just any old sewing needle. Needles for cross stitching have a blunt end and come in different sizes. Like aida, the higher the number, the smaller the needle. They are often called cross stitch needles or tapestry needles, and for stitching on 14 count aida, we recommend using a size 24. If you are doing French knots or fractional stitches, it can be useful to have a sharp embroidery needle to hand too. If you are stitching on a higher count aida, be sure to switch to a thinner needle, such as a size 28. Often you can buy packs which have several different sizes in them. Needles are usually made of nickel, but you can also get gold plated versions which don't cost a lot extra, but are especially useful for people with nickel allergies. There are several brands available, which can vary depending on where you live. In the UK, haberdashery brand Hemline has a decent range of needles, and DMC also have their own range.
To hoop or not to hoop? That is the question! Some people use a hoop every time they stitch, where as some, like myself, rarely use one at all. The purpose of an embroidery hoop is to keep your aida taut as you stitch, which means all your stitches are neat and even, but this is more so the case when working in other types of embroidery, which use a much softer fabric. Aida is quite stiff and as long as you pull through all your stitches evenly (not too tight and not too loose) it is possible to do without and use one hand to keep the section you're working on taut and the other to hold the needle. Some people, however, may have joint problems or pain in their hands, and in this instance a hoop is definitely preferrable.
Embroidery hoops consist of an inner ring, which the aida goes on top of, and an outer ring, which goes over both the aida and the inner ring. In this way the adia is held taut over the empty space in the centre of the hoop, ready for stitching. Hoops come in lots of different varieties. The most common is the wooden hoop with a brass screw on the top for tightening (as in the picture above.) Most craft stores sell them and they come in a variety of sizes. You can also get this same style in plastic instead of wood, and in a variety of colours. Flexi hoops consist of a plastic inner hoop and a rubber outer hoop, which means they need no tightening and are particularly suited for framing cross stitch in. These also come in a variety of colours, and even wood grain effect. Flexi hoops can be tricky to set up though, and we sometimes find that they can distort the aida, so we only use them when they will be the final home of the piece we are working on. While round is the most common shape for all types of hoops, you can also find oval and square hoops too, especially in flexi hoops. While hoop shopping, you may come across very deep wooden hoops (usually about 1 inch deep.) These are quilting hoops and are not suitable for cross stitch. Likewise, stay away from spring hoops (which have a plastic outer ring and a metal, sprung inner hoop) as these are intended for machine embroidery and not cross stitch.
stretcher bars (l) scroll frame (r)
If you are going to use a hoop, we recommend getting one that is bigger than your motif. You can use a smaller one and move it around the aida as need be, but we have found that the marks left in the aida by the hoop can be really tough to get out, and moving the hoop can crush stitches you've already completed and ruin the finished look. There are several methods to avoid this. Wrapping the inner ring in strips of fabric can reduce the imprint left behind by the hoop. Alternatively you can use stretcher bars which hold your entire aida taut in a similar way to how a canvas is set up for painting, or, for larger pieces, a scroll frame which has a scroll bar top and bottom so you can wind up the finished section and work on a new section of aida. Hoops and frames can also be attached to floor stands, to free up both hands while working. When just starting out, however, it is best to stick to hoops until you figure out your own preferences, as other types of frames can cost a bit more. Embroidery hoops can also act as a frame for your work, so bear this in mind when choosing a specific colour or style of hoop.
You'll need at least one pair of scissors for cutting thread and aida, and while a pair of normal everyday scissors will do the job, you might feel like investing in a few pairs specifically for crafting. We use a pair of dressmakers shears for cutting aida, as they are large and sharp and get the job done quickly. Aida is by no means difficult to cut, so you shouldn't feel obliged to do the same, but a decent sized pair will get the job done more quickly.
It is, however, wise to get a pair of small, sharop scissors for cutting threads, untangling knots and unpicking stitches. The classic Stork scissors, seen above, have become traditional in needlework circles because their sharp blades and fine points are ideal for working with threads. Many different manufacturers make them so they are easy to get your hands on. But you should find a suitable small pair in your local craft store or wherever you buy the rest of your supplies.
Some people overlook frames when starting a new cross stitch project, but it can inform your choice of aida size and colour, so it is best to think ahead. Not only that, but you don't want to get to the end of all your hard work and then have to wait until you find the perfect frame to finish it. Buying a frame with your other supplies means you can go from first stitch to a finished piece hanging on your wall all in one go. If you intend to use your embroidery hoop as a frame, you won't have to buy anything else, but some patterns have square or rectangular borders which make them impossible to frame in a hoop.
When choosing a frame you can opt for something in keeping with the style of the pattern or choose something neutral that will look good in any room no matter how you redecorate. For example, our traditional style Firefly pattern would the the perfect fit for a thrifted antique style frame, while a Game of Thrones sigil might be better suited in rustic wood, and our Bioshock patterns would look good in a metal or glass deco frame. Choosing a frame is a matter of personal taste so feel free to go for whatever catches your eye or suits your budget. And obviously, you do not need to buy your frames in a craft store. Many home decor stores and supermarkets will have what you need, and not forgetting Ikea, probably the most obvious destination for cheap frames. Be sure to stay away from clip frames (the type with no outer frame and where the glass is held in place by several metal clips) as these are not suitable for the method of framing cross stitch.
Look at the finished size of your cross stitch and use this as a guide when buying a frame. A 4"x4" finished size would fit well in a 4"x6" standard photo frame, while a 12"x12" finished size would go in a 12"x16" frame, and so on. Use your frame size to calculate the amount of aida you need, as mentioned above, and this will ensure it fits into the frame. You will have unstitched aida visible in the frame but the piece will be properly secured and remain taut and in place. We will soon be creating a tutorial on framing your work to help you with this.
That's all you'll need to begin stitching, and pretty much all you'll ever need. Sure, you can experiment with hoop types and styles, and different aida counts, but the basics remain the same. Cross stitch is simpler and more accessible than you may think - the supplies don't cost the earth and you don't need a lot to get started. We hope you have found all the information you needed in this list, and that all the questions you might have about just what to buy and what exactly everything is have been answered. If not, drop us a line and let us know. We're more than happy to help you start your stitching obsession!