The Five (Inexpensive) Supplies You Need For Your First Cross Stitch

Binge watching TV shows on Netflix leaves my hands idle. It’s hard for me not to be working on something, whether it’s a blog post, scrolling through Facebook, going on a pinning frenzy, or creating. By far, one of the best creative activities for me to do while gorging on Forensic Files or Law & Order: SVU is cross-stitch. It’s easy, fun, and isn’t attention-intensive.

Getting started is relatively inexpensive. All you need is a pattern, Aida, needles, embroidery floss, and an embroidery hoop.

1. A Pattern

It’s generally best to pick at pattern first. It helps you determine the floss you’ll need, what gauge Aida is recommended and therefore, the size needles you’ll need to use, and what size embroidery hoop you’ll need.

You could buy a kit with all these things, but most are stuffy patterns that appeal to the older crowd, or are too ambitious for the beginner, or both. I recommend one of two resources for the absolute beginner: Daily Cross Stitch’s website, or one of the Subversive Cross Stitch books by Julie Jackson.

Cross-stitch my mascot. Pattern available at Daily Cross Stitch.

Daily Cross Stitch offers a free pattern every day when you sign up for their newsletter. The site also offers a “Charts Club” for only $19.99/year that will give you access to a bonus pattern daily and unlimited access to their archive. Their designs are cute, easy to follow, bright and colorful (major raccoon sense appeal). There’s something for everyone and every occasion: Christmas, Halloween, spring, fall, birthday, new baby, home, office, coffee breaks, bathroom breaks – you name it. You’ll have more designs downloaded than you can ever begin to cross-stitch. They even have an adorable raccoon for you to try.

For even simpler patterns with edgier designs, try Subversive Cross-Stitch by Julie Jackson. Please note this book contains explicit language. However, if that isn’t a problem, you’ll find easy to stitch sayings with simple motifs decorating each piece. As a bonus, many patterns use the same colors of embroidery floss.

There are also a number of patterns that you can find on Etsy with hip, modern styles. If you’re a beginner, try one with a simple design, not a lot of shadows/highlights, and is fairly small. Good designers will list recommended supplies and dimensions of finished product in the item listing. RingCat on Etsy is just one example of a cross-stitch designer whose patterns are suitable for novices.

2. Aida

Aida does not have to be bland and white. Bright yellow Aida by DMC

Now that you’ve picked a pattern, it’s time to look at cloth. Cross-stitch is generally done on Aida, which is a woven fabric with an obvious weave and weft fibers. Aida’s weave is evenly spaced and has holes where you can insert the needle. 

The pattern you chose may say something like “11 ct. Aida” or “14 count Aida.” You might be confused by the count numbers. Don’t panic! The number simply refers to the number of stitches per inch. So, 11 count Aida will have 11 stitches per inch, both vertically and horizontally. 14 count Aida will have 14 stitches per inch, and 18 count will have 18, and so on. Common counts range from 11-28. The higher the number, the smaller the stitch.

You can use the count to help determine the finish cross-stitch size. If the pattern lists 121 x 88 and calls for 11 ct. Aida, the finished product will be 11 inches by 8 inches. Just divide each number of stitches by the count number and voila! There’s your dimensions.

Bear in mind that this formula does not include a border or excess for stitching in a hoop or mounting the finished piece in a frame. You’ll need to add two inches or more to each side of the project. For example, if your piece’s dimensions are 11 x 8″, you’ll want a piece of Aida that is 15 x 12″.

DMC needles specifically designed for cross-stitch.

3. Needles
You can’t escape the need for needles when cross-stitching.  The nice thing about cross-stitch is that you don’t need the super sharp needles designed to pierce fabric. You can use tapestry needles with a blunt point or specially designed cross-stitch needles.

One thing to keep in mind is the needle gauge. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the needle. With lower count Aida, this doesn’t matter too much. However, you might want to keep gauge in mind when stitching on 18 count Aida or higher and select a thinner needle. Common sizes range from 18 – 24.

4. Embroidery Floss

Want all the colors? Get this pack of 447 generic skeins of floss. Each one is labeled with the equivalent DMC floss number.

My favorite part of shopping for cross-stitch supplies is purchasing floss. It’s fun to stare at all the colors.

Embroidery floss comes in skeins, and is made up of lengths of 6 threads. You’ll need to separate the threads when cross-stitching. Most patterns typically use two threads. To look fuller, you can increase the number of threads, but bear in mind this makes it harder to manage the floss and pull it through the Aida.

Pretty colors by DMC

DMC is by far the most popular brand of embroidery floss and can be found in brick and mortar stores sold by the skein. Some stores will carry a cheaper brand of floss, which may not be as shiny or as light-fast as DMC.

If a pattern needs a lot of a particular color, it will generally be noted on the pattern if extra skeins need to be purchased. When buying multiple skeins, be sure to compare the skeins for color variations caused by differing dye lots.

When threading your needle, use between 18 to 24 inches of floss. Too much floss gets tangled more easily and is a pain to pull through your fabric. Too short and you’ll have to re-thread and start a new run frequently.

5. Embroidery Hoop

Colorful embroidery hoops by Caydo

You could theoretically skip an embroidery hoop, but it keeps your Aida taut and even, allowing for more consistent stitches. Why put yourself at a disadvantage when for a couple of bucks you can easily improve your work?

Choose a hoop that will allow you to stitch a lot without having to reposition constantly. For example, for a finished 6×6″ piece, I might use a 5 – 7″ hoop. This is where the extra Aida fabric is useful – without it, I wouldn’t be able to stretch the fabric over the hoop when stitching the corners.

Wood or plastic hoops? It’s up to you. Some people think that plastic tends to loosen over time, causing uneven stitches. Some people hate the feel of wood hoops. Personally, I prefer wooden ones as they’re cheaper and don’t want to risk the piece slipping.

Bonus Supply: Scissors

You probably already have a pair of these. Ones specifically designed for embroidery are not necessary, but are very nice to have. With the smaller scissors, it’s easier to snip mistake stitches.

All the supplies you could need on one simple list

There you have it – the five supplies you need to start cross-stitching. For your shopping delight, I’ve created an Amazon Idea List, Cross-Stitch Craze. This is an affiliate link, which means I get a little change when you purchase items through it.

I plan to continue this topic with tips and tricks I’ve learned for better, easier cross-stitching. Subscribe to my e-mail list so you don’t miss out!

Questions? Comments? Leave them below! 

Color Me Creative

For over two years now, I’ve been coloring. It started as a soothing activity, and quickly became a full-fledged hobby. I really enjoy experimenting with different brands and varieties of colored pencils, pens, and markers. I’ve learned a lot about color perception and coloring techniques in the past two years.

Now is a wonderful time to get started coloring. Media prices have dropped significantly in the two years since I began, and the hobby is relaxing as ever. Here are a few artists I enjoy and the colored pencils I like to work with:

A small, colored excerpt from Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden

Artists

  • Johanna Basford is probably the most widely know and overall popular coloring book artist out there. Her detailed and crisp nature scenes are a pleasure to color.
  • Millie Marotta is another well known coloring book artist. She illustrates animals made up of smaller shapes, which can instigate interesting experiments in gradients.
  • Another wonderful artist is Scandanavian Hanna Karlzon. Her drawings are nature based, bejeweled scenes. A terrific choice if you like bright and clear colors.

Colored Pencils

  • Marco Raffine colored pencils, 72 pack are great for the beginner colorist. While they don’t color as smoothly and easily as higher-end pencils, they still lay down color nicely and blend fairly well. As they are oil based, gamsol is terrific to use as a blending agent, but a white pencil or blender pencil will do the job.
  • The Prismacolor colored pencils, set of 150 is fabulous for the more serious beginner or intermediate coloring artists. A dream to blend these wax based hues, with or without the blender pencils. Favored by many colorists.
  • A squirrel
    Colored with Faber Castell Polychromos pencils, this squirrel is my favorite thing I’ve done

    With Derwent ColourSoft pencils, set of 72, you can experience the quality of the legendary brand. One of the easiest to blend pencils I’ve encountered.

  • Faber Castell Polychromos, set of 120 are a favorite of colorista extraordinare, Peta Hewitt, and me. While Peta prefers to blend using the oil-based pencils themselves (at which she is adept), I love using gamsol for my blending. Simply stunning results, either way.
  • For the intermediate to advanced colorist who hasn’t found the perfect pencil yet, I recommend Caran D’Ache Luminance series. They’re known as the Mercedes of colored pencils, and the price tag can be shocking when you consider the complete range is 76 pencils. These pencils blend smoothly and have superior light-fastness.
Pebbles colored using Koh-I-Noor Tri-Tone colored pencil

As for specialty colored pencils, I have two recommendations:

  • Koh-I-Noor Tri-Tone colored pencils have three varigated colors in a single pencil, making it easy to add depth and variety to your coloring. For an example, see the photo on the left.

In upcoming blog posts, I plan to discuss colored pencil techniques, review markers and gel pens and suggest the best things to color with those. For now, you can explore my idea list on Amazon, Color Me Creative.

Rock and a Hard Place

Creative rock painting inspiration, found on Pinterest.

Pinterest started it all by showing me the pretty pictures of gorgeous painted stones. It seemed so easy: take a little craft paint, a brush, and a rock and voilá, you have a masterpiece. But it’s a challenge in a couple of different ways.

I begged for rocks from my now-fiance for Valentine’s. He indulged me, to my humor and delight. I found the essential beginners’ guide to painting stone, The Art of Stone Painting by F. Sehnaz Bac on Zulily. I knew I wasn’t capable of such intricate designs. My drawing skills are terrible, and my hands aren’t steady. I felt defeated before I even tried, and the stones sat in my craft room, untouched for months.

Envy inducing perfect circles. By lienzodepiedra on Instagram

I kept pinning beauties on my inspiration board. I was jealous of the effortless, perfect dots and brilliant designs. I felt I never would be able to imitate that.

One day, I was chatting with my bestie while pinning away. The inspiration, coupled with ambition, took hold and stuck with me. I was too busy to try rock painting that day, but I was going to throw perfectionism to the wind the next and attempt it. I knew my first efforts wouldn’t be awe-inspiring, but by gum, I was going to practice!

Getting started

I got started with pulling out the basics I would need: acrylic craft paint, decent craft brushes, a jar full of water, my gift rocks, some paper on which to paint, and a palette.

It just so happened that day was a stressful one for my best friend. I invited her to come over and offered her some rocks to paint with me. She had to bring her girls along, so I put out some paint supplies and rocks for them, too.

It was a hit with everyone! The girls were entertained by something other than a electronic gadget and still had fun. The most amazing thing was to see my very stressed friend who doubts her creative skills get Zen and happier because of the activity. We only stopped due to nightfall.

My stones weren’t painted quite as I envisioned them, but I felt satisfied by my progress.  I had enjoyed the process, too, which is different from how I often feel with some other crafts. I tend to focus on the outcome and am left feeling disappointed almost every time. But because I’m not the Renoir of rocks and yet don’t feel defeated, I am inspired to keep trying.

I plan to attempt more thoroughly planned designs than the ones pictured above. For that, I anticipate I will need the following:

  • Detail brushes, like the kind used for painting miniatures. I have Lor-Dac brushes from Amazon.
  • More, higher quality craft paint, such as Folk Art brand or Ceramcoat. I picked up some from my local art supply shop, Shelf Life. They’re awesome because they buy and sell lightly used art supplies.
  • Decocolor paint markers in various hues and widths of tip. I found a selection at Shelf Life, but you can also purchase them from dickblick.com.
  • Fineliners in white and black.
  • 2H lead pencil, for drawing patterns on light colored stones. Mine are from Hobby Lobby.
  • White pencil, colored or artist’s, for drawing on dark rock. I recommend Prismacolor colored pencils for smoother, shinier, less porous rocks, and an oil-based one such as Faber-Castell Polychromos for porous surfaces. You can generally buy a single white pencil from any art shop.
  • A kneaded eraser, for those mistakes drawing! Available at any arts and crafts store, or through online shops such as dickblick.com.

In all, I recommend rock painting for anyone who doubts their creative prowess. It’s easy-ish, a low investment for beginners, and full of mindfulness fun.

Additional Reading & Resources

Written by Denise Scicluna, Rock Art! demonstrates more readily achievable projects than The Art of Stone Painting.

A very detailed online tutorial on rock painting from Thought Co.

I’ve found rocks in a number of places, such as the floral crafts section at Wal-Mart, Hobby Lobby, and Amazon. I recommend these 2-3 inch white rocks from Amazon for more serious fans of the hobby. Twenty pounds sounds like a lot, but it’s not as much as you might think.

Another great online art supply shop is Cheap Joe’s. It’s somewhat local to me, so it has super fast shipping if I don’t want to make the trip to their shop.