Counted Cross Stitch

Counted Cross Stitch

Counted cross stitch is the process of stitching little Xs of thread into a picture. It's known as counted cross stitch because you have to count the number of squares of each color to form the pattern. This is an easy, versatile craft that a person of any age can pick up.

Cross Stitch Basics

Like any other craft, there is some basic knowledge that you will need to know before you get started with cross stitch. Whether you're a novice or an expert, reading up on the basics will help you be more successful.


Unless you're an experienced stitcher working freehand, counted cross stitch starts with a pattern that shows you which color to use where on the fabric to make the picture shown. These patterns are often referred to as charts. Cross stitching instructions are easy to read and understand with a little practice.

Once you have selected your pattern, you will need:

  1. Fabric
  2. Embroidery floss
  3. Needle
  4. Hoop to pull the fabric tight

To get you started, consider downloading any of these free patterns to work on:

owl cross stitch pattern
This pattern is free to download and print.
  • Alphabet Patterns: Choose from amongst five different free alphabet patterns. Use them to add lettering to any design.
  • Assorted Free Patterns: Download patterns for a Celtic knot, clown, or an owl, or get some free, printable cross stitch graph paper.
  • Clown Patterns: Choose from funny or sad faced clown patterns to download.
  • Eagle Pattern: Download this free pattern of a bald eagle. Included are tips and recommendations on how to use the pattern.
  • Christmas Patterns: Download four different Christmas-themed patterns which include a tree, reindeer, snowman, and candy cane.


The main types of fabric are Aida and linen.

  • Aida tends to be firmer and is a lot easier to work with. Most stitchers start out on Aida (it's easier for some people to see the "squares" where you are supposed to stitch on Aida) and graduate to linen later. Aida is usually cheaper than linen and is widely available at craft stores.
  • Linen is often stitched across two squares for each stitch, which makes it easier to do a half-stitch. To make a half stitch on Aida, you have to put the needle through the center of a square. Linen also gives a more polished, "finished" appearance to the end piece. It's also widely available at craft and fabric stores.

Embroidery Floss

You also have some choices when it comes to floss. Most patterns will give you a number that corresponds to the color of embroidery floss that was used in the original design. This is a DMC number, which refers to a popular brand of embroidery floss that can be purchased at numerous retailers, from craft stores to department stores.

If you want to use a different thread, use a chart to help you figure out which DMC thread number belongs to which color.

Where to Buy Supplies and Patterns

You can buy patterns and supplies at almost any local craft store. If you can't find what you want, the Internet is always a great source. Try one of these popular cross stitch supply websites:

  • Counted cross stitch materials
    ABC Stitch Therapy is a cross stitch and needle art supply store. They have everything you need to stitch, including books, patterns, beads, threads, frames and fabric, all in a variety of options.
  • Everything Cross Stitch carries cross stitch kits, supplies and patterns. Search for kits and patterns by popularity or by theme to help find what you're looking for.
  • Julie's X Stitch offers tips for beginners as well as patterns, supplies and kits for sale. In addition to the standard supplies, you'll also find extras like bell pulls and charms.
  • Cross Stitch World sells cross stitch kits and supplies, as well as a very large assortment of patterns.

Stitching Your Counted Cross Stitch Pattern

Once you have all of your materials it's time to start stitching. The easiest way to pick a place to start is to find the center of the pattern and the center of your fabric.

  1. Fold the piece of fabric in half both ways.
  2. Mark the center square with a pin or a light mark with a washable marker.
  3. Find the center of the pattern in the same manner.
  4. Start stitching from the center of the pattern and work your way to the edges, changing colors as indicated. Sometimes beginners get into trouble because they try to stitch all of one color at once, even if that means leaving big blank spaces.
  5. Count the stitches as you go rather than leaving spaces, otherwise you'll end up with a pattern that's off kilter or with too much or too little space for the rest of your pattern to fill in.
  6. Keep track of where you are in a pattern by highlighting rows on the paper pattern as you finish them. That way when you have to stop stitching, you will know where you were when you pick it up again.

Make a photocopy of your pattern before you start so you can mark it up and still have a clean one in case you want to stitch the same pattern again.

Finishing Off

There are many possibilities for finishing counted cross stitch projects, but the most popular are framing and making pillows. One main advantage to these options is that no one will see the back of the work if it is hidden in a picture frame or inside a pillow. Other options include stitching linens, ornaments, and bookmarks.

Learn a New Hobby

Counted cross stitch is a relaxing hobby for many people and allows you to create something beautiful in your spare time. The supplies are inexpensive and you can find patterns to suit any theme or taste.

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