Monday, August 26, 2013

Easy Cross-stitch on Checked Gingham

(This post is the first of a series of tutorials about embroidery, starting with simple cross-stitch on checked gingham and working up through more complex techniques like blackwork and Holbein stitchery.)

A sunflower from the Garden used as a model for cross-stitch
A sunflower from the Garden, the model for today's cross-stitch
Cross-stitch is usually the first type of decorative needlework budding stitchers encounter; and, while it forms the foundation of other styles of stitchery that I find much more fun and interesting, many needleworkers find it satisfying enough that they never do anything else. I'm going to get you started with an easy technique of working on checked gingham, one of my favorite materials. Checked gingham is the perfect background for a beginner because the corners of its squares are so easy to see. You'll want to start with 1/4" check material, the most common gingham available. I'm going to make a sunflower freehand, but you'll probably want a pattern or a chart of some sort. I hope you'll download the FREE Rose Needle Arts Chart I introduced in an earlier blog post, but you can use simple patterns from other sources with this technique.

Rose Needle Arts Pattern, cross-stitched on checked gingham
Rose Needle Arts Pattern, cross-stitched on checked gingham
The cross-stitch is made with a pair of diagonal stitches that cross in the middle to form an X.  Cross-stitch can be done by counting, as it is in the rose pattern and the center of my sunflower, or as a patterned filling stitch, as it is in the sunflower petals, where you only need an outlined shape to work inside.

Whether you work from my rose chart or one in a book, study your chart. If there are directions with it, read them carefully. Make a list of the colors you will need. Be sure you know which symbol or number represents each color. You will begin with simple, readily available embroidery floss. You will need a skein of floss for each color. If one color appears more often than the rest, buy two skeins of it. I prefer blunt needles for the stitching. These are usually labeled tapestry needles. Try to find a mixed package of numbers 18 through 22 and buy a couple of them so you will have a needle for each separate color. If you are more comfortable with crewel (sharp-pointed) needles, then use them.

Free Rose Needle Arts chart downloadable PDF
Free Rose Needle Arts chart downloadable PDF
Count the longest line of squares, both horizontally and vertically, in your pattern. This will tell you how big the finished design will be, figuring an inch for every 4 squares. Allow at least 2 inches of background around the whole design. If you are using my rose pattern, you will need to buy a half yard of quarter-inch checked gingham. You will have enough left over to do another picture or to back a pillow. Be sure you buy gingham that has the checks woven in --- not printed on. Select your floss first and try the skeins on different colors of gingham to find the combination that pleases you the most.

Yellow checked gingham basted for cross-stitch
Yellow checked gingham basted for cross-stitch
I baste interfacing, muslin, or a piece of an old white pillowcase to the back of the gingham and stitch through both layers. This helps keep an even tension and conceals the stitches you make on the back of your work. Press both pieces before you baste them together. Run a basting line of a contrasting color through the horizontal and vertical centers of the gingham. Match the center where they cross with the center of the chart and choose a color that crosses the center for your first stitches.

I use all the strands of the floss on 1/4-inch check, but split them in two when I work on 1/8-inch “baby check”. Never use a piece of floss that is more than 18 inches long. I start my first line of stitches with a waste knot well off to one side of the center on the front of the work. I end the first line by securing at least 2 inches of the floss on the back of the work, under my finished stitches. Then I cut off the knot, pull the rest of the waste floss to the back, thread it in the needle and run it under finished stitches. No other knots are needed, since I start the next piece of floss by running it under finished stitches on the back before bringing it to the front. Work progressively outward from the center to the edges of the pattern.

Samples of stitches used in sunflower cross-stitch
Sample diagonal, cross, star and back stitching
I start my first stitch in the lower left-hand corner of the check square and end it in the upper right-hand corner. This is the same as the basic tent stitch in needlepoint. The second half of the X starts in the lower right-hand corner and ends in the upper left-hand corner. You can reverse the two halves and do the left-leaning part of the stitch first. This may be easier for left-handed people. The important thing is to be consistent. Whichever way you cross the stitch, be sure you do all of them the same way. Don't switch back and forth. It will be noticeable and detract from your work. The star stitch is made by stitching a + over a completed X, and like the basic cross-stitch, should be done the same way each time. Another useful device is to back-stitch the outline of the square around a completed X. These are useful for texture and shading.

Once you are comfortable with the stitch, you can do rows or whole sections in the right-leaning stitch, then come back later to do the left-leaning ones. You may work lines of stitches right to left as I do, since that is how I also do needlepoint, or left to right. If you're a beginner, however, I suggest you do one complete X at a time. I also suggest you make a small pencil mark on the corresponding square of your chart. You can erase them later and they will keep you from losing your place in the pattern if you are interrupted. (Unless you smell smoke, hear gunfire, or see blood, take the time to finish the stitch you are on and secure your needle with the tip pointing in the direction of your next stitch before you put your work down.)

Cross-stitch sunflower center, filled in
Sunflower center, filled in with cross, star, and back stitches
Tension is important in cross-stitch. Your stitch should just fill the line between the two corners. If it is loose and floppy, it will snag. If it is too tight, it will pull the square out of shape. A little practice on a scrap or edge of the material will help you to sense when your stitch is just right. If you use the proper tension, your finished work may not need blocking --- just pressing with a steam iron. The ends of stitches in adjacent squares should touch when they meet, with no background showing between them. This also assures that all your X's are the same size. Background should show behind your stitches and anywhere there is a blank square on your chart.

Cross-stitch sunflower showing back stitching
Cross-stitch sunflower showing back stitching
Back-stitching the finished rose is optional. If you do a dark-colored rose, I recommend back-stitching it with shades 1, 2, or 3; if a light-colored one, shades 5, 6, or 7; if a medium-colored one, shades 3, 4, or 5. If you are doing a project from a book, back-stitch according to the directions on the chart. I did a lot of back-stitching on the sunflower to get it to really stand out from its background.

Now get out there and start X-ing! Happy stitching!

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