Cross-Stitch & Embroidery

By Charles Hopkins Published 12/8/2013 | Crafts

The origins of cross-stitch - like almost every needlecraft form - are lost in antiquity. Have you ever wondered who was the first person to crochet with a hook, knit with two needles or embellish fabric with embroidery stitches, as well as when and where in history these things occurred?

In one of the books on cross-stitch, the author states that it originated in England in the 16th century, but ancient examples of it have been found in almost every country and culture. It is believed that silkworm farming was developed by the Chinese as early as 2000 B.C., and silk embroideries, including cross-stitch, could have appeared soon after.

Cross-stitch does appear in work of the Sung Dynasty (960 A.D. to 1127 A.D.). Later in the provinces of Shensi, Szechwan and Yunnan, we see a wide heritage of cross-stitch embroidery in blue cotton on a locally woven background.

Throughout all regions of the world, cross-stitch predominates in folk embroidery, particularly for altar cloths, clothing items, bed linens and wall hangings. From almost every country on every continent, there are wonderful examples of this type of work. The stitches are the same but the designs are unique to the different cultures.

Today, more than ever, countless Americans are busily and happily cross-stitching on a wide variety of items. To get started with a counted cross-stitch project, you'll need fabric, floss, embroidery hoop, embroidery needle, scissors and a design chart.

While some embroiderers work without a hoop, most of us should definitely use one to keep the fabric taut. This promotes steady tension and smooth, even stitches. Finally, to avoid puckering, be sure not to pull the stitches too tight.

It's also important to keep small; sharp scissors handy at all times to clip off all thread ends after they are secured.

If you leave thread ends hanging, they are almost certain to get tangled up on the back side of your piece as you continue stitching. It's not just that this makes the wrong side of your work look messy - which is not a cardinal sin - but after your piece is finished and framed, those tangles will give a lumpy appearance on the right side.

Before you take the first stitch, prepare your fabric by turning under and basting a 1/4-inch hem on all edges to prevent raveling of the fabric threads. Then cut your floss into 18-inch lengths. Many inexperienced stitchers use longer strands in their needles, thinking this will save the time it takes to rethread the needle, but it also can cause tangling. The strand of floss is likely to become twisted as you stitch. Avoid this by holding up your piece after every seven or eight stitches, letting the needle dangle to take out any twisting.

Many cross-stitch specialty shops carry floss holders that aid you in sorting and storing your floss.

If there is not a shop like this nearby, you can make your own. Simply cut slits on a piece of cardboard for each floss color, label each slit with the color name or number and slip the floss strands into the appropriate slit to keep them separate and make it easier to select the proper color as you work.