Absolute Beginner’s Guide

Interested in learning how to cross stitch? Have you watched a stream or two and are now super interested in giving it a go yourself? This is the place for you!
Don’t fret, it’s an easy craft to get into once you boil it down to the bare essentials.

Beginner Tips

First of all, some things to keep in mind as a beginner:

  • Everyone makes mistakes, even seasoned stitchers. Don’t be afraid of messing up, it WILL happen. And you’ll learn to deal with it. Can it be discouraging? Of course. But it’s not YOU. It happens to everyone, I promise.
  • Don’t fret too much about what your stitches look like, what your back looks like, whether you’re using a hoop or just stitching in hand. Everyone stitches differently, and skill will come in time. Right now it’s important for you to relax and learn the basics, you can sort all that stuff out later.
  • Pick a first project that’s right for YOU. If you think a small, simple pattern would be best to get your feet wet, go for that. If you think a larger project that really pulls your attention will keep you motivated, great! Larger doesn’t mean more complicated, just more time invested.
  • If you’re not sure about spending money on a bunch of materials for a craft you may or may not enjoy, buy a kit! Or better yet, raid your local thrift store. There’s often all sorts of stitchy materials to be found at super low prices.


Speaking of materials, here’s a breakdown of what you’ll need / what would come in a kit:

  • A pattern. Chances are, you’re not making your own. So either find a free pattern online (There’s some even on this site), purchase one off etsy, or pick up a pattern book from your favorite book/craft store. Pick something that interests you for best results.
  • A piece of cloth. It’s important you already have a pattern picked out for this, as you’ll need to know what size fabric to get. A lot of patterns will tell you how large a piece of fabric you’ll need, but for others you’ll have to do some math. Since you’re starting out, I’d recommend picking up some 14-count Aida. (See this fabric article for other choices) This means there will be 14 stitches per inch (2.5cm) of fabric. If the pattern tells you how many stitches big it is, just divide that by 14 to know how many inches it will be stitched. You’ll also want to leave 2 inches or more on all sides of your pattern to account for fraying cloth, and eventually for framing. Basically, it’s better to have extra space than not enough. You’ll also probably pick the color of your cloth based on the pattern. But that’s entirely up to you!
  • A needle. Honestly the size and type reallllly doesn’t matter. It will work either way. I recommend experimenting once you get settled in to the craft to find out your preferred size, but for now it’s not a big deal.  I recommend a size 24 tapestry needle. It’s not sharp, so you don’t have to worry about stabbing yourself as much, and is a decent size for working with 14 count.
  • Thread. Here’s the fun part. Your pattern should’ve come with a list of numbers. Unless stated otherwise, it will most likely be referring to DMC brand thread colors. Unless you’re starting off with a gigantic project for some reason, you’ll probably just want to pick up one skein of each color listed. You’d be surprised how much you can get out of a skein once you get into it, so these colors you’re buying now will be the beginning of your stash to be used in future projects. If you’re in a place that doesn’t have DMC thread readily available, you’ll need to look online to find a conversion chart. Here’s a DMC to Anchor chart just in case.

Aaaand… that’s technically it. No, really. That’s all. That’s what comes in kits, as well. I mean, you’ll probably want scissors too. But chances are you already have a pair. They don’t need to be fancy needlepoint scissors. If you’re starting with a larger piece you might consider getting a hoop or qsnap, but it’s not required. I’ll write an article on those options soon.

Getting started

Here’s the fun part! Let’s get started! I’d like to point out again that every stitcher does things differently. And it may differ depending on the project, as well.  I’m going to be outlining my preferred method for small/beginner stitches, but your milage may vary. Don’t be afraid to try something else if it makes sense to you, like starting in the upper left corner instead of the middle, or stitching all of one color before moving on to the next. This is YOUR project, make it how you will. I’m just here to teach you the basics. 🙂

Most people will recommend starting the design at the center and working your way out, that way you’ll know the design is properly centered on the fabric and you won’t run out of room. To find the center of your fabric, fold it in half vertically, then horizontally. Where the folds meet is the center point. Mark that center with a pin or light pencil mark to make it easy to find.

Now find the center of your pattern. Some designers will mark this clearly, others won’t. Each color is indicated by a symbol on the pattern. Pick a symbol near the center of your pattern and find the corresponding color.

Threading your needle

IMPORTANT: Thread comes in groups of 6 strands. It is recommended to only use 2 of those strands while cross stitching (and only 1 thread for backstitching, if your pattern has backstitch)

Start by cutting a length of thread of the color you will be working with first. I recommend keeping it no longer than your forearm or you’ll end up dealing with knots more often.
The ends of the string will start to fray and you should be able to grasp 2 of the 6 strands and pull them away from the rest. Take your time and don’t force it. This is something that long time stitchers will make look easy, but that you may struggle with at first.  Use those two strands to thread your needle. If you’re having trouble threading a needle, consider picking up a needle threader for next time. There’s no shame in that.

The first stitch

Now, for each symbol on the pattern, you’ll be making an X out of string on your cloth.  You’ll simply stitch your pattern with each stitch placed in relation to your last. Pick a square to start with near the center of your project. Bring the needle up from under the cloth using the hole in the bottom left corner of the square. If you don’t knot your thread, be sure to not pull it through all the way and to leave about a 1” tail on the back.
Push the needle back down through the upper right corner of your square. You should have a / shaped stitch.
Bring the needle back up in the lower right hand corner of the square and back down through the upper left to complete the X.

Side note: You could do this the other way and make the \ stitch first, then the /. It’s all a matter of preference. But it’s generally recommended you make all your stitches the same way throughout the design. So whichever way you decide, try to stick to it!


Now, find the next closest square of the same color on your pattern and begin the process again, placing that stitch in relation to your first. If you didn’t knot your thread, be sure to hold the loose end of string under the stitch you’re working on so that it gets pinned to the fabric while you’re working. If you’re having trouble getting that motion down, don’t be afraid to knot though. In the future you’ll learn all sorts of neat tricks of how to start your threads.

Continue making Xs as shown on your pattern until you either are getting low on thread and stitches are getting harder to make, there are no more stitches of that color on your pattern, or the next stitch on the pattern is too far away.

Alternatively, you can do half stitches one way ( / / / )and then go back and cross them on the way back ( \ \ \)

Side note: Some stitchers will ‘jump’ to another section of a pattern even if it’s several squares away. This is OKAY. It’ll leave a long thread on the back of your project, but if you don’t want to have to re-thread your needle for whatever is over on the other side of that pattern, don’t let others judge you for doing that. Typically, you’ll be the only one looking at the back of your project anyway.


Made the last stitch of that color? Perfect. Flip your project over and tuck your needle under the bits of thread from those other stitches you’ve already made. This will keep the thread in place and prevent your stitches from coming loose.

Now pick the next color near the stitches you already made and repeat the process! Keep that up and eventually you’ll have a completed project! Be sure to share photos on social media so we can compliment you on your hard work!

Tips and Tricks

Okay, now that you’ve got the basics down, there’s a few more things I’d like to tell you about. Just little things to make your life easier.

  • Every once in a while, stop what you’re doing. Hold your project in the air and let your needle dangle on its thread. You’ll see it spin, and then settle into a position. Your thread will naturally get twisted as you work. Not only will this lead to your stitches being uneven, but it will also cause knots in your thread. So keep that in mind. As you get more experience in you’ll start to notice when this needs to be done.
  • You may find it helpful to print your patterns and mark off stitches as you finish them so you don’t get lost. You can also mark off digital patterns using photo editing programs (even paint!)
  • After you’ve made those first stitches, you can easily start your next thread by tucking it under the back of the finished stitches just like you finished off that last thread.
  • Try not to pull your stitches too tight. You don’t want to stretch out the holes or make some stitches smaller than others. Just let it settle into place as you start the next stitch.
  • Have fun. Mistakes are okay. You can undo them if you think it’s really out of place, or just stitch around it and make the pattern your own! 🙂

Sirithre wrote this tutorial. She is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for her to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.