Lockdown hobbies: Cross-stitch

Crafting is seeing a big upturn in popularity during the coronavirus crisis. And among the most popular is cross-stitch, with huge numbers of people ordering beginners’ kits on the internet and showing off their efforts online.

Online retailers agree the trend is rising, with UK crafting giant Hobbycraft revealing that it has seen an increase in traffic to cross-stitching materials.

“Customers are looking for ways to keep themselves entertained and are using this time to either take on new projects, learn new skills, or reignite old passions,” says Katherine Paterson, customer director at Hobbycraft.

“Searches for cross-stitch kits have skyrocketed up by more than 345 per cent. We’ve also seen searches increase for ‘cross-stitch for beginners’ up 729 per cent, ‘cross-stitch thread’, ‘cross-stitch patterns’, and ‘cross-stitch frames’ have all seen an increase too.”

So, if you’re feeling inspired to take it up, where should you start? Is it as easy as it seems?

Craft enthusiast Loti Fuster-Bradley says: “When I started cross-stitch, it was because I was heavily pregnant, fed up and I wanted something to do while I was balancing on a gym ball trying to ‘bring on labour’.

“If you can count, and thread a needle, cross-stitch is easy and accessible for just about anyone. I think it would be a nice thing to do while social distancing because you totally get lost while you’re counting and it gives you something to think about other than the worries that might be troubling you.”

Cross-stitch is a form of counted thread embroidery that has been around for years. It is one of the easiest forms of hand embroidery to learn and there are projects suitable for all skill sets.

The products you need to start are fabric, needles, hoops, thread, scissors and, of course, a pattern. You can buy all of the elements individually, or purchase a kit with everything needed to make a certain design.

It’s a mindful craft
“The word ‘calming’ is a word often used when our customers talk about their cross-stitching projects. The simple technique of pulling coloured floss through the fabric, doing that same type of stitch over and over can be seen as a type of meditation. There is also something really fulfilling about creating something with your own hands,” says Ms Paterson.

Indeed, picking the image you want to stitch can be inspiring, too. A beach scene, or a hopeful mantra – or even ‘stay home’ can be a positive way to pass the time.

“When I started out, I was worried about having my first baby, what the labour would be like and what it would be like looking after a tiny human,” says Ms Fuster-Bradley.

“I found cross-stitch took my mind somewhere else and helped to pass the time; it feels like time moves at its slowest when you are heavily pregnant. I’m sure people have very similar thoughts on the lockdown, wanting to pass the time and so on, so yes it’s a fantastic hobby to start now.”

How to get started
Cross-stitch is basically the act of stitching X-shapes into fabric with an even and open weave (like Aida or linen). Designs can be simple, detailed, traditional, modern or anywhere in between.

Step one
Once you’ve gathered your materials you need to know how to read a cross-stitch chart. This chart is what you will be following in order to know where to stitch and what colour to use. The weave of the fabric is represented by a grid, and each coloured square on the grid denotes a single cross-stitch. If your chart is black and white, a symbol will be used to show what colour thread to use in that particular area and a key will show which symbols match which colours. (If you’re a beginner it may be easier to start with a kit that has a coloured chart.)

Step two
Now you know how to read the chart, it’s time to prepare your fabric. The two most common fabrics for cross-stitch are linen and Aida, but these both have a tendency to fray when cut. So, if you are working on a large project that will need a lot of handling, it’s a good idea to bind the edges of the fabric. To do this you can either sew the edges in a zig-zag stitch or bind them with tape.

You may not need to do this if you have a kit with already prepared fabric.

Step three
If you are a cross-stitch beginner, you may find it easier to use an embroidery hoop or frame, but it is not essential.

To use a hoop, loosen the screw to separate the two pieces then place the piece without the screw on a flat surface. Lay the fabric over the hoop, making sure the centre of the fabric is in the centre of the hoop.

An easy way to find the centre is by folding it in half one way, then the other. Pinch the centre point to make a crease and mark the centre point.

Once your fabric is centred, place the other round over and press it down so that the fabric is sandwiched between the two hoops.

Be sure not to pull the fabric too tight as it can distort the weave of the fabric.

Step four
Now is the time to prepare your thread, choose the colour you are starting with and cut a piece around 40cm long. Most embroidery floss is made up of six strands that are twisted together. Typically, with cross-stitch, only one or two strands of thread are used at a time, so gently pull each strand apart one at a time (pulling multiple strands may cause knotting). The strand removed will be the one with which you thread your needle.

Step five
Cross-stitch is typically completed using a round-end tapestry needle, the size depending on the type of fabric used. If you have a kit, use the needle supplied.

The needle is threaded just the same as when hand sewing but without knotting the tail end (you will stitch over the tail as you work to secure it). As a general rule, knots are avoided in cross-stitch as they can cause the final piece to look lumpy.

Now you are ready to make your first stitches.

When you start a new cross-stitch project it’s often easier to start with the middle of the design, to guarantee the design is centred.

Things to remember

  • You want a nice, easy tension on your stitches. Don’t pull them so tight that the fabric warps or leave them so loose that they gap – aim for stitches that lie flat against the fabric without pulling it.
  • Avoid using the same strand of thread for different areas of the design. Large jumps across the back of your piece may show on the front, so end your thread and start again in the new spot.
  • Let your thread untwist occasionally by letting your needle hang freely to unwind itself.
  • Buy supplies for a project at the same time, the colours between threads can vary slightly across different batches.

Are you a cross-stitch fan? Have you picked up any new hobbies during social distancing?

– With PA

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