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Blog: Learning how to Cross Stitch


A journey in learning a new hobby in 16 images.  These are a bunch of small little projects I have from when I was learning how to do this stuff.  I didn't start with little projects though.  Not pictured are the few very large projects I tried to start on, just to see if this was something I wanted to learn how to do.  That's always the best way for me to see if something is for me.  I try it on the hardest setting possible — in this case, with a huge full-coverage piece of Loki.  Guess what: I barely got anywhere with it.  It was full of mistakes, the fabric was awful, and I didn't know that you're allowed to fix mistakes, basically.  That sounds weird, but when I placed a stitch in the wrong spot, and noticed it about a half hour later, I didn't know that you could just... stitch over the wrong one, or pretend that it wasn't even wrong.  I didn't know you could pull out stitches and do a section over.  I don't know why I thought this wasn't allowed.  I think more accurately, I just never realised it was allowed.

My brain is weird.  Don't question it.

Once I jump into the deep end, get way in over my head, and reach a point where I admit to myself that I have no idea what in the hell I'm doing, that's the point at which I decide whether or not this is for me.  Then I dial it way back, go to the beginning, and start building a proper foundation and making steps toward what I want to eventually try to do.  These 16 images up here represent my trial-and-error, blind stumbling about in building that foundation.

Cross stitch is a weird hobby.  There are tutorials out there, but there's no cohesion, and the words for things aren't intuitive.  If you search "how to cross stitch," you'll get the very basic basic "thread the needle and make an X" tutorials, but there isn't a whole lot out there on creative technique.  You almost have to come in with an artistic background if you want to do anything more than pre-fab kits.
I knew from the very beginning I didn't want to do pre-fab kits.  I poked around on Etsy, and there wasn't a lot on there I wanted to do either.  So I had to learn how to make my own stuff from the ground up.

  1. I started out with the green Creeper.  Creepers are not solid green, but the intricate pattern in the texture was overwhelming and scary.  Could you even stitch with that many colours in that small of a space?  Surely not, right?  Well, I didn't think I could, anyway.  So I did the basic shape on that naff black plasticy Aida you get on Amazon.  (There were a few before this that I did on white, but I have no idea where those went, and I never photographed them.  I've probably stitched 20 creepers over the last six years.  They've become my way of measuring improvement.)  At this point, I did not realise that even though cross stitch is embroidery that you shouldn't really use embroidery needles.  I mean, you can, but those sharp little fucks make it easy to miss the holes in the fabric and make your stitches just all kinds of uneven and janky, like this guy was.  I do think this was the first time I tried to do patch edging though.  I spent a long time getting good at patch edging.
  2. I've done a stupid amount of Israphels as well, but not nearly as many as the Creepers.  Still intimidated by the busy texture, he got the same treatment as before.  Solid white skin, solid red eyes.  I was still using a sharp embroidery needle, and wondering why my stitches seemed to be getting worse over time.  I mean, honestly.  Those stitches are awful.  They're all over the place.  The edging got super weird in a lot of places.  I realised I was doing something wrong, but I couldn't figure out what it was.  I was missing a key piece to the puzzle, and had no idea what I needed to look up to fix it.
  3. A trip to the craft store and looking more closely at what was on the shelf made me realise where I'd been going wrong.  Steve still has that weird solid colour to his skin, but a set of tapestry needles greatly improved my stitch quality.  I wasn't missing every third hole.  Getting my stitches even felt like a huge improvement.  With that hurdle crossed, I was able to start tackling something else.
  4. I wanted to do a sprite properly, and did that thing again where I jumped into the deep end with a grass block.  I might have also been using the old free version of KG-chart at this point.  Before that, I'd been putting my sprites into Paint.NET, and using this RGB-DMC converter, which was entirely in Thai.  I couldn't even find it again if I wanted to.  The grass block was way more pixellated than I'd expected it to be, and there were moments where I'd felt like I was making backward progress.  But I finished it!  And it wasn't totally awful. 
  5. Little Mario Frog was an attempt at doing patch edges on a non-square shape.  It didn't work as well as I'd have wanted it to, because aida is really thick, stiff fabric to begin with, and I was still using that really nasty black stuff from Amazon.
  6. Enderman was just a little more practise with keeping stitches even, and also using a lot of dark colours on dark fabric.  That was how I learned that stitching a lot of black on black was the devil and I hated it.  I was using that black fabric because my stitches still weren't amazing, and the black hid the gaps between them really well. It still had not occurred to me that if I used a higher count or more strands, that wouldn't be a problem.  It wasn't until about two or three years ago that I really started to lean toward higher counts.
  7. I was pretty comfortable in the basic "follow the pattern and make a thing" routine.  This was about a year in at this point?  I wanted to see if there was an easy way to make triangle shapes, and the best shape for that was a Triforce.  I thought this weird stitch I was using, while not perfect with the angles, was pretty good.  Until I got to the far edge of the triangle and realised that I was going to have to try some sort of backstitching or something to make it even.  I got a little more confident with what I was doing as the project progressed, but it's something I've never actually gone back to.  Maybe I should.
  8. I wanted to do a Mario like the frog, and turn it into a patch.  It wasn't going to have very clean edges unless I gave it a background.  This is the point where I started playing with gradients.  This one turned out so well, if only because half of DMC's blues are almost the same colour.  I was pleased with it, but it also felt like cheating too much.  I don't know; I just didn't like it.
  9. The 1up mushroom was going back to trying non-square shapes as patches, and going to a simpler design.  This was the one where I figured out that the black fabric I'd been using is so gross because it's not cotton.  If you iron it, it melts a little bit.  I figured this out, because the corners were tricky, so I decided to iron them down so they'd stay in place.  Well, they did.  Better than I expected.
  10. Angry Wolf was my first attempt with DMC's Light Effects floss.  Not the metallic stuff yet, but the black light stuff.  Oh, it was awful.  I've always liked to use really long strands of floss when I stitch, but this one made me realise why people insist on shorter thread.
  11. Passive Wolf was just another attempt with the Light Effects garbage.  That's about as long as it took me to realise it sucks and I kind of hate it.
  12. The diamond was another attempt at irregular shapes.  By this point, my stitching had become fairly consistent.  I'd found a good needle size I liked.  I might have even been using PCStitch by this point, judging by the colours.  While I was getting pretty happy with my edging by this point, I'd kind of given up on irregular shaped patches after this.  Not because they were difficult.  I'd actually managed to find a really good flow with the process.  I just didn't like the end result most of the time.  It's basically impossible to get the edges to follow the stitching without leaving weird gaps in places.  I didn't want to start using perforated plastic, but this was when I made the switch for irregular shapes.  I love it now, but at the time it felt almost like cheating.  I have no idea why I thought there were so many rules.
  13. I was comfortable with my stitching, but still trying to figure out more complicated designs.  One thing I'd noticed is that even with PCStitch, getting a good gradient was nigh impossible.  I hadn't yet figured out some of the tricks I know now with Paint.NET, and getting good at gradients was something that seemed would be a god idea.  The colours on this one had much higher contrast than with Mario, mostly so I could see what I was doing with the dither pattern.  In the end, I didn't like it.  The harsh edges weren't working for me.
  14. I'm still quite pleased with how the purple background on Snivy turned out, honestly.  I don't think I used any dither here.  It's just rings of various shades of purple, but like Mario, it just worked.  Getting circles to look good in cross stitch wasn't actually something I ever struggled with a lot, because I'd got real good at pixellaed circles after years of Minecrafting about.
  15. The Angler Fish is still my best gradient.  Right after this, I figured out how to cheat it with Paint.NET.  At this point, I felt like I'd figured out everything I needed to figure out to go to bigger projects.  I was bored with sprites.  I went back to more bigger projects that never got finished because I was still missing the technique for those.  And since they never got finished, I never took pictures.  Eventually, I discovered parking, and worked out my own method for it over the course of the Perching Raven project.  From there, I managed to tone it down to a slightly different not-quite-parking, not-quite-cross-country technique that I mainly rely on today.
  16. The plaid patch is fairly recent.  It's from some time last year.  Every now and then, I'll sit down at my desk and watch some YouTube stuff while I work out something new I want to try.  This one was using different colours for the top and bottom parts of the X to create a plaid effect.  For the most part, I'm still really pleased with this one.  I turned it into a magnet and it lives on my fridge.  I think I'd do it with fewer strands again though, because the bottom one does get covered up a bit too much.


Bonus Bulbasaur, from the very beginning of my channel.  He's here, because for some reason, I cannot find the pattern I used.  And if you haven't seen him before, that's because the video for his speed stitch got totally corrupted.  OH WELL.


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