Which cross-stitch kit do I buy?

Choosing a cross-stitch kit from the large display at a store can be intimidating. How do you choose which kit will give the best value for your money - and the least headaches!?

These are my tips for narrowing the field.

1. Look for a picture you LOVE

It sounds simple enough - pick the design with the picture that draws you in. You'll be spending a fair amount of time studying the chart, the canvas and the cover photo. Love the image, and you'll be happy spending that time.

2. Try to minimize back-stitching

What is back-stitching? Look closely at the photo on the left. See the lines outlining the hat, the facial details - all of that is back-stitching. After you sew all the X's, you change to a darker colour (often black or dark brown) and add these lines.

Most people grow to hate a picture with a lot of back-stitching because it forces you to scrutinize the chart looking for slightly thicker lines on the graph.If there are several colours used to outline, it can be even make a very complicated chart.

Tip: If it says Colour Chart included the pattern will be easier to follow

There is good news! Some companies print their chart in colour!! This makes a detailed picture  much easier to read. Even a simple 2-colour graph (black and red ink are most common) will let you find your place faster as you look from your canvas to the graph.

Use the colour photo as a reference - if you can see lots of these outlines, choose another kit for now. Unless of course you LOVE it - it could be worth the effort!!

3. Check the thread count

Thread count is the number of threads per inch. The smaller the number, the bigger stitches you'll be making. Cross-stitch fabric comes in counts ranging from 10 to 24. Often simpler designs are in 12 or 14 count, more complex designs are 18 or 22 - remember that's the difference between 12 stitches per inch and 18 per inch! That seems really small if you come from a background of crocheting blankets (my single crochet stitches are about 4 stitches per inch!) BUT you can do it! The denser stitching is one point, but there are often more colour changes in the higher thread count projects as well.

4. What kind of fabric is used?

Cross-stitch fabric choices

In most kits you'll find 100% cotton Aida cloth, but there are other options. Examples you might also see include: linen, even weave, monk's cloth, tea towelling, plastic canvas and perforated paper.

In the image on the left, the fabrics are as follows:

  1. 18 count baby afghan
  2. 22 count even weave linen
  3. 18 count Aida
  4. 14 count Aida
  5. 14 count plastic canvas

Aida fabrics are woven into a grid with holes at each corner where you'll be passing the needle and thread through. Look closely: the Aida fabric actually has 4 threads woven tightly together! This makes the cloth feels stiff as though it has been starched - that's good! It will help keep the fabric square and hold itself up to make sewing easier.

Even weave fabrics are more loosely woven and often have a thicker thread. The threads are evenly spaced, and usually you stitch over 2 threads. This makes stitching more challenging because you don't just go to the next hole to make the full X's.

Even weaves are a big advantage if there are many partial stitches. If you look at the detailed picture above, you'll see a 3/4 stitch at the tip of the man's nose. One arm of the X only goes to the centre of the square meaning I had to wiggle the needle between the 4 tightly woven threads until it would part. I don't like them too much on Aida, but it's not a problem at all on an even weave - just go over 1 thread instead of 2!

Blanket cloth and monk's cloth are soft - and really flexible - and hard to stitch on! As you make your X's it is very easy to pull too hard and bunch the fabric under the floss. Leave these fabrics until you have some experience using even tension.

Plastic canvas is an excellent choice for a beginner project - and they often come in kits for a set of Christmas ornaments! This is a great cross-stitch kit choice because there will be no partial stitches and smaller images mean you will finish each piece sooner!

Perforated paper is less common, and used in ornaments or some stitched card kits. It is more fragile than the plastic but used the same way.

In short, a beginner should look for Aida cloth - it's what most cross-stitch kits are based on, and easy to use.

5. Floss and colour cards

Rarely does a kit tell you more about the floss than it's 100% cotton. Flip the package over and look at the contents. Is the floss tied together in a large hank (or three!)? Or is it pre-sorted onto a card?

Colour cards are your friend! Even if the cards aren't completely divided with only 1 colour for each hole, you'll have a much better idea of what is meant by:

dk beaver grey vs vy dk ultra grey

or between dk chocolate vs espresso

Only with experience working on kits from the same company (using the same brand of floss) will you become familiar with their naming scheme. Then you'll buy a kit from a different company and start a new learning curve!

I like to separate my floss onto colour cards. If they aren't included in the kit, I make my own from 2 inch wide strips of a cereal box. More on floss organization in a later post!

6. Clarity of graph

I'd love to tell you that every company producing cross-stitch kits makes a great one. Unfortunately they don't.

Print quality of the graph is very important to me. I want the paper to be white, the grid lines precise and the symbols easily readable. If you can twist and knock the contents a bit, sometimes you can see the graph behind.

I think the most important factor in print clarity is paper quality. Newsprint or fibrey paper isn't as easy to read as a good printer or photocopy sheet. So even if you can't see the graph itself, if the paper looks smooth, try it!

My first Cross-stitch kit

This is the first kit I convinced my Mom to buy for me. I was 13 at the time! We were at a craft store where she was taking a lesson and I was wandering the shop for an hour or so. Long minutes passed staring at the displays, but I kept coming back to this picture.

I remember it took a lot to convince her to buy it. It was Christmas vacation and the kit was $37 - in 1987  - a lot of money to spend on a kid just days are Santa came! I don't know if it was my passion or whining, but I got the kit.

It's not perfect. I miscounted the dog's back by 8 stitches so I had to "improvise" the area between his shoulders and mid-back. Even then I hated to undo my work!!

The trees on the left were supposed to be stitched with 1-strand of floss, but I was on the 2nd or 3rd leaf colour before I read the relevant instructions. I ran out of those colours, but realized the code was exactly DMC floss, so I bought extra at Walmart.

There are 3 major embroidery floss companies: DMC, Anchor and JP Coats. All make quality floss but the colours DO NOT match each other.

I love this picture. It's been framed twice - first on a budget: a poster frame from Zellers and a bristol board mat. A few years ago I had it professionally framed and matted to do justice to my work and the picture's beauty. Love the picture!

Choosing a cross-stitch  kit is easy when you love the picture, the kit has mostly X's with clear colour changes and little back-stitching.

So go buy a kit and let's get stitching!

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