Cross-stitch is a form of sewing and a popular form of counted-thread embroidery in which X-shaped stitches in a tiled, raster-like pattern are used to form a picture. The stitcher counts the threads on a piece of evenweave fabric (such as linen) in each direction so that the stitches are of uniform size and appearance. This form of cross-stitch is also called counted cross-stitch in order to distinguish it from other forms of cross-stitch. Sometimes cross-stitch is done on designs printed on the fabric (stamped cross-stitch); the stitcher simply stitches over the printed pattern. Cross-stitch is also executed on easily countable fabric called aida cloth but the threads are not actually counted.
Fabrics used in cross-stitch include linen, aida, and mixed-content fabrics called 'evenweave' such as jobelan. All cross stitch fabrics are technically "evenweave" as the term refers to the fact that the fabric is woven to make sure that there are the same number of threads in an inch both left to right and top to bottom (vertically and horizontally). Fabrics are categorized by threads per inch (referred to as 'count'), which can range from 11 to 40 count. Aida fabric has a lower count because it is made with two threads grouped together for ease of stitching. Cross stitch projects are worked from a gridded pattern and can be used on any count fabric, the count of the fabric determines the size of the finished stitching if the stitchers counts and stitches over 2 threads. The finished stitching size is reduced by half if the stitcher counts and stitches over one fabric thread. These methods are commonly referred to as "2 over 2" - i.e. 2 embroidery threads used to stitch over 2 fabric threads; and "1 over 1" - i.e. 1 embroidery thread used to stitch over 1 fabric thread. There are different methods of stitching a pattern, including the cross-country method where one colour is stitched at a time, or the parking method where one block of fabric is stitched at a time and the end of the thread is "parked" at the next point the same colour occurs in the pattern.
Cross-stitch is the oldest form of embroidery and can be found all over the world. Many folk museums show examples of clothing decorated with cross-stitch, especially from continental Europe, Asia, and Eastern and Central Europe.
The cross stitch sampler is called that because it was generally stitched by a young girl to learn how to stitch and to record alphabet and other patterns to be used in her household sewing. These samples of her stitching could be referred back to over the years. Often, motifs and initials were stitched on household items to identify their owner, or simply to decorate the otherwise-plain cloth. In the United States, the earliest known cross-stitch sampler is currently housed at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The sampler was created by Loara Standish, daughter of Captain Myles Standish and pioneer of the Leviathan stitch, circa 1653.
Traditionally, cross-stitch was used to embellish items like household linens, tablecloths, dishcloths, and doilies (only a small portion of which would actually be embroidered, such as a border). Although there are many cross-stitchers who still employ it in this fashion, it is now increasingly popular to work the pattern on pieces of fabric and hang them on the wall for decoration. Cross stitch is also often used to make greeting cards, pillowtops, or as inserts for box tops, coasters and trivets.
Multicoloured, shaded, painting-like patterns as we know them today are a fairly modern development, deriving from similar shaded patterns of Berlin wool work of the mid-nineteenth century. Besides designs created expressly for cross stitch, there are software programs that convert a photograph or a fine art image into a chart suitable for stitching. One stunning example of this is in the cross stitched reproduction of the Sistine Chapel charted and stitched by Joanna Lopianowski-Roberts.
There are many cross-stitching "guilds" and groups across the United States and Europe which offer classes, collaborate on large projects, stitch for charity, and provide other ways for local cross-stitchers to get to know one another. Individually owned local needlework shops (LNS) often have stitching nights at their shops, or host weekend stitching retreats.
Today cotton floss is the most common embroidery thread. It is a thread made of mercerized cotton, composed of six strands that are only loosely twisted together and easily separable. While there are other manufacturers, the two most-commonly used (and oldest) brands are DMC and Anchor , both of which have been manufacturing embroidery floss since the 1800s.
Other materials used are pearl (or perle) cotton, Danish flower thread, silk and Rayon. Different wool threads, metallic threads or other novelty threads are also used, sometimes for the whole work, but often for accents and embellishments. Hand-dyed cross stitch floss is created just as the name implies - it is dyed by hand. Because of this, there are variations in the amount of color throughout the thread. Some variations can be subtle, while some can be a huge contrast. Some also have more than one color per thread, which in the right project, creates amazing results.
Cross stitch is widely used in traditional Palestinian dressmaking.
Other stitches are also often used in cross-stitch, among them ¼, ½, and ¾ stitches and backstitches.
Cross-stitch is often used together with other stitches. A cross stitch can come in a variety of prostational forms. It is sometimes used in crewel embroidery, especially in its more modern derivatives. It is also often used in needlepoint.
A specialized historical form of embroidery using cross-stitch is Assisi embroidery.
There are many stitches which are related to cross-stitch and were used in similar ways in earlier times. The best known are Italian cross-stitch, Celtic Cross Stitch, Irish Cross Stitch, long-armed cross-stitch, Ukrainian cross-stitch and Montenegrin stitch. Italian cross-stitch and Montenegrin stitch are reversible, meaning the work looks the same on both sides. These styles have a slightly different look than ordinary cross-stitch. These more difficult stitches are rarely used in mainstream embroidery, but they are still used to recreate historical pieces of embroidery or by the creative and adventurous stitcher.
The double cross-stitch, also known as a Leviathan stitch or Smyrna cross stitch, combines a cross-stitch with an upright cross-stitch.
Cross-stitch is often combined with other popular forms of embroidery, such as Hardanger embroidery or blackwork embroidery. Cross-stitch may also be combined with other work, such as canvaswork or drawn thread work. Beadwork and other embellishments such as paillettes, charms, small buttons and specialty threads of various kinds may also be used.
Cross-stitch has become increasingly popular with the younger generation of the United Kingdom in recent years. The Great Recession has also seen renewal of interest in home crafts. Retailers such as John Lewis experienced a 17% rise in sales of haberdashery products between 2009 and 2010.Hobbycraft, a chain of stores selling craft supplies, also enjoyed an 11% increase in sales over the year to February 22, 2009. The chain is said by the British media to have benefited from the "make do and mend" mentality of the credit crisis, which has driven people to make their own cards and gifts.
Knitting and cross stitching have become more popular hobbies for a younger market, in contrast to its traditional reputation as a hobby for retirees. Sewing and craft groups such as Stitch and Bitch London have resurrected the idea of the traditional craft club. At Clothes Show Live 2010 there was a new area called "Sknitch" promoting modern sewing, knitting and embroidery.
In a departure from the traditional designs associated with cross stitch, there is a current trend for more postmodern or tongue-in-cheek designs featuring retro images or contemporary sayings. It is linked to a concept known as 'subversive cross stitch', which involves more risque designs, often fusing the traditional sampler style with sayings designed to shock or be incongruous with the old-fashioned image of cross stitch.
Stitching designs on other materials can be accomplished by using a Waste Canvas. This waste canvas is a temporary gridded canvas similar to regular canvas used for embroidery that is held together by a water-soluble glue, which is removed after completion of stitch design. Other crafters have taken to cross-stitching on all manner of gridded objects as well including old kitchen strainers or chain-link fences.