Glossary of Cross-Stitch Terms

Here's what you need to know in a nutshell.


Aida cloth Aida is the most popular cross-stitch fabric. The threads are woven in groups and are separated by tiny holes. This creates a pattern of squares across the fabric surface that a beginning cross-stitcher can easily follow.

Basting Basting stitches are long, loose stitches that can be easily removed. For example, you can find the center of a cross-stitch chart by basting intersecting lines across the fabric. Or you may need to baste layers of fabric together to secure them before sewing them by machine.

Chart (graph) In counted cross-stitch (as opposed to stamped cross-stitch), the pattern is printed on a symboled chart. Each symbol represents a color and each square represents the number of threads on the fabric that you should stitch over. To follow a chart, you must carefully count the stitches you make in each color.

Color key The color key is the list of symbols and corresponding colors that are found on the chart. Most color keys will show the symbol, then the color number found on the skein of floss, then the name of that color.

Embroidery hoops An embroidery hoop is really two plastic or wooden rings that fit tightly inside each other. To use a hoop, place your fabric over the smaller ring, then push the larger one down on top of it. The fabric can be tightened further by turning a screw or pushing a clamp on the outside of the hoop.

Even-weave fabric Intermediate stitchers may want to try an even-weave fabric once they've mastered stitching on Aida. Even-weave fabric has the same distance between the warp and weft (over and under) threads. The threads are also uniform in size, so your stitches will all be the same size.

Floss Floss is the six-ply cotton thread most often used for cross-stitch. It can be separated into individual strands when needed, is generally sold in 8-yard skeins, is inexpensive, and is available in hundreds of colors.

Needlework frame A needlework frame consists of roller bars to which you attach your fabric. Once attached, the fabric can be rolled in opposite directions to tighten.

Overcast stitching This is a simple whipstitch that prevents the fabric from raveling while you work. It also prevents catching the embroidery floss on the cut edges of the fabric. Simply cover the fabric edges with overcast stitching or whipstitches. Or, the edges can be secured by acid-free masking tape, binding strips, or machine zigzag stitches.

Ply There are six plies of thread in one strand of embroidery floss. Cross-stitch instructions indicate how many plies of floss should be used to complete a project. You should cut a 15- to 18-inch length of floss and separate the six single plies before stitching.

Seam allowance The distance between the outside (cut) edge and the stitching line.

Tapestry needle This is the recommended needle for cross-stitch and needlepoint. Because the end is blunt and the eye is large, the needle will hold multiple plies of floss or thick yarn and will not catch the threads of the previous stitches as you work. Tapestry needles come in multiple sizes depending on the type of fabric you use and the number of plies (or type of yarn) you need.

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