The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Cross Stitch Lesson Part 2

Explanatory articles in the Twenties tended to be extremely wordy. The embroidery lesson on cross stitch lasted for an entire page and a half of very small print. We don’t generally read that much at one time now. So today I bring you Cross Stitch Lesson, Part 2.

This information continues where we left off. Last time I talked about using cross stitch for even-weave fabrics, where you could count the thread each way to make your stitches. Today I’ll cover the rest of the article, which gives you two more options for cross stitch.

Like I’ve said before, most cross stitch these days is on fabric you can count. However, two more options exist. You can complete a stamped cross stitch, where the X’s are marked onto fabric and you stitch over them. Alternatively, for thick fabric or fabric you don’t want to mark, you can use a canvas like Penelope or some specifically designed to be stitched over.

To repeat from last time, one fixed rule is that however you decide to do cross stitch, your stitches must lie in the same direction for the entire piece. All the top threads of the crosses must slant the same way. This gives your work a pleasing texture. It looks more like tapestry this way.

Cross stitch on stamped fabric

In order to use a stamped cross stitch pattern, you either purchase an item already stamped or you iron or trace the X’s directly onto your fabric. Just like with counted thread cross stitch, you don’t tie any knots in your thread.

In the best stamped cross stitch patterns, they leave a tiny space between any two crosses. This keeps the design from running together, so you can see where one X ends and the next one begins. Unfortunately, not all stamped patterns are this nice. Over the years I’ve seen some absolutely horrific stamped embroidery patterns. And very few of them were vintage at the time.

Image of cross stitch in action. The needle completes the second half of a stitch with several already done and seven stitches yet to go.

Although the stitches face the wrong way for how we usually do cross stitch, take a look at the pattern. You can see that one X stops before the next one begins and there’s a tiny space. As you stitch you cover those spaces with the thread. In other words, your stitches touch one another –– all four legs of four different X’s will come out of the same hole. This is how you ensure that you cover the stamped design. It also makes your work look even and flawless.

Doing it this way fills the design properly and gives the appearance of work done on canvas, also known as needlepoint or tapestry. Each cross when you complete it forms a perfect square, as you can see above.

It is an excellent plan to work the first half of a line of stitches and then as you return, cross them with the second half, or top threads. This places a row of vertical stitches on the back side of your work and it looks quite neat. It also requires less thread than if you complete each X before moving to the next one. If you work from a kit, you may not have enough thread to make each stitch completely before starting the next.

Cross stitch over canvas

In the Twenties, if you wanted to do cross stitch over a fabric that you couldn’t count, and didn’t want to stamp, your option was Penelope canvas. Penelope canvas, named for the legendary wife of Odysseus in the Odyssey, is composed of two threads each direction. You cross stitch over the four threads that intersect to make a square.

Today we have an option called waste canvas. Much cheaper than Penelope canvas, it’s also easier to remove once the stitching is done. If you know anyone who has ever removed the strands of Penelope canvas with a pair of tweezers and a good deal of strength after completing a project, you will love waste canvas.

Waste canvas to the rescue

Waste canvas comes in various sizes, as does Penelope canvas, and you can find waste canvas on Amazon, as well as at your favorite local craft supplies store.

To use waste canvas, you cut a piece of canvas a little larger than your design. Count the meshes or spaces to make sure there are a few more than you find in your pattern. Baste the canvas evenly over the spot to be embroidered, using a light colored thread for light fabrics and a dark colored thread for dark fabrics and large stitches.

Work the design over the canvas, taking the stitches over the canvas threads and using them as your guide. Your needle will pass into the material beneath, and come up through the canvas ready for the next stitch.

When the embroidery is finished, remove the canvas one thread at a time. This leaves the design on the smooth linen, silk, denim, or whatever material you chose. Be careful not to catch the needle in the canvas as you work. Go over all the canvas threads rather than through them so that you can remove them when you’re finished.

Cross stitch over canvas. A small flower motif is complete and the canvas is half removed. Text: Detail of work over Penelope canvas.

This photo shows a cross stitch pattern worked over Penelope canvas. Waste canvas works the same way. The design is complete and the worker is removing the canvas threads one at a time.

Waste canvas project ideas

This is an easy way to place cross stitched logos or designs onto jackets, shirts, skirts, and other clothing where the material isn’t suitable for counted embroidery and you don’t want to iron a stamped pattern onto the fabric.

With the use of a symbol chart such as the sailboats from last lesson or the one below, a design may be transferred to any material.

A simple cross stitch pattern of a flower in a flower pot.
A cross stitch flower pot for you to use.

Here’s the chart for the flower pot you see completed, above. By using this symbol chart, where each symbol designates a different color, this design can be transferred to any material. You may need to use canvas as a guide, you may not.

Use any colors you like. Suggestions: brown for the flower pot, green for the leaves, yellow for the flower with brown center and tan surrounding it. Use it once, or repeat it to make a border. Drop off the pot portion and you have a small, light, airy flower that would make a delightful border for a kitchen apron or towel. Keep the pot and this could decorate a bag, a coat, or a shirt.

I hope you enjoyed this cross stitch lesson, part 2. Next time we’ll use your new cross stitch skill to complete a full project –– a 1920s bag made from monk’s cloth and decorated with cross stitch.