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A popular form of counted-thread embroidery in which X-shaped stitches are used to form a picture.
Cross-stitch is one of the oldest forms 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 and Asia. Two-dimensional (unshaded) cross-stitch in floral and geometric patterns, usually worked in black and red cotton floss on linen, is characteristic of folk embroidery in Eastern and Central Europe. Multicoloured, shaded, painting-like patterns as we know them today are a recent development, deriving from similar shaded patterns of Berlin wool work of the mid-nineteenth century.
Cross-stitch is a popular form of counted-thread embroidery in which X-shaped stitches are used to form a picture. Other stitches are also commonly used in cross-stitch, among them, 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 stitches and backstitches. Cross-stitch is usually executed on easily countable evenweave fabric. More rarely is it on non-countable fabric, on which a countable fabric is applied that is removed later, by drawing out every thread of it under the embroidery. This fabric is called waste canvas. The stitcher counts the threads 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 also done on designs printed on the canvas, showing every single cross (stamped cross-stitch).
Description of the technique
Cross-stitch embroiderers frequently use an even-weave fabric of linen or cotton and work from charts on graph paper. Cross-stitching can also be done on a specialty Aida cloth that is available in 11, 14, 16, 18, and 22 count sizes. The sizes of Aida and Evenweave types denote the approximate number of fibers in an inch. Special vinyl weaves and perforated paper products are also available. The size of a piece of embroidery can be changed by using a fabric with another count size.
Counted cross-stitch on even-weave fabric
Today cotton embroidery floss is the most usual thread. It is a thread made of mercerised cotton, made of six strands that are only loosely twisted together and easily separable. Other materials used are pearl cotton, Danish flower thread and several different threads made of silk or Rayon. Danish flower thread is especially popular for nature motifs which originally came from Denmark. Sometimes different wool threads, metallic threads or other specialty threads are used, sometimes for the whole work, sometimes for accents and embellishments.
Thread size is usually chosen so that the stitches cover the fabric completely, creating a tapestry-like effect. But especially in monochrome work the thread can also be chosen a bit thinner, so that the individual crosses can be recognised as such and let the fabric show through a bit. The latter possibility can look nice in monochrome patterns and in combination with Blackwork.
Today, cross-stitch is the most popular form of embroidery as a hobby in the western world. It lends itself well to recreational use because it's easy to learn and very versatile. There are patterns available for almost every taste, and even beginners can create beautiful stitchery with some patience.
Traditionally cross-stitch was used to embellish things like dishwear, household linen, doilies and similar, half useful, half ornamental items. This use is still popular, especially in Europe. But often cross-stitch is used to make pieces that are meant to be framed and hung as pictures. On items for daily use, usually only small areas are embroidered. The pictures can either have an unembroidered background or be completely covered with stitches.
There are cross-stitching "guilds" in various cities of the USA and other countries that propagate knowledge about cross-stitch and give stitchers the opportunity to meet people with the same interest. Often they also offer lessons. Sometimes these guilds do collaborative works that would be too big for one stitcher.
Modern cross-stitch designs often makes extensive use of colours in many shades. When using fine fabric and thread this can create very realistic effects, almost like paintings, if that is desired. The look of such opulent designs is somewhat related to Berlin wool work, although the subjects are more varied and sometimes more modern. Others prefer more stylised patterns with less colours, which may go well with modern furniture, but also may be suggestive of traditional patterns.
Often cross-stitch is combined with other popular forms of embroidery, such as Hardanger embroidery or blackwork embroidery.
A fairly recent development is the use of other stitches in cross-stitch work, in this context called special stitches, in order to create new visual effects and satisfy the wishes of keen stitchers who may find pure cross-stitch boring after a while. These may be stitches from surface embroidery, canvaswork or even drawn thread work and other more unusual branches of embroidery. Also beadwork and other embellishments like paillettes and specialty threads of various kinds are becoming more popular.
This development, new as it may seem is in fact a reinvention. In earliest times, cross-stitch was often used as one of many different stitches.
Especially in the USA there are many cross-stitch designers who sell their patterns under their names and are well-known among stitchers. Many of them maintain websites and keep in touch with possible customers, although usually the patterns are sold by shops and other distributors. Other patterns are published in cheap magazines, especially patterns done by native designers in Europe.
Cross-stitch design has become possible for many hobby embroiderers with the advent of cross-stitch design computer software. Thus it can be a form of creative expression rather than just copying the patterns of someone else.
Related stitches and forms of embroidery
Cross-stitch was often used together with other stitches. 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, long-armed cross-stitch, and Montenegrin stitch. Italian cross-stitch and Montenegrin stitch are reversible, that means the work looks the same on both sides. They have a slightly different look than regular cross-stitch. Two-sided cross-stitch looks exactly like regular cross-stitch, but is also reversible. The reversible stitches are more difficult and time-consuming, and use more thread. All those 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.
Berlin wool work and similar petit point stitchery resembles the heavily shaded, opulent styles of cross-stitch, and sometimes also used charted patterns on paper.
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