how to cross stitch: basic stitching and the waste knot

Today I am going to go over basic stitching and how to start and end your work without using knots. I have already received a couple of comments about the back of their work being messy and not knowing how to keep it neat. We'll go over a couple of tricks today to help with that, but first I want to go over the very basics of cross stitch. 

In general, you should stitch with 2-3 strands of embroidery floss. I prefer three because I don't like to see any of the white behind my stitching. Most of the books and blogs I have read recommend two strands, so maybe you can just experiment with both to see what you like.

There are two methods that I use to cross stitch.

The first method I use is working the whole row in half stitches and then coming back to finish the x's. I like this method for filling in large blocks of color - it's quick, neat and easy. As illustrated in the picture above, you will bring your needle up through 1, down through 2, up through 3, down through 4 and so on. 

The second method is to complete each x as you go - up through 1, down through 2, up through 3 and down through 4. I use this method when I have lots of separate stitches instead of long rows of the same color. 

Whichever method you use, you should always try to have the top of your stitches be going in the same direction, like in the top row of my stitching in the picture above. All of the top stitches are going left to right (\\\\\\\). 

Here is the back of the work. On the top is the first method I explained, on the bottom is the second method. I prefer how the top looks - it's neat and clean. There is one problem though - that knot in the top right corner of the work. I have to admit, knots don't really bother me. The back of my work is usually messy and I don't mind because I stitch for fun and usually frame or finish the back so no one sees it anyway.

However, a lot of people do care about what the back of their work looks like. It seems like having the back of your work be as clean and tidy as the front is a source of pride among stitchers. (Am I saying I have no pride? Hm...)

The next method I am about to show you is called a waste knot and is perfect for starting your work neat and knot free. 

Start by making a knot at the end of your thread and threading your needle down into the cloth from the front. You can see that the knot should be in the front and should be in the row that you would like to stitch. I highlighted my row above to illustrate. 

Begin stitching as normal at the left-most stitch in your row. As you stitch, you will be capturing the waste knot thread under your work in the back. 

This is the back of the work. Since you started stitching so far from your knot, there is a length of thread that is being caught under your stitches. 

Finish your row of stitches. At this point, your knot is still on the front of your work. Since the thread is now secure under your row of stitches, you can cut the knot off. 

From the back of your work, snip your thread right under the knot. 

Pull your knot off and at this point you can either keep stitching or end your work.

No knot in the front or the back!

If you do decide to finish your work with this row, just run your needle under a few stitches, pull through and snip your thread. 

 That's it. That's a lot of words and pictures to explain something that is actually very simple. If you have any questions, I would be happy to try to help.

Later this week I will be sharing my favorite pattern sources, and next week I will be sharing fractional stitches. Ideally, I would have liked to line up all these tutorials for a solid week, but things like sleeping and working get in the way of me cranking out posts like that. For now, a couple tutorials a week will have to work.

Do you have any specific cross stitch questions that have you stumped? Leave them in the comments or email me and maybe I can address them in an upcoming post. 




  1. What a great tutorial. I have cross stitch books just waiting for me to use! Maybe now I will!

  2. Love these posts- thanks so much for putting them up here! I am learning so much! :)

  3. What is the best way to do one stitch of color? I'm not really sure of the best way to stitch one square of color and secure it. Any advice you could give would be great.

    1. If there are other stitches around, I will usually run the thread through the backs of a few stitches before I stitch the single stitch (this will hold the thread for me), and then to finish, i will run the thread through the backs of those same stitches again. If there are no stitches around, you could try to use this method, or if you really needed to, just tie a knot at the end of your thread.

  4. This is brilliant! Thank you! Question for you though: When I'm stitching my thread keeps getting tangled, is there a secret to preventing this?

    1. I have a few suggestions. First of all, after every few stitches (maybe 10 or so), let your needle and thread hang off your work and correct itself. As you stitch, your thread twists, which is what causes the knots many times. By letting the needle and thread hang down, the twists will come lose. I've also heard that separating each strand of the 6 and then grouping them back together, whether you use 2 or 3, might help. I don't do this, mostly because I am lazy, but I do believe it would help. One more thing to try - there is a product called Thread Heaven which is a thread conditioner. It will smooth down the fibers and may help with tangling. I have some and rarely use it because I have not seen a noticeable difference in my work or the amount of tangles I have. It might be worth a try. Hope one of these suggestions helps!


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