There seems to be some debate between fans of cross-stitch and embroidery. Which is easier to learn? Are cross-stitch and embroidery actually two different entities?
Cross stitch is, in fact, just one of many types of embroidery. I have enjoyed both basic embroidery stitching and cross-stitching. I didn’t realize until I started to write about it that there are such definite, divided opinions about which is better for beginners.
I started embroidering as a child with regular stitches and added cross-stitch as an adult. I never had any problems with either style, but I wonder if I would have had some frustration if my experience had been the other way round.
Although I have no overtly biased opinion about cross-stitch vs. regular embroidery, I can offer the pros and cons of each for anyone who may be trying to decide what kind of project to try first.
The Case for Cross Stitching
Many embroidery websites I checked out agree that cross-stitching is the better choice for beginners. One of the main reasons is the simplicity of the stitch itself. But even in its simplicity, there are challenges.
Easy to learn: Cross-stitch utilizes just one simple ✖ stitch or parts thereof, such as a diagonal slash or dash.
Woven fabric provides ‘pre-punched’ holes: Cross-stitch is generally worked in a large weave fabric with discernible spaces. So it’s always easy to tell where to poke the needle next for neat, even stitching.
Easy thread count: Most cross-stitch uses just 2 or 3 strands of floss at a time, making the thread easy to handle and less prone to tangles.
Easy to Read Patterns: Color-coded cross-stitch designs are some of the most straightforward embroidery patterns to read. Patterns can be transferred to the fabric as they’re stitched by counting squares rather than having them printed or drawn onto the fabric surface.
Economical: While other embroidery styles may require more than one thread type or another medium, common cross-stitch requires only fabric, 6-strand floss, needle, and a hoop of some kind.
Controlled stitching: Cross-stitching is an OCD person’s dream. In order to attain the best outcome, every stitch must be even and precise. Too tight or too loose stitches will affect the appearance of the whole. For this reason, I question whether cross-stitch would be the best choice for a beginning child.
Small stitch size: For some, cross-stitch may be difficult simply because the stitches are relatively small. Those with limited vision will find it difficult to see and may develop eye strain from the effort. Larger patterns may be available but are often not as ascetically pleasing. And this is another strike against this embroidery style for children.
Monotonous: Some beginners may find the sameness of the stitches frustrating or tedious. This is a matter of personality versus the demand of the project. Others will love the monotony, finding it soothing or relaxing.
The Case for Embroidery
By definition, embroidery is the art of embellishing with needle and thread, whether by hand or machine. Some of the types or styles of embroidery, other than cross-stitch, include:
- Surface or freestyle: Any embroidery that doesn’t fall into a specific category is labeled freestyle. Freestyle uses creative stitches to form a design on the surface of a medium, such as light cotton or heavy denim.
- Crewel: Crewel work uses thicker thread or several smaller threads simultaneously to create a denser, more three-dimensional surface pattern. Traditionally crewel is worked with wool for a unique and easily identified texture.
- Stumpwork: Stumpwork also creates a 3-dimensional look using a more advanced layering method. Stumpwork is sometimes also called French Embroidery, whereas crewelwork has its origins in England. Stumpwork often combines thin felt designs entirely covered by a solid layer of stitching. This is not a recommended method for beginners.
- Thread painting: Also called needle painting, this unique, advanced form of embroidery combines short and long stitches in a way that produces the appearance of being painted or photographed rather than stitched.
- Blackwork: Blackwork consists of a repeating pattern worked in black thread. The designs range from simple to intricate. Blackwork is traditionally geometrical shapes but can also be a repeated floral design.
With so many styles to choose from, you could spend a lifetime exploring them all, or you can become an expert at just one or two. Embroidery can truly express an individual personality, either of the creator or the recipient of the creation.
Diversity: Freestyle embroidery encompasses a plethora of mediums. Almost any fabric, plastic, leather, or other flat media can be embroidered. But for a beginner, a simple pattern on cotton fabric would probably be the best choice.
Stitch choices: Embroidery is not difficult to learn but does require the mastery of a number of basic stitches and knots. Each stitch has a specific purpose. Once the basics are learned, almost any embroidery project can be tackled with relative ease.
Larger stitches: Most embroidery stitches are large enough to see easily. Surface embroidery projects can be completed without fear of eyestrain, even without perfect eyesight.
More forgiving: Unlike cross-stitch, freestyle embroidery does not require quite so much perfection of stitches. While it’s still important not to pull too tightly or leave threads loosely hanging, if every stitch is not exactly the same length, it will not be quite so noticeable.
Machine option: Freestyle embroidery need not be done by hand. There are sewing machines with embroidery options for those who cannot hand stitch. So you can still add a unique embellishment without the fuss or pain of hand stitching. But for those who are able, there’s no substitute for the satisfaction of creating unique embellishments on your own.
Larger learning curve: As already mentioned, embroidery does require the beginner to learn multiple new stitches. Some are simple, others more challenging. All are doable, and beginners will soon think more about the design than the stitches.
Possible greater investment: Although most beginning projects will not require any more significant investment than cross-stitch would, those requirements may change over time. Coss-stitch is cross-stitch, but embroidery styles and mediums vary greatly. You might want to try working with ribbons or yarn. You may need special backing for some projects.
Of course, most of the extras will be down the road for beginners. If you are entirely new to embroidery and are not beginning with a particular project in mind, I recommend purchasing a small kit.
Kits include all you need for one project, along with detailed instructions to get you or your child started on a lifelong embroidery adventure. And don’t forget to avail yourself of the many tutorials available online.