Chapter 2

16. Preventing Twists and Knots:
   16.1 Railroading
   16.2 Laying Tools
17. Where Am I?
18. Stitching On Linens
19. Stitching Over One
20. Tweeding
21. Using Variegated Floss
22. French Knots
23. Beads
24. Signing and Dating
25. Cleaning and Storing
26. Soft Hands
27. Mounting and Framing

  •  Chapter 1  •  Chapter 3

Lets Cross Stitch
Words by Ursula Michael

Caption/Border Maker
Create text charts.

new cross stitch pattern
New Cross-Stitch Patterns

Needlework FAQ:
Counted Cross Stitch Tutorial

Originally created by: ©Kathleen Dyer
Reproduced by:
with permission. All Rights Reserved.

16. Preventing Twists and Knots

Separate the floss into individual strands and then recombine them. This is known as "stripping" the floss. There is less twisting and knotting, and the stitches lie flatter. To separate a thread from the others, hold onto the top end of the thread between your thumb and forefinger. Pull down on it with the other thumb and forefinger, taking all the other threads with you. It looks like a knot will form. Have faith. Everything comes out just fine.

Run each separated strand of floss over a damp sponge just before using it. This makes the floss lie much smoother and flatter. Some fibers, such as silk, should not be dampened.

If you know which direction you tend to twist the needle, give it a little bit of a twist the opposite direction after each stitch.

Try threading the needle with the "right" end of the floss. See section "31.3 The Right End of the Floss" in chapter 3 for more information.

Let the thread dangle every so often and untwist it.

16.1 Railroading

You can use a technique called railroading to prevent twisting. On the top half of the cross stitch, pull the needle and thread through to the front to start the stitch in the usual manner. Then put the tip of the needle between the two threads right where they come through the fabric so that the needle is pointing in the direction it needs to go to complete the stitch, and take it over to finish the stitch.

The dot in the diagram below represents where the needle is must go to complete the stitch.

In case the directions above don't make sense, here is another description.

From: Martha Beth Lewis <>...

Here is some lovely ascii art to get you started:


Bring the needle to the front of the work at o. You'll be going down at x, but don't do anything yet.

Take the thread coming out of o and lay it -on the surface- of the work. Put your finger at # on the two threads and hold them to the surface of the work. The threads should be lying from o to #, crossing x. Imagine they are two golf clubs lying parallel to each other on either side of the cup (the "cup" in this analogy is x).

Keeping your finger at #, put the needle in at x -between- the two threads. Lift your finger from #.

Now pull the thread all the way to the back. You will see that your two threads are lying perfectly parallel.

What railroading does is eliminate the twist in the thread, causing the stitch to lie beautifully bcs the two strands are completely parallel. The twist in the thread is actually transferred further up the tail of the thread, so you'll have to untwist a little more often than if you are not railroading your sts. By this I mean let the needle dangle from the underside of your work.

Railroading also makes the surface of the work flatter, improves floss coverage, and (some say) maximizes light reflected by the floss.

Railroading adds time to each stitch. Those who stitch in competitions railroad all the time. Judges can tell the difference.

A short cut is to railroad only the half of the stitch that lies on top, as this is the one that is seen most clearly, although some stitchers say that they can see the bottom leg of the stitch clearly, too.

Try an experiment. Do a row or two of "unrailroaded" and some of "full railroaded." You'll see a definite difference. Now do a row of "half railroaded." What do you think? Is there enough of a difference to merit the extra time?

You get used to railroading and it becomes second nature, but it does add a lot of time to finishing the project. It's up to you whether you think the result is worth the extra time. As I mentioned above, judges seem to know the difference!

16.2 Laying Tools

A laying tool can help keep threads untwisted when you stitch with multiple strands of floss and other fibers. Using it requires an extra hand, so having the needlework in a frame on a stand helps.

Many things can be used as laying tools--a very large tapestry needle, a very small knitting needle, a trolley needle, or even a real laying tool.

Start your stitch by pulling the needle and thread through to the front as usual. Lightly pull the thread away from the direction of the stitch. Use the laying tool to stroke the thread against the fabric near where the thread emerges from the fabric. This should make the strands lie flat and parallel. Complete this part of the stitch by putting the needle into the fabric and pulling it to the back as usual. As you pull the thread through to the back, use the laying tool to keep a small amount of tension in the thread. This will keep those newly stroked strands parallel.

17. Where Am I?

There are many approaches to keeping track of location. Find the method that is easiest for you:

18. Stitching On Linens and Other Evenweaves

An evenweave is any fabric which has the same number of threads per inch in both the vertical and horizontal directions. The individual threads might not all be the same thickness--you can see this in linen--but the number of threads are the same. Evenweave fabrics may be made of linen, cotton, man-made fibers and blends.

Linen may be an evenweave or an unevenweave fabric. Sometimes an unevenweave linen is used when recreating an old sampler. For the purposes of this FAQ, we'll assume we're always discussing evenweave fabrics.

For a look at the "aida vs. linen" debate, see section "1. Selecting the Fabric - Aida vs. Evenweaves/Linen".

There is a traditional rule which says to stitch on aida using a hoop and stitch on linen "in the hand". In actual practice, people do whatever works best for them. See section "6. Hoop or Hand?" for a discussion of the "in-the-hand vs. in-a-hoop" debate. See section "30.2 Hoops, Scroll Bars and Such" in chapter 3 for more information on the equipment itself.

Evenweaves are generally worked "over two" threads. This means that a 28 count (28 threads per inch) linen produces the same size picture as a 14 count (14 squares per inch) aida.

Experienced stitchers of evenweaves recommend starting next to a vertical thread. This is easier to explain using a picture.

If you start your X's like "/", then...

Come up at 1 and go down at 2 (or vice versa). If you start your X's the other way, like "\", then...

Reasons for starting next to a vertical thread:

19. Stitching Over One

Stitching "over one" refers to stitching a picture on linen or another evenweave over one fabric thread. This is often done with one strand of floss, or "one over one".

In the previous section, we found that stitching over two threads of a 28 count linen produces the same size picture as a 14 count aida. But stitching over one thread of a 28 count linen produces a picture only one quarter the area.

There can be a problem with stitches rolling or slipping to the wrong side of the fabric. This is much less likely to happen when each X is completed before starting the next. There are additional techniques to prevent the problem. Two are described below.


On the diagram below, come up through the fabric on the odd numbers and go down on the even.

Each X goes over one thread intersection of the fabric. Each fabric intersection has either a horizontal fabric thread on top or a vertical fabric thread on top.

Suppose you make the first half of the first stitch by coming up at 1 and going down at 2. Your stitch is going over a horizontal fabric thread. Because of this, you should go horizontally underneath to find the starting hole for the second half of the cross stitch. So, come up at 3 and go down at 4.

Make the first half of the next stitch. Because you just went down at 4, you must come up at 5 and down at 6. Your stitch is going over a vertical fabric thread. Because of this, you should go vertically underneath to find the starting hole for the second half of the cross stitch. So, come up at 7 and go down at 8.

Continental Stitch

A second approach uses the Danish method of doing the bottom stitches first along a row, and completing the X's on the return trip. But to prevent the stitches rolling to the wrong side of the fabric a continental stitch is used rather than a half stitch. This looks like a half-stitch from in front, but the back is a long diagonal. For these diagrams, come up at the odd numbers and down at the even.

On the outward trip:

On the return trip, to complete the X:

20. Tweeding

Tweeding, sometimes called blended needle or blended thread, is the use of two or more colors of thread in the needle at the same time.

How the two colors should lie in relation to each other is up to you. Some people prefer to have each stitch look the same. Other people will let each color fall how it may (subject to no twisting) from stitch to stitch.

21. Using Variegated Floss

Variegated floss is used to create interesting effects and one-of-a-kind pictures. While you are always free to do as the spirit moves you, there are some more organized approaches. The following is one method, but is by no means the only one. Read DMC's pamphlet #15235 "Cross Stitch with Variegated Floss" for information on another.

Remove the floss from the skein and wind it lengthwise around a yardstick. Those of you living in countries on the metric system might have to saw a few centimeters off the end of a meter stick. Carefully cut the floss at the middle and at each end, to give you four groups of floss. Two groups should be lighter and two should be darker, overall. Combine the two lighter groups together and consider them to be one group. Do the same with the two darker groups. As you stitch the design, complete each X as you go.

22. French Knots

This FAQ focuses on counted cross stitch, but there is one other stitch that should be discussed. That is the French Knot. It shows up in many counted cross stitch designs.

To make a French Knot:

23. Beads

It is common for designs to require beads. Beading should be done after the cross stitching and backstitching.

The thread may be beading thread, floss that matches the color of the bead, floss that matches the color of the background fabric, quilting thread, or any kind of transparent thread. Each will produce a different effect, with a light-colored thread brightening the bead's color and a dark colored thread deadening the color.

The needle may be a beading needle or a #28 tapestry needle.

The simplest method to attach a bead is with a half stitch or quarter stitch.

One method to keep the beads from drooping or sliding requires two strands of floss. Attach the bead using a half stitch, coming up through the first hole, through the bead, and down through the second (diagonal) hole. Then, come back up through the first hole, split the two strands of floss around the bead so one goes on each side, and go back down through the second hole.

Another technique, which is said to work well for a row, starts with the beads attached along the row with half stitches. At the end of the row, the thread is run back to the beginning by going through the beads, above the fabric.

Yet another method uses a full cross stitch. Attach the bead using a half stitch, then complete the cross stitch while going through the bead again. The order and direction of the two half stitches determines whether the hole in the bead points side-to-side or top-to-bottom.

24. Signing and Dating

Should you sign and date your work? If it is intended to be entered in a competition, possibly not. Find out the rules first. Otherwise, go for it! Be proud of your skill. Signing can make a piece more valuable as the years go by.

Samplers usually incorporate the stitcher's initials and the year into the design. All other designs require a little more creativity on the signer's part.

Some people use permanent ink and sign on the edge, where it will be hidden by the mat or frame. Personally, why would you want to hide this interesting and valuable information?

Some people find a way to stitch their name and the date with teeny letters, over one or two threads. Try out some variations on scrap cloth until you find a look you like. For a quick and easy way to chart your text use the Caption Maker

Don't abbreviate the year. Stitch "2000" rather than "'00." Your stitching may survive you by many years, and even though you may think the project is unimportant, later generations may disagree.

There are several things you can do to make a signature visible but unobtrusive. For example, use a thread color that is only a shade or two darker than the fabric. Or incorporate the signature into a shadow, using the shadow's color. Or put it below an object, using the object's color. Or figure out a way to make it part of the design...

25. Cleaning and Storing

Obviously, when it comes to cleaning needlework on bibs, towels, clothing and napkins, do whatever it takes to get the piece clean. If this means throwing it into the washing machine with detergent and bleach, so be it.

However, the heirloom-to-be deserves special treatment or it may become the heirloom-that-never-was. Here are some suggestions that are very conservative and cautious. It is safest to list many things that a stitcher might want to know. You are then free to use or ignore whatever you choose.

While you are stitching:

When you are done stitching:


When catastrophe strikes, all the tips listed above should be ignored. Just do what you have to. People on this newsgroup have used detergent, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, Goop and ice to remove soda pop, rust, mold, vomit, catsup and bleeding dyes.

Bleeding Floss

You look down at the lovely counted cross stitch picture that took you six months to complete. To your horror, you see that the dye from one of the floss colors has "bled" onto the fabric. What to do?

You may be out of luck if the fibers aren't washable. But if they are washable, or if you decide that things are so bad you have nothing to lose, try the following.

If the bleeding happens while you are washing the project, don't let it dry. Rinse and soak the project in cold water. Keep rinsing and soaking it until the bleeding is gone and the water rinses clear. The process could take a few minutes or several hours.

If you see bleeding on a dry project, put very cold water into your sink or a flat, nonmetallic pan. Have the water just deep enough to cover the project as it lays flat on the bottom of the sink. Pour in a layer of ice. Let everything soak without any scrubbing. Replace the water and ice as needed. The process could takes days.


From melaina, who posted using a friend's account, on treating rust stains:

...I had a brand new white cotton sweater that was laid to dry over a chair (dumb I know) but it had about 20 different rust spots on it some were about 1 inch square. Anyway my mom found a remedy in an old stain guide. AND IT WORKED!!!!! First make sure to test it that it does not make the color run or fade. Here it is.............
I just dabbed the stains with a clean cloth soaked in the solution and then they faded away to brand new white again. After it dried I washed it and all was fine. I have washed the sweater a few times and the stains have not reappeared. I do not know what this will do to needlework cloths or if it will cause any premature discoloration or breakdown of the fabric though in some cases it may be worth a try, huh.
oh yeah, you can buy the oxalic acid at a pharmacy, or a chemical place. It was really inexpensive ($0.79 canadian for 25 grams).

Scorch Marks

People on the rec.crafts.textiles.needlework newsgroup have suggested the following for the removal of scorch marks. Try these only if you are facing a catastrophe, as they may affect the colors.


For pencil marks, try an art gum eraser available from most art supplies stores.

Miscellaneous Stains

From Nancy Cope <>:

1. Your saliva will remove YOUR blood.
2. Hair spray will remove ink--doesn't have to be ball point. Doesn't work on all fabrics. Her husband has ruined two shirts that the caps came off pens in his shirt pockets (woven cotton/poly). One went through the wash before being spotted; the other got treated before washing and it did lighten it but not remove.
3. Peanut butter gets off some sticky stuff like residue from tags and chewing gum. Don't rub too hard, though, as it is an abrasive and will scratch. A blow dryer will work on some sticky things that can take the heat, too.

Mary L. Tod <> credits Barbara Knaupf, the owner of The Stitching Post with the following recipe:

This is the magic recipe I got from the Stitching Post when I discovered blotchy green stains all over my "Angel of Grace" at the time I took it in for framing. (The stains were a STUPID error caused by my using a brand-new, never been washed, green towel to dry). I just about lost it when I noticed all the spots. The recipe worked like a charm! Piece was saved, and so was my mental health! Here goes:

Make however many gallons-worth to cover your fabric, and soak overnight, or for as long as it takes! Mine came out in 24 hours. I don't know if this will do the trick for hi-liter, but they don't call it *magic* for nothing!

Tyrie J. Grubic <> reported a cleaning method that was discovered at Cross Stitch Corner in Bellevue, Washington, when attempting a last-ditch, nothing-to-lose stain removal:

Anyway, it works, does *not* damage the piece at all, does not cause any bleeding of colors, etc...Here's the method:
First of all, store the Goop in the fridge. Goop kept at room temperature after being opened will break down in a few months and be useless. Do *not* use this broken-down version on your piece.
On a clean, flat surface, spread out the piece, backside up. Cover it in Goop. Lather it on. On any especially dirty places, or any places where the stitching is dense, place it on the front side as well. Leave it for 30 minutes. If you won't be able to get it back in 30 minutes, put it in a plastic bag, but leave it open, or it will get moldy. Do not leave it in the bag very long.
Using cold water and a mild liquid soap...rinse the goop out. Continue rinsing in clear, cold water until the water is clear.

From there, continue as recommended earlier and press between clean, white towels.

26. Soft Hands

Many people find that their efforts to keep their hands clean to protect the needlework results in another problem--dry hands.

Sometimes a cream or lotion must used. This shouldn't affect your needlework if care is taken. The most important characteristic of any cream you choose to use is that it not be greasy.

People on the newsgroup recommend Au Ver a Soie Hand Lotion, Acid Mantle Lotion, and Udder Cream.

Udder Cream was developed for use on cows' udders, hence the name. It is available in feed stores and, increasingly, needlework shops.

There is sometimes confusion about what is and what is not Udder Cream. It is not the same as Bag Balm. In fact, different products are sold under the name of Udder Cream, and not all are kind to needlework.

Excerpted from a posting by Tara R. Scholtz <>:

...I've found three! And all have green metal tins!!! The one with the strawberries (?) is the greasy stuff. It's also yellow (the strawberry tin that is). The strawberry tin and its bigger counterpart is marked trademarked by one company (forget which one) and that is only mentioned in *some* publications, I couldn't find that trademark - but the name is used by other companies anyways. Farnham has its own bag balm - the green tin for that also says bag balm. Real confusing.
...Not always - the blue Udder Cream (same name, different company) is *very* greasy. In my horse & livestock catalogues and stores I have so far found about 5 different concoctions of "Udder Cream." If you want the non-greasy stuff (and want to make *sure* it is the non-greasy stuff before buying several pounds of it), just stick to the little cow-decorated jars found in stitchery stores.
...Horse products don't seem to undergo *any* sort of regulation (ya'll gotta go see the horse shampoos and conditioners, they're almost outnumbering the drug stores! I about *died* when Jeri Redding jumped in on the bandwagon & produced his own line of equine shampoo, etc.). Many items are not trademarked and are considered fair game by other companies when it comes to naming a product. Hence, livestock supply catalogues list the manufacturer as well as the product name. (Which is why I spent a fortune trying to find "Udder Cream" - only to find I can only get the one produced by Redex at the stitchery stores near me.)
...If you want Bag Balm, watch out for the YELLOW stuff - that's greasy and no good for stitching. Still great for hands though.
If you want Udder Cream - get Redex Industries. It SHOULD be WHITE. AVOID BLUE & YELLOW.

Excerpts from another posting by Tara R. Scholtz <>:

The white stuff by Redex Industries, Inc. is used as hand lotion. It is greaseless and stainless but does contain lanolin & allantoin (which causes problems for some people)...
There are other hand lotions available in the needlework market which are also touted as greaseless and stainless but does NOT contain lanolin. One is called "Creative Hands" (with aloe vera)...

27. Mounting, Matting and Framing

Not all needlework needs to be framed like a picture. Needlework can be found on pillows, linens, clothing, box lids, jewelry, light switch plates, and so on.

While you may not think the twenty little holiday ornaments you finished late last night have great value, this is not your decision to make. Fifty years from now, they may be someone's pride and joy. And you don't want to be the person who messes up someone's priceless collection of early twentyfirst century needlework, do you?

If you are going to frame your project, here are some suggestions. They are very conservative and cautious. It is safest to list many things that a stitcher might want to know. You are then free to use or ignore whatever you choose. If you take your work to a shop to get it framed, ask the people there if they do conservation framing. Make sure they are aware of the following issues.