It will make your work much easier if you 'grid' the fabric before commencing cross stitch. This will take a little time, but is well worth the effort. Using a single strand of thread, Mark out a grid of tiny crosses, each two stitches high by two stitches wide, with the verticals and horizontals being ten rows apart, as shown below. Run your thread loosely from one cross to another at the back. Only mark these crosses in the area to be worked and not in the background, and make sure that you snip and remove each cross as you come to it when actually working the piece.
When using a single strand doubled over
Pull the thread from the skein, twice the length you desire for stitching - approximately one metre would be about right. Now select a single strand and pull it gently from the six. Double the strand and thread the two free ends through the needle as shown. Starting from the back of the fabric, stitch upwards through the fabric at the beginning of the first stitch, then down through the fabric in the hole diagonally up from the first hole to complete the first half of your cross. After pulling the needle through the fabric, pass it through the loop in your thread at the back of the fabric. Pull gently on the thread until it tightens onto the fabric without buckling. Now continue the row of half crosses.
When using one or more strands (including two strands that have been cut and have no loop)
There are two ways to start. One is to hold a length of thread 2.5 cm or 1 in at the back of the work and overstitch it as you stitch along the row. The diagram below shows what the reverse side of the work will look like.
Alternatively, you may prefer to tie a loose knot in the end of the thread and, commencing a short distance away from where your first stitch will start and in the direction you will be stitching, stitch downwards through the fabric leaving the knot on top of the fabric. Pass across to your starting point and begin stitching, oversewing the loose strand at the back of your work. Snip off the knot when you are satisfied that the thread at the back of the work is held securely in place.
Work half crosses, that is, bottom right to top left or bottom left to top right diagonal stitches along the row for the whole length of that area of colour, then stitch back in the opposite direction to work, left to right or right to left. The choice is yours, but it must be maintained consistently throughout the entire design.
Work each cross individually. This also applies when working a diagonal row.
The back of your work will consist of vertical rows of stitches. To finish off a thread neatly, stitch through these back-of-work stitches in a single vertical line, one stitch passing through to the right, the next one to the left and so on for four or five stitches. The work will not come undone, and your finishing off will scarcely be visible.
Backstitching is a form of highlighting, usually done using one strand of cotton only. There are cases, however, where two strands may be required. This will always be indicated on your chart. Backstitching is indicated on the chart by a heavier line that can be solid, dotted, dashed, wiggly, etc. indicating which shade of thread is required.
To start backstitching, run through a few stitches at the back of the work, finishing where you wish to commence, then re-stitch through the last stitch again.
Start backstitching by coming up through the fabric, then move forward one stitch on the right side. Go through the fabric, coming up again one stitch back from where you came up the first time; stitch down into the same hole you originally came up through. That is forward one on top of the fabric, backwards two below the fabric, forwards one on top, and so on along the line.
The diagrams below show how you work a half cross stitch, a quarter cross stitch and a three-quarter cross stitch.
Sorry that this subject has to be mentioned, but we all make mistakes. Yes, even the experts. When you do make a mistake, and I mean when, not if, please do not try and stitch back the way you have been as this will not work. You will foul up by stitching through threads at the back of the work and become hopelessly knotted. I have found there is only one satisfactory way of unpicking and that is to unthread your needle and carefully unpick the offending stitches from the front side of the work. If you happen to damage the thread, unpick a sufficient length so that you can re-thread the needle and finish off at the back.
Sad to tell, the subject of knotting is one that I cannot satisfactorily solve. I have heard many theories, and tried some of them. I have heard that regardless of how many strands you are using, each should be pulled from the main twist and then the required number put back together again. I have also been told that the strands should be waxed. I couldn't bring myself to do this, as I do not think I could bear the feel of the thread afterwards. I have found, however, that the doubled thread technique I explain in the 'How to Start' section works well and I seldom get any knotting. And always, regardless of what sort of embroidery you are doing, keep a constant check on your thread to ensure that it is not excessively twisted or unraveled. If this is occurring, let the needle hang loosely and it will settle back into its own twist again. The best tip, I find, is to keep a pin handy. When you notice a knot has formed, do not tug on the thread and tighten the knot. Take the pin and insert it into the knot and, in most cases, you will be able to unpick it easily before it tightens into something impossible. It really is a wonderful relief when this happens.