Dragoneye Creative

How to Read and Use Cross Stitch Patterns

An explanation of common cross stitch symbols, fabric counts, floss colours and techniques used in patterns

Cross stitch is a delightful hobby that allows you to create beautiful designs and pictures by stitching x-shaped stitches onto fabric using embroidery floss. While cross stitching is simple in concept, reading and understanding cross stitch patterns can seem daunting for beginners. This guide will explain common cross stitch symbols, fabric counts, floss colours and techniques used in patterns to help you confidently read and use any cross stitch pattern.

Understanding Fabric Count

Cross stitch fabric comes in different fabric counts, which indicate the number of squares per inch on the fabric. The most common counts are 14, 16, 18 and 25 count, with higher numbers indicating smaller squares and more stitches per inch.

14 and 16 count aida fabrics are beginner-friendly with larger holes that are easy to see. 25 count fabric creates very detailed, petite stitches and 18 count is a nice middle ground. Your pattern will specify what fabric count it was designed for. Using the recommended count is important for ensuring the finished design is the proper size.

Examples of pattern styles, left is “Symbol only” and right is “Symbol over Colour” both give the same instructions, personal preference to which you like to follow, the red lines indicate on this pattern the centre lines

Reading Pattern Symbols

Cross stitch patterns use simple symbols, grids and codes to indicate where each colour of floss should be stitched. They can look confusing at first, but become easy with a little practice. Here are some key symbols to look for:

  • Squares on the grid mark where stitches go. Each square equals one stitch. Blank squares should be left unstitched.
  • Different symbols represent different floss colours. The same symbol will be used throughout for consistency.
  • Strands of colour along the sides show the floss colours needed and correspond to the symbols on the chart.
  • Numbers represent the number of stitches per colour in that row or column.
  • Charts can be read from left to right in rows like reading a book. Other methods are to complete each 10×10 “square” at a time, or to stitch all of one colour across the whole pattern. The squares help you track your progress. Once you have started and have a little experience, you will find your way of stitching. Many experiences stitchers suggest starting (especially large projects) from the middle and working out, as this should prevent misaligning your cloth to pattern and finding you are short of material on one edge (we’ve all done this at some point!)
  • Arrows or lines between symbols may show the order for fractional stitches, backstitches or details.
  • Keys explain any special stitches or additional symbols.

Example of a “Thread List”. An example of the thread colour is given behind the “symbol” that represents it on the pattern ie ‘X is DMC 150 Rose Ultra Very Dark Dusty’ This thread list also gives useful information of approximate length of thread needed for each colour and the number of stitches.

Identifying Floss Colours

Cross stitch floss is labelled with a number that corresponds to the symbols on the chart. The pattern will include a floss key that lists the number along with the specific floss name and colour. Brands like DMC, Anchor and many other brands have numbering systems for their colours that are widely used.

Some tips for floss:

  • Purchase floss in the quantities specified. Too little can lead to colour variations due to batch dying, which can show in your finished work.
  • Organise your floss by number into plastic bags or bobbins before starting to make it easy to find the right colour. My blog “Get Your Floss Sorted Before You Stitch” may help
  • If substituting a colour, match the shade as closely as possible, and when you selected your substitute, make a note of the floss number and make incase you need more. Variations can alter the final look.

Handy Techniques

In addition to the basic stitches that make up the pattern, you may come across some common techniques:

  • Backstitches: Straight stitches used to outline designs and add detail. The pattern outlines where they go.
  • Fractional Stitches: Stitching over just a portion of a square for delicate curves or small details. The fraction tells you how much of the square to cover.
  • Cross Country Stitching: Stitching all areas of the same colour at once, rather than completing one section entirely before moving to the next colour. This can help blending.
  • Parking: Leaving your thread unstitched in a certain square while you work elsewhere then returning later to finish. Helps reduce repeated stops and starts.

With the tips and instructions above to clarify stitch counts, fabric, symbols, floss and techniques, you’ll be able to dive into any cross stitch pattern you like! So grab some fabric and floss, start stitching those X’s, and enjoy bringing creative designs to life.

These are stitched examples taken from the patterns shown throughout this blog – both of these pattern are by Dragoneye Creative Ltd


Heritage Crafts Ltd (2023). Fractional Stitches https://www.hcrafts.com/counted_cross_stitch_tutorial

The Spruce Crafts. (2022). How to Read a Cross Stitch Pattern. https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/cross-stitch

Catkin and Lillie. (2019) https://www.catkinandlillie.com/post/all-about-cross-stitch-fabric-count

Peacock and Fig. Cross Country Stitching. https://peacockandfig.com/cross-stitch-cross-country-stitching/

DMC. (2023). DMC Color Chart. https://www.dmc.com/uk/p-color-card.html

Stitchery. (2023). Cross Stitch Basics. https://www.stitchery.com/assets/pdf/basic-instructions.pdf

Needle ‘n Thread. (2022). Beginning Embroidery: All about Embroidery Floss. https://www.needlenthread.com/beginning-embroidery-all-about.html

The Cross Stitch Guild. (2023). Techniques. https://www.thecrossstitchguild.com/cross-stitch-basics.aspx

Picture of Stitching Mum

Stitching Mum

Mother of Two boys, and needed to carve a business niche for myself. Realised that the world of cross stitch is still stuck in the past, and can see a need for Bold new and classy designs, as well as a slightly new approach. I hope you will join me on a professional cross stitch revolution.

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Introducing a new and ground-breaking company that combines the beauty of Fine Original Art with the timeless art of cross stitch. Our company is dedicated to providing high-end customers with a truly innovative experience in selecting artwork and pattern types.

We understand the serious passion of our customers for cross stitch, and we strive to bring them the best of both worlds – exquisite original art and intricate cross stitch patterns. Our collection of fine original art is carefully curated and features a wide range of styles and mediums to suit every taste.

In addition, we offer an exclusive range of cross stitch patterns designed to challenge and inspire even the most experienced stitchers. Our unique approach to pattern selection allows customers to choose patterns that are specifically tailored to their individual skill level and aesthetic preferences.

At our company, we are committed to providing our customers with an exceptional experience. Our knowledgeable and dedicated team is always on hand to provide expert advice and support. We are proud to offer a one-of-a-kind service that combines the timeless tradition of cross stitch with the beauty of Fine Original Art.

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