Read a Cross Stitch Pattern

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Read a Counted Cross Stitch Pattern

This tutorial is specifically about counted cross stitch patterns. Stamped cross stitch patterns are printed on the fabric, so you don’t need a guide.

You learned how to cross stitch. This is great! Now, you’ve bought this gorgeous pattern, and it’s covered with all these weird symbols. Did you bite off more than you can chew? Nah! Let me show you how to read a counted cross stitch pattern.

Watch the video below for a quick overview on reading and following a cross stitch chart. Read the article below for more detail.

Play Video

What is Included?

I’m going to be using the Notorious Needle Poop Emoji pattern.

Join the Notorious Nook to download a FREE copy of the PDF pattern.

This is a comprehensive list of what should be included in a cross stitch pattern. Not all patterns contain all of these elements. Experienced pattern makers will make sure to include all of these elements. And you better believe that Notorious Needle patterns are curated to be fun and easy to follow. 😉 

  • Title and Part Number
  • Picture of finished project
  • List of materials (if applicable)
  • Stitching Techniques
  • Size when finished
  • Instructions
  • Floss color key
  • Chart
  • Thread Sorter
  • Publisher/Contact and Copyright Info

Title and Part Number

Title & Part Number Example in a Count Cross Stitch Pattern
Title and Part Number for Poop Emoji Pattern

The title of the pattern will appear right on the front. Professional pattern-makers include a part number which is also displayed on the front page. This provides a point of reference if you want to order a copy of the pattern, or to contact the maker if you have questions about it.

Picture of Finished Project

Picture of Finished Project Example for a Counted Cross Stitch Pattern
Picture of Finished Project

Like putting together a puzzle, you need a representation of the finished piece to serve as a guide while you’re working on the project. Some patterns will have a computer rendered image, (aka computer generated imagery or CGI) – like in the movies! Use this as a model to help you know you’re doing it right.

*Note: Colors may differ slightly from the picture. When you’re looking at a pattern on your tablet or computer screen, the settings on your device can affect the hue of the colors in the picture. And if you spot a great find at a thrift store, the printed pages may have faded.

List of Materials (If Applicable)

The majority of counted cross stitch patterns need only fabric and floss. More advanced patterns will sometimes include embellishments like beads or fancy floss (metallic, glow-in-the-dark, etc). And some patterns are designed to work on a specific medium like a store-bought aida bookmark or a perforated phone case. All that information should be included in the pattern and you should know about it before you buy the pattern.

Click here to learn more about cross stitch supplies for beginners.

Stitching Techniques

Stitching Techniques Example for a Counted Cross Stitch Pattern
List of Stitching Techniques

Advanced patterns sometimes use more than whole cross stitches. They should list the stitches needed to complete the pattern. Common stitches found in counted cross stitch patterns include fractional stitches and back stitch.

Read more about fractional stitches.

The list of the types of stitches in the pattern can help you decide if it’s within your skillset. And even if you already know all the advanced stitches, sometimes it’s nice to pick out a pattern using only whole cross stitches to make quick and easy!

Size When Finished

size when finished example for a counted cross stitch pattern
Estimated Compete Pattern Size

The completed size of the project will depend entirely on how big you make your stitches and the type of cloth or fabric you’re using. The most common size is 14 count – which means 14 stitches per inch. A counted cross stitch pattern should include an estimated completed size. This helps you know how much cloth or fabric you need to complete the pattern.

Remember: this estimate does NOT include any extra fabric for framing!

Skip the math and use this Cross Stitch calculator to find out how big to cut your fabric.


Example of Instructions for a counted cross stitch pattern
Notorious Needle Patterns come with a clickable link to a Quick Start guide

Back in ye olden days when I was learning to cross stitch circa 1988, counted cross stitch patterns ALL included little clipart directions on how to cross stitch. (They weren’t called clipart back then, but you get the idea.)

Now that we are in the 21st century, we can buy digital patterns and never print them. Most patterns still include at least a URL that will lead you to a basic tutorial.

All the Notorious Needle PDF patterns have clickable links to a list of tutorials for beginners.

Floss Color Key

Here’s the fun part with all the beautiful colors!

The floss color key matches up the color (or colors) of embroidery floss to a symbol on the counted cross stitch chart. Here’s an example:

Example of floss color key for counted cross stitch pattern
Floss Color Key

The floss color key should also include:

Floss Manufacturers

example of floss manufacturer in counted cross stitch pattern
Floss Manufacturer in a Floss Color Key

Embroidery floss manufacturers use numbers to represent colors. This is important because different manufacturers might use different numbers.

Floss Color Numbers

Floss Number in a Floss Color Key

The floss number corresponds to the number assigned by the manufacturer.  DMC is the most popular embroidery floss manufacturer for cross stitch. A lot of other manufacturers copy their numbering system. This makes it easier for stitchers to use their floss in cross stitch projects.

*Note: Floss that comes with the kit is not always labeled with numbers. (I’m looking at you, Walmart.) Some kits are packed with cheap floss that frays, breaks, or the color bleeds onto the fabric. Unless you are familiar with the maker of the kit, I recommend changing out the floss in the kit with DMC embroidery floss or another high-quality floss.

Color Description

floss description example in a counted cross stitch pattern
Color Description in a Floss Color Key

Each color in the floss key will have a description. This helps you know if you’re working with the right color.

Color Symbol

Color Symbol in a Floss Color Key

Each floss color is assigned a unique symbol. That symbol is how that color is represented on the pattern chart. Each symbol will not only be different, but should also be easily distinguishable from other symbols.  A good pattern maker will make sure that similar symbols do not appear near each other on the pattern chart.

Different symbols represent different types of stitches.

Mini symbols in the chart indicate fractional stitches (see below for more).

Back stitch is usually a bold line, and the color of the line will match the color of floss on the floss key.

example of back stitch color key for a counted cross stitch pattern
Back Stitch Key in a Floss Color Key

Bright little dots usually represent french knots. If more than one color is used to make french knots in the pattern, the color of the dot will or show the color of the floss on the floss key. You can tell on the chart if the symbol is for a french knot because it will appear on the lines of the grid, not in the squares.

Number of Strands Used

example of number of strands used in a counted cross stitch pattern
Number of Recommended Strands in a Floss Color Key

Embroidery floss comes in six easily separated strands. The floss key should tell you how many strands to use for each color and for each type of stitch. Fractional stitches use the same number of floss as whole cross stitches. Knots and back stitch often use fewer strands.

Estimate of Floss Needed

Estimated Floss Length Needed in a Floss Color Key

Each color should have a length estimate of how much floss is needed to complete the pattern. This estimate is usually either in number of skeins (a skein is how embroidery floss is sold and is 8.7 yards long) or actual length in metric or traditional units. I prefer to go by the number of skeins so I know exactly how much of each color to buy to finish the project.

This is just an estimate and depends on how big and how tight you make your stitches.  

The Chart

chart example for a counted cross stitch pattern
Pattern Chart

This is where the whole thing comes together!

Thin Grid Lines

The pattern chart is made up of a grid of lines with all the symbols and thicker lines put together to make the picture for the project.

Example of thin grid lines on a counted cross stitch pattern
Thin Grid Lines

The grid of thin lines make up little squares where each square represents a full X stitch. When working with aida cloth, one symbol represents one X stitch and is the same size as one fabric square.

When working with other types of evenweave cloth, check the chart directions. “1 over 1” means one strand of floss over 1 fabric strand. “2 over 2” means you use two strands of floss stitched over 2 fabric strands. And so on…

Thick Grid Lines

thick grid lines on a counted cross stitch chart
Thick Grid Lines and Grid Numbering

These thicker lines show every 10 squares to make counting easier. At the top and the left of the chart, there will be numbers every 10 squares. If you are gridding your fabric before stitching, these will provide the guideline for the fabric grid.

Center Grid Lines & Arrows

center grid lines and arrows on a counted cross stitch pattern
Center Grid Lines and Center Guide Arrows

The vertical and horizontal grid lines that show the center of the pattern are sometimes shown in red. Instead of a red line, black and white patterns or show the center lines with an arrow at the top and left of the grid pointing to the center lines. The arrows look like triangles with the points on the grid. This will be your guide when starting the pattern in the middle.

Different Types of Stitches

example of fractional stitchs on a counted cross stitch chart
Quarter or 3/4 Stitches in a Chart

Some symbols may be smaller than one square, and these represent fractional stitches.

Read more about fractional stitches.

If you come across s symbol or a dot or a line and you don’t know what to stitch, reference the Floss Color Key.

Thread Sorter/Organizer

thread sorter example for a counted cross stitch pattern
Thread Sorter for Poop Emoji Pattern

A thread sorter or thread organizer is for storing your thread. It keeps your embroidery floss easily accessible and prevents a tangled mess. This is helpful if you want to “kit” your project; meaning that you want to separate out enough supplies from your stash and set aside just for this project. Stitchers who have more than one work in progress (WIP) use these. 

Publisher/Contact and Copyright Info

publisher and copyright example for a counted cross stitch pattern
Publisher and Copyright Information

The publisher and copyright may appear on the front page or the last page in pattern. This is where you would look if you wanted to make a project for sale and to be sure you are following copyright law.

You need to know that USA copyright law allows you to make a single working copy – physical or digital – that you can use to “mark off” as you stitch along. Any more than that and you will need the permission of the person or company that holds the copyright. If you bought a printed pattern, like a booklet, you can resell it. If you purchased a digital pattern, you generally cannot resell it. And you may only gift a digital pattern if you do not keep a digital copy.

It’s important to follow copyright laws so that designers can get paid and continue making patterns that we love to stitch!

If you’re unsure, contact the designer. Most are happy to hear from fans!

Notorious Needle patterns come with multiple ways to reach out

Ready – Set – Go!

Now that you know all the pieces that go into a counted cross stitch pattern, you are ready to get started!

Learn how to follow a counted cross stitch pattern.

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