Learn How to Read Cross Stitch Patterns and Cross Stitch ChartsLearn How to Read Cross Stitch Patterns and Cross Stitch Charts

How to Read a Cross Stitch Pattern to Help Beginners Start Cross Stitching

In this guide, we'll walk you through the basics of reading a cross stitch pattern along with some helpful tips and tricks so that you can get started on your first project with confidence.

Cross Stitch Instructions for Beginners

If you're new to cross stitching, the thought of trying to read a cross stitch pattern can be intimidating. While the detailed patterns may appear complex, they're actually quite intuitive once you understand how they work.

Understanding the Cross Stitch Grid

Cross stitch patterns are created using a grid system. The grid is made up of horizontal and vertical lines that intersect to create small squares, much like the grid paper you may have used in math class. Each of these squares represents a single stitch that corresponds to the thread colors indicated in the legend.

Most cross stitch chart grids are broken up into 10 x 10 sections, outlined with darker lines, and some charts are labeled in intervals of 10. These sections and line numbers are included in the pattern to help you track your place as you cross stitch.

Most charts also include arrows along the outer edge to point toward the center vertical and horizontal lines.

When stitching a smaller pattern, you'll typically be able to keep track of your place using your finger, but for large patterns, even the most seasoned cross stitchers will use a ruler with a pencil or tools such as magnetic rulers to mark their progress.

Cross Stitch University Beginner Cross Stitch PatternCross Stitch University Beginner Cross Stitch Pattern
Cross Stitch Legend - Beginner Cross StitchCross Stitch Legend - Beginner Cross Stitch

Reading the Cross Stitch Legend and Symbols

An important element of learning how to read a cross stitch pattern is understanding the legend and the various symbols.

The legend is a key that corresponds to the different thread colors used and different stitches used in the chart, such as back stitches, and French knots in the pattern.

In full-color charts, thread colors are depicted using a unique symbol and color block. In contrast, black and white printouts rely only on unique symbols to indicate the different thread colors in the pattern. For beginners, full-color charts will be the easiest to work with.

Each color will have its own color name and corresponding thread sku listed (most patterns list DMC Thread) so that you can easily find the right thread for your project. Some legends may include thread brand substitutions with their corresponding color numbers.

Cross stitches, back stitches, and French knots are broken down into their own unique symbols to help you understand which stitch to use and when. Usually cross stitches are a full square, back stitches are a colored line, and French knots are round dots.

Cross Stitch Pattern Notes

In addition to the thread color key and stitch symbols, most professionally-produced cross stitch pattern will also include a set of pattern notes.

Stitch Count

The first thing you'll notice in the pattern notes is the stitch count, which indicates the number of stitches, width and height, that the final pattern will be.

Finished Size

The finished size is how large the final stitched project will be based on the fabric count.

Use Fat Quarter Shop's Cross Stitch Calculator to determine how much fabric you'll need for your project.


Strand count indicates the number of strands of floss you should use for each stitch (cross stitch, back stitch, and French knot). Depending on the chart creator, the strand count will either be listed in the pattern notes, in the legend, or in small square brackets [2] next to the corresponding symbol in the pattern.

Guide to Cross Stitch Instructions - Beginner Cross StitchGuide to Cross Stitch Instructions - Beginner Cross Stitch
Beginners Guide to Cross StitchBeginners Guide to Cross Stitch

How to Use The Cross Stitch Instructions

With a better understanding of how to read a cross stitch pattern, it's time to get started on your first project.

Start by gathering the supplies you'll need for your project. In addition to the cross stitch pattern and the threads listed, you'll also need your needles, fabric, embroidery scissors, and a cross stitch hoop or square.

If this is your first project, consider getting a cross stitch kit that includes everything you'll need to get started.

Once your fabric is cut to size (we recommend cutting the cloth 2” to 4” larger on all sides than the finished size) and placed in the hoop, it's time to start stitching. Begin by locating the center of your fabric and the corresponding intersection on your pattern. This is where you'll begin stitching.

Look at the symbol closest to the center of your pattern and refer to the legend to determine which color thread to use. Thread the needle and make your first stitch. Continue to follow the pattern, changing your thread colors as necessary until your project is complete.

When you're finished, remove the fabric from the hoop and admire your handiwork!

How to Read a Cross Stitch Pattern Tutorial Video

How to Read a Cross Stitch Pattern Video TutorialHow to Read a Cross Stitch Pattern Video Tutorial

Join Kimberly in this video tutorial on how to use cross stitch patterns and charts, how to figure out cross stitch fabric counts and finished sizes, and the symbols and lines used in the diagrams.

It is part of our free Cross Stitch University Tutorial Series that shows you everything you need to know to get started cross stitching. Follow along as Kimberly guides you through your very first cross stitch project

Learn to Cross Stitch With Fat Quarter Shop

Fat Quarter Shop has all the supplies and resources you need to get started, including our Cross Stitch University Starter Bundle for beginners. If you work best with a visual aid, you can learn how to cross stitch using our Cross Stitch University video tutorial series.

For more how-to's and expert tips, be sure to check out our other cross stitch blog posts and videos.