Family Portrait Cross Stitch

I bought my first embroidery needle when I started working with felt for school-based projects for my son (creating a quiet book and weather board, which I am not sure I took pictures of). That soon evolved into embroidery in general, just a couple silly patterns. In my research for styles of embroidery, I came across cross stitch. I had done basic embroidery and/or cross stitch back in grade school for some art project, but this was the first time that I saw such modern patterns: subversive, nerdy, and portraits. I was hooked.

For my first project, I was inspired to do my own family portrait. This was back in 2015 when my son was around two and we had our two dogs, Koda and Gimli. Koda passed later that year, and we are currently expecting another baby. So, I will need to make an updated portrait for 2017.

There are many patterns you can find online to purchase. You can even have someone make it for you (where’s the fun in that). It’s a very typical style of cross stitch and very simple to keep creating once you get the basics. You need so few things for cross stitch! And once you buy most of it, you will only need to replenish your stock as necessary. You will need the following items for this project:

  • Aida cloth, recommended 14 count; found at any craft store in a variety of colors
  • Embroidery thread, various colors for clothes, skin, hair, eyes, etc
  • Embroidery needle, recommend size 24; a blunt needle that comes in various widths depending on Aida size
  • Picture of family for reference
  • Painter’s tape or Fray-check to seal the edges while working
  • Graph paper, optional but recommended for easier designing; I later bought this notebook for cleanliness and note taking

I start out with a standard height for my tallest person. I then adjust based on this so that my family will fit nicely into a smaller frame. For my family, this would be my husband. I made him 34 stitches (boxes) high. I am almost as tall as him, so I am 32. Once I drew myself, I eyeballed how tall my son should be. Now, because this was my first cross stitch and my first ever homemade design, I botched it a bit. I had drawn him smaller, but I was afraid it didn’t look right, so I adjusted after I drew the dogs. I still think it looks like us, but when I go to make a new one for this year, not much on him will change other than style.

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Once I got the design, I calculated the amount of Aida cloth I would need. It’s easy to do. You count the number of stitches going vertical and horizontal. This piece (once I figured how to space the dogs) was 34 x 58 stitches. Take each number and divide it by the Aida cloth count you are using (in my case 14) to get the amount in inches. That gives me approximately 2.5in x 4.2in. I decided it could fit in a 4×6 frame, but you can determine if you would like a little more spacing around the edges.

Cut your Aida to size, giving another half inch or so for safety (I did not do this for my first project). You can use Fray-check to bind the edges to it doesn’t unravel, but I find painter’s tape does a great job until you are done. Fold your Aida in half both ways to determine your center point, and mark it with a pencil on the back of the cloth. Find the center point in your design (by dividing each number by two and finding the meeting point). Now you are ready to start stitching.

Note: Because this was my first project, I did not follow these instructions exactly, but I am telling you what I have learned in the process. You will see that I started by counting from the outside. It turned out the same because I had cut my cloth to be exactly 4×6. Not smart, but I ended up being okay, luckily. 

Take the thread matching the closest section to your center point. You will cut an amount about the length of your forearm. This makes for easier stitching without getting tangled or running out too soon. There will be six strands of thread. Take two threads out together and thread them into your needle. Some people will tie a small knot in the back to prevent it from going through the hole. Most seasoned stitchers will end up stitching the excess into the back by ensuring it is secured by your next couple stitches. I might try to make a future post with how to do all these tricks, but for now, do what is easiest for you. Make an X for each box in your design, changing thread only when necessary. Secure the leftover thread the same way you started. It’s really much simpler than it sounds.

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Once you have completed your design, remove the painter’s tape and secure with Fray-check. Frame! Then make Christmas gifts for your family and friends!

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