Cross Stitch vs Embroidery

Cross Stitch vs Embroidery: Which is Best?

Latest posts by Christine Lindstrom (see all)

Cross stitch vs embroidery are both wonderful ways of creating beautiful crafts that can be used for a variety of purposes. Chances are, you’ve seen some lovely examples of both that have led you to learn more about these types of needlecrafts.

Anyone can learn the basics and can soon be creating works of art on fabric using colored threads. But what’s the difference between cross stitch and embroidery? Which one should you choose, and how do you get started?

Technically speaking, embroidery is a term for any kind of sewn-on embellishments on any kind of fabric. It’s a very broad term, and cross stitch is one type of needlecraft that falls into this wider category. In that sense, cross stitch is a specific kind of embroidery.

Nevertheless, when most people use the term embroidery, they are referring to a specific style of needlework that is clearly distinct from cross stitch and other crafts such as needlepoint. In order to make a clear comparison here, I will use the term embroidery to refer to this particular style and not as an overarching category for all fabric embellishment.  

Main Differences between Cross Stitch and Embroidery

The main differences between cross stitch and embroidery are:

  • Cross stitch uses one basic type of stitch, whereas embroidery uses many different kinds of stitches.
  • Cross stitch requires a grid-like fabric such as Aida cloth, whereas embroidery can be done on a variety of fabrics, including those with tighter weaves.
  • Cross stitch technique does not create varying textures, whereas embroidery stitches do create it.

What is Embroidery?

What do you think of when you hear the term embroidery? Perhaps you think of holiday table linens that your grandmother embroidered herself and pulled out for special occasions. Or maybe you think of work clothing that is machine embroidered with a company name and logo. The word conjures up a variety of different images, and none of them are wrong. 

Different Types of Embroidery

Machine Embroidery

Machine embroidery is any type of sewn-on embellishments that were done with an embroidery machine. Some common examples of this are personalized items such as blankets or tote bags. My high school letter jacket was machine embroidered with my first name and graduation year. Businesses can get their logo machine embroidered onto almost anything for promotional purposes. 

Machine embroidery can be incredibly detailed, but the machines can generally only do one basic type of stitch. The result is professional looking, flat, and relatively smooth. 

Hand embroidery

Hand embroidery, by contrast, is more varied. These items are never mass-produced or 100% uniform. Because of the time and skill involved, hand embroidered items are often used for decorative purposes or special occasions.

Things that would have traditionally gone in a young girl’s hope chest, such as tablecloths, cloth napkins, curtains, or pillowcases, may have been hand embroidered with beautiful floral designs, colorful borders, monograms, or anniversary dates. Hand embroidery is also used often as wall hangings or other decorative items.

Hand embroidery can be intricately detailed and made up of a variety of different types of stitches and knots, which add multiple levels of texture.  For the purposes of comparison to cross-stitch, we will focus on hand embroidery.

Types of Embroidery Fabric

Fabrics with an even weave work best for embroidery. Most techniques work well on a tightly woven fabric, preferably made with cotton or linen. There are some specific types of embroidery styles that work better on a more open weave, but generally speaking, you should look for a thread count of 28 or higher.

You can embroider on ready-made fabric items, such as sheets, placemats, or clothing. You can also buy fabric, such as toweling fabric, and create your own embroidered items, such as dish towels. 

For projects requiring a more open weave, look for Aida cloth or Hardanger fabric at your local craft store.

Types of Embroidery Stitches


When it comes to embroidery stitches, the sky is the limit. There are seemingly endless possibilities for what can be done with a needle and thread. Each different type of stitch and knot produces a different effect and they can be used together in infinite variations. This is part of what can make embroidery seem overwhelming to learn.

You can get started, however, with a few basic types of stitches. If you can push the needle up through the fabric and then back down in another spot, producing a straight line, then you already know how to make the straight stitch. Make a group of several straight stitches that are all the same length, and you’ve mastered the seed stitch.

If you place many straight stitches very tightly together, so that no fabric shows through between them, then you are ready to use the satin stitch to fill in solid areas with a smooth effect. 

The fern stitch is a collection of three straight stitches that each branch out from a common starting point. You can also use the straight stitch to produce the “spokes” of the woven wheel. While it looks complicated, the woven wheel is simply thread woven through these straight-stitch spokes in the shape of a circle.

Backstitching is also a common type of embroidery stitch, formed by starting the needle on the far end of the stitch and ending it in the same point as the stitch it’s connecting to. Backstitching can be used for a variety of purposes, including cursive writing.

Knots are also commonly used in embroidery. Knots add a different texture and can be used for things like eyes on faces, centers of flowers, or dotting the letter i in writing. Two common types of knots are the french knot and the bullion knot.

What is Cross Stitch?

This is a Christmas stocking that I made for my daughter using cross stitch.

Cross stitch is a type of needlework in which the picture or design is formed with small x-shaped stitches. The x shapes are formed by first making a diagonal straight stitch, then crossing that stitch with a diagonal stitch in the opposite direction.

You’ve most likely seen cross-stitch in wall hangings or other decorative items. One common design is called a “sampler” which would have traditionally been made by young girls who were learning to sew. It generally includes the alphabet and some small pictures, and may or may not include the name of the seamstress and the date. But cross stitch is so much more than samplers!

Different Types of Cross Stitch

There are two main types of cross stitch projects: stamped cross stitch and counted cross stitch. Both use the same technique, but the difference is how you know where to place your stitches.

Stamped Cross Stitch

Stamped cross stitch is a project that comes pre-stamped with the pattern on the fabric. Simply cover the stamped markings with thread to complete the design. Depending on the design, they can be stamped with multiple colors to indicate different thread colors, or they can be stamped with a neutral color and it is up to you to choose thread colors to complete the design according to your preference.

Counted Cross Stitch

In contrast, counted cross stitch patterns are separate from the fabric. Using an even-weave fabric that created a grid, you must count stitches in order to know where to place them. The center of the pattern will be marked, so to get started you mark the center of your fabric (by folding in half both lengthwise and widthwise) and use this as a reference point for counting stitches. 

While stamped cross stitch is often easier, it is also quite limited. Finding the design you want to be stamped on the type of fabric or project you are looking for can be difficult. Counted cross stitch patterns can be used – and reused – on a variety of different fabrics. Counted cross stitch also allows for more detailed projects, with subtle color shadings, personalization, and more. 

Types of Cross Stitch Fabric

Cross stitch requires an even-weave fabric with a clear grid pattern. The most common type of fabric for cross stitch is Aida cloth.

When looking for Aida cloth, pay attention to the fabric count. The fabric count refers to the number of holes per inch, so the smaller the number of the Aida cloth, the larger your x stitches will be. Smaller numbers can be easier for beginners to learn on, but larger numbers can result in a nicer-looking finished product. The most common Aida count for cross stitch is 14.

More experienced cross stitchers can look for higher count even-weave fabrics that are designed for cross stitch. Linen fabrics can also be used, though these often have natural irregularities that will need to be adapted to.

Tighter weaves and linens are more difficult to work with but the finished product has fewer and smaller holes in the unstitched areas, so this is preferred for some types of projects. Craft stores sell a variety of products that have cross-stitchable areas, such as towels, bookmarks, tote bags, and more. 

Finally, you can cross-stitch a design onto almost any fabric with the help of waste cloth. The waste cloth is an even-weave fabric that is designed to unravel and pull apart.

This cloth can be placed over any other type of fabric and used as a guide for placing stitches. When your design is finished, the threads can be pulled out and removed, leaving just the stitches on whatever fabric you chose. This method is especially popular for adding embellishments to clothing.

Types of Cross Stitch Stitches

The basic stitch of cross stitch is the x-shaped stitch. Using only x-shaped stitches can result in very boxy designs, so many patterns call for half (or uncrossed) stitches, as well as quarter stitches in one of the four corners of a box. Designs are often outlined using backstitch.

Occasionally, a french knot will be used to embellish a design, but knots are less common in cross stitch patterns.

Comparing Cross Stitch and Embroidery

Level of Difficulty

Generally speaking, cross stitch is easier than embroidery. While there are certainly simple embroidery patterns that can be completed with just a few basic stitches, and also more complex cross stitch patterns, overall embroidery is more difficult and requires more skills. 

The simplicity of cross stitch is that there is one basic type of stitch. Though there are variations on this stitch, they are all based on the same skill. The grid-like nature of cross stitch leaves no doubt of exactly where the needle should come up and go down. In contrast, learning embroidery can be intimidating because there are many more types of stitches, which use a variety of needle skills to complete.

Supplies Needed

The supplies needed for embroidery and cross-stitch are essentially the same:

  • Fabric to stitch on
  • Embroidery thread (or floss)
  • A needle (embroidery can sometimes require a variety of needles)
  • A hoop to hold the fabric taut
  • A pattern with stitch and thread information (unless you are embroidering freehand, which is not recommended for beginners)
  • Scissors for cutting thread

Advantages of Cross Stitch

The main advantage of cross stitch is its simplicity. It is easy to get started and be successful with your early projects. With a little experience, you can move on to more advanced designs relatively quickly, since the basic skills are all the same. It is easy to find a variety of different patterns and most are beginner-friendly.

Advantages of Embroidery

The diversity of stitches used in embroidery is a big advantage. There is such a variety of different effects that you can learn to produce with thread, meaning that your finished product has rich colors and textures. It takes time to learn, but embroidery can produce amazing works for art on nearly any type of fabric.

Getting Started: Choose Cross Stitch

If you are just beginning your journey into the wonderful world of needlework, then cross stitch is definitely the place to start. The patterns are easy to follow, and the grid-like fabric gives you confidence in where you place your stitches.

You can develop your skills in working with needle and thread as an embellishment on fabric, which is different from sewing seams or mending. Best of all, you can choose to start with small projects that you can finish quickly. Feeling successful will give you the encouragement you need to continue to develop your skills.

Once you feel confident with cross-stitch, you can explore the wider world of embroidery to learn new techniques and expand your hobby. Or, you might just find that you are content to create with cross-stitch since there are so many types of projects available.


Question: Is cross stitch easier than embroidery?

Answer: Generally speaking, yes. Cross stitch requires fewer types of stitches and most people feel the patterns are easier to follow. That said, there are embroidery projects that can be completed with only basic stitches and these are also easy enough for beginners.

Question: Can you embroider on cross-stitch fabric?

Answer: Yes, you can embroider on almost any kind of fabric, especially even-weave fabrics like those made for cross stitch. There are a variety of cross stitch fabrics available, the most common of which is Aida cloth. These can all be used for embroidery.

Question: Do you need an embroidery hoop to cross-stitch?

Answer: Yes. The hoop keeps your fabric taut so that you can easily see which holes to go up and down. It prevents thread tangles and makes sure that your stitches all have about the same tension. A simple hoop makes the task much easier and the result much nicer.

Question: Do cross stitch and embroidery use the same kind of thread? Is this thread different from sewing thread?

Answer: Yes, cross stitch and embroidery both use embroidery thread, or floss. This typically comes in skeins of 6 threads, which can be separated to use for both cross stitch and embroidery. Many patterns recommend stitching with 2 or 3 threads while outlining backstitch is often done with a single thread.
Embroidery floss is different from sewing thread because it is designed to be more decorative than functional.
It comes in many different colors which are numbered to help match the patterns and allow for nuance and shading. Embroidery thread has a sheen and texture to it that enhances the look, but it is not nearly as strong as sewing thread. Sewing thread is stronger but generally not designed to be seen.

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