How To Read A Counted Cross Stitch Chart

Many of our non-stitching friends who have visited us while we have been  busy Cross Stitching have first commented ‘oh that’s lovely!’ when seeing the work, their next comment is always ‘ohh, I couldn’t do that, it looks so complicated’ when seeing the Cross Stitch chart itself. Well it’s not complicated at all. When first glancing at a counted Cross Stitch chart, especially the larger ones, it does look complicated but that’s because they glance and don’t look.

Anyone that can read can read a counted Cross Stitch chart. A Cross Stitch chart is just symbols in squares on graph paper. The squares represent the stitches on your fabric and the symbols represent the color of thread to use. That’s it. Nothing complicated in there at all.

There are literally thousands of Cross Stitch charts available on the internet from very simple motifs to larger fine art pictures in Cross Stitch. These are downloadable in PDF form, some are colored and some in black and white, but all will give you a ‘key’ to work from.  The ‘key’ will tell you which symbol belongs to which color thread and how many strands of thread to use.

Other great places for charts are Cross Stitching magazines and many have a free kit too, great for trying your first attempt at Cross Stitch. These free kits come with everything you need to complete, usually even including a card with an aperture and an envelope.

Example cross stitch chart and keyHere we have an made an example free Cross Stitch chart so we can explain in more detail. To the side is the key, or legend. You can see that the cross stitch chart is full of symbols, or in this case letters and numbers. These symbols could be anything but we thought it easier to use symbols that we are able to type in our explanation on this website. On a normal Cross Stitch chart you will also have instructions on thread and fabric to use. For this example it would say to use 14 count Aida fabric and 2 strands of stranded cotton.

You can see here also that there are thicker black lines on the chart marking 10 by 10 squares. The center stitches are the block of four (V) symbols, so you would start stitching this pattern using DMC #3777 stranded cotton thread, which is dark red on the key next to the (V) symbol.

Now depending on whether you stitch the bottom two (V) or the top two will decide where you go next, it doesn’t matter either way. Now diagonally you can see more (V) symbols which you can carry on stitching. Now it is easier to understand why this is called counted Cross Stitch as you count the stitches, or the gaps in that color thread, as you go along.

Example counted cross stitch completed designThis is the finished design. Of course you could choose any combination of colors you wish for this design and even follow the pattern on and make it bigger. This example is 20 stitches by 20 stitches. Feel free to print or copy this to practice with using any 5 colors you wish.

As we have said before, there are thousands of free Cross Stitch charts on the internet for you to choose from and the same number you can buy. Some top designers only sell the chart and not the whole kit. The Mirabilia design on the history page is one that was bought as a chart and then over the time  of  stitching you can buy more threads so you don't have to buy all in one go although you can now buy Mirabilia kits.

Here are also some great books on how to Cross Stitch which include charts too.

You can of course buy complete counted Cross Stitch kits with everything you need in them to complete the project, fabric, threads, chart, full instructions and even a needle.  Please see the kits page for more information on counted Cross Stitch kits.

You can download the above example chart in PDF form here.

Example 1-Reading A Chart