Is Cross Stitch And Embroidery The Same Thing?

Cross stich and embroidery might seem like the same thing, but to say one is different from the other might be missing the point just a bit. 

Embroidery is the catch-all term referring to the art and craft of using needles and thread to decorate almost any kind of material.  There are different types of embroidery such as Machine, Hand, Cross-stick, Needlepoint, and many others. For more information about Embroidery click here.

In this article, we will focus on two specific terms to give some clarity: Cross Stitch vs Embroidery. This can help you determine which type of project you want to do and help clarify any confusion you may have.

Let’s Start with Embroidery

Embroidery by hand and by machine are two ways to pull needles through the thread.  When most people think of embroidery, they probably can imagine a hat where their grandmother sewed their name on the back.  Or maybe a patch on a jacket that gave it a totally unique style. Embroidery is an art that basically is like painting with thread. You start with a pattern and with the color of floss, you fill in the pattern using different stitch patterns and surface embroidery techniques.

As much as it is a lost art, it is also seeing a re-invention in recent years with the popularity of embroidered hats and t-shirts in younger fashion scenes. Many people today use cotton embroidery floss to customize old sweatshirts or plain tote bags. 

One can give you a polished, uniform look – by machine.  The other can give you a more artisanal, personalized look – by hand.

Machine Embroidery

Embroidery by machine is among the largest aesthetic crafting done on planet Earth.  Think about all the clothes or baggage you’ve seen with a company logo or a TV show character on it.  It’s all over the place.

The ones that look very refined with sharp edges are likely to have been done by machine. 

It’s a design created by the computer, with dimensions and specific proportions in software, that are produced with high accuracy by a sewing machine controlled by that software.

Machine embroidery is not just for commercial use. Personal embroidery machines for home are a novel way to enliven your imagination or give you a creative outlet if hand embroidery is just not your thing.

If you have an embroidery brand or even just a fervent hobby, a home embroidery machine can be a real asset.  From the variety of stitch types to the stitches per inch, an embroidery machine gives you a sturdier stitch with a sharp needle that makes tighter stitches.

Besides zigzag sewing or manual design, most commercial machines utilize link stitching, which gives the machine a high amount of control with precise shaping. Not to mention the benefit of adding many more stitches per inch in comparison to the time that same amount would take by hand.

Another benefit of machine embroidery is the computerized storing of files so that you can save previous patterns to either use again later or innovate off of. Thanks to computer programming, it is possible to take virtually any image you find online, throw it into the software, and turn it into an embroidered piece.  On any range of fabrics no less.  Endless possibilities.

With multiple heads, a variety of types of needles and threads intertwined, some complex machines can allow you to create patterns that would take much more time by hand.

In general, embroidery machines use a high stitch-count, in comparison to by hand, which tends to work better with polyester-based fabrics. Polyester is a synthetic fabric that can stand up to an embroidery machine because of the strength of its construction, and thicker designs from its stitches per inch.

Thicker, heavier embroidery images require a tougher fabric. Here are some fabrics that can tolerate an embroidery machine well:

  • Quilting cotton
  • Wool
  • Denim
  • Polyester
  • Canvas

Hand Embroidery

In the other half of the embroidery world, you have hand embroidery, which means many things to many people. Some view it as a therapeutic activity, others see it as a skill to hone.  In any case, hand embroidery is a unique and creative way to pull a needle through the thread that will always come out, if even just slightly, different every time. The colored floss makes for a versatile art that can help pass the time and also is a decorative art form that can liven up any piece of fabric. 

By its nature, each hand embroidered object will reflect more subjectivity and the “imperfect perfection” of the fingers and soul that created it. The colourful embroidery thread moves with each stitch to essentially “color in” the pattern using the choice of threads into the finished design. 

In a practical sense, hand embroidery can be used with more delicate fabrics.

Some examples of the more delicate type of fabrics include:

  • 100% Cotton
  • Weaver’s cloth
  • Quilting cotton fabric
  • Felt

Hand embroidery is probably the most basic stitch method out there since sewing needles and thread is something a wide range of people will learn at some point in life.  It is the easiest way to add designs on fabric, of any kind really.  With many kinds of stitches, it is also the most versatile form of embroidery and can provide many different designs.

A portable aspect of hand embroidery is the added mobility that comes with the ability to bring your thread and frames with you wherever you go. It’s really convenient not to have to lug a whole embroidery machine with you wherever you go.

Obviously, it is much lighter weight, and doesn’t require an electrical outlet – just the spark from within!

Among the most appealing reasons to hand embroider are all the different knots and types of stitches you can use in your designs.  The ability to switch between them quickly and in any way or direction is the advantage you will always have. 

Thread painting, the practice of using different thread colors to compose a colorful image, is an art form that gets so much flexibility with hand embroidery.  Blending short and long stitches together helps to smoothen the colors together.

Some common stitch methods include: the backstitch, herringbone stitch, french knot, satin stitch, lazy daisy, among many others.   Stitches such as the herringbone stitch, cast-on stitch, and pinwheel rose are a more raised stitch, giving more texture and dimension to the finished product.

Now Let’s Look at Cross-Stitch

Since we’ve gone through the difference between machine and hand embroidery, now we can explain what a cross-stitch is.  A form of hand embroidery, the cross-stitch uses x-shaped threading to create a tiled pattern.  The resulting image has a unique look that can only be created with this style of embroidery.

By using an x-shaped stitch pattern with the threading, the cross-stitch has an overall boxier, pixelated look to it.  With geometric squared-off edges, stair-stepping, and diagonal stitch leading lines, this is what makes the style so unique.

The cross-stitch fabric is stretched by a hoop which keeps it taut so that the patterning stays tight.

With cross stitch projects, the backing fabric color is important to the overall feeling of the piece, so keep that in mind.  Aida is a commonly used backing fabric because it is composed of woven blocks meant to “aid” you in cross-stitching.  Aida is available in anywhere from 8 to 20 block per inch rolls.

Some will utilize stamping in cross-stitch, where a pattern is printed on top of the fabric so that the embroiderer can use it to guide their thread placements. Others have used counting or cross stitch charts to help cross-stitch, where the embroiderer counts out the stitches from side to side to ensure evenness in the final look.

In general, cross-stitch fabrics are often created by “count,” the number of threads or stitches per inch, where higher counts will result in finer stitching and vice versa. There are many different cross stitch patterns from beginner simple cross stitches to more complex cross stitch patterns for a more detailed look.

Cross-stitching is a good style of embroidery for beginners to work on.  It is a simple stitch method, really only consists of one type of stitchwork, with a fixed pattern.  The most variability will come with counting out the stitches from side to side.  That’s where a stamp can help so it becomes a form of tracing the pattern, so to speak.

Cross stitch vs. Embroidery needle - What's the difference? - Embroidery Supplies Bundle

In Conclusion

So what is the difference between a cross-stitch and embroidery? It’s that embroidery is the overall umbrella term for the art of designing thread on fabric, while the cross-stitch is a type of embroidery – a style of hand embroidery. Easy! One is part of the whole. Both are part of needlepoint projects and are helpful terms to know to make the best thread embroidery projects.