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It happened at least once in every “Learn to Cross Stitch” class. My students would have all their supplies spread out in front of them, and I’d be just starting to demonstrate the stitches, and someone would look at me with huge eyes and blurt out…
“But how is the pattern going to get on the fabric!?”
Typically, when this person got their answer (“Actually never – it doesn’t.”) they’d look like they were questioning their life choices – trying to figure out which decisions led them to this room with me, and this terribly, awfully blank piece of fabric. 😨
I get it – a blank piece of Aida fabric is intimidating. Way more so than a piece of blank, white paper.
At least with paper, you already know how to use a pencil or pen. If I told you to draw something – anything, most people can muster up a basic stick figure or smiley face.
But with cross stitch – you’re learning to do the stitches for the first time too. Add in the fact that everything is completely and totally blank – it feels like it’s ALL on you – it’s understandable that the beginner’s nerves kick into high gear.
It’s normal to be nervous about a blank piece of fabric. But it’s a common misconception that having the pattern pre-printed on the fabric is better, or more “beginner friendly.”
It also doesn’t mean it’s NOT better, but it’s worth understanding the differences between counted cross stitch (that’s what I teach) and stamped cross stitch, so you can choose the type that works better for you.
what are the differences?
First, let’s cover a super basic overview of the difference between stamped cross stitch and counted cross stitch.
Stamped Cross Stitch
Stamped cross stitch and printed cross stitch are two terms that mean the same thing. You may use them interchangeably, though stamped seems a bit more common.
The fabric has a printed design, that you stitch over. Simply look at the fabric’s printed chart and refer to the key (usually located on the edges of the fabric, outside the stitched area) to figure out which color to stitch, and stitch directly over the printed areas of your fabric.
Counted Cross Stitch
When doing counted cross stitch, you have a blank piece of fabric and an accompanying, separate pattern. The pattern has a grid to help as you count along, and typically there’s a mark or arrows to help you identify the pattern’s center.
You find the center of your fabric, which corresponds to the center of the pattern. From there, it’s all about stitching the same number stitches, in the same relative location, as the pattern shows.
So, which is better?
Based on these explanations alone, stamped cross stitch seems better for beginners right?
Ehhh… not necessarily. Like most things – there’s pros and cons to each version of cross stitch.
Now we’re past the basics – let’s get into specifics.
Pattern Choices + Variety
Many cross stitchers have a perception of stamped cross stitch patterns as small, not very detailed, or overly simplistic designs. It might have been true 20 or 30 years ago, but not any more!
There are now various manufacturers of stamped cross stitch kits, and in the past decade some gorgeous stamped designs have come out, with larger, extremely detailed patterns consisting of many dozens of colors per design. There’s often backstitching, too.
An example of an extremely large + detailed stamped cross stitch project.
For this reason alone – many stamped cross stitch projects are actually not beginner friendly AT ALL – so don’t assume “stamped” means it’s simple or easy.
Even though there’s way more choices available now than a generation ago, stamped cross stitch will never catch up to counted cross stitch when it comes to pattern variety. There’s just no comparing the sheer numbers and subject matter.
A simple search on Etsy for “cross stitch pattern” delivers over half a million results. Just on Etsy alone!
In case you’re wondering: The VAST majority of cross stitch patterns found on Etsy are counted cross stitch patterns, because independent designers rarely have the tools + technology needed to accurately print their designs on fabric.
Commonly, stamped cross stitch patterns are sold in complete kits, with the floss provided along with the printed fabric. Counted cross stitch patterns are sold in kits, but are often sold separately or collected into pattern books or in magazines.
Once you buy a counted cross stitch pattern, you own it and can stitch as many projects as you want with it.
However, once you stitch a stamped cross stitch pattern, you can no longer use that design again. The stitching hides the pattern, so stamped cross stitch is one time use.
With stamped cross stitch, the pattern and the fabric are essentially one and the same.
Modern stamped cross stitch patterns typically use water soluble inks.
(That’s a fancy way of saying the ink washes off when dipped into water).
This means there’s a layer of something – ink – on top of the fabric, touching your stitches – and your hands as you work. Some people find stamped cross stitch fabric to be stiff or scratchy, and somewhat unpleasant to work with compared to unstamped fabric. Others like the stiffness. 🤷♀️
A common beginner size of Aida fabric is 14 count (which means there’s 14 stitches in an inch). With stamped cross stitch, the count needs to be somewhat large in order to stamp a design on it, and have it be detailed enough to read + stitch over. Most stamped cross stitch is 11 count, which is pretty large. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something to be aware of.
With counted cross stitch, you can stitch on any fabric, in any count, that you desire. You can stitch on a higher count, or stitch over two squares to change the sizing. Counted cross stitch offers a significantly higher level of flexibility and customization.
Because the ink needs to be able to show up on the fabric, most stamped cross stitch patterns have a light colored (white, cream, beige) background.
If you want to stitch with colorful fabric, counted cross stitch is the way to go! Select any fabric color you wish – including deep purples, rich blues, and jet blacks, which are all colors that would be nearly impossible to stamp a design over.
Stamped cross stitch has a reputation for being lower quality.
It’s not entirely fair, but also not entirely without merit, either.
Printing accuracy is incredibly critical with stamped cross stitch. The manufacturer has to print the design on Aida, and line the squares up so that the printed pattern is exactly over the squares of the fabric.
The slightest mistake and everything is skewed. Seriously – there’s no exaggeration here. If the printing is off by only 1/32nd of an inch – less than a millimeter – the entire grid is ruined and unusable.
Sadly, not all manufacturers take the care + precision needed to deliver a quality product.
I’ve bought numerous stamped cross stitch kits over the years, and found many printed misaligned or blurry. You’re left guessing what you should be stitching and where, which is incredibly frustrating. If the pattern isn’t clear and precise, the whole appeal of stamped cross stitch goes poof. 😩
Beyond the quality of the printing, the water soluble ink must also be high quality. Nothing is more heartbreaking than spending dozens of hours stitching a project, completing it, and then realizing your ink isn’t going to completely wash out. 😭
Sadly, it’s very difficult to know if the ink is high quality until you test it, and you really can’t easily test it until you’re done stitching. If you’ve been burned by bad ink in the past, it’s a tough gamble to take.
It’s necessary to select high quality kits from well respected companies when choosing any cross stitch project – but especially with stamped cross stitch. If you’re not sure, read the reviews and ask for advice in a cross stitch community on Facebook or Reddit.
PATTERN (CHART) APPEARANCE
In cross stitch, designs commonly use many shades of the same color to create lovely depth + effects. For example, you may have a dark green, a medium green, a light green and a very light green, all in the same area of the pattern.
Counted cross stitch pattern designers (at least good ones!) make it as easy as they can on stitchers by choosing very distinctly different symbols to differentiate the various greens.
But with stamped cross stitch, designers have a harder time. The human eye can’t clearly see the difference between just slight changes in the color of ink – and it’s often hard to accurately print those subtle changes, too.
Then, add in the fact that they simply don’t have as much space to fit complex symbols compared to a paper pattern, plus that the symbols they do use need to be crisp and clear when stamped. It’s tricky!
So designers choose to print using ink colors that don’t match the color of the floss. An area that’s printed with hot pink ink may actually be stitched over with a very dark green floss.
it’s normal and expected
And not all that different from counted cross stitch.
The key STILL clearly tells you which color goes where.
This Amazon reviewer doesn’t understand how stamped cross stitch works.
And their issues with the grid are solved when they wash it.
But for some reason, there are people who expect stamped cross stitch to have the floss colors match EXACTLY. It’s easy to find some really unfair reviews on stamped kits where people are whining about having the colors not match the floss.
Simply put, it’s not always possible.
Yes, it does mean that you might see some of that hot pink ink between your dark green stitches for a little while. But after you wash it, it’ll be fine. 🤷♀️
This point isn’t a positive or negative for either style of cross stitch.
It’s mentioned to set proper expectations.
If it would drive you crazy to stitch a floss color over a completely different ink color – steer clear of stamped cross stitch. 😅
THE WATER FACTOR
Stamped cross stitch projects typically have water soluble ink and NEED to be soaked + washed after completing. The pattern, grid and key are often right on the fabric, and you have to remove it.
I repeat: You. have. to. wash. the. printed. ink. off. the. project.
Yet another Amazon reviewer who didn’t know what stamped cross stitch was before they bought.
You gotta wash the project!
Some people wash every project they stitch – stamped or counted cross stitch makes no difference. Others just iron, and others do nothing unless it’s needed.
It’s extra time + work with stamped cross stitch that’s absolutely necessary for a good finished project, so it’s something to consider.
Also, while you’re stitching any stamped project – you have to make sure you’re keeping your hands dry. Damp hands could potentially smear the ink (your pattern or the key) while you’re still working on the project. 🤦♀️
STITCHING THE PROJECT
With stamped cross stitch projects, you can jump in and get started. You can pick any color you like, find that color anywhere on the fabric, and begin stitching. ⭐
Counted cross stitch has a little more prep work at the beginning. Most small projects are stitched from the center out, so you have to find the middle of your piece of fabric. Then you look at the center mark of your pattern and choose a floss color that’s nearby.
From there, you’re always counting the number of stitches the pattern says to do of each color. Typically you’ll work in rows or columns, and count along as you stitch.
Most people find it easy to mark off the stitches they’ve done on a paper pattern. There’s also software that can help you keep track.
When you’re working a stamped cross stitch pattern, you can jump around and stitch any area of the pattern you like at any time.
But with a counted cross stitch pattern, that’s generally not a great idea. If you jump around, you have to count the number of squares you want to jump.
Bigger distances means more counting, which also means it’s more likely you’ll miscount. Often, a counted cross stitch pattern is done from the middle out, without jumping around a lot.
As far as stitching speed goes, counted cross stitch is generally slower. Because you’re not looking back and forth at the pattern, and there’s no counting, you’ll likely stitch faster doing a stamped cross stitch, compared to a counted cross stitch.
so, which one is best!?
for beginners, it’s a simple choice
It was an easy choice to choose counted cross stitch when teaching to total beginners.
In fact, I built my business around that decision. 😉
I know it means that I’m going to have some wide-eyed students who are completely petrified by the blank fabric. But they’re always comfortable by the end of the class – and that’s what matters.
Counted cross stitch is my choice because it’s easier to find (and complete) beginner projects. And when students learn counted cross stitch, they’re set up with skills to tackle any type of cross stitch project they desire. If they want to move over to a stamped project, they can.
There still just isn’t enough availability and variety for beginner level stamped projects.
I looked for a stamped cross stitch kit that’s truly simple + easy, and would meet the “beginner friendly” criteria that I’ve used for years. It was extremely hard to find one. And the ones I did find probably wouldn’t appeal to most students.
And that’s truly critical: stitching something that doesn’t appeal to you is zero fun. You want to feel PROUD of what you’re stitching. Not stitching it because it was the best of 3 kind of crappy options you could find hanging on the rack.
The absolute most important thing is to enjoy your time spent cross stitching.
If you don’t love the pattern you’re stitching, it’s going to be really hard to enjoy the process. 🤷♀️
For all those reasons, I still highly recommend counted cross stitch to beginners.
If you’re ready to learn counted cross stitch, download my free Cross Stitch roadmap. It’s made specifically for beginners, with great tips + advice.
in the end, it’s just preference
It’s often not the answer anybody wants to hear, but there is no “right” or “wrong” choice when it comes to stamped versus counted cross stitch.
The answer is simply to choose what feels right FOR YOU.
If after reading this post, you strongly feel that one is better than the other – then you’ve got your answer! 👍