Where to Start a Cross Stitch Project Using a Pattern

Posted in Stitcher's Guide


Whether you are starting a teeny tiny cross stitch project, or an enormous, full coverage piece, it all starts with the very first stitch. And where you place that single little mark will determine the flow of work for the rest of your project.

There is no wrong place to start, but you might find it easier to keep track of your stitches and of where you are on the chart if you start at a specific location and progress as the pattern dictates. The most common spot where people start their project is either the center, or the top left of their fabric.

You can also follow your sampler from the bottom up, but I have a good reason for never doing that and I’ll explain that a little bit later in the article. First let’s look at the two most common places to start.

Starting Your Pattern From the Center

The most people I know who frequently stitch, like to start their needlework from the center rather than from the top. This method seems to be more popular because it ensures that the center of your design will always match the center of your fabric, and you don’t run the risk of your pattern being slightly off on the finished piece.

Other benefits of this method are:

  • You have multiple options with regards to which way to proceed. If you momentarily run out of a color you need, just make your way in a direction that doesn’t use that specific color
  • Often the focal point on a design is in the dead center, so you get to stitch the most interesting sections early on in the process

If your project is smaller and the pattern is just a simple, one page chart that can fit into an embroidery hoop, then your best bet is to start from the center. Now let’s see how you can do that.

How to Find the Exact Center of Your Fabric

The good news is that no counting is involved whatsoever!

In fact you can do this easily in a few seconds, no matter what size your fabric is cut to. Start with laying your fabric flat on your work surface:

Find Center of Fabric - Step 1

Now fold the fabric in half from the bottom up like I did with mine on the following picture:

Find Center of Fabric - Step 2

If your Aida is starched as they often are, press gently on the fold. This will leave a slight crease on your fabric, which will come out later when you wash your finished piece and prepare it for framing. Now however, this crease will be our guide in finding the center point of our cross stitch fabric.

Once you have your fabric folded in two, turn the left side over to the right, folding it in half once again:

Find Center of Fabric - Step 3

This will give you exactly four layers of fabric, and the point where the folds meet will mark the center point of your cloth. That’s the bottom left corner of the folded Aida or linen, where my mechanical pencil is pointing to in the following picture:

Find Center of Fabric - Step 4

Now you need to mark that center point of your fabric. A regular pencil will work perfectly, or use a water erasable fabric marking pen for this purpose. Be very gentle and go light when marking your Aida, especially if it’s plain white. This dot will wash out later on, but we don’t want to take unnecessary risks here.

Find Center of Fabric - Step 5

And that’s it, you’ve made it! That dot is where you’ll place the very first stitch of your beautiful cross stitch pattern. Now that you have the center point clearly marked, you are ready to thread your needle and get started.

Where to From Here

If your cross stitch pattern calls for larger areas of the same color thread, you might find it faster to sew it with half stitches across the row, then work your way back the other way to complete the stitches.

Starting Your Pattern From the Top Left

Starting on the top left is the preferred method if you have a pattern that spans across multiple pages. By beginning your needlework this way, you can progress through the pages consecutively, keeping your workflow straightforward and predictable.

Placing your first stitch on the top left corner of your Aida or linen has the following benefits:

  • your hand is never on your work so the risk of accidentally pulling out your thread or loosening your stitches is significantly reduced
  • it is easier to visualize if the amount of material you left around your pattern for framing will actually be enough
  • it can give you an early indication of how small or big your finished pattern will be, once you finish stitching a full row of the chart

Where to Place the First Stitch

If you have a full coverage piece, leaving about two inches of fabric around the design should be enough. Take your measuring tape and using a mechanical pencil mark these sides on your fabric. This will wash out later, or will be covered with a frame anyway, but go lightly with the pencil nonetheless.

In cases where your pattern does not cover the fabric entirely, using your ruler find the spot that’s exactly two inches from the top and two inches from the left sides of your fabric. Adjust this distance based on the size of your pattern, but make the margin even if possible.

Start with your fabric laid down flat on your work surface:

Find Top Left of Fabric - Step 1

Now measure an equal distance from the top, and again from the left side of your fabric, and place a mark where the two lines meet like so:

Find Top Left of Fabric - Step 2

This mark will correspond to the very first square in the top left corner of your cross stitch pattern, regardless whether it actually holds a stitch or not.The square that you just marked, is the one that I colored in blue on the pattern that we’re using for this tutorial:

Find Top Left of Fabric - Starting Point Top

Once you have the top left corner marked on your fabric, you can start counting the squares on your sampler. Go ahead and lay down the one stitch closest to your pencil mark in the topmost row:

Find Top Left of Fabric - Step 3

And continue from there, moving forward as your pattern dictates:

Find Top Left of Fabric - Step 4

When I start my projects this way, I like to progress with full stitches through my design, as opposed to laying all half stitches first, and going over the same area again backwards to complete the stitches.

Where to From Here

Once you’ve decided to start your pattern from the top left, there’s one more important decision to make: which way to go from here.

This can either happen horizontally or vertically, depending on how your chart is drawn out. If the pattern you are following has significantly more vertical stitches, start your way downwards with half stitches, then come back up with the same color, completing the stitches. Similarly, if your sampler has a higher number of horizontal stitches, then start out in that direction.

move towards upper left

I start at the center, but choose colors that will get me to the top left corner of the project and then work across from there if thatales any sense

Other Options

Top Center

This method is best for patterns designed around an oval shape, which are usually centered and have more vertical stitches than horizontal. A good example for this type of pattern is my Sleeping Baby Lion, which is 75 stitches high but only 32 stitches wide.

For this specific cross stitch sampler, and all other Baby Animals in this collection, I would start by finding the center of my fabric. From there I would count up to find the stitch that is in the top row, middle column, and start my work from there.

Bottom Right

To use the bottom right portion of your fabric as a starting point, you would start your project very much like I described in the ‘Starting Your Pattern From the Top Left‘ section. The difference is only that the margins you measure with your ruler and the pencil mark you make, will all be on the bottom left. In this case the pencil mark would represent this blue square on our pattern:

Find Top Left of Fabric - Starting Point Bottom

And here’s why I wouldn’t recommend starting from the bottom:

If you go from the bottom up, the side of your hand will always cover and brush over finished sections of your work. This can cause the thread to loosen up and lose that sharp look you worked so hard to achieve.

You also run the risk of rubbing a small amount of oil or dirt from your hands onto the threads and fabric, which can cause unwanted discoloration. This can be especially annoying if you don’t plan to wash your finished piece before framing.

TIP: If despite the drawbacks you would still prefer to start from the bottom, don’t let me stop you! Just start on the opposite side of your working hand and move towards the top. That’s the left side if you’re right-handed, and the right side if the left is your dominant hand.


Most of the time it’s the pattern that decides which approach to use, and no single method is best for all situations. Before you thread your needle take a long, hard look at your pattern. Following the tips you read in this article, use your best judgement to decide where to place that very first stitch.

If you made the decision, let me know in the comments below why you opted for that particular approach, I’d very much like to know! Or if you have a different method for deciding where to start, teach me something new.

I wish you a happy journey in your cross stitch adventure!

Posted In Stitcher's Guide

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