The Myth of the Vertical Thread

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I was pretty sure I was right about this. After all, I have been mentioning it to my students for over thirty years. But tonight I decided to make sure I am right.

If you begin a traditional cross stitch “over two” next to a horizontal thread, will it slip out of sight? Do you always have to begin next to a vertical thread? My answer has always been, and based on my little experiment, will always be, “no and no.”

Let’s be clear about terminology first. Stitching “over two” means that each stitch will be two linen threads high and two linen threads wide. The “vertical” thread (aka the “upright” thread) is the one going up and down and the “horizontal thread” is the one going side to side.

I am using flower thread for this experiment. The results would be the same if I used two strands of floss. The close-up photos are more clear with the flower thread.

Since we all know that starting next to a vertical thread is the correct way to begin, all my efforts were made starting next to a horizontal thread to see if that could possibly also be a correct way to begin.

With the first half cross, I tugged and tried to manipulate the flower thread to slip under the linen thread and couldn’t do it.

I did a short row of three, starting each one next to the horizontal thread.

The row of three completed cross stitches.

Please consider:

  • If you are left-handed, and you begin next to a vertical thread, you are actually stitching over the horizontal thread first.
  • If you turn any piece of linen just 90 degrees, the vertical becomes the horizontal and the horizontal becomes the vertical.

Why do I care so much?
When I am teaching cross stitchers to enjoy stitches beyond the traditional cross, I am often asking them to (gasp!) stitch “over three” or “over five” and when you stitch over an odd number of threads, some of those stitches are going to begin next to a horizontal thread. And just about every time, someone in the class gets that deer-in-headlights look and simply cannot go against their training to always begin next to a vertical thread. That’s when a tool becomes an impediment.

So let’s talk about using the vertical or horizontal thread as a tool.
When stitching the entire project “over two” it is helpful to notice where you begin. If it is next to a vertical thread, always start next to a vertical thread. If it is next to a horizontal thread, always start next to a horizontal thread. In this way, your leading thread keeps you stitching “over two.” It serves as an early warning device that you have stitched over three or maybe even over one somewhere in that row.

Do you need to change your way of stitching?
Absolutely not. All I ask is that you understand why you are doing it this way and to please, please, stop telling those who begin next to a horizontal thread that they are doing it wrong!

Stitch. Enjoy. Love.


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