Embroidery vs Cross Stitch: Examining The Difference (2023 Guide)

If you like to work your hands and are new to cross stitch and needlepoint work, it can be confusing to get your head around what’s what.

With so many options such as knitting, crocheting, cross stitch, as well as sewing and embroidery, there’s a lot to get your head around.

There are so many different types of needle craft! There are many a thread you can pull so I’m sure you’ll find one that fits your style.

Read on, so we can explore everything you need to know about embroidery vs cross stitch

What is embroidery?

Sewing Multi Color Design Into a Fabric

Embroidery is a needlework craft that dates thousands of years back. I’ve always been interested in its rich history.

It’s a handcraft art form where thread decorates fabrics with a needle in intricate designs, embellishments, or patterns.

Styles of embroidery are passed down through generations as cultural traditions.


Some of the earliest embroidery can be seen related to Native American clothing, in King Tut’s tomb, and in ancient China.

It’s an artwork, which can span over a vast range of fabric, and some who embroider say it is therapeutic, as you are decorating fabric by using your hands!

There are many different types of embroidery, and a skill that was once only done by hand now has machines made to help speed up the process.

Embroidery methods:


The art of hand embroidering is a traditional technique used to decorate or embellish an item to personalize it.

With the practice of this type of embroidery comes mastery of technique.

If you want to start learning hand embroidery, trying online embroidery classes can be a good start.

Thread Count

When creating hand stitch embroidery, a material with a thread count of 28 or higher will need to be used.

This is especially if the design will hold heavy fabrics, such as buttons or ribbons.


Embroiderers used to decorate the edges of royal clothes with embroidery designs using just a needle and thread.


Beautiful Blue Floral Pattern
Beautiful Blue Floral Pattern

While the technique has remained the same, nowadays embroiders can buy embroidery patterns to follow.

Stitch embroidery kits are becoming increasingly popular, containing everything that a beginner would need to get started.

Machine embroidery

Embroidery that looks very refined and neat and features sharp edges has most likely been sewn by a machine.

In 1828, after the rise of sewing during the Middle Ages, the first embroidery machine was created to allow embroiderers to complete garments for mass production.

Machines will embroider over almost every type of fabric and allow a shorter machine embroidery time.


Technological advances in computer software can enable you to alter the dimensions and specific proportions of a design, and then send the design to be sewn with a high accuracy sewing machine.

They also have a memory function, which will allow them to store the embroidery file of that pattern to use again later – pretty cool!

Machine Embroidery

Machine embroidery is seen in commercial environments but is increasingly popular for home personalization and home businesses.

Many home machines have a hybrid feature of both stitching and embroidery.

Helpfully, these will finish adding an embellishment in a fraction of the time it would take to hand embroider.

What is embroidery cross stitch?

Close Up of Owl Cross Stitch Pattern
Close Up of Owl Cross Stitch Pattern

Cross stitch is a form of embroidery, but it’s classed as stitch needlework.

The person embroidering by needlepoint and cross stitching uses a series of x-shaped stitches to create an image or picture on fabric.

It is a counted thread embroidery to ensure continuity of an image, and to ensure each stitch is identical in size.

How Cross Stitch and Needlepoint Work

Cross stitch and embroidery are generally formed on a stiff fabric that has visible small holes in it.

This helps the embroiderer guide the needlepoint with the x-shaped stitches, and calculate the stitches to envision and execute designs.

Aida Fabric

Aida is a commonly used fabric composed of blocks, which are meant to help you in the cross stitching process.

Cross stitch fabric is held in a hoop, which helps hold the fabric taut so the patterning stays tight.

With cross stitch projects, the pattern begins in the center of the fabric, and the color of the backing will also play a role in the overall feeling of the piece.

Square Count

A counted cross stitch pattern is normally followed, showing how many ‘squares’ or cross stitches to do in each color.

The finished product is usually a flat design, unlike embroidery which usually has some texture to it.

Cross Stitch and Embroidery Tips

Hamster Cross Stitch Pattern

Patterns can either be followed by eye, via a counting chart, or cross stitch chart where you count out the stitches from each side to the center of the fabric, ensuring evenness in the final look.

Alternatively, a pattern can be stamped onto a fabric to prepare a guide for the placement of threads.

Cross stitch methods:

The cross stitch, half stitch, and backstitch are the basic techniques used frequently in embroidery.

The stitch cross forms little ‘x’ shaped stitches on each square of fabric.

By having an x-shaped stitch pattern with the threading, a cross stitch has an overall boxy and slightly pixelated look to it.

Two popular methods when it comes to cross stitch are:

Cross country

This is where only one color is used at a time during a cross stitch. The stitches are uniform in size and appearance.

This technique is most commonly used for filling in block areas of the same color by needlepoint.


Different length stitches can help to blend in the colors better!


Where one section of the pattern is sewn at a time, and the last color of threads is stuck into the material to be used in the next block to blend the colors.

To help you visualize the process better, check out this informative video about cross country and parking method.

Cross Country and Parking in Cross-Stitch

What is the difference between embroidery vs cross stitch?

Embroidery encompasses pretty much all needlepoint related work.

We can find items that have been cross stitched dating back to the Middle Ages, Ancient Babylon, and Ancient China.

Cross Stitch

Cross stitch is embroidery because needles and thread are used to create an image on fabric, but the difference is the vast majority of stitches are in the form of an X shape and you can build these up to create the design.

Cross stitch typically uses short stitches in basic grid patterns that have been stamped out already.


Cross stitching will be done on aida cloth, and will typically start from the center of an embroidery hoop to help with the counting of stitches on either side.


Embroidery crafts use a variety of needles to weave a series of long and short stitches to help blend colors together.

There are hundreds of different knots and stitching when it comes to embroidery, and using it doesn’t rely on a graph or counting stitches.

Machine Embroidery

Machine embroidery is a popular modern choice, whereas cross stitch can only be done by hand.

Patterns for both techniques can be printed onto the materials before the needlepoint begins.

Hand embroidery

Making an Embroidery of a Human Portrait
Making an Embroidery of a Human Portrait

Hand embroidery will always come out with (even if only a slight) difference every time.

The colored floss makes for an interesting and versatile art form that can help pass the time.

In a practical sense, hand embroidery can be used with and is a favorite with more delicate materials.

It’s probably the easiest way to add a design on fabrics of any kind.


There are many types of stitches that can be used to create completely unique designs – not to mention that hand embroidery is portable and can be taken anywhere with you! Blending long and short stitches together helps to smoothly join two different colors together.

Which one is easier?

That depends on your needlepoint skills, hand eye coordination, and of course patience! Most commonly, cross stitch is easiest if the design is plotted out across a stiff canvas and is relatively easy to follow.

Machine Embroidery

Machine embroidery can be much simpler though, as the design can be pre-programed into the software and will run by itself.

Hand Embroidery

Hand embroidery can seem more complicated, as there are so many variations in techniques used.

Overall, it’s going to vary person to person what style they prefer.

Some enjoy doing the work by hand, while others prefer to let the machine do the heavy lifting!

If you’re the former and in need of new and exciting hand embroidery projects, you should try a subscription box.

Materials used

Embroidery Materials
Embroidery Materials

Cross stitch and embroidery are pretty similar techniques and require the same tools – needles, threads, and fabrics.

Cross stitch generally requires thicker or stiffer canvas to make it easier to follow a counted square design.

With embroidery, you will typically need an embroidery hoop to hold the material taut while you sew.

An embroidery machine will come with an embroidery hoop attached.

Are embroidery and cross stitch threads and fabrics the same?

Yes, technically, but instead of using the full 6 strings as we see with hand embroidery, you would normally only use two of the strands of cotton floss for cross stitching.

Thicker, heavier embroidery images require thicker and tougher fabrics due to the high stitch amount – heavier than floss.

If a machine is being used for an embroidery project, regular stitching thread can be used for stitching.

What other types of embroidery are there?

Technically when you are using a needle and thread to create any type of design or pattern on fabrics, it is considered embroidery.

Needlepoint – this uses squares on fabrics to create designs with a range of stitches such as the satin stitch, and uses stiff and heavy canvas fabric to create a woven look.

Crewel embroidery – this uses wool and woven fabric to create designs and uses a variety of stitches.

Pulled thread embroidery – where the thread is pulled very tightly to create a hole in the canvas fabric. A pattern is then embroidered around the hole to create a very unique look!

Cutwork embroidery – this style uses cut-out fabric shapes with stitching around them.


When looking in detail at embroidery vs cross stitch, we learned that term embroidery encompasses many different techniques, including cross-stitch.

Supplies for embroidery and cross-stitch are inexpensive and the techniques range from basic to advanced, so it’s an easier skill to pick up and get familiar with.

Most people have a preference for needlepoint crafts embroidery and cross stitch.

Which one is yours?

You May Also Like