How to Decorate Knits with Cross Stitch

Do you know that feeling when you realise that the project you’ve just finished is too plain, or worse yet, dull and boring? When the design that you imagined to be “fashionably minimalistic” turned out “artless”? I had that feeling when I finished a pair of socks a few weeks ago. Ugh!

When something like this happens, we have several choices:

1. Throw this project into a deep corner of a closet and pretend it never existed (basically, wasting the supplies and the time you spent making it)

2. Unravel this project to at least salvage the yarn that in fact, will never get re-used because the look of that yarn brings the unhappy memories of this project.

3. Make a poker face and gift or wear this project no matter what (while still feeling miserable inside).

4. Decorate this project and gift or wear it feeling happy about yourself.

I am a big fan of “making do”, and whenever a project seems to be plain, I add a bit of embroidery on it. I’ve done it quite a few times over the years, and every time embroidery works like a charm turning a simple project into a one-of-a-kind designer creation.

One of my favourite ways to decorate knits is cross stitch. It is perfect for knitted fabric because it requires similar elements that are easy to distinguish and count (stitches and rows!) and it doesn’t affect the stretch of the fabric.

Besides, cross stitch creates a beautiful “cottage-y” look that highlights the cosiness of the knits.

Here’s a photo of the two plain socks I mentioned above – one of them has a bit of embroidery on it, while the other one is still waiting for its turn to get some special treatment:

See how much difference a few cross stitches make? Now let’s get a closer look at how it works.


We won’t need much – a piece of scrap yarn in a colour that looks nice with the colour of your project, a wool needle, scissors and a few pins or removable markers. 

If you plan to embroider a colourful design, use yarn in several colours. It all depends on the motif you choose.


Any design that is drawn on a grid will do. These could be designs for cross stitch, duplicate stitch, intarsia, Fair Isle, needlepoint or filet crochet. 

Pay attention to the number of stitches and rows in your design and try to understand how it will work with the number of stitches and rows in the project that you plan to decorate.

Once you are happy with your choice, print out the chart. My chart is very simple – the motif is only five stitches wide and five rows high:

A motif like this is perfect for smaller projects like socks, mittens and hats. You can easily arrange a few motifs in vertical or horizontal stripes, or embroider a cluster of them to make a visual accent in one part of the project (for example, at one side of a hat).


1. Decide where you will embroider the motif on your project. You probably made this decision while you were searching for cross stitch designs, but I’ll mention this step anyway because it is a crucial one.

2. Mark the centre of that spot with a pin or a removable marker.

3. Count the number of stitches and rows down and to the right of the first pin to find a place for the first cross stitch at the bottom right side of the chart. Mark that stitch with another pin or marker.

For my chart, I’ll count two rows down and one stitch to the right.

Usually, one cell on a chart means one stitch and one row. For more prominent cross stitches, work each of them over one stitch and two rows.

Here’s a photo that shows the difference between 1-row and 2-row cross stitches:

4. We’ll start working from the first stitch at the bottom right side of the chart. Thread a piece of yarn in the colour of that stitch into a wool needle. This is our working yarn.

With the right side of the work facing to you, insert the wool needle into a random spot that is a few rows below the first stitch, and out of the work in the bottom left corner of the stitch. 

Watch how to do it in a video tutorial

Pull the yarn through leaving a small tail at the front of the work. We’ll move this tail to the wrong side of the work to weave it in as soon as we finish the embroidery.

Remove the pins that mark the first stitch and the centre of the motif. 

5. Now insert the wool needle into a spot that is one stitch to the right and one row up from the working yarn, and take the needle out of the work in a place that is one row above the working yarn.

Pull the yarn through creating the first diagonal stripe across the stitch. Here’s how it works.

6. To finish off the first cross stitch and start the next one, insert the wool needle into a spot that is one stitch to the right and one row down from the working yarn. Now look at the chart and find the placement of the next stitch in the first row. 

As you’ve probably guessed, we will follow the chart the same way we follow a knitting chart – from right to left.

Pull the needle out of the work in the bottom left corner of the next stitch. In my chart, the next stitch is one stitch to the left of the first stitch, so I take the wool needle out in the bottom left corner of it.

Pull the yarn through but don’t pull it too tight. It’s ok for the stitches to be a bit three-dimensional. This way the embroidery will look full and bright.

Now repeat steps 5 and 6 to embroider the next stitch. 

Once you finish the first row of the chart, turn your work upside down and work on the second row of the chart. Then turn your work again for the third row. 

Watch how I work through each row of my chart in the video tutorial I made for you.

If you chart is big, use a magnetic guide to keep track of your current row on a chart.

Keep working stitches row after row until you have a lovely embroidered design decorating your “not-boring-any-more” project. 

Once you finish cross stitching, move all yarn tails to the wrong side of the work and weave them in within the part of the work covered by embroidery.

This way the wrong side of the work will look neater, and there is no chance that the yarn you used for embroidery will show through the fabric.

The full PDF version of this tutorial is a part of the Knitting Collection #2. Once you order your copy of this collection, you will instantly receive a “big PDF” (304 pages!) with this and 41 other tutorials included in the collection.

You will also receive two e-books and three knitting patterns as a special bonus, so go ahead and get it all right now before you forget 😊

If you enjoyed this tutorial,
here’s something else you might find helpful:

“Matching Cast Ons and Bind Offs” Book

Discover six pairs of cast on and bind off methods that form identical edges on projects worked flat and in the round.

“Neat Side Edges” Book

Learn twelve ways to make side edges of a knitted project nice and tidy. Plus, ways to fix side edges, and a way to improve edges of finished projects.

Happy knitting!

Maryna Shevchenko -

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