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I'm planning to start a cross stitch project soon using one of the online cross stitch pattern creators so that I can use an image of my choice instead of finding an existing pattern that I like.

The pattern creator wants me to fill in the white space with actual white stitches rather than leaving the spaces empty, which is what I usually see in cross stitch patterns. I'm guessing that it may be due to a failure in the pattern maker - it is programmed to fill in all spaces - but I wanted to check.

What are the benefits of filling in all of the white space, if any? Is it even standard practice ever or is it actually more common to leave the space white.

I know that not filling it in will save me a ton of time but if there's a compelling reason to do it, I might consider it more seriously.

  • Do you intend to frame the finished project, or incorporate into something else (e.g. a pillow)? – Erica Nov 27 '16 at 13:26
  • Frame it. That's actually a really good point. A pillow would make more sense with all of the squares stitched. – Catija Nov 27 '16 at 13:43
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All of the cross stich projects I've done did not fill in the background with a solid color. This is typical in embroidery -- the design itself is stitched in, and the base fabric is used as the background. Not only is this faster and simpler for the crafter, it helps the design stand out from the background both texturally and visually.

1805 sampler by Catharine Ann Speel

Sampler by Catharine Ann Speel, photo from the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The only exception I can imagine to this is a pillow or other item that might be handled; if you want to have a smoother feel to the finished project, fill in every square (particularly since cross stich canvas is often quite stiff). Again, though, this isn't necessary -- the two pillows I made that included a cross stitch pattern were much more for display than cuddling, and therefore the background was left unstitched.

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I'm not a cross-stitcher, my sister is, but the thing that would make me hesitate to not fill in the white is really tied to appearance in two ways:

  1. The thread rises above the surface of the canvas and so not filling in where it is white will tend to create a "bald" appearance as a result of light, with apparent shadows. I've noticed this with partial works my sister has on the go.

  2. Sheen. Thread typically has a different sheen than the canvas material used as the base. With the light, as above, it's not going to look like the surrounding areas.

I guess the last comment I would make is to decide if time is really what's important here. I'm assuming it a bit, but I would hazard you're doing this to not only produced some nice works but to also enjoy and relax. If so, just enjoy and relax with the white thread too. :)

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  • The white is the background so it's already negative space. I wouldn't do this for white parts of the pattern... I may not have been clear about that. – Catija Nov 26 '16 at 23:34
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Allowing the underlying material to remain exposed is largely a matter of preference. Generally, a low count Aida, will look unfinished if not completely cross-stitched, whereas, a high count Aida, decorative canvases, and linens will tend to look more "finished" without a cross-stitched background.

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It depends on the quality of the white in the picture and the white of the canvas.

If the white in the picture is meant to be true white, like snow or the glint in an eye, it is worth to stitch it with pure white thread.
But if it is just 'not part of the picture' as you often have in cross stitch (and other embroidery) work you can easily leave it open.

I think it is a case of seeing the picture and the white in it, and the colour of the canvas, to see whether you need to embroider those bits.

In a sampler you will never fill all the canvas. In a pillow you will usually fill all. In pictures to be framed, as you seem to make, you are free to fill or not, as you see fit with the colours you work with.

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