This is a tutorial for a cross-stitched pride-flag patch in a simple stripe design. Please first read the Beginner’s Guide at Red Gate Stitchery if you’re unfamiliar with cross stitch, as this tutorial is about the construction of the patches, not a comprehensive guide to cross stitch itself.
You’ll also need to know how to sew a closed blanket/buttonhole stitch or over/whip stitch. Either works, as long as you can keep each new stitch close beside the previous one. Red Ted Art has a series of videos on basic hand stitches, including over stitch and blanket stitch. My preference is for buttonhole stitch (a closed blanket stitch), as I sew through the twists/knots at the top of each stitch when attaching the patch to my bag.
I recommend practising your chosen stitch on the edges of scrap fabric before starting your first patch.
It should be noted that I am Australian, all items come from Australian vendors, and all prices cited are in AUD. Mentioned products/brands may not be available in your region.
- Embroidery floss in the colours of your chosen flag
- Embroidery floss in an additional matching or contrasting colour for the patch’s border
- Aida fabric (11-count or 14-count is best)
- Scissors (I use small embroidery scissors for trimming thread and a larger pair for cutting the aida)
- Blunt-ended tapestry needle (see below for sizes)
- Sharp-ended embroidery or chenille needle (of similar diameter or gauge to your tapestry needle)
Optional but Recommended:
- Stitch ripper (for unpicking the inevitable mistakes)
- Small crochet hook (I use a 1.5 mm hook from the dollar shop)
- Fray Check, fabric stiffener or clear nail polish for coating edges, especially if your aida is prone to fraying (not pictured)
Cheap, white aida is best: the stiffer and more plastic-feeling the fabric, the easier it is to sew. I prefer dollar-shop cloth when I can find it, but Sullivans’ pre-cut aida packs ($8-$10 AUD at Lincraft) are also sufficiently stiff for patches. If you prefer coloured aida, you’ll have more difficulty finding this at dollar shops.
If you want larger patches or you’re just starting with cross stitch, I recommend Daiso’s 11-count cloth packs ($2.80 AUD). This cloth is exceptionally stiff and thick, making it the easiest fabric to work with.
Aida is a cotton fabric woven so that the warp and the weft have strands grouped in sections, leaving small holes at the corners of where each section intersects with the other. The instructions for this tutorial have you counting the holes or blocks in the fabric, working from the top left-hand corner to either the top right-hand corner or the bottom left-hand corner.
The size of the weave (11-count, 14-count, 18-count) is determined by the number of blocks in the fabric per inch. The higher the number, the smaller the blocks and the smaller the stitches. For this reason, beginners should use 11-count or 14-count aida.
Because the patches are so small, an embroidery hoop isn’t needed. Patches can be flattened after sewing with a gentle ironing or by being pressed under several heavy books for a few days.
Embroidery Thread / Floss / Stranded Cotton
I have yet to find a thread pack that includes all the colours I need for most individual pride flags. It’s likely that you’ll need to buy additional colours by the skein, especially if you’re looking to do flags with grey or gradients of similar shades. Greys (especially greys lacking a brown or green undertone) seem to be rare in thread packs.
Most dollar-shop thread packs are affordable because the thread quality is poor–often prone to feathering, splitting or snapping. They may not be colourfast, may lack silkiness, may have non-standard strand thickness/thinness (the stitches will be thicker or thinner than those worked with another brand) and may not “sit” as neatly on the aida. Part of my thread stash is still comprised of dollar shop/eBay stranded cotton, but I don’t recommend it for beginners.
DMC thread is always lovely ($1.25-$1.50 AUD for the basic skeins with lots of specialist colours). Sullivans ($0.70 AUD per skein with fewer colours) is a decent cheaper brand, but it isn’t as silky-feeling and is more likely to knot. You can buy Sullivans thread in packs as well as by the skein, which helps in getting those elusive greys!
If you’re buying Daiso’s 11-count aida mentioned above, avoid Daiso’s embroidery thread packs ($2.80 AUD for 12). The feathering makes it more difficult to thread a needle, its matte colouring doesn’t match any other thread brand, and it snaps at the slightest provocation. It’s the worst thread I’ve ever used and I won’t be purchasing it again.
I also have a set from eBay ($7.50 AUD shipped for 50 skeins, also available in lots of 100, 200 and 300) and the quality varies. Some skeins feather, some are so poorly spun they unravel, and some feel rough like Daiso thread. But others stitch almost as well as DMC and better than Sullivans! For $0.15 AUD a skein, I don’t mind having more affordable colour options for borders, but the quality is inconsistent at best. (You also can’t choose your colours.)
If you’re planning to do multiple patches, make sure you have more than one white skein. White is the colour I use up first! Having a new or almost-whole skein set aside for the border is vital for large patches, as the edging takes up a fair amount of thread.
Keep in mind that flag images on a backlit screen are difficult to accurately colour-match with floss and perfect matches may not exist (or are too expensive/are inaccessible to you). Close enough is more than good enough when it comes to patches!
Cotton embroidery floss or thread comes in a skein, usually eight metres long. It’s composed of six strands that can be separated.
For 14-count aida, I use two strands (dividing a piece cut from the skein into three lots of two) for the cross stitch part of the patch and two or sometimes three strands (dividing a piece cut from the skein into two lots of three) for the edging.
For 11-count aida, I use three strands (dividing a piece cut from the skein into two lots of three) for both the cross stitch and the edging. The weave is too wide for two strands to properly fill the stitch-space/block.
For the cross-stitch portion of the patch, you’ll want a blunt tapestry or cross stitch needle. A blunt needle makes it easier to guide the needle through the holes in the aida without slipping the point of the needle through each grouped section of strands. Common needle sizes for cross stitch include 22 (largest), 24 (medium) and 26 (smallest), and you can find packs containing all three. Daiso sells a set for $2.80 AUD, and while they’re not as smooth as my best needles when passing through the fabric, they’re great for the price. I still use Daiso’s 22s as a replacement for my Sullivans needles.
(My adored set of gold-plated 24s either came gifted from an aunt in an “introduction to cross stitch” Christmas present as a child or in a donated thread stash from a family friend. I’ve no idea as to the brand.)
Cheap/beginner cross-stitch kits come with a needle, if you can’t source one elsewhere. A kit with 14-count fabric will almost always come with the common/standard size 24 tapestry needle; kits with 11 or 10-count fabric may come with a larger one. You don’t want a needle too wide for the holes in your aida, so check that the kit needle works for your intended patch fabric. I generally use 22s or 24s for 11-count aida, 24s or 26s for 14-count and 26s for 18-count.
(Beginners in needlecraft/sewing should use a size 24 needle on 14-count aida and a size 22 or 24 needle on the 11-count/Daiso aida.)
For the edging/buttonhole portion of the patch, you’ll want an embroidery or chenille needle. Your needle needs an eye large enough to easily thread embroidery floss, a sharp point, and a diameter or gauge thick enough to pierce the aida’s weave without bending, warping or snapping (but not so thick that you’re punching massive holes in your cloth). A needle of similar thickness to your tapestry needle is generally a good place to start.
I began my patches using the embroidery needles lurking in my sewing box, and they work just fine. I have since switched to chenilles because they pierce/slide through the aida more easily, have larger eyes and come in the same sizes as my tapestry needles. They’re not necessary, however, if you already own sufficient embroidery needles.
I dislike Sullivans branded chenille and tapestry needles: they’re often thicker than other brands’ needles of the same size. My Sullivans size 22 chenille compared to my Semco size 22 chenille is more like a size 20 in thickness, and the same goes for many of my Sullivans tapestry needles compared to Daiso and kit needles. (Their 22s and 20s are particularly thick.) These needles are too wide to pass through the holes in the aida without noticeably stretching them, so you must go down a needle size–a 24 instead of a 22–when using them for cross stitch.
For more information on needle types, sizes and uses, John James Needles has an incredibly useful guide for choosing and identifying your needles.
Lastly, you may want, when sliding the needle under the stitches at the back of the patch to start/finish your current section of thread, to switch from a tapestry needle to your sharp needle. It’s easier to pick up the stitches and slide the needle underneath when it has a sharp point!
Preparing Your Fabric and Thread
I always lay out my floss to match the order of the stripes on the chosen flag before beginning to sew:
(You can find tagged aro flag reference images on the Pride-Flags DeviantArt account, the Aro Arrows WordPress and the @aroflagarchive Tumblr. I am in this tutorial using the closest matches I have for @velveteen-angel’s nebulaquoi combo flag.)
Most cross-stitch designs are worked starting from the centre of the fabric. For small patches, I find it easier to start from the top left-hand corner, count out the needed height and width, and then cut the swatch out from my larger section of fabric (if you don’t have a smaller piece like I use in this tutorial). I use my blunt tapestry needle or crochet hook as a pointer, tapping each hole in the aida as I count.
All patches will need additional space for the border plus extra space allowed for trimming. A two block border is possible on aida stiff enough to not fray (like the Daiso 11-count) but I get the neatest edges by leaving at least a three-block border.
(One stitch or block = the space between two holes in the cloth. A three block border means there’s space left on all sides for three stitches, as a whole cross stitch covers a block.)
If your fabric is soft or prone to fraying, you may later wish to coat the edges with Fray Check/Stop, fabric stiffener or clear nail polish. This stiffens the fabric enough that the weave doesn’t split when stitching your border, making it easier to lay your stitches neatly. It also stops the fabric from buckling under tension when sewing your edging’s corners.
The size of your patch, if square, is determined by the number of stripes in your flag times the number of rows of stitches you assign to each stripe. This number will determine your patch’s height and length.
For a square flag with five or more stripes, I find three rows of stitches per stripe sufficient, meaning the height and length are as follows:
- Five Stripe Flag – 3 rows x 5 stripes = 15 x 15 full stitches (18 x 18 blocks with border)
- Six Stripe Flag – 3 rows x 6 stripes = 18 x 18 full stitches (21 x 21 blocks with border)
- Seven Stripe Flag – 3 rows x 7 stripes = 21 x 21 full stitches (24 x 24 blocks with border)
For a square flag with four or fewer stripes, I prefer at least four rows of stitches in order to keep the patch a decent size, meaning the height and length are as follows:
- Four Stripe Flag – 4 rows x 4 stripes = 16 x 16 full stitches (19 x 19 blocks with border)
This can all be adjusted to your preference! Multiply the number of stitch rows by the number of stripes (plus space for a border), and you’ll always have a square patch if you use this number for each side.
For rectangular patches in a landscape or horizontal orientation (as per most pride flags), simply keep your stitch row x stripe number for the height of the patch and make the length your preferred size. Add the border amount to both numbers!
A five-stripe rectangular flag, therefore, may be 15 x 25 full stitches (18 x 28 blocks with border).
Sewing Your Patch
For the purposes of the rest of this tutorial, I’m sewing a horizontal four-stripe flag: a 16 x 16 stitch patch with a three block border. This means a fabric swatch at least 19 x 19 blocks wide plus excess: I usually allow an additional block to trim away any fraying, making my fabric swatch at least 20 x 20 blocks. You may prefer to leave more!
This tutorial is sewn left to right, top to bottom. For a flag with horizontal stripes, it’s easiest to sew from left to right, top to bottom. Flags with vertical stripes are best sewn from bottom to top or top to bottom, left to right.
Thread your tapestry needle with the colour of your topmost stripe. To begin, assuming a three block border and one block excess, count four holes across from the left corner and five holes down the patch from the top edge. This is your starting point; push your tapestry needle up through the fabric from the reverse side. Bring the needle down through the hole one stitch above but diagonally opposite your starting point, so your needle comes through the hole five holes across from the left corner and four holes down, making your first half stitch:
Stitch another fifteen diagonal half-stitches across the patch along that horizontal line. This will form the top row of your patch.
After completing your sixteenth stitch, stitch in the opposite direction towards your starting point, so that your half stitches together form a cross.
Repeat this process for three lines in the same colour, with each new line of stitches placed underneath the first, to form your flag’s first stripe.
Repeat for each stripe–four lines per stripe–working down your swatch.
By the end, you should have a cross-stitched square that resembles a flag with unsewn aida on all sides.
Trimming Your Patch
Once the cross-stitched section is complete, trim your fabric until there’s a border three blocks wide around the entire patch:
You can leave the corners square, but I find that makes it more difficult to sew neatly around the corners. Instead, I cut small triangles, an angled line with a pair of scissors, across each corner. You may wish to round these off after cutting, as rounded corners are a little easier to sew.
If your fabric is soft or fraying, or you struggle with neatly placing your stitches, you may prefer to coat the edges of the aida with clear nail polish, fabric stiffener or Fray Stop/Check. This firms and seals the fabric, making it easier to place the stitches side by side without strands from the aida poking out between them. Keep your nail polish, stiffener or Fray Check away from sewn areas of the patch! Non-colourfast thread will leech dye onto the aida, and you don’t want the polish stiffening and discolouring the thread. Only coat the raw, unsewn edges of the fabric, where changes in colour and texture will be concealed by your embroidered edging.
Allow the aida to dry completely before further handling and sewing.
Backing and Edging Your Patch
If you wish for a thicker, stronger patch, you may wish to cut a second piece of fabric to cover the back. I don’t bother because I sew my patches onto my bag and the reverse side of cross stitch is tidy, but you may prefer this when converting these into badges or pins.
In this case, cut a second piece of fabric the same size as the patch and place it over the back; use quilting clips to hold it in place while working. The sewing process is identical to that of patches without backs. You’re simply pushing the needle through and resting each stitch over two layers of fabric instead of one.
(Mini bulldog clips or paper clips may work for quilting clips in a pinch! You can also hold the two pieces of fabric together in your fingers, if the backing fabric isn’t slippery and you’re comfortable working this way.)
To begin your embroidered edge, thread your sharp embroidery or chenille needle with the colour of your patch’s border. Run the needle underneath a few stitches on the back of your patch and bring it up through a hole somewhere along one side of the patch, immediately beside a row of cross stitch. You can and should use the holes in the aida, but you’ll also need to pierce new holes with your sharp needle. The aim is to place your stitches as close to each other as possible, like a buttonhole, so aida doesn’t show between your stitches.
You also want as little space as possible between the rows of cross stitch and your edging, so that the edging looks as if it sprouts out of the cross stitch.
I’m using a closed blanket/buttonhole stitch by bringing the thread up through a hole in the aida, forming a loop with the base of the thread and running my needle through the loop before pulling it tight. This results in a row of small knots along the outside edge of the stitches. For whip/over stitch, skip the loop step and simply pull the thread tight so it sits flush against the aida.
(The thread here is far too long! I hate having to start a new piece, but beginners should use smaller sections of thread.)
Keep working your way around the patch. The corners need a little extra care when placing stitches: it’s easy to get gaps where the stitches won’t lie flat, create bulging clumps in the fight to cover those gaps, or buckle the fabric by pulling too hard. Remember that you can fill in bare spots later by adding a few extra stitches; I rarely make patches where this isn’t necessary.
My heart patch tutorial has a more detailed description of how I fill in gaps in my buttonhole stitch edges.
Lastly, if your thread gets caught in loops when you sew your ends under the back of the edging or when making a stitch, you can grab the loop of thread with your crochet hook and pull gently to release it.
If you don’t want to sew a closed edge around your patch, check out my heart patch tutorial for other finishing alternatives.
Your finished patch should look something like this:
Keep in mind that these are all handsewn pieces, and they’ll rarely have the uniform finish of a machine-sewn patch. Small imperfections are what make these patches one-of-a-kind, as no two identical patches will ever exist!
For the cost of embroidery floss, aida, a few tools and time, you can make as many flags for which you can find approximate colour matches. It’s a craft that I find easy to do while watching TV or listening to music, and it allows me to make and display pride merch for my lesser-supported aromantic identities.
In the next tutorial, I’ll show you how I make my zigzag pattern, along with instructions for adding a pin to the back of the patch and sewing the patch onto a bag or coat.