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Dec. 5, 2021

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Stitchers get to the point on FlossTube

Cross-stitch returns, gains fans as crafters fill hours at home

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — The first person to realize that the tiny holes in a fabric’s weave were the perfect guide for stitching precise little Xs might have trouble recognizing what is now known as counted cross-stitch.

The ancient art with roots in sixth-century China has taken over the internet with devotees making weekly and even daily YouTube videos, dubbed FlossTube, filling Instagram with hashtags and setting off a frenzy not usually seen in the domestic arts.

It’s a phenomenon even its most ardent supporters have trouble explaining.

Cross-stitch’s last resurgence was in the 1990s. But when its popularity faded once more, brick-and-mortar stores closed, box stores stopped carrying the necessities, and die-hard fans were left to stitch alone.

Enter the pandemic.

“Last year has been big,” says San Leandro, Calif., cross-stitcher Olivia Basegio. “Really big.”

People were at home without anything to do, Basegio says, so they started watching FlossTube — and then they started stitching and shopping. “The more people saw on FlossTube, the more they wanted to do.”

Basegio, an executive assistant for a solar panel company, has a FlossTube channel called Olivia B. She says social media has united cross-stitchers in ways no one imagined could happen.

How to talk like a FlossTuber, from UFOs to floss drops

Cross stitchers and FlossTubers have their own language that can be confusing to the newcomer. Here is a glossary of terms.

FlossTube — A collection of YouTube videos that deal with cross stitching, quilting and other needle arts. To get started, search YouTube for “flosstube.”

LNS — Stands for “local needle shop.”

WIP — Works In Progress. Most FlossTubers have many WIPs, which are stitching projects they are working on simultaneously.

WIP parade — Showing a collection of all your works in progress.

Monogamous stitcher — Someone who stitches only one project at a time, completing it before starting another. They are rare in the cross stitch world.

Frogging — When stitches wind up in the wrong places or are done in the wrong color, they have to be removed, requiring the stitcher to “rip it, rip it, rip it.”

Starts — Refers to new projects stitchers have started working on.

Finishes — Projects where the stitching has been completed.

FFO — Stands for Fully Finished Objects. These are projects that have been completely stitched and framed, made into pillows or otherwise finished into their final form.

UFO — Unfinished Objects. These are projects that likely will never be completed as the stitcher has given up on them.

Dough bowl — Wooden bowls that date back to colonial times; used to hold “smalls.”

Smalls — Small cross stitch projects usually made into small pillows or strawberries.

Needle minder — Decorative magnet that attaches to a WIP and holds the needle when not in use. Some FlossTubers match the design of the needle minder to the design of the WIP, because of course they do.

Floss rings — Metal rings that hold floss drops and usually have a decorative charm, which often coordinates with the WIP and the needle minder.

Floss drops — Paper or plastic tags that hold skeins of cut floss, held together on a floss ring.

Project bags — Cloth, sometimes quilted, bags that hold all the items being used for a project — the chart, floss drop, fabric, hoop and scissors. Serious stitchers also coordinate the bag with the theme of the project.

SAL — Stands for Stitch Along. FlossTubers often ask other stitchers to stitch along with them on the same, specific project. The participants then post their progress on Instagram or other social media using a specific hashtag.

Floss toss — Laying floss on top of fabric to determine if the colors will all work together.

HAED — Stands for Heaven and Earth Designs, a company that produces challenging projects because of their size and the level of detail. They are full coverage.

Full coverage — A stitching project that completely covers the design area with stitching.

Hobby loyalists had been working for years to keep the craft alive, reaching out with videos where they diligently showed their progress and breathlessly displayed the works of new designers, new fabrics and new floss. At first, there were several dozen FlossTubes with a few hundred followers each.

The pandemic changed that. By the time the lockdown was hitting its stride, the number of FlossTube channels had increased into the hundreds, attracting thousands of subscribers.

Basegio started her FlossTube channel about five years ago. She had stitched her first project — a “Silence of the Lambs” sampler for her sister’s boyfriend — and was immediately hooked. When she stumbled across FlossTube, she became fascinated by the videos, which share not only projects and new patterns but personal stories as well.

“My friends like what I do, but they don’t really get it. They don’t stitch, and they don’t have that connection,” Basegio says. “They don’t know the lingo. On FlossTube, I’ve found other people I can talk to for hours about cross-stitch.”

Abby Johns, a Berkeley, Calif., FlossTuber who has her own online store selling accessories and patterns, including some of her own design, uses the moniker TopKnot Stitcher. She’s a returning stitcher having learned the art as a youngster, taught by her mother and grandmother.

In those days, she says, cross-stitching seemed to be all about teddy bears and fairies. But cruising the shops on Etsy, she found patterns for Harry Potter designs and sarcastic quotes to stitch.

“I thought, ‘Yay! Cross-stitch for young people,’” Johns says.

Not having stitched in years and having no one to ask, she did what many of us do these days when looking for direction. She searched YouTube for a “how-to.” Putting “cross stitch” into YouTube’s search engine began turning up dozens of FlossTube videos, rich in helpful tips and mysterious lingo — from WIP parades to dough bowls, smalls and floss tosses. Don’t get us started on the frogging.

“I was like, ‘What is this? Why are they speaking a different language, and why are they all an hour long?’” Johns recalls.

She quickly learned why and, tired of having to explain her cross-stitch passion to nonstitchers, started her own FlossTube channel.

FlossTube and social media have expanded the breadth of cross-stitch, introducing new designers to the cross-stitch world. Where once stitchers were mostly limited to 14-count Aida cloth, something Basegio refers to as the “James Patterson of cross stitch,” the palette is now wide open with hand-dyed fabrics and flosses.

The trend also has encouraged some unique behaviors among the stitchers. Most aren’t content to work on one project from start to finish before beginning another. Instead, they start new ones at will, and boy do they have a lot of will.

Johns estimates she has 50 projects in progress, and half stemmed from the scores of challenges on social media — in this case, a “mania” event that asked stitchers to start a new project every day for the entire month.

“If someone can think of a challenge,” Johns says, “and one other person says that’s a good idea, it takes off.”

There was an Olympics challenge, played on a Bingo-like board, and a Tour de France challenge, which had fans adding stitches inspired by the distance cyclists traveled each leg — 198 stitches for the first, hilly stage, for example. There’s Sampler September, Arbitrary August, May-nia and so many others.

“I think that’s how people were dealing with the pandemic,” Basegio says, “starting new projects.”

Basegio was juggling an overwhelming 40 at the height of the lockdown but has since narrowed her focus to just four projects. Some people have projects they’ve been working on off-and-on for 15 or 20 years.

There’s variety in being able to start something new or pick up an old favorite, Johns says.

But the heart of it all — beyond the challenges, the patterns and the thread — is the human connection, they say.

They’re passionate about the stitch and overjoyed to connect with people who share that.

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