Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Cross for Church Linens


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This is one of the questions I receive via e-mail quite often, and I figured I may as well put it on the website, just in case there are other stitchers out there wondering the same thing.

How do you embroider the little red cross that is traditionally found on most church altar linens? Normally, this cross is quite small and is actually cross stitched. While it doesn’t have to be cross-stitched, and while it doesn’t have to follow this pattern, this is a typical pattern that is very neat and tidy, tiny, and pretty, and it serves its purpose well.

Cross for Church Linens

The small red cross that marks church linens serves a couple purposes: one, it obviously marks the piece of linen for sacred use – it is used for religious rites; and two, it marks the correct side or area of the linen, for folding purposes.

So if you embroider church linens and have wondered how to stitch up a decent little cross on them, this is the pattern I regularly use and it works out very nicely every time.


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(27) Comments

  1. Thank you for this tutorial. Although I don’t embroidery Church linens proffesionaly. I would like to try this cross on other things.

  2. How do you keep the back neat? The difficulty with most linens is that the back will often be seen, and cross stitch (in particular) has an awkward back unless you take several extra stitches in an attempt to make the cross stitch reversable.

  3. You provided a nice pattern for Cross for Church Linens, but no instructions on how to do it. I knew next to nothing about cross stitching and embroidering and need to learn how to sew the crosses on church linens. So far all the websites I have searched only showed patterns, but no “how to’s”. Your instruction would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi, Sister – since the Red Cross on church linens is usually very small, I cross stitch it using the pattern above, usually over one or two threads of linen. Hope that helps!

    2. Thank you for the reply. I understand the pattern. What I do not know is how to cross stitch it. I can make some guesses, but most likely make a mess of it, lol.

    3. Hello, Sister – For every square on the pattern, that’s where an X goes. So, determine the center of your linen (or wherever you’re placing the cross) and count the number of squares up and over to your starting point – say, the top of the cross. Make an X in thread for each block on the graph, and for each empty block on the graph, skip that many intersections on the linen. To keep the embroidery looking consistent, make all your X’s so that the bottom stitch of the X all go in the same direction, and the top stitch (the crossing stitch) on each X all go in the same direction. You’ll notice if you look at the linen closely, that the weave creates a kind of grid, so just think of the fabric as a grid, just like the pattern. If, however, the weave is very fine, then you might have to think of one fabric square as the intersection of two threads in one direction and two in another, that makes a square divisible into four tiny squares, so that instead of stitching over one thread, you’re stitching over two (and covering 4 total with one X). Here are some guides that might help explain the stitching part: http://www.caron-net.com/patguide.html and http://www.hcrafts.com/counted_cross_stitch_tutorial.html (this one shows over 2 fabric threads, covering four threads total with each cross stitch). If your linen is fine, my guess is you’ll use one strand (from the six) of floss over either one or two fabric threads. Not sure if all that is much help, but the guides might explain better. ~MC

  4. I would like to learn to embroider the little crosses on the purificators but I have never embroidered before. Is there a video you could recommend?

    1. Hi, Jill – it depends on how you want to stitch the cross. If you are following the pattern here, look for cross stitch videos. I don’t have one to recommend off the bat, but there are plenty out there! Try YouTube…

    2. Aack! I was trying to ask if you thought a cross I sketched on graph paper with blue going “out” and pink returning would work for a purificator and I sent some gobbledygook with no explanation instead. Mea culpa.
      I’m just looking for something that is simple (like me) and holds up to repeated washing and ironing.
      Sorry for being a pest,

  5. Dear Ms. Corbet,

    Help! I have an old corporal with this exact red cross-stitch cross in the middle. What is remarkable about it is its reverse side. The back side of the cross consists solely of parallel lines of thread! I spent three hours using big plastic canvas and yarn to plot out the order of stitches on graph paper. I get close, but am foiled every time. Do you know how I might reproduce this effect in executing the cross? Your help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Normally, the vertical lines happen more consistently in cross Stitch when you stitch one row of half cross stiches all in one direction and then return across the row to stitch the other half of the cross stiches in the other direction. To get consistently vertical lines across the back, I’d have to think my way through the chart. But I’m sure it can be done. You’d probably have to carry some of the vertical lines on the back over two stitch areas when you change rows, and some of the vertical Stitches might end up doubled.

  6. I’m also wondering about how to anchor the stitches. I just read the other tutorials about anchoring line stitches (which are quite helpful, thanks!), but I’m not sure those tips apply here.

  7. Hi Mary. I have been asked to make finger towels and embroider little crosses on them like the one you describe . I am having difficulty making the cross neatly. would you use one or two strand of cotton ? would you make dots or x on the linen to help keep the shape of the cross ? Where would you start and what direction would you work in . Thanks for any advise Bridie

    1. Hi, Bridie – I’d use one strand of cotton, and you’d have to treat it like counted cross stitch, using your linen as the “grid” – you might have to stitch “over two” – which means over two threads of fabric that make the square. So the square that you’d stitch over is actually four little linen “squares” when you look at the linen like a grid. I’d start on the left arm and move around clockwise. Hope that helps!

  8. Altar linens, like the corporal, are washed frequently. Add a red cross and you have the recipe for red bleeding all over the white.

    Please advise what type of embroidery thread you would recommend that does not bleed or any special treatment during washing/drying that will put an end to the bleeding red.

    Many thanks in advance.

    1. You can use sewing thread, colorfast cotton embroidery thread, colorfast silk embroidery thread. For fine linens, I usually end up using YLI silk or something similar – their 50 weight sewing silk thread works fine and I’ve never had an issue with it bleeding. Another thread I’ve used is Tire Silk, 50 wt, and I’ve never had an issue with it bleeding.

      If you want, you can test any thread that you use – test it in hot water, warm water, and cool water. If you’re going to get bleed, it’ll happen in the hot water, or with steam when ironing – and chances are, at some point in the life of the altar linen, someone will wash it in super hot water. You can also soak any thread you’re going to use in a dish of water to which you’ve added a splash of white vinegar. The vinegar should set the dye. Rinse the thread well after soaking, and then hang it to dry. Again, test the thread before use.

      But I’ve never had problems with the YLI and Tire silks, and they’ve worked fine for me. I’ve actually never had a bleeding problem with DMC reds, either, but other people apparently have, so if you’re going to use a cotton floss, I’d probably vinegar set it and test it before going forward.

      Of course, bleeding is something to be concerned about, but you’ve probably noticed that red has been used for the crosses on altar linens for… well, centuries! So

  9. What kind of thread and how many threads do you use if DMC floss? I am trying to replicate some vintage ones and thread seems tiny! Thanks

    1. Hi, Katherine – It really depends on the design, fabric, and effect you want. If you’re going for a very fine, delicate look, you’d probably use one strand from the six.

  10. Mary, do you do any Church Sewing as I cannot do corporals due to poor sight but they are much needed.
    I have a template, a copy of which I could send you as I am unable to attach a photo unless you can provide me with access to another account.
    Lastly, where are you based?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi, Maura – Thanks for your note. I have made corporals before. I’m not sure if you’re asking if I’m available to make some now, or if you’re looking for a source for someone to embroider the small crosses on them, etc? Or are you looking for recommendations for someone who can make them for you? In any case, this comment should land in your email inbox, and you can reply to it with photos if you wish. I’m located in Kansas. Thanks!

  11. Thanks Mary for replying to my question about stitching Corporals. I would like to source someone to do them so I am hoping that someone picks up my email.
    I’m in the UK so hoping for someone closer to home to contact me. I can send a photo.
    I do know that your work is excellent but cost including postage could prove prohibitive.
    Many thanks again, Maura

  12. I am making my first clergy stole. I would like to put this cross on the back collar. The stole is red so I thought I’d do the cross gold. Question: I crossstitch the red little squares but what is the black dot in the pattern? Would I use one or two strands ? How do I put this pattern on the cotton?

    1. The black dot is just part of the symbol on the chart that shows where the stitch goes.

      If the stole is on regular fabric, I’m not sure a cross stitch option is a great idea, but I suppose if you have something to work the grid over to keep everything uniform and straight, it could work. But it’s not something I’d put on a stole, personally. This cross is meant to be about 1/4″ in size, used on small altar linens.

  13. Dear Ms. Corbet,

    It’s been a while, but I found a helpful pdf chart with all the numbered steps for creating the cross-stitch red cross for the altar linens. It’s nice because it is done in reversible cross-stitch. Perhaps it may be of interest to your readers. It was made up by the Saint Martha Guild at Saint John Cantius in Chicago. The link is here:


    Kind regards,

    P. Maurus, O.S.B.

  14. I’ve recently been entrusted to make our parish new altar linens and have only done the sewing of the various linens. I now really need the full instructions of how to perfectly are my little crosses so that they are great visibly from either side, please. Kindly advise me as to where I might find such instructions.
    With kind regards and enormous gratitude,

    1. I would suggest a satin stitch, hiding the beginnings and ends underneath the stitches and paying special attention to the back of the work as you stitch.

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