Introduction: Boo O'Clock - How to Cross-Stitch a Custom Clock Face

What is a ghost's favorite time of day? Boo O'Clock!

Counted cross-stitch is a form of embroidery in which you sew a simple x over and over in a variety of colors/shapes to make a picture. This makes it excellent for recreating pixel sprites from your favorite 8 or 16-bit video games; each pixel becomes one x. This tutorial will show you the basic of cross-stitch and teach you how to put your new skill to a fun, practical purpose by making a custom clock face!

Step 1: Choose Your Image and Chart It!

First you need to choose what to cross-stitch, as this will determine what kind of embroidery floss you will be buying. The sky's the limit for this one; ANY pixel sprite can be turned into cross-stitch! For your own sanity and wallet, however, I recommend picking something that does not have too many colors in it. If you will be turning this cross-stitching into a clock, I also recommend picking something not too big. The Boo sprites on my clock are 16x16 pixels big. On the size 14 Aida cloth we will be using, 20x20 pixels is probably the biggest you can go if you want to fit something in all 12 numbers spaces.

Next, use any art editing program to turn this pixel sprite into a chart. Make yourself a grid, fill in each spot with the color needed, and blow it up really big so you can see it better. As an example, here is what a 2x2 square would look like.

Step 2: Materials

To make a clock, you will need...

- A clock. You need to be able to take it apart and the hands need to come off. I find the cheap "Mainstays" brand clocks at Walmart are easy to take apart. You can choose any style/size clock you want, but 8 or 9 inches across is a good wall clock size.

- An embroidery hoop that is the same OR a greater diameter than the size of your clock. 

- Aida embroidery cloth in any color. I prefer black, because most pixel sprites are outlined in black... so you can save yourself a lot of time if you don't have to cross-stitch those outline pixels! Aida also cloth comes in different gauges; the "count" or size number it shows on the box is how many threads there are per inch of fabric, and determines how many stitches you will have per inch. For my clock I used size 14, which is a good general size that can be found in most craft stores.

- Embroidery floss in all the colors you need for your chart.

- Scissors

- A sewing needle

- Double sided tape

- Probably a screwdriver to open your clock

Step 3: Cross-stitching Basics

Cross-stitching is really simple!

First, grab your embroidery floss. If you look closely, you will notice that it is actually 6 threads twisted together. Using all 6 at once would make really thick stitches that are hard to sew and use up a lot of thread, so cut a piece of thread about two feet long (longer or shorter if you need a lot/a little of this color), and grab/unravel two strands from the whole. Save the remaining four for later. Thread the two strands onto your needle, and tie a knot at the end of your thread tail.

Second, grab your embroidery hoop and Aida cloth. Take apart the two hoops and spread the Aida cloth over the smaller hoop. Put the big hoop on top of this and press the two hoops together, pinching the Aida cloth in between. Pull your Aida cloth to make sure it gets stretched nice and taut in the hoop; this will make sewing much easier! Tighten/screw your big hoop closed as tight as you can.

Now to sew! I will sew the example on my chart, but I will be using plastic mesh, a tapestry needle, and yarn so you can see it better. (As a fun side note, you can also cross-stitch on plastic mesh with yarn to make bigger, sturdier pieces.) If you look closely, you will notice your Aida cloth is strands of thread woven into a mesh. This mesh leaves a little grid of holes. We will be making our x's with these holes. Bring your needle up from the backside to the topside though a hole, then go back down though the hole diagonal to the one you came up through. This makes a bar, or one half of your x. Cross-stich looks nicer when all your x's are made with the same direction for their top/bottom bars, so I like to do all one angle first and then go back and do the second bar/direction.

Keeping making x's until you've completed your pattern! You can tie off and re-thread your needle as you run out of thread or need to change colors. You do not need to stitch black pixels on black fabric/white on white fabric. But THIS IS IMPORTANT: Embroidery floss tends to get twisted up as you sew with it and your two threads won't lay flat across the cloth and will look bad. Every 5 or six bars, drop your needle and let it hang/twist to unwind itself. This will make all your bars lovely and uniform.

Step 4: Turn It Into a Clock

To make a clock, hold your embroidery hoop with cloth up to your clock. Mark where the center/hands is with a gel pen or silver sharpie; you're going to cut this out to put it over the post for the hands, so don't worry about it being visible later. Next, cross-stitch your designs close to the location of the 12 numbers on the clock. 

For my clock I used Boo sprites from Super Mario World. Originally I wanted to have Boos at most of the numbers to look like a "Circling Boo Buddy", an enemy you encounter in that game, but to save time I only did one of each type of Boo sprite and a 1-up sprite at the twelve position. For the other numbers I made small, simple roman numerals. You can organize your sprites and combine different sized sprites or numbers in any way you want! You can also embroider anywhere on the clock face, if you want something in or around the center.

When your design is complete, take the embroidery hoop off. CAREFULLY cut a hole for the hand post. Make it as small as possible! Mine was only a 2x2 square cut out. Next, SUPER EXTRA CAREFULLY cut out the circular face from your cloth so it fits inside your clock.

For most cheap clocks, the second hand should pop in and out. Once it is out, the minute and hour hands should fall right off. Take off the old face and double-sided tape your new face to the clock. I prefer to tape this and NOT glue it so that if my clock dies for some reason I can take out the face and put it in a new clock. You don't want to loose all that hard work!! If your clock came with black minute and hour hands and you used black Aida cloth like I did, you will need to paint the hands to see them. Pop the hands back on, re-assemble your clock, and add a battery to get it started.

That's all, folks! Get creative and have fun!

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