Finishing Your Cross Stitch on a Budget Part I: Creative Framing

Admit it.  There are a whole bunch of pieces that you’ve spent hours upon hours stitching only to end up in a tote or box somewhere because you can’t afford to frame it. I feel your pain.  I was a poor college student before I became a poor married mother of two.  I’ve only had a few things professionally framed and after shelling out that amount of money, I tried to frame whatever I could myself.  Now this task may seem a bit daunting but it is doable with a bit of practice and a lot of patience.

Let me preface this whole section by stating that there are certain pieces that you should not attempt to frame yourself.  This spring, I stitched a whitework sampler on Cashel linen and it has beads and I will NOT attempt to “do it myself.”  Sadly, I can’t afford to frame it (sad because it’s a gift) but when I scrounge up $50, I’ll have it professionally framed.  I should probably also be up front and admit that I don’t use spacers.  I probably should but then I wouldn’t be able to get everything to fit.  Maybe someday I will but I’m still getting better at finishing my own stuff.

When starting your first “frame it yourself” project, I suggest something small, preferably on Aida and something that you won’t cry over if something goes horribly wrong.  Better yet, if you have something on perforated paper, perforated plastic or vinyl weave, try that first before going to fabric.

Let’s first talk about about buying frames for “frame it yourself.”  Photo frames are specifically designed to frame photos which are very thin.  They do vary in how thick a piece you can stick in the frame.  Generally, you either have to omit the backing piece or the glass (or in very rare cases, both) to get a piece of foam board to fit.  If you’re lucky enough to find something designed to take something thicker, you shouldn’t have this issue.  As I go through some pieces that I’ve framed myself, I’ll go through some considerations for buying your own frame if you get it at a thrift store or buy a cheaper photo frame.

Second, you have the option to mount your fabric on either acid free sticky board or acid free foam board.  The foam board is generally more desirable as sticky board can turn into a disaster if you’re not careful but let me show you the difference in thickness.  I’ll explain why this is important a little further down.

Here was my first attempt at “frame it yourself:” I’ll admit, I used acid free sticky board.  And I taped the extra fabric onto the back with scotch tape.  I know that was probably not the wisest thing to do but hey, it was my first attempt!  The one advantage to sticky board is that it’s a lot thinner than foam board so it fits in a photo frame better.  I was able to frame it without removing the glass or the backing.  By the way, do you like the frame?  It had my boyfriend’s picture in it and when he became my ex-boyfriend, I evicted him and let Bert and Ernie move in.  I call that crafty revenge.

Here’s another piece that I framed recently with sticky board.  I’ve graduated to foam board but because of the nature of the frame, foam board would not have fit in this frame without removing both the glass and the backing.  Had this frame been wood, I could have got around this but since it’s plastic, there was no way to nail a picture hanger into the back for attaching to the wall or any way to attach alternate backing.  This was the case where I found this frame for $1 and picked it up knowing that I had several 5×7 pieces that needed framing.

Here’s the back.  If you find a frame like this, I would not advise using it for cross stitch unless it looks thick enough to hold the foam board.  But, live and learn!

Here’s another one of the pieces that I mounted on sticky board.  I actually designed this piece myself using motifs out of one of my Beatrix Potter books.  When I do that, I make it easy on myself by designing the cross stitch for a standard size.  The only thing that you have to know to begin with is that you lose about 1/4″ off each side so the visible area on a 5×7 is actually 4.5×6.5.  But always bring  your tape measure and make doubly sure before you buy the frame.

Here is one of my recent designs that was almost ruined by sticky board.  I specifically designed it to fit in an 8×10 frame on 22 ct stitched over 2 threads.  I designed it already having a frame in my collection for finishing and I really didn’t need to do sticky board because it was perfectly thick enough to accommodate the foam board.  The problem was that my 22 ct fabric was a little crooked and I thought that sticky board might help to keep it straight.  BIG MISTAKE!  NEVER use sticky board if the fabric is pulling a bit to one side.  I was very lucky that I didn’t damage it pulling the board off.  I was able to successfully re-mount it on foam board.  Whew!

Here is one of my first pieces to be mounted on foam board.  It is also something I designed using motifs out of the book and I ended up re-mounting it because I laced it originally and when I remounted it, I pinned AND laced it so it looked a lot better.  In hindsight, I would not recommend this frame because the backing doesn’t come off completely, it’s hinged so it you can tell that it’s bulging a little in the back because the foam board barely fits.  I had to remove the glass to get it to fit.  This was a cheap $2 WalMart photo frame.

Here are two other things that I framed recently that turned out rather nicely with foam board.


You can see how thick the frame is on the inside on the wedding sampler so I didn’t have to sacrifice the glass.  It didn’t have a backing piece (it had staples holding it in and I removed them with a pliers).  Since it’s wood, I can tack cardboard on the back to hold the foam board in and then put a picture hanger at the top and it will be completely done.  The Lamb Sampler didn’t have glass to begin with and can be finished the same way with cardboard and a picture hanger.  These are my ideal types of bargain frames.

The actual mounting itself is the challenging part.  But that’s another post 😉


About Joy

Rabid stitcher and mother of a preschooler and kindergardener - both with Autism. Stitching is like going to war....with string!

I started playing with string when I was 16 and my mom bought me a Learn-A-Craft kit of a frog (because I love frogs). I discovered that cross stitching is a wonderful hobby when you go to college in the middle of nowhere Minnesota. Now that I'm married with two children, I stitch when I get a chance. Just finished my masters in teaching and hoping to get my first teaching job.

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  1. Thank you for this post. When I first started stitching I attempted to frame my own pieces and my back(s) looked very much like your last photo. When I graduated to larger, more beautiful patterns (Mirabilia), I decided to use a professional framer. Although expensive, I think it’s well worth the cost when so much time, effort, and care, goes into stitching it up. This year, I plan to stitch smaller projects and I will re-attempt to frame them myself. I will try the foam board method. I believe they have it at Michael’s. 🙂

    • You can pick up the foam board at Hobby Lobby, Michaels and Jo-Ann (if they have a framing shop). Hobby Lobby sells it by the piece but when I went to Michaels, they told me they only sold the large sheets. However, they cut a piece off a scrap for free. Can’t remember if Jo Ann charged me. You can also check local framing shops.

  2. Thank you for the tips! I actually took a class that taught the sticky board technique but they did theirs in the reverse. The sticky was the back there the sides of the piece were stuck so you didn’t have the sticky behind your needlework. It made it a lot easier to adjust if things weren’t as straight as you were hoping for and a lot more consistent in tension than my lacing skills

  3. I use to work at a LNS that did alot of their framing there. The owner taught me how to do it with the foam board an lacing . I also know how to pin with the foam. Great article though didnt know about sticky board.

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