How to Cross-Stitch
First things first: Cross-stitching will not be enjoyable for you if:
-you cannot delay gratification. Many designs require at least a weekend, if not much, much longer to complete. This bookmark took me 6 days of constant work to complete (approximately 60-70 hours), and some big designs take 5-6 months if your time is scarce. There are smaller designs, if you can delay gratification for a little while.
-you have carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis. After a day of stitching, all the joints in your hand hurt, even if your joints are ordinarily healthy. The feeling is not unbearable, though, so it shouldn't keep you from stitching if you truly love it. The level of discomfort is similar to a day spent typing. It's also important to get up and walk around every half hour or so to prevent leg fatigue.
-you have a phobia of needles. Inevitably, you will prick your finger at least once while stitching a design.
Cross-stitching will be enjoyable for you if:
-you enjoy peaceful leisure time with a monotonous, repetitive activity. I find it very easy to get wrapped up in the activity, and have been known to stay up late without being aware of it.
-you enjoy creating things, either for yourself or for others. It is remarkable how beautiful scenes can be achieved with just some fabric and some thread. Also, cross-stitched designs make wonderful gifts. Their handmade nature shows the recipient that you care (a lot, given the work required), and the materials are not very expensive. The major expense is time.
-Aida cloth. Many counts are available, with the number representing stitches per linear inch. The most common ones are 14 and 18. Note that Aida cloth comes plain, in towels, in bibs, and in bookmark form. Check out the needlepoint aisle in your favorite arts and crafts store or Walmart. Aida cloth is relatively cheap by itself, and even in other forms such as bookmarks and bibs seldom goes over $5-$6.
-a pattern. These may be purchased individually, in a book, designed yourself, or found on a website (see below for links). These can get pricey, but many free (but still gorgeous) patterns are on the internet for you to practice with.
-floss. Floss is a fancy name for thread, except it's different from standard thread that is used for sewing. Floss has 6 strands wound together, and comes in hundreds of colors. I prefer to use the DMC floss, simply because it is the most available. Floss is very cheap - typically $0.29 to $0.33 per skein, and each skein lasts a long time.
-needle. Cross-stitch needles have larger eyes than sewing needles, but sewing needles may be used if you already have them. Needles are also cheap.
-embroidery hoop. While not strictly required, this comes in handy to keep the fabric taut while you stitch. These can be as fancy or as simple as you'd like, with the price matching the fanciness. I like simple wood or plastic hoops.
-other materials may be needed if, for example, framing the design.
-You may, instead of purchasing the above materials, purchase a cross-stitch kit (in needlepoint aisles of arts and crafts stores or Walmart), and this contains all of the above (except the scissors and the embroidery hoop, but those are cheap... actually, all the materials are cheap). Many beautiful kits exist, although kit prices tend to be more expensive than the materials (no doubt this is to make up for the beautiful designs the kits contain).
How to cross-stitch:
Until I return to finish my description of how to cross-stitch, please check out About.com's version:
Look toward the left of the screen, under Essentials, and click on Beginner's Basics.
My favorite sites for cross-stitch patterns:
The Vermillion Stitchery - free patterns each month, on a theme that changes each year. This site has annoying background music, so you may want to mute the sound on your computer.
Dragon Dreams - free patterns on the theme of dragons.
Ellen Maurer-Stroh - free patterns on many themes.
Carrie Luhmann Pieniozek - free patterns, and simple enough for a beginner.
Compiled by About.com - many simple patterns.