A Stitch in Time: Smyrna Cross-Stitch

The Smyrna cross-stitch is another member of the large cross-stitch family and is a simple, dense, square, textured stitch worked over an even number of threads, usually four but two, six, or eight threads are not uncommon. It is considered a canvas or evenweave fabric stitch.

Smyrna is the ancient Greek name for the city of Izmir on the Turkish west coast where we can presume this stitch might have originated or at least named for. Cross-stitch and some of its variations appear on the ethnic embroideries from ancient and modern Turkey. The Smyrna cross-stitch is also known as the double cross-stitch, double straight cross-stitch, double upright cross-stitch, railway stitch, and leviathan stitch. Leviathan is another name for a whale or denotes a large size and probably refers to the Smyrna cross-stitch when it’s worked over a larger number of threads. Be aware that the name Smyrna stitch (not Smyrna cross-stitch) can also refer to the Palestrina, double knot, old English knot or tied coral stitch, which are tied stitches and completely different.

The first half of the Smyrna cross-stitch is a square cross-stitch (St. Andrew cross) with an upright cross-stitch (St. George cross) stitched directly over it (Figure 1). However, this order can be reversed (Figure 2). The top legs of this stitch are usually stitched in the same direction but these legs can alternate for a special effect (Figure 3). Because of the number of thread legs crossing at the center of this stitch, it is definitely a raised stitch and does not work well for items that get a fair amount of use, such as chair seats, rugs, or apparel items, as the stitches snag, pill, or quickly become worn. This stitch is sewn in horizontal, vertical, or diagonal rows.

Smyrna cross stitch

The Smyrna cross-stitch can be worked using one thread color and type but there are numerous examples of the bottom legs in one color and/or thread type and the top legs in another thread color or type. Various thread types can be used: floss, pearl cotton, yarn, narrow ribbon, and even flexible metallic threads. A lighter colored or metallic thread for the top legs makes a great design statement. When working this stitch in two colors or types, the stitcher must decide whether it is easier or better to work this stitch completely one at a time or to first stitch all of the underlying cross-stitches and then finish up with all of the upright stitches. If this stitch is worked with two or more strands, it is important to keep the thread strands parallel for each leg of the stitch for the best coverage of the background fabric and the overall effect by using a laying tool, stiletto, or trolley needle. If the Smyrna cross-stitch is stitched over the larger number of threads (six or eight) the overall appearance will look less dense because more of the background fabric will show (Figure 4).

Smyrna cross stitch

The Smyrna cross-stitch has several stitch and overall placement variations, such as oblong or elongated (Figure 4), alternating (Figure 5), filling (Figure 6), star or crossed star and variations (Figure 7), reverse (Figure 2), linked (long-arm or tied, Figure 8) and double leviathan (Figure 9).

Smyrna cross stitch

Smyrna cross stitch

This stitch is typically used for geometric spot motifs, outlines, bands, borders, alphabets and numbers, and even entire backgrounds. Sometimes when this stitch is over two threads (Figure 10), it is used to create small, one-stitch eyes because it appears more round and dense when compared to the usual surrounding stitches.


Deanna is PieceWork’s needlework technical editor; she previously was the editor of The Needleworker magazine. Stay tuned for more stitch tutorials from Deanna in the months ahead!

Enjoy learning about another variation of cross-stich in “A Stitch in Time: The Upright Cross-Stitch.” Read the entire “Stitch in Time” series!

Learn more about historical needlework in PieceWork!


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