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If you’ve ventured out lately, chances are you have seen a bit of technology you may not be familiar with: QR codes.

This touchless means of data transmission has experienced a boost in popularity over the last two years, as the need to be hands-free became crucial to stop the spread of COVID-19. And because they’re so convenient, they’re likely here to stay..

But QR codes (an acronym for quick response) are moving beyond stickers and restaurant menus, making their way to fabric. Crafting groups are now abuzz with the newest QR code medium: cross-stitch.

What is a QR code and what can it do?

Just as a barcode holds the name and price of a product, a QR code contains data. However, since devices can read this type of pattern both top to bottom and left to right, it can hold significantly more information—up to around 4,000 characters of it.

Using them is easy. Open your phone’s camera, center the image, and your device will display the information in the pattern, whether it’s a plain text message, a website, or an app page in your operating system’s app store.

Why cross-stitch?

In recent years, cross-stitch has transformed from a prim and proper hobby into one that can be quite subversive. People around the world are coming together in a community that enjoys completing nontraditional, irreverent, or snarky stitches

This trend has led to the creation of a plethora of science-related patterns that sit at the intersection of technology and crafting. Cross-stitchers find inspiration for patterns everywhere, so it is no surprise that they have taken on the challenge of QR codes. After all, the codes’ geometric nature practically begs to be reproduced with tiny pixel-like stitches.

Choose your code location

QR codes can lead a user to many types of data, from a simple text phrase to a multimedia presentation, which is why translating them into a cross-stitch pattern is such fun.

If you want to dip your toe into this trend, you might begin by searching online for a basic, yet aesthetically pleasing pattern that, when scanned, leads to a traditionally stitched phrase like “Home Sweet Home.” If you want to step up your game, you could stitch a custom code to help houseguests find important information, like your Wi-Fi password.

[Related: How to easily share Wi-Fi passwords]

You can also use QR codes to enhance the experience of a stitched piece of art. For example, you could stitch codes at the corners of a project to direct viewers to an online photo album (think family or wedding party gifts), or even to a song file (think Happy Birthday on a stitched greeting card). Patterns are even available with seemingly innocuous images that link to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” YouTube video, in case you want to Rick Roll your friends.

Finally, you don’t have to present your cross-stitched QR code framed in a hoop if you don’t want to. You can embed QR codes on anything that can be stitched, like clothing or a tote bag. You can use it to make a card or bookmark, or even stitch it on plastic canvas to transform it into a coaster or a patch you can then attach to a jacket or magnet. When it comes to possible applications, your imagination is the only limit.

How can I make my own cross-stitched QR code?

Once you’ve decided what you want to create, there are a few steps to follow to ensure that your finished piece is functional.

Get what you need

If you are stitching from a previously tested pattern—and I recommend this route if you are new to cross-stitch—you only need to purchase the materials to get started: the pattern, a hoop, embroidery floss, needles, and some evenweave fabric. I recommend Aida over linen to beginners, as the correct holes to stitch through are easier to see. 

If you want to be absolutely certain that devices can read your code, it is best to stick with black thread on white fabric. However, as long as the thread is dark and the fabric is light, you can play around a bit with color to enhance your project.

Master the stitch

If you’re new to this craft, you’ll be glad to know many patterns come with instructions on how to cross-stitch. But if yours doesn’t, worry not: there is only one type of stitch to master in this technique, and then you are off and running. You can learn the basics by watching a YouTube tutorial or checking out books like The New Cross Stitcher’s Bible by Jane Greenoff or The Mr. X Stitch Guide To Cross Stitch by Jamie Chalmers. 

Make your own QR code

If you are up for a challenge and would like to stitch a custom QR code, there are loads of free apps that will generate a digital file for you. Most of these apps are similar and will do what you need, so try not to get weighed down by the sheer number of choices. 

Convert your code into stitches

Once you have a digital file of your code, you will need to convert it into a cross-stitch pattern. 

Keep in mind that unlike other forms of embroidery, this type of cross-stitch (also known as counted cross-stitch) is done without transferring the pattern directly onto the fabric. Instead, you use your pattern as a map, counting the number of stitches on the paper or screen and stitching the same amount onto the textile. 

However you decide to create your pattern, I recommend first test-stitching the code on a scrap of fabric to ensure that it scans accurately before creating your final piece. 

[Related: Knit a temperature scarf using climate data]

There is a broad range of software, both paid and free, that can help you turn your QR code into a pattern. But using a computer program comes with the added challenge of setting the correct dimensions for your code, which can get fiddly. For example, the width of a QR code affects the optimal distance from which to scan it, and the amount of data can sometimes affect the size too. Patience is a must if you go this route, but it can be done. 

Alternatively, you can print out the QR code and trace a grid over it to help guide you as you stitch. You can also use good ol’ graph ruled paper to translate the image into a pattern by filling in the boxes.

When you are ready to begin, simply find the center of your fabric by folding it in quarters and making a gentle crease at the folded corner. Then, identify the center of your pattern and use both points as a reference to replicate the code. You can then move out toward the edges, stitching according to the squares in the rows and columns of your pattern.  

From there all that’s left is to stitch away.

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