Counted cross stitch is a basic form of embroidery done using only two main stitches, the "X" or cross stitch and the back stitch. While the pattern for a stamped cross stitch project is literally stamped right onto the fabric, a counted cross stitch pattern comes on a sheet of paper, separate from the cloth. It's then up to you to start from the center of the fabric and count the number of stitches to be made with each color in each row and column.
The Point of Ironing
Most cross stitchers like to keep their cross stitch fabric evenly taut with an embroidery hoop or a scrollbar stretcher. Nonetheless, it's still very common for the fabric, which is usually made of cotton, to become rumpled or wrinkled during or after the stitching process. Properly ironing the fabric before framing it or otherwise finishing it (some stitchers like to make pillows out of their finished projects) is a quick, easy way of eliminating wrinkles and leaving your cross stitch project looking its best.
Protecting the Artwork
You'll notice that there's a right side and a wrong side to your cross stitch project. The right side or front is the side meant for public display. The wrong or back side of the project is where you carry the thread from stitch to stitch and where the tails from strands of thread are hidden. If you look at the front of a cross stitch project closely, you'll see that the stitches protrude very slightly; they're not completely flat. Ironing your work correctly will smooth out the fabric without crushing the stitches on the right side of the fabric.
Prepping the Artwork
While some manufacturers and teachers recommend washing your counted cross stitch before ironing, this isn't strictly necessary. You don't need to wash your project unless it has become soiled. If you do wash it, use cool water and don't wring or twist it. Instead, sandwich it flat between two dry towels, then roll the towels and press lightly to remove as much water as possible.
Set your iron to its lowest "Warm" setting. If in doubt, use the setting for rayon. Place your cross-stitch project, right side down, on top of two or three smooth towels. (The towels help protect the stitches on the front of the fabric from getting crushed.) You can now safely iron your cross stitch project in its entirety, applying the iron to the back side of the fabric. If you have a lot of tangles or loose threads on the back that make ironing difficult, place another towel flat over the back of the fabric and, using the next warmer setting on your iron, iron your project through the towel.