The primary difference between needlepoint and cross stitch is the type of stitch used to create the craft. Cross stitch featured an intersecting stitch that forms an "X" or cross while needlepoint traditionally featured the tent stitch, which was half of a cross stitch. Both crafts are commonly done on canvas fabric, though the stiffness and weight of the fabric varies. The type of thread used in cross stitch and needlepoint often differs as well.
In modern times, needlepoint and cross stitch differ because needlepoint has come to be used as a more general term for any sort of embroidery work, involving any type of stitch, so long as the stitcher is able to easily count her stitches as she works. Cross stitch involves just a few types of stitches: the full cross stitch as well half and quarter stitches and the back stitch. Back stitches are used to outline the work.
Needlepoint and cross stitch commonly use different materials. The canvas used for needlepoint is generally much stiffer and heavier than that used for cross stitch. Needlepoint canvas is an open weave that has holes large enough to fit the thread. Most needlepoint canvas has larger holes than the canvas used for cross stitch. The pattern can be painted directly on the canvas, so that the stitcher simply follows along with her needle and thread.
There are three main types of cross stitch canvas. Counted cross stitch is common on Aida cloth, a type of canvas with three strands of thread between each hole. Aida cloth usually does not have an imaged printed on it. The stitcher transfers a design from a grid onto the cloth by counting each stitch she makes.
Like most needlepoint, some cross stitch canvases have the pattern printed directly on them. The stitcher does not need to count her stitches as she works. She simply needs to make sure that she places each stitch over the printed "X" to conceal it and uses the proper thread color for each section of the design. An embellished cross stitch canvas is a combination of counted and printed cross stitch. Portions of the design are printed on the canvas, but the crafter needs to count the main stitches in order to get the design right.
Several types of thread can be used to create needlepoint and cross stitch. Wool was traditionally used to make needlepoint stitches, though cotton embroidery floss can also be used to create a lighter finished product. Cross stitch primarily uses cotton floss, usually the six strand variety, though other materials such as rayon or nylon are sometimes used as well. Braided floss may also be used on cross stitch to give the finished product more texture.