The first thing you will need to know is how to read a pattern. It’s a bit like reading a map in that you have symbols for each thread located in a legend, usually on the page following your pattern but maybe on the same page if a pattern is small. Each square represents a stitch, which is made up of two parts and framed by four holes in the fabric. The first part will go diagonally in one direction (I like bottom left to top right for the first half), and then be covered in a second diagonal line the opposite direction (top left to bottom right, in this case). It doesn’t really matter which direction you do first, but be consistent. Once you make your first stitch, because sure to do the same part first each time for a uniform look to your stitches.
Begin by looking at the pattern and finding the center. This is often marked by red lines, thicker lines, or triangles pointing to lines from the top and left sides of the page. Find the symbol closest to the center and match it with the thread color on your legend. The legend should also tell you how many strands of thread to use.
If you are using an even number of strands, using the loop start method can help you save thread and keep the back of your piece neat. To do the loop start method, cut a length of thread double the length you wish to use. Most often it is recommended that beginners use 18 inch one threads, so in this case you would cut one 36 inches long. It’s not necessary to be precise, though. I usually measure by holding the end of the thread in one hand and pulling until the bobbin or skein of thread I’m pulling from is at my opposite shoulder.
Take half as many strands apart from the thread as your pattern calls for and fold it in half. Thread the unfolded end through the eye of your needle and count from the center marking of your fabric to the bottom left (if you are left handed) or top right (if you are right handed) corner of your first stitch. Going from the back of the fabric, pull the needle and thread through the fabric, leaving the loop created by folding it in half on the back side. Put your needle through the opposite hole to make the first half of your stitch (top right if you are left handed or bottom left if you are right handed) and then put the needle through the loop of thread. Pull tight, but not too tight, to create a bit of a knot. Then you will finish the stitch by going the opposite direction, top left to bottom right or bottom right to top left, and continue making stitches in this manner until you either run out of enough thread to make the stitches comfortably or you make all the stitches in the color and are ready to change colors.
To finish off a thread, simply finish a stitch and flip your work over when the needle is on the back side. On the rear of the work, there will be straight lines. Run your needle under a few of these (around 5-7, but no need to be precise, just enough to catch half an inch or so of thread) and pull the thread through. Snip the thread close to the work, and you are ready to move on to the next color (or more of the same in the case of running out).
Here’s a great video example of the loop start method:
This video covers a few different ways to start your stitching, including the loop method:
And this video shows how to end your thread: