I know many places—even hobby and fabric stores—use needlepoint and cross-stitch interchangeably. They are two different types of embroidery, though. They should be treated as two separate things. I know there are fellow crafters out there who prefer one over the other. Maybe they like the uniformity of cross-stitch or the creativity of needlepoint. Personally, I like to do both! It depends on my mood and the pattern that I want to do. My kids say that what this really means is that I am not picky. Maybe they are right.
Let’s talk about the differences so you can decide for yourself if one might be more to your liking:
The first difference you can see before you even start. Needlepoint and cross-stitch are typically done on two different types of material. Needlepoint uses material that has a big, open fabric that is more hole than material; usually the design will be done on something like canvas or gauze. Sometimes it can even look like stiff, holey graph paper. Cross-stitch can be done on a much tighter weave of fabric, like a regular piece of cotton.
The second difference is in the type of stitching. When you do cross-stitch, you are making a stitch and then crossing over it to form an X shape, hence the name cross-stitch. The stitches are uniform in type. Depending on the design, they could be uniform in size or have some larger than others. Needlepoint, on the other hand, requires more of a variety of stitches to complete the design. Some stitches will go vertical, some will go horizontal, some diagonal; they can even overlap or create patterns within the design. It will depend on the image, but needlepoint can be more complex visually and require more creativity to achieve the end result. Because there are so many different types of needlepoint stitching techniques, beginners may want to start with cross-stitch.The repetitive nature of the stitching can increase your skill level rapidly. However, some of the less intricate needlepoint patterns can also be great for novices!
Third is the thread. While you can cross stitch with yarn instead of thread, it is not as easy (and it will greatly depend on the material you are using to work on). Needlepoint, on the other hand, is a versatile technique that works well with thicker threads and yarn—you can just use different stitches. It really depends on the materials used, the pattern you want to make, and the desired look you want to achieve.
As you can see by my list, I am not an advocate of one over the other. I really think that it depends on your confidence, skill level, and what look you are trying to achieve. There are gorgeous patterns out there for both techniques so I don’t think one has an advantage in that regard, either. Plus, the end result for both is a beautifully handmade project. That means, at least to me, you can’t go wrong no matter what you choose!