The hand embroidery fabric used for cross stitch differs from what you would pick for surface embroidery.
Woven fabric has threads going across and down at right angles. These are known as the warp and the weft.
When cross stitching, you need an even number of threads going each way to ensure your stitches are all the same size and shape. They then fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to accurately recreate the pattern charted on a squared grid.
Other counted thread techniques created similarly include blackwork, Hardanger, and pulled work. Needlepoint is also worked over an evenly woven ground, but in this case it is canvas.
The size of your design is not dictated by the size of the chart, but by how many threads fit into an inch of the fabric. If there are more threads, you will fit more stitches into the same area and the project will end up smaller.
When creating surface embroidery, the design is printed or drawn onto a closely woven fabric and you chose what size to work each stitch.
The photo below, shows, from left to right, Aida 14 count, Linda evenweave and a natural coloured 36 count linen. All of which consist of natural fibers.
Hang on, 14 count, what is that all about?
Counted thread embroidery is worked on fabric with an equal number of both horizontal and vertical threads per inch. The "count" of a fabric is determined by this figure. Fabrics with 14 to 36 threads per inch are most commonly used today. The higher the count, the smaller the stitches will be. The smaller the stitches are, the smaller the design will end up.
This knowledge can prove useful if you have a pattern you wish to stitch, but discover it would turn out slightly too large if stitched on the recommended fabric. For example, if your design is 140 stitches wide it will measure 10 inches on 14 count, or 8.75 inches if you swap to an 18 count fabric.
Don't want to do the calculations yourself? Use this free handy cross stitch calculator to do it for you!
The video below will explain the differences between different counts in an easy to understand way.
Aida is a fabric made of cotton threads woven in a block formation. Aida cloth is perfect if you are new to stitching because the solid blocks of fabric threads have well-defined holes in each corner, making it easy to see where the needle goes.
However, you may not like the fact that the blocks will be visible in your finished hand embroidery project. As you gain experience you might like to move on to using plain weave fabrics.
Before we move on I am obliged to mention that I have used affiliate links further down this page. These allow you to buy embroidery fabric online while this site will benefit by a commission from each sale.
Aida is available in counts of 11, 14, 16, 18 and 22. The most popular of these is 14 count and 2 strands of embroidery floss are generally used when working on this size.
I find 18 is getting just a little too difficult to see for comfortable stitching now the years are catching up with me. Time for a little magnification!
Hardanger fabric, or Oslo, is also a 100% cotton fabric woven in a block weave format. It has 22 threads to the inch, which lay in pairs. The holes are less obvious than in Aida.
As well as being used for Hardanger embroidery this material can be used for other counted thread techniques. If necessary it is possible to split the double thread to stitch an area of more detail.
If I can afford it I find pure linen is the best fabric to embroider on. - This durable, single thread hand embroidery fabric is woven from flax.
Due to the nature of the fibre, fabrics made from linen can have bumps or "slubs" which make them more tricky to work on. Some linens are quite loosely woven, which can mean that any embroidery floss carried across the back of the work is visible from the front. Linen embroidery fabrics come in a variety of thread counts amd color choices.
Some well known linens are:
Linen can also be used for surface embroidery, where the more threads there are in the ground fabric the better.
Lugana is an evenly woven cotton blend fabric composed of 52% cotton and 48% viscose. It comes in different thread counts and stitches are normally worked over two threads.
If you haven't tried this yet, check this page for instructions on how to stitch on evenweaves and linen.
Lugana is available on Amazon in an assortment of colours.
Jobelan is made from 51% cotton and 49% modal. It comes in either a 28 or 32 thread count evenweave, with a slight sheen that is ideal for stitching table linens or cushions (pillows). Being a cotton blend, it hangs well and is easy to wash.
If you like the look of linen with its uneven slubs you may also enjoy stitching on Annabelle. It is made from 100% cotton with thick and thin threads which give it the linen-like effect.
How about if you want to stitch a counted thread embroidery pattern on a garment that is not made of an evenweave material? Well there is a way around that! You can use what is known as waste canvas.
This is a grid of threads that you baste onto the garment where you want to stitch a motif. You then work through both the waste canvas and the garment fabric. When the design is complete you wet the canvas and then pull out the threads with tweezers, leaving the design sitting on the garment.
If you fancy learning more, and seeing photos of the process, be sure to check out my waste canvas page.
This is the place to ask your questions about what fabric to use? How to take care of it? How to stitch on it, etc.
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