Choosing embroidery fabric
for counted thread projects

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. We know these 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 recreate the pattern charted on a squared grid.

Other counted thread techniques created similarly include blackwork, Hardanger, and pulled work.

Needlepoint also uses an evenly woven ground, but in this case it is canvas

The size of the chart does not dictate the size of your design.

That is determined 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.

What does "thread count" mean?

The photo below shows, from left to right, Aida 14 count, Linda evenweave, and a natural coloured 36 count linen. All of which comprise natural fibers. 

Fabrics with different thread counts, all suitable for counted thread embroidery

Hang on, 14 count, what is that all about?  

Counted thread embroidery works 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. 

Video: Embroidery Fabric Count Explained

You can follow along by clicking the transcript button, below.

Aida cloth

Owl cross stitch photo
Owl stitched on Aida 14

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.

Another drawback to Aida is that it's difficult to pierce the centre of a block if your design includes fractional stitches.

Doing so can also potentially damage your embroidery floss.

Before we move on, I must 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.

It is common to use 2 strands of embroidery floss when working on fabric of 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

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 for Hardanger embroidery, we can use this material for other counted thread techniques. It is possible to split the double thread to stitch an area of more detail. 

White Hardanger 22 count fabric is available from Amazon.

Linen fabric

hardanger patterns 03 - daisy chains

If my budget permits, I find pure linen is the best fabric to embroider on. Linen is a durable, single thread hand embroidery fabric woven from flax.

Because of the fibre, fabrics made from linen can have bumps or "slubs" which make them more tricky to work on. Loosely woven linens 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 and color choices. 

Some well-known linens are:

  • Glenshee - 19 count
  • Dublin - 25 count
  • Cashel linen - 28 count
  • Belfast linen - 32 count
  • Edinburgh - 36 count

We can also use linen for surface embroidery, where the more threads there are in the ground fabric, the better. 

Other evenweave fabrics

Lugana 25 count

Lugana is an evenly woven cotton blend fabric composed of 52% cotton and 48% viscose. It comes in different thread counts, normally worked over two fabric 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 28 count

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.

Jobelan is available on Amazon

Annabelle 28 count fabric

If you like the look of linen with its uneven slubs, you may also enjoy stitching on Annabelle. Made from 100% cotton, it also has thick and thin threads which give it the linen-like effect.

Want another option?

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 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.


Still confused about embroidery fabric?

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.

[ ? ]

Do you have a picture that would help people answer your question?[ ? ]


Click here to upload more images (optional)

Author Information (optional)

To receive credit as the author, enter your information below.

(first or full name)

(e.g., City, State, Country)

Submit Your Contribution

  •  submission guidelines.

(You can preview and edit on the next page)

Can you help answer other people's questions?

Click below to see what other visitors to this page have asked...

Aida to evenweave 
Hi If I buy a kit that has aida fabric in & want to replace with evenweave, how do I work out how much fabric to buy? Is it like for like? Many thanks …

Number of Counts 
I wish to know how to consider the count number of a Canvas? For example is a 14 Count canvas bigger (bigger holes) than an 18 Count? Thank you very …

Needlework and techniques 
Can you do embroidery and cross stitch on the same type of fabric? If so, which fabric is best if you want to incorporate cross stitch with some embroidery …

Choosing the right embroidery fabric 
Why does a design say to stitch it on a #14 f(or 16 or 11, etc.) fabric? Can't I stitch on any fabric I like? Like, on a garment that I want to decorate …

Best fabric for a mix of cross stitch and embroidery 
I have been cross stitching on Aida for a while now and I am keen to try out some other fabric types. I have some of my own designs (I create custom …

Particles on evenweave when unpicking stitches 
Question: I recently bought evenweave fabric for the first time and tried cross-stitch on it. However, as I progressed on the stitches, I found that …

Switching from aida for the first time to linen/evenweave! 
I have seen the difference in the result of a picture when it is worked on linen/evenweave as opposed to Aida. I have replaced my 14 count Aida with 28 …

Fabric for beads 
Question: I am wondering what fabric to use for beading. It would be embroidery with beads, its a pretty big project. I am looking for fabric that won't …

Fabric/thread conversion 
Question: Help please. I have a project and the pattern call for 32 ct linen using two strands of floss over two threads. I am going to stitch this project …

Washing Aida cloth 
Question: Am I supposed to wash the aida cloth before I start my cross stitch project? It is often so stiff I can hardly get the hoop around it! …

How to stitch on Dublin Linen 
I am an experienced cross stitcher, however, I have never stitched on linen fabric. I recently purchased a beautiful pattern that requires that I use …

I have holes or tears in my fabric. 
Question: I have been stitching for years, have always used 14 count or maybe 11 count. Lately I have had a tear or hole in my fabric after weeks …

Stitching over 2 on 32 count Belfast linen  
What Does it mean to Stitch 2 over 2 on Belfast Linen 32 Ct?

How do I remove creases in aida cloth 
Question: I have purchased many pre-packed cross stitch kits and the aida cloth always has pressed creases it it. I wondered how I can remove them …

Using a different count evenweave fabric? Not rated yet
hi, I have been following your fantastic Hardanger tutorials and I achieved really good results, thanks to your very clear instructions. It's definitely …

stitching on linen Not rated yet
I just purchased a pattern that is calling for stitch on 32 count (I don't know what that means) Misty blue linen. I could not find this, so I purchased …

Click here to write your own.

You might like these

You might like these

Keep in Touch with Stitchin'Times Newsletter