From Chart to Fabric

All counted designs are made up of squares or parts of squares. The picture, pattern or motif is transferred to the fabric by matching the weave of the fabric to the squares of the pattern or chart. The design is transferred onto the fabric by counting the squares on the chart and matching them to the threads of the fabric (hence the name xcountedx cross stitch), so each stitch appears in the right place.

There are two main groups of fabric for counted embroidery: Aida (woven in blocks) and evenweave (woven with single threads forming the warp and weft). All fabrics for counted embroidery are woven so that they have the same number of threads or blocks to the inch in both directions, so the stitches will appear as squares or parts of squares.

Fabric for counted embroidery is bought by its thread count, which tells us its fineness. So, 14-count fabric has 14 blocks or threads to each inch. The more threads or blocks to an inch, the finer the fabric.

Aida vs. Eavenweaves and Linens

Generally speaking, stitchers like to use Aida because where one puts the needle is very obvious. You simply stitch over the "boxes" from hole to hole. A problem with Aida comes when stitching a pattern that incorporates 1/4 and 3/4 stitches. Itxs advisable to use a sharp needle (rather than the blunt needle usually used when cross-stitching) to poke through the center of the square/block to create the 1/4 stitch.

These 1/4 and 3/4 stitches are a breeze when using evenweaves and linens because then you are generally stitching "over two" meaning that every "X" stitch covers two horizontal and two vertical threads of your ground fabric. 1/4 and 3/4 stitches are easily done because your needle simply goes over one horizontal and one vertical thread to make the short arm of the stitch. One important item to note when stitching on evenweaves and linens is where you start stitching. Beginning by a vertical thread will help to keep your stitches on top of your piece because they are supported. If you begin stitching next to a horizontal thread, the stitches tend to slide or roll to the back of your work because they are not supported.

Ixve found that stitching over two is pretty easy Once you get used to seeing the vertical thread and counting two threads, itxs really no harder and no more intimidating than stitching on aida.


This excellent fabric usually in cotton or cotton blends is woven in blocks, giving obvious holes for the needle to enter, so it is ideal for the beginner.

Aida is available in 8, 11, 14, 16 and 18 blocks to the inch. When stitching on aida, one block on the fabric corresponds to one square on the chart. Certain stitches (such as three-quarter stitch) are more difficult to form on aida than on evenweave. Some linens are woven evenly, with x amount of stitches per inch, other linens are not woven evenly. Those woven evenly are the ones we stitch on and can be purchased in your local needlework specialty shop.


Evenweave means just that the same number of vertical threads as horizontal threads per inch,. There are evenweave fabrics and non-evenweave fabrics. The difference between evenweaves and non-evenweaves has nothing to do with fabric content (i.e. flax (linen), or cotton (Aida)), but how the cloth is woven.

I think the confusion is evenweave versus single weave fabric. Counted needlework is normally done on evenweave fabric. So that when you stitch a picture it reproduces looking like like the picture not distorted . Evenweaves are 'single thread' fabrics, Evenweaves can be in any material linen, cotton, Polyester, sometimes blends like Lugana, or Jobelan.

Aida cloth is usually woven out of cotton in blocks of 4 threads. Aida is usually 11 through 18count . There are fabrics woven to look like aida that are larger in count, i.e. 7count Klostern and 22 count Hardanger is woven to look like Aida, but there is only 2 threads in it's blocks

Now, as for the "evenweave" fabrics used for embroidery, the main difference between evenweaves and linens is fiber content. Linen is made of the fibers from the flax plant

Evenweaves are woven so that the stitches per inch ARE equal vertically and horizontally. Also, though both types of fabrics are a simple weave (over, under, over, under, over, under), evenweaves like Jobelan and Lugana have every-other hole slightly larger. This slightly larger hole is next to the "vertical thread" that we look for to begin our stitching. So our needle is going up and down in the slightly larger holes and skipping the slightly smaller holes. (Kathy Dyer taught me that in a chat room long ago!) Because of the cue these slightly larger holes give the stitcher, and the even density of the weave, Jobelan and Lugana are often recommended when learning to stitch "over two."

Some evenweaves are, others are blends of fibers, including cottons, linens, or synthetics. Fiber content varies in fabrics for counted thread: some are 100% cotton and some are cotton/polyester blends. The different fiber content blends have different fabric names. And the same fiber content blends but in different stitch counts (stitches per inch) have different names. Thus these two fabrics, though almost identical in fiber content, have different names because of the different stitch counts:

There are uneven weaves on the market, but they are not normally used for counted thread needlework like cross-stitch. There is at least one company that has linen woven in uneven count (i.e. 27 X 32CT) in order to reproduce antique samplers as close to the original as possible. If you buy your fabric from a needlework shop, your fabric will almost assuredly be an evenweave. If you buy linen at a fabric store or some other outlet....check it out. It may not be an evenweave!

Most of the fabric we use for needlework comes from the U.K., Denmark, Belgium, Germany, or Switzerland..

Linen tends to have the slubs and may or may not be an evenweave ... with the stitches per inch being equal vertically and horizontally. The linens we use for counted thread techniques are woven with the attempt to have equal stitches per inch in both directions. The amount of slubs in your linen is often directly in proportion to the cost: the better the linen, the less slubs and the more evenly woven the fabric will be; the less expensive the fabric, the more slubs and more uneven the width of the individual fibres making up the fabric. Pure linen generally has every hole the same size. Because of this, some stitchers find it somewhat difficult to keep track of which hole is the right one in which to begin stitching.

Aida and Hardanger cloth are woven with more than one vertical thread going over and under an equal amount of horizontal threads. Aida is woven in block of 4 threads; Hardanger is woven in blocks of 2 threads.

Because fiber content and weave are the keys to the name of a fabric, you can find linen aida ...... a fabric made of flax but woven like aida in blocks of 4 threads (looks like stitching over little "boxes"). However, most aida is made of 100% cotton in stitch counts of 11ct to 22 ct.

And then there is. Annabelle. A 28 count, 100% cotton, with slubs. Not a linen (by fibre content) and not a true even weave (by nature of the slubs).

Fabric Tips

Preparing your fabric

Bind the edges to prevent fraying. The best ways are to serge your fabric edges, zig-zag the edges, or fold over and baste the edges. Some Stitchers tape edges, or even use Fray Checkx. However, these products contain acidic ingredients which over time may damage your needlework. I use Fray check and leave large borders around my work. Since I always wash my project when I am finished the fray check will be washed away or I could cut off the borders where the fray check was used.

Holding fabric

It is good practise to avoid touching the front surface of your fabric. If not using any kind of stretcher/hoop you can roll your fabric from the bottom up with the back outside and hold the roll in your off hand, unfurling the roll as you go. Because my projects are large and take some time to do I roll up the fabric I am not using and then baste it in place. It is a few minutes work to take out the basting and unroll the fabric I need and then rebaste the remaining fabric in the roll.

For some stitches it is important to have the fabric held taught. This can be done by using hoops, scroll frames, Q-Snapsx etc. When using a hoop it sometimes helps if you use fold back a corner of the fabric and use it to hold the hoop frame. Be sure to use a hoop of frame that does not touch the work you have done as this will stretch and leave marks in your finished piece.

When not stitching remove your work from the hoop or release the tension on a scroll frame. This will help prevent hoop marks and allow the fabric to relax.

General Tips

Locate the center of your design and the center of your fabric before beginning. I often mark my fabric by running a single contrasting thread, along the center vertical and center horizontal lines. I go over ten squares (or ten threads in even weave) and under ten squares. This helps not only to indicate the center but also acts as a nice reference for counting. When all stitching is complete, pull out these threads. You could always use a fine rayon thread as it slips out easily and does not leave any trace of dye like some of the other fibres do.

If you're new to working on linen, even if you've worked on other evenweaves, such as congress cloth, there are some tricks and tips that will make learning to stitch on this fabric easier.

When you look at the linen, you will see that the threads are not all the same size. Moreover, if you follow a thread across the fabric, you will see that a single thread changes size! The threads are "fat" and "thin," and sometimes there are "lumps" (called "slubs"). Yes, as you have deduced, your cross stitches will vary in size, but only minutely.

Another you'll see when you look at the linen is that there is a lot of "air" in the weave. This means the weave is delicate. Actually, the linen threads that make up the fabric are -very- strong; it's just the weave that looks weak. The linen threads do move around in the weave, too.

The way to combat the "mobile" threads that make up the linen: start southwest of a vertical thread. If your first cross stitch leg goes like this - - / - - that is, from SW to NE, the leg will be going over that intersection with the vertical thread on top.

Take a moment and look at the cloth. Use magnification, if necessary. Look at two adjacent thread intersections. Do you see that one of them has a horizontal thread on top and the other has the vertical thread on top? You want to send your needle up in the hole to the bottom and left of ("SW of") the intersection where the vertical thread of the linen is on top.

When the first leg of the cross stitch is made over the vertical intersection, this helps stabilize the intersection.

There's another reason to start SW of a vertical thread.

Perhaps you have had the experience of having a cross stitch leg "disappear" under an intersection? Disappear to the point where you wonder whether you forgot to stitch that leg yet?

What probably has happened is that the thread has slipped down under that horizontal thread which was on top of the intersection. Think of that horizontal thread as a pocket on a jacket. Your diagonal thread slipped down into it.

If you think of the vertical thread as a tree, then your diagonal doesn't have anything to slip down into at all. There's no pocket on a tree!

With some ultra-complex charts, stitchers baste grid lines on their fabric. These lines correspond to the heavy lines (every 10th grid) on the chart. This is an aid to counting and to accuracy.

Your chart is (almost always) a grid of 10x10 squares. Basically, you baste the same grid onto your fabric, and then you relate and check your stitches against that grid as well as to each other.

Creating the Grid

Locate the center points of your fabric: top and either side.

On your chart, locate the two darker grid lines closest to the center marks on the same top and side.

Basting over-2 and under-2 threads, baste the vertical and horizontal lines closest to those markers

I use ordinary sewing thread, and pick a color which is pleasing to the eye with enough contrast to the fabric to make it very visible. For these first two lines I generally use a different color, to identify the center visually.

Your fabric is now separated into 4 quadrants. Since you have basted over-2, under-2 you can use these lines to count stitches.

Count out from the center and mark the outside edges of your chart. Now you know the limits of the design.

This next part will be tedious, but it prevents later frogging, so is worth the time. And it takes less time than frogging! [For those of you not acquainted with this delightful process, it's also called ripping. As is "rip-it, rip-it!"]

Baste in the remaining chart lines, 10 stitches apart. On evenweave, this is 20 threads. As I baste, I put what I call a *tick* mark at each 10th stitch along the line I'm basting: ---|---------|---

The first few times I used this method I basted ALL the grid lines, so that my fabric was marked off into 10x10 squares just like the chart. Now I baste just the verticals or just the horizontals, as my eye has learned to "connect" and "see" the connecting lines from one tick mark to the next.

Using the Grid

The thing that all this does for you: each stitch you will enter is never more than 5 stitches away from a grid line, i.e. a checkpoint. You will find yourself muttering: *it's the second stitch below the line and 3 stitches to the right of the left side* -- that sort of thing. Using this kind of thinking, you can stitch ANYWHERE on the design, whether there are nearby stitches or not.

You do not have to grid the whole thing before beginning; try a quadrant at a time where you will be stitching.

Remove these basting stitches as you reach them when working so as not to catch your needle in them. Take out only the ones you will be overstitching, leave the rest in place to indicate the chart lines for counting purposes.

Well, these are the basics of gridding. It can seem tedious; but having learned to do it (which I do while listening to music or to TV) it has paid off 1000-fold in accuracy and confidence.


A "skinny" quarter of cotton fabric is 45 inches wide and is measured and cut 9 inches long (a quarter of a yard)-- so you have a piece 9" x 45". A fat quarter is cut 18 inches long, and then cut again crosswise so it is 22-1/2 inches wide It is the same amount of fabric, but in a different shape.

Dark Fabrics

No matter if you are using aida, an evenweave or linen, dark fabrics have their own difficulties—especially at night. It's hard to see the holes! Stitching with black floss on a dark ground fabric is a particular feat! Some solutions:

1. Put a white towel in your lap.

2.Wear white or light gray pants while stitching.

3.Put a light UNDER your work, across the room, or face the sun so your light source shows through the back.

4.Use a good light.

Light Fabrics

Likewise, light colored fabrics have their difficulties. Some Stitchers report that their dark-colored floss leaves marks on their light-colored stitches. One suggested solution:

1. Always stitch the dark colors first.


Hand-Dyed and Specialty Linens

Hand-dyed linens are becoming more and more popular these days. These linens are usually colored using natural vegetable dyes. It is recommended that you keep your hands clean while stitching on them and that you NOT wash your completed project because these dyes are not always color-fast. The ground fabric dyes can bleed if you wash them. Another aspect of hand-dyed linens is that the colors may not be consistent and smooth throughout the fabric. You may see "splotches" of color that are a deeper hue or lighter hue than the piece as a whole. That is a normal part of the hand-dyed process. Stitchers often have a strong reaction to this "splotchiness" ... they either love it for its unique qualities, or hate if for its unevenness.

Types of aida:

Linen Aida 9 ct. Linen blend: cotton and linen. Stiff like aida, not as delicate as linen. Texture a bit like Klostern, but doesnxt fray as badly. Great to use with perle coton.

Fiddler's ClothFiddler's Cloth

Fiddlerxs Cloth and Fiddlerxs Light 50% cotton, 42% polyester, 8% linen. This may not technically be an aida, but it has the same square look. The 14 ct. now comes in: tan/beige, lavender, heather/gray, mauve, a blue and a green. 16 ct. and 18 ct. are also available. Made by Charles Craft. This has a very interesting rough, nubby texture that is strange to stitch on, but the finished projects look great. A map done on the beige had an antique look.

Banjo Cloth Cotton/polyester/linen. 14 count. This looks a bit like Fiddler's Cloth, but with different coloring. It's not as nubby as Fiddlers, but has an interesting color pattern. Manufactured by Regency Mills, Inc.

Brittney (now called Lugana 28 count) 28 ct. 52% cotton, 48% rayon. Manufactured by Zweigart. This is a very nice fabric to stitch on because it is "springy".

White Birch Heatherfield, 26 count 100% polyacrylic (linen tweed). Very soft, flimsy. Fun. Has flecks of greens, reds and blues. One Stitcher used it for Christmas ornaments.


Jobelan 16, 20, 28 and 32 ct. 51% cotton, 49% polyester. A heavy fabric.

Klostern 7 ct. 40% cotton, 60% rayon. Good for pillows.

Lugana 25 ct. 52% cotton, 48% rayon. A great choice for your first evenweave project. This is a heavy fabric.

Monaco 100% cotton. Fairly easy to find, this is known as a good ground fabric for silk ribbon embroidery.

Quaker 55% linen, 45% cotton. Manufactured by Zweigart. This fabric has very nice body and is wonderful to work on.

Valerie (now called Lugana 20) 52% cot/48% rayon. This fabric is known as Bellana in Europe. Manufactured by Zweigart.

Waste Canvas, is used as a temporary ground fabric that allows you to stitch evenly on garments

Evenweave linen

This lovely, if slightly more expensive, fabric made from flax has been used for counted cross stitch for centuries. Linen has natural irregularities, which add to the charm of your stitching, and help to emulate the style of an antique piece. It is available in white, antique white, cream, raw or natural shades – and some gorgeous new colours, featured in our Linen Cupboard.

Stitching on linen is no more complicated than stitching on aida, but requires a different technique. To even out the irregularities, cross stitch is worked over two threads in each direction.

Incidentally, linen is not the only fabric with slubs (which are not considered undesirable imperfections, but rather as additional texture). Alma, for example, is an evenweave blend [28 count; Fiber content: 51% cotton/ 48% rayon] whose colors carry a white slub which gives the pastels a frosted look.


Jobelan (evenweave)

The Jobelan range of specialist needlework fabric includes an excellent evenweave fabric made of a mixture of cotton and Modal. Woven in single threads rather than blocks (similar to linen), it is easy to wash and iron and is available in over forty colours.

Zweigart Linda (evenweave)

Linda is similar to linen in appearance. Made from a mixture of cotton and synthetic fibres, it is ideal for products that need to be xeasy-carex, such as baby clothes and table linens.