Before we begin looking at the different types of cross stitch fabric, we should clarify what the 'count' is – a word you'll often come across. The definition of the count differs for particular fabric types, so we'll define as such. For Aida, it refers to the number of square holes a piece of fabric has per inch. One hole equates to one stitch, so the higher the count, the smaller and closer the holes are in an inch of fabric, meaning that the fabric can hold more stitches. For Evenweave, it refers to the number of weft and warp threads a piece of fabric has per inch – the higher the count, the finer and tighter the weave will be in an inch of fabric.
Designed for cross stitch, Aida Cloth is a canvas material with evenly woven threads that form tiny squares, or visible stitching holes, to allow easy stitching. Aida is available in a variety of sizes - the higher the count, the more square holes it has per inch. For example, 14-count Aida has 14 holes, or stitches, per inch.
Aida is often the fabric of choice for those starting out in cross stitch. Purchasable in a range of colours and sizes, this stiff fabric has consistently spaced stitching holes which makes it easy to see where to stitch. It's best to begin your first project on a relatively low count cloth - although the design will be less detailed, it means that the stitching will be less complex and will allow you to practise your stitches.
Evenweave Fabric has the same number and thickness of threads going across (weft) in an inch as it does going down (warp), resulting in square stitches. Differing from Aida, the threads are counted instead of the squares in the fabric to determine the count. For example, 25-count evenweave fabric has 25 weft threads and 25 warp threads per inch of material.
Evenweave isn't recommended for the cross stitch novice, however is the perfect platform to advance onto with experience. A softer fabric, it's ideal for making cushions and typically comes with a higher count than Aida, meaning that it's usually worked over two threads, unless you're adding finer details.
Linen Cloth is constructed from flax – the natural cellulose fibres grown in flax plant stalks. Although it has similar properties to Evenweave fabric, Linen has natural irregularities in terms of thread thickness. This means that although it generally has the same number of weft and warp threads in an inch of fabric, like Evenweave does, the thread thickness across the whole length of cloth may be a little inconsistent – which gives it an antiqued appearance. Linen often has a higher thread count, reaching up to 40-count, which means that it's ideal for detailed stitchwork.
If you want to embroider a design onto clothing, a towel or a pillowcase of regular plainweave fabric, this may prove difficult without a count. Cross stitch fabrics lack the soft, wearable quality that fabrics like cotton hold, and aren't favoured for use in dressmaking – so what should you do?
There is, in fact, a clever alternative to creating garments from these specialty fabrics: using a Waste Canvas. Providing a suitable base for counted cross stitch, this temporary canvas is attached to your fabric, stitched onto, and then removed once stitching is complete. The canvas is simply dampened and the threads are pulled away, leaving your design embroidered onto your plainweave fabric.