Counted Thread Embroidery Fabrics 101

Plain weave, even-weave, Aida, Hardanger, linen, Lugana, canvas. These are words we hear when discussing counted thread embroidery fabric—that is, fabric for cross stitch, blackwork, Hardanger, needlepoint, etc. Have you ever wondered what some of these words mean? It’s time to find out.

Funk & Weber, different embroidery fabrics

Herta, Aida, Hardanger, Ariosa, Lugana, Linen, Canvas

  • Funk & Weber, plain weave diagram

    Plain Weave

    “Plain weave” refers to the way the warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) fibers of a fabric are woven together. Plain, satin, and twill are the fundamental textile weaves. In plain weave fabrics, the weft fibers cross warp fibers by going over one, under one, over one, under one, and so on.

    The weave can be loose or tight. Most plain weave fabrics for counted thread embroidery have very loose weaves so we can count the fibers or spaces between them, but muslin, taffeta, and the cotton calico we use in quilting are plain weave fabrics, too.


    “Even-weave” refers to fabrics in which the number of vertical fibers is the same as the number of horizontal fibers in a square inch. The weave is even, vertically and horizontally, so our stitches are predictably square and even. Cross stitch fabrics are even-weaves.

    Oh, and to make things really easy, these words might be written as “plainweave” or “evenweave” or “even weave.” Two words, one word, hyphenated . . . whatever. We’re creatives–with fabric and fiber and spelling!

  • Funk & Weber, Herta fabric from Zweigart®


    Herta is a 100% cotton Zweigart® fabric similar to Aida. Groups of threads intersect to form clearly delineated squares over and around which stitches are made. Herta squares are larger than Aida squares; i.e. there are fewer squares per inch.

  • Funk & Weber, Aida fabric from Wichelt Imports, Inc.


    Aida cloth (100% cotton, and all sorts of blends: cotton/modal, linen/polyester, etc.), like Herta, is not a plain weave, but it is an even-weave. Groups of threads intersect to form squares over and around which stitches are made.

  • Funk & Weber, Hardanger fabric


    “Hardanger” is the name of an embroidery style as well as the name of a fabric. Hardanger embroidery is a kind of open work that originated in the Hardanger region of Norway hundreds of years ago. As you would guess, Hardanger fabric (100% cotton) is commonly used for Hardanger embroidery, but that’s not strictly necessary. Other fabrics can be used for Hardanger embroidery, and Hardanger fabric can be use for other kinds of counted thread embroidery.

    Note that warp and weft threads are paired. Because of this pairing, some may categorize this as a baskeweave instead of a plain weave, but even so, that’s merely a variation of plain weave. It is also an even-weave.

  • Funk & Weber, Ariosa fabric from Zweigart®


    Zweigart’s Ariosa (60% modal, 40% cotton) fabric is a plain weave. If you look closely at the fibers, you’ll see that they’re irregular, wider in some places, skinnier in others. The fiber count is still even–or even-enough–but some stitches will be slightly larger than others. This is the nature of the fabric.

  • Funk & Weber, Lugana fabric from Zweigart®


    Lugana (52% cotton, 48% modal) from Zweigart® is another plain weave fabric, but the fibers are uniform. It’s as even as even-weave gets.

  • Funk & Weber, Linen fabric from Wichelt


    “Linen” refers to both fiber and fabric. It’s is made from the flax plant. Slightly irregular fiber diameters and slubs are common and part of the fabric’s charm. It results in stitches of slightly different sizes now and then. Counted thread embroidery uses loosely woven even-weave linen, but crewel embroidery is often worked on more tightly woven linen twill–one of the other fundamental textile weaves.

  • Funk & Weber, monocanvas from Zweigart®


    This 100% cotton monocanvas from Zweigar® has an open and even plain weave. Canvases come in a variety of weaves and structures, including double mesh and interlock with twists that secure thread intersections.

I have my favorite fabrics, of course, as I’m sure you do. My fabric choice is guided by

  • the embroidery technique and fiber I’m using
  • the color I want
  • the feel of the fabric
  • what’s on hand

We have all kinds of embroidery fabrics available to us. When you get down to it, I’ve used relatively few. Perhaps it’s time to broaden my horizons and try some new ones.

What are some of your favorite fabrics, and how do you go about choosing fabric for a project?

12 Responses to “Counted Thread Embroidery Fabrics 101”

  1. Harriet, Norway

    This gives me the best heartbeat ever, thank you!

    January 31, 2011 @ 11:52 pm
  2. Jen

    I love that image and sentiment, Harriet. Beautiful things come from English as a second language. I like to think I say beautiful things in Spanish.

    February 2, 2011 @ 8:17 am
  3. Becca

    Thanks for the info on modal you included in the Nutshell. Meran is probably my absolute favorite fabric (you introduced me to it) I hope it is environmentally sound

    February 2, 2011 @ 2:40 pm
  4. Paula

    I love linen for cross stitch, BUT my EYES love aida. sigh.
    Super nice blog post!

    February 3, 2011 @ 7:07 am
  5. Jen

    I remain lucky with my eyes, but they’re not what they used to be. Several years ago, when my eyes were even better, I explored lights and magnifiers used in embroidery. At the time, my conclusion was, “Heck, with tools like these, I’ll be able to stitch until I’m 120.”

    Everyone’s eyes are different, and I’m sure that conclusion is not true for everyone, but lights and magnifiers are worth looking into. If Aida remains the best choice, hurray! We love Aida!

    February 3, 2011 @ 8:42 am
  6. A perfect place to make sure that Aida is pronounced correctly! It got the name from the inventor, a German gentleman whose wife was having difficulty seeing the two threads required in the Danish kits she loved. He called it after his wife. Her name? Aida… like the Opera

    February 10, 2011 @ 4:36 am
  7. Jen

    Wonderful, Marion! I have always wondered how “Aida” was pronounced, and I’ve asked many, many people—because people ask me. I once called people in the fabric manufacturing business to ask, but was offered uncertain opinions only, with most people concluding “either one.” No one offered the history you do here. Clearly, I never asked the right person.

    I used to say “eye-EE-da,” but in recent years switched to “A-da.” I stand corrected by someone whose embroidery work and knowledge is highly respected all over the world, and who, quite simply, I admire and trust.

    When I talk about the difference between blanket and buttonhole stitches (did you know there is a difference?)–something I learned from Marion–I refer to “the Marion Scoular school of thought.” “Thought” may not be the best word choice, but it’s the “Scoular school” I like.

    Marion teaches embroidery. If you have a chance to take one of her classes, I highly recommend it. She’s a wealth of knowledge and an excellent teacher.

    Go ahead–ask me how to pronounce “Aida.” I have an answer now.

    February 10, 2011 @ 6:15 am
  8. Becca

    Hey! Jen! How do you pronounce “Aida”?

    February 13, 2011 @ 2:38 pm
  9. […] same direction, but how we achieve that doesn’t matter. When we cross over one thread on a plainweave fabric, it […]

    July 1, 2011 @ 2:04 pm
  10. […] as to have one, cannot possibly carry them all. Don’t be afraid to use an alternate fabric. Get the scoop on basic embroidery fabrics here, and learn how to make fabric substitutions with confidence. Most shop owners will be able—and […]

    May 20, 2012 @ 12:08 pm
  11. Austin

    I noticed fabric called by the name “fiddler’s cloth”. Can you give a description of this material and is use?

    November 9, 2012 @ 9:59 am
  12. Jen

    Hi, Austin. Thanks for posting your question about Fiddler’s cloth.

    The short answer is that Fiddler’s cloth is a kind of Aida, so it’s got interwoven squares to stitch over and lots of sizing to make it stiff like canvas. Charles Craft’s Fiddler cloth is a blend of 50% cotton, 42% polyester, and 8% linen, and is available in 14- and 18-count sizes.

    It comes in beige/tan/brown colors, like “oatmeal,” and has a “country” or homespun look and feel because of the irregular coloring. Think: tan fabric with darker fibers and slubs running through it. “Mottled” and “tweed” are words that come to mind.

    The long answer might be a future blog post. I have further questions about the fabric for which I’d like to try to find answers (because it’s fun!). Stay tuned! In the meantime, I hope this helps.

    November 10, 2012 @ 6:44 am

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