Cross Stitch: Some Explanations about Counts and Fabrics

comments: 25

Hello, dear friends! I'm knocking things off my list today. I've wound yarn, made stitch markers, taken pictures, and gotten all of the second-batch Time of Flowers kit orders out. Whee!

The PDF-only option for Time of Flowers is also now available and you can purchase it here.

Pattern Cover

This pattern is a digital download, and will be made available via a link on the screen immediately upon completion of payment. A link will also be sent (automatically and immediately) to the email address you use to order the pattern. Please save all downloads like this directly to your hard-drive in case you need to reprint in the future. As always, if you have any trouble, please let me know!

I'm sorry it has taken me so long to write this little informational post for you. I've been meaning to do it for ages. I get a fair amount of questions about substituting fabrics for my cross stitch patterns, and I'm going to try to break down a few of the options, and make things like stitch counts and fabric counts more clear than they perhaps might be to you right now. I'm going to take a lot of the information in this post from a tutorial that I wrote several years ago that you can always find on; if you haven't read that and you're still finding yourself confused by this, give that a look and then let me know how I can help clarify further.

But, generally:

Counted cross stitch is not worked onto fabric that has been pre-printed. Counted cross stitch uses special fabrics that are called evenweave fabrics. These fabrics are woven so that they have the same number of warp threads (or, the threads running lengthwise through the fabric) and the same number of weft threads (or, the threads running crosswise, from selvedge to selvedge). In counted cross stitch (and from here on out, I'll just call it cross stitch) you work each stitch over the grid of perfect squares made by the warp and weft threads of your fabric.

Cross stitch can be done on different kinds of evenweave fabric, including evenweave linen, some woven ginghams, Aida cloth (which has a very ponounced grid that helps you see the holes into which your stitches go), waste canvas (which is a removable grid you temporarily apply to a piece of non-evenweave fabric that helps you place your stitches), and various other types of fabrics made especially for cross stitching. The fiber content and type of weave of the fabric you choose to use is largely a matter of personal preference. I use linen fabric for my kits (and the samples I've made up for my patterns), but a lot of people ask me if they can substitute Aida cloth. And the answer is: Yes! You can! I'll explain further.

What really matters is the "count" of the fabric. Thread count refers to the number of warp and weft threads per inch in the woven fabric. Stitch count refers to the number of cross stitches per inch you will have in your finished design. Aida cloth, for instance, is labeled according to stitch count; 10-count Aida cloth gives you 10 stitches per inch. Evenweave linen, however, is labeled according to thread count; 28-[thread]-count evenweave linen will give you a stitch count of 14, since cross stitch on this kind of linen is worked over 2 warp threads horizontally, and 2 weft threads vertically.

Look very closely at the photo above and you can see the crossed stitches going over 2 threads in each direction.

To work designs in cross stitch you follow a chart. Each colored box (generally with a symbol in it) on the chart represents one set of crossed stitches. Each set of crossed stitches is relative to the other stitches in the design, so you're only ever "counting" a few stitches away from the last stitch you just made. Each color on the chart represents a specific color of six-strand embroidery floss. A color key helps you define each color of floss.

TutorialChart(If the chart is too small for you to see comfortably, just enlarge it on a color copier. A good full-spectrum lamp is a must in dim light. I use this particular Ott light and I love it. When I'm not using it I fold it up and drop it down behind my side table and I never have to look at it. I used to have a big, huge gooseneck Ott light and I much prefer this tiny one; for what I'm doing, it works just as well, and in a small house is a better fit.)

"Count" is very important when choosing fabrics for cross stitching because the number of stitches per inch can drastically change the look of a design. In general, fabric with a lower stitch count will produce a coarser looking design, where the crosses will be larger and more pronounced. Fabric with a higher stitch count will produce designs that are smaller and finer. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to show you some different samples done on two different kinds of fabrics (Aida and linen) with different counts. So let's look at the first one:


This one, as indicated, is stitched on 8-count Aida fabric. Aida fabric is a good choice if you are a beginner to counted cross-stitch, or if you've struggled with evenweave fabrics in the past. If you look closely, you can see that the stitches are made directly into four little holes in each of the corners of a "square" space. Each square space equals one square on your chart. The holes are very pronounced and much easier to see than they are on linen.

Linen normally doesn't come in a stitch count this big (or, in other words, in a number this small — remember, stitch count number refers to stitches per inch; the lower the number, the fewer stitches per inch. The fewer stitches the stitches per inch, the bigger those stitches have to be). Eight stitches per inch is really quite big, but I wanted to use it to show you exactly how the same design translates into different sizes using different count fabrics. Here's the same design on 14-count Aida fabric:


Notice that the size of the scissors is fairly consistent here, but that the teacup is significantly smaller. Same design + different stitch count = different size finished piece. To see the same design on 28-thread-count linen (which, if you remember, is done over 2 threads, and so is actually 14 stitches per inch), regard this one:


See how those last two, even though they are on different kinds of fabric, are the same size? That's because they both have the same stitch count at 14 stitches per inch.

My seasonal series (both First Snow and Time of Flowers, and the upcoming designs for summer and fall) are all done on 32-count Belfast linen, which has a stitch count of 16 stitches per inches. Compare this to previous samples:


A bit smaller than the 14-counts.

A word about embroidery floss: All of the designs that I write patterns for that are worked on 28- or 32-count fabrics use 2 plies of floss per stitch. To separate plies, you simply take your length of floss by the middle and gently work the 2 plies away from the original 6. Some people even separate the 2 plies away from each other to sort of plump up the thread, but I don't. I don't like the way it looks. That's just personal preference, so do whatever works for you.

Now, here's something important to remember: Let's say that you want to stitch Time of Flowers but you don't want to do it on the fabric that I've used. That is perfectly fine, but let's look at something real quick. Please notice this line on the front cover of the pattern (and all patterns should have a line that reads very much like this on them):

Finished size of design area: 6"w x 8.5"h (15cm x 22cm); 101 stitches wide x 136 high on 32-count fabric

This means that, when finished, the width of the stitched area will be 6 inches, the height of the stitched area will be 8.5 inches on 32-count fabric. If you decide to use a different count fabric, you will need to recalculate the finished size of the design area. To do that, work backwards. Take the number of stitches the design is wide (101) and divide it by the stitch count of your fabric — let's just say you're going to use 8-count Aida.

101 stitches divided by 8 stitches per inch = 12.625 inches wide
136 stitches (width) divided by 8 stitches per inch = 17 stitches high

Seeeeee how much bigger that difference translates to, in terms of the overall design? You're going from a 6" x 8.5" design that will fit into an 8" x 10" frame to an almost 13" x 17" design, not including ANY margins around the design area. That's a pretty big difference, so you just need to pay attention to that count. You can do any design on any fabric you'd like, but do make sure that you know how big the finished design area will be.

When you're purchasing fabric, you always want to make sure that you've got about 3" of extra fabric around each side of the design area. This allows you to easily mount your fabric in the hoop while you're working and also gives you enough space around your design area to stretch the fabric when you frame.

There are lots of places to purchase cross stitch supplies on-line. I know that Aida actually makes a 16-count fabric in Sea Lily (the color of linen I used for Time of Flowers) that can be purchased here. If you're local, I highly recommend you go out to Acorns and Threads sometime and visit Jeannine and the ladies there. This is such a gorgeous store with some of the best customer service you will receive anywhere, for anything. This store is a true local treasure, and it will inspire you more than I can say.

Did I miss anything? Please feel free to ask about anything that's unclear! Let me know!


Thank you so much for this information! So helpful!

Chandrika says: April 07, 2018 at 05:35 AM

I buy my crosstich material from Joanns which is a expensive place. Is there a cheaper store. Appreciate if you can tell me.

Susan Roberts says: April 07, 2018 at 05:58 AM

An incredible amount of information - thank you! This must have taken a long time to do and truly appreciate it! I received my cross stitch kit right before Easter and I hope you can relax a little bit now! Must have been a whirl-wind with Easter etc. Thank you!

Thanks for all that information - well done! I was going to order the kit but just wasn't sure my ageing eyes could manage that thread count. I'll re-consider, perhaps ordering that lovely Lily aida cloth you gave the link for - but, just a FYI, it shows a 16 count, not 14.

The link to the Ott light isn't working, and I want to see what you use because I've been thinking I need to get one. (My eyes are really aging lately.) Thanks for a great post--I'm sure it took a long time to write.

This certainly is helpful. I don’t think I can manage the tiny stitches you do! However a magnifying lamp...I think they have those out there, would help!
Thank you.

Thank you Mary and Tracy! Mary, it actually should be 16-count (my text was wrong; fixed now) and Tracy, I thought that link looked weird when I put it it -- sorry about that. Fixed now, thank you. :)

Chandrika, I'm not sure -- I think JoAnn's is probably a good bet, or possibly Michael's. Cross-stitch fabric can be very expensive because it is so special and is manufactured in very few places, all of which I know of are in Europe. It might be worth checking eBay -- frequently I see people trying to pass along entire stashes-worth of fabric, floss, etc., and you might be able to score a lot for only a little $. :)

Doris Barile says: April 07, 2018 at 12:39 PM

Thank you for all the info!

This is such a handy reference! I got the kit for Time of Flowers, but this is helpful for future plans and branching out. I am new to stitching on linen, and found it very difficult for the first hour or so but then it became much, much easier as I got used to it (sharing in case anyone else finds it hard at first - don't get discouraged!). I love the look of the stitches on linen - so perfect.

Doris Barile says: April 08, 2018 at 12:36 PM

Glad I ordered, thank you!


I just bought two of your great embroidery patterns.

Could you tell me if the 32-count Belfast linen by Zweigart in Stone Gray for « My Sweetiepie ABCs Cross Stitch Sampler Pattern » is this colour, please ?

Number 7033 beige rosé

For the 32-count Zweigart Belfast linen in Amsterdam Blue for « 'Night, Neighborhood Cross Stitch Sampler Pattern »

778 gris bleuté

Many thanks.



Hi Anne,
Yes, I *think* those are the right colors, but it’s so hard because she has changed all of the names, and I’m not sure what the numbers mean. I think if it were me and I really wanted to make sure they were exactly the same, I might shoot that shop a quick email and let her know my exact color names (which are what the Zwiegart company calls them here, at least) and see if that is indeed the exact same fabric. Otherwise, they are VERY close so it’s probably fine! Thank you! XO, a

I have a couple of your embroidery kits now and I'm just so scared to jump into figuring out the linen after using Aida. It is so easy with the four holes and I just don't see it popping out on me with the linen. Think you could take a few close up photos of the linen showing how you figure out where to stab?

Thanks for this post. I am so new to embroidery and still way to nervous to put the elements together myself hence loving your kits. But as I am in the UK and have to deal with the customs charge I will need to man up and learn. This has been most helpful!

Mary Ann in Vermont says: April 10, 2018 at 05:26 AM

You are the Most Amazing Woman Ever!!
Love all you do and share with us. We are so lucky to have you in our lives.
Love to you and your family always. xo

I love how cross-stitch looks and I am amazed and appreciative of your putting all this information out in the world in one place to help others. I am also grateful because I now know, definitively, that cross-stitch is not for me! I already suspected it, but this kind of required precision makes my head hurt :-) I will soon be done with my cali-cozy quilt which I have loved making - thank you!

In the Belfast linen, is there any difference between the Zweigart and the Wiechelt?

So lovely of you to take the time to do this. I was in need of a refresher course as the last thing I cross stitched was in peach and seafoam. I'll let you guess the year!

Thank you for all the helpful info, Alicia!

It is a nice beautiful stitching looking something very different.

Thank for the information and for thhis helpful post.

Thought I would recommend a lovely audio podcast that you might enjoy listening to while you do all your lovely stitch markers and crafting.
It's lovely, pretty bookish based but generally cultural and chatty, with Jane Austin and the Brontes thrown into the mix along with Swedish baking and Japanese life style concepts.

Thank you so much for this information. I have always had it in my mind that I didn't really care for the look of cross-stitch. I found you years ago and I have wondered what the difference was that made your cross stitch so delicate and lovely, like old fashioned colonial samplers. Now I know! It is way smaller evenweave fabric. Thank you so so much. I have had a bird kit for a while and I have been hesitating, I think I will toss the Aida, and do the design on Belfast Linen. Thank you again!!

I’m late to the party of the original post but wanted to thank you for this informative tutorial. You’ve made this topic very easy to understand - thank you for that! I’ve been a long time follower of your blog and collecting your wool kits from many years ago - everything you offer is so sweet. I’m headed over to purchase a mix of your patterns. 🥰

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.