All about cross stitch fabric count
Have you come across fabric described as '14 count' or '32 count' and wondered what it refers to? Or what it means in relation to your cross stitch project?
Well, here's your (probably) complete guide to everything you need to know about fabric count.
And if you think you know all there is to know about fabric count then here's a puzzle for you...when is 16 count NOT 16 count?
The answer is...more often than you'd think!
But before I dive into that little conundrum let's start with the basics. (If you don't need the basics feel free to head straight down to the complicated stuff!)
What is fabric count?
Fabric count is the number of squares or stitches per inch i.e. how many crosses you can stitch in a straight line in an inch.
For Aida the most common counts are 14, 16 or 18 count although there are smaller and bigger counts as well. So for 14 count Aida a row of 14 cross stitches would measure 1 inch.
For evenweave or linen the count is usually much higher, most commonly 28 or 32 count, but again there are other counts available. This is because each cross stitch is usually done over 2 threads on these fabrics so for a 28 count linen a row of 14 stitches (over 2 threads) would measure 1 inch, and this would be equivalent to 14 count Aida.
If you are not sure where to start with these fabrics then you may also find my guide to stitching on linen and evenweave helpful.
One thing you can see from the picture above that the count is stitches, and NOT holes per inch because there is always one more hole than there are stitches in an inch, so for the 16 count Aida above there are 16 squares/stitches and 17 holes.
If you are ever unsure what count a piece of fabric is then put a ruler against your fabric and count how many squares (not holes!) there are per inch.
Why is fabric count important for your cross stitch projects?
The most obvious reason is that knowing the count of the fabric you are using for a project will tell you how big the completed design will be and therefore what size piece of fabric you need.
Many patterns will tell you how big the completed design is but may not give this in the specific fabric count you want to use, so it can be handy to be able to work it out yourself.
For example, a design that is 50 stitches square will be;
- 3.5 inches square on 14 count (50/14) - or on 28 count if stitching over 2 threads
- 3.125 inches square on 16 count (50/16) - or on 32 count if stitching over 2 threads
...and so on.
Unfortunately patterns don't necessarily give you the stitch count (mine do!) but you can either count this yourself from the pattern, or you can work backwards from any given size on a specific fabric.
So if your pattern doesn't tell you the stitch count but says it will be 4.5 inches square on 14 count Aida, then you can figure out the size on different count fabric like this...
- 4.5 x 14 = 63 stitches square
- 63 / 16 = 3.93 inches square on 16 count
- 63 / 18 = 3.5 inches square on 18 count
This shows you how understanding fabric count can help if you want to use a different fabric to the one used in the sample project, if you want the finished design to be bigger or smaller than the original, or to help you choose what fabric to use to make sure your design fits into a specific hoop or frame once it's finished.
In that example above if you really wanted the design to fit into a 4 inch embroidery hoop then you could see that it wouldn't fit if you stitched it on 14 count, it would be a tight squeeze on 16 count and would fit beautifully if you used 18 count.
Finally, you may wish to use different size needle depending on the fabric count. Higher count fabrics usually have smaller holes as well so using an appropriate size needle avoids stretching the holes.
Oh and if you are not up for a whole lot of maths then there are lots of clever calculators out there that do the hard work for you - yay!
My favourite is this one from Cyberstitchers as it's super easy to use and I like that you can set it to inches or cm.
So when is 16 count NOT 16 count?!
This is where it gets a little more complicated (and honestly a bit nit picky - lol!)...
I measured some of my completed cross stitch pieces on various different fabrics and found that the stitch count is very rarely exact to the inch - yes, really!
I specifically looked at 16 count Aida because I had 2 brands of this; DMC and Zweigart.
I found that 16 stitches on Zweigart 16 count Aida came out at a little under 1 inch, and 16 stitches on DMC 16 count Aida was slightly more than 1 inch in 1 direction but slightly less than 1 inch in the other direction! So a square of stitches would not actually be square on the DMC - eek!
Jumping in with a little horror story here with regard to the DMC fabric...
I started stitching a Riverdrift House sampler on a piece of the DMC 16 count before I dived down this rabbit hole of fabric count, which had lots of small squares around the edge. I had thought that the squares didn't quite look properly square but figured it was my eyes playing trick on me because they were the specified 11 x 11 stitches. After my rabbit hole excursion I measured the squares and yep, they are not quite square. In fact if I measured 5 squares then it was 9cm in one direction and 9.5cm in the other, so the whole sampler would be very much NOT square by the time I finished it. Whilst it might not matter for some patterns, this sampler is supposed to be regular and square so in my opinion it would look really wrong when framed. So I decided to abandon the quarter done piece and start again on Zweigart. I did warn you it was a horror story.
On Zweigart 32 count linen 16 stitches came out exactly the same as on the Zweigart 14 count Aida, so a tiny bit under 1 inch.
I have a couple of pieces of printed Aida in 14 and 16 count and these were actually really close to the exact stitch count per inch although they were very slightly different in each direction.
I don't have any hand dyed fabrics to check but I have heard that the dyeing process can shrink the fabric a wee bit so you may wish to manually check the count of the fabric before you use it just so you know what to expect.
Ok, this is all very interesting (at least it is to me!) but does it matter?
The difference might not seem like much but if your design is 6" x 6" then you could see a difference of around 0.2" (0.5cm) compared with the stated size. Scale this up to an even bigger design of 12" x 12" and you might well have a difference of around 0.4" (1 cm)!
In reality it is still unlikely to make a difference unless you have very tight margins on fitting something into a specific hoop or frame, but if you ever end up with your finished project just a little bigger or smaller than you thought it would be then at least you will know why.
Until next time...happy counting and happy stitching!