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What does fabric count mean in cross stitch?

What does fabric count mean in cross stitch?

If you have spent any time looking at cross stitch patterns and kits, you have no doubt run across the phrase fabric count, as in "stitched on 14 count fabric." But what does 14-count mean when it comes to cross stitch?

In short, count is the number of holes per inch in a piece of fabric. How does count impact your cross stitch? Read on to find out.

What is fabric count?

Cross stitch fabric like Aida and linen are woven with the same number of threads in each direction to create evenly sized squares. Appropriately called evenweave fabrics, they are perfect for cross stitch because they produce evenly-sized stitches.

The number of squares per inch determines the count of the fabric. For example, 14-count Aida has 14 squares per inch, which means stitching on it will give you 14 stitches per inch. Squares per inch and stitches per inch are interchangeable in this example.

Cross stitch fabric count diagram

Similarly, 16-count Aida has 16 squares or stitches per inch and 18-count Aida has 18 squares or stitches per inch. The higher the count, the more stitches per inch.

Why does fabric count matter?

The count of the fabric determines the final size of your piece. For example if you are stitching a motif that is 42 stitches high by 42 stitches wide on 14-count fabric, the finished design will be 3 inches square (42 stitches / 14 stitches per inch = 3 inches). On 16-count fabric the piece will be 2.6 inches square, and on 18-count fabric it will be 2.3 inches square. 

The higher the fabric count, the smaller the finished design will be, and the lower the fabric count, the larger it will be.

Take a look at the picture below. The same apple motif was stitched on three different fabric counts, with very different results. The largest apple was stitched on 6-count fabric (6 stitches per inch), the medium on 11-count fabric (11 stitches per inch), and the smallest on 16-count fabric (16 stitches per inch).

Cross stitch on different fabric counts

Fabric count also determines the size needle you use. With lower count fabrics you should use a bigger needle, and with higher count fabrics a smaller one. Check out our post on which size needle to use for cross stitch for more information.

What about linen?

Linen works the same way as Aida, but the fabric counts are higher, typically anywhere from 22 stitches per inch to 40 stitches per inch. The difference is that linen is typically stitched over 2. That means, for example, 28-count linen will have 14 stitches per inch when stitched over 2.

More on stitching on linen in a future post, but in general you can substitute 28-count linen for 14-count Aida, and vice versa, without changing the size of the final design. Similarly, you can swap out 32-count linen for 16-count Aida.

Aida and linen fabric count cross stitch

How to determine fabric count

If you are anything like me, you have a bin full of random scraps of cross stitch fabric with no labels or anything to indicate the fabric count. Fortunately, it's easy to figure out.

Place a pin horizontally in your fabric. Using a ruler to measure, insert a second pin one inch from the first. Now just count the number of squares between the pins to determine the fabric count.

how to measure fabric count cross stitch