If I get a needle and some thread I can embroider on anything – even paper. But to have choices is always good. To know those choices and being able to discern which is the best for a particular project – even better. Though it is possible to embroider on any fabric, some are better than some others.
The two main categories of fabric suitable for embroidery are Plain weave fabrics and Even weave fabrics.
Evenweave fabrics refer to woven fabrics (cotton or synthetic- can be rayon, polyester, cotton, silk, wool, acrylic, linen or mixtures of these and other fibers) with same number of threads per inch in both directions, so that they are woven in a regular square grid; This is important in embroidery for accurate count sizes
These fabrics have threads with the same thickness as well – so they are soft, smooth and has a refined surface with higher thread count. Even weave fabric is any cotton, blended cotton/synthetic, or synthetic fabric woven so there is a hole for stitching between each single thread.
In this fabric you don’t count the bunch of thread – we count each thread. When working on even weave fabric, stitches are usually done over two threads. Because there is a hole in the middle of the stitch you can do the partial stitches in cross stitch easily with even weave fabrics
Tightly woven even weave fabrics are used for most of the hand embroidery techniques but the loosely woven even weave fabrics are best for pulled thread embroidery, drawn thread embroidery and counted thread embroidery.
Plain weave Fabrics
These are woven fabrics in which each thread is over one, under one in both directions. Plain weaves can also be even-weaves, though not necessarily.
Canvas has an open mesh construction and thick thread is used to stitch over these spaces. This is used for doing an embroidery work known as needle point; it is also suitable for cross stitch, tapestry and other needlework projects. When you want to display your embroidery work canvas is most suitable.
Canvas comes in mainly two types – one with two thread twisted together to form warp and weft threads and one with single thread construction.
Mono canvas/Mono needlepoint canvas is a stable single-weave canvas which can be used for many needlework, especially for needlepoint work. In fact it is the most commonly used and very suitable for needlepoint stitches.
It is available in counts 10, 12, 13, 14,16, 18. Mono 10, Mono 12, and Mono 13 are the common mono canvases. The numbers indicate the sizes of the holes on the canvas. The smaller the number larger the hole.
Congress cloth is a 24 count mono needlepoint canvas used in needlepoint. It is also used to make samplers. Deluxe Mono canvas (Mono De Luxe) is a very popular premium canvas for needle work projects
Interlock Mono canvas
Interlock mono canvas is more stable than mono canvas and is used for small projects (miniatures/doll house projects). In this canvas the threads are bonded and do not move when stitched. Interlock canvas does not unravel or fray. It is available as Silk or polyester interlock canvas.
Mono de Luxe Canvas.
This is a high quality canvas, with rounder polished threads for smoother stitching.
Penelope Canvas (Double thread canvas/duo canvas/double mesh)
This canvas is made up of double threads that intersect, and it has large and small holes. So you can make different stitch sizes on the same canvas – both petit point (small needlepoint stitches) and gros point (large needlepoint stitches). Available in counts 5, 6.5, 7.5, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20. Penelope canvas is used for needlepoint designs with fine details.
A very fine canvas suitable for fine work.
This is a 100% linen canvas fabric available in counts 18 & 24.
It is a 100% cotton canvas available in counts 3.3, 3.75 and 6
It is a rigid canvas made of plastic. It is usually used for craft purposes – for making tags and boxes with needlepoint embroidery done on it.
This is the number one choice for most beginner embroiderer – it is easily available at most craft stores and is very inexpensive.
This 100% cotton fabric has a particular type of weave in which groups of threads are seen together with holes at the corners; this counts as one thread. The stitches are formed over these groups of threads -more than one vertical thread going over and under an equal amount of horizontal threads.
The best thing about aida is that you can see where your needle goes exactly, because the cloth is woven with threads with small spaces between them.
This fabric is also known by the name Java cloth. You can count the stitches easily and know where to put your needle exactly .
There are many types of Aida cloth available in the market – 8 count to 20 count and in as many colors as you want. Higher the count smaller the work. Most Aida is available in stitch counts of 11 count to 22 count. Most popularly used fabric for hand embroidery is a 14 count aida cloth.
Some specialty stitches or cutwork embroidery work/ counted thread stitches like Hardanger, pulled thread work, cutwork etc cannot be done on Aida. Another problem with Aida is that when doing cross stitch the fractional stitches are difficult to do – the needle has to go through the bunch of threads and it doesn’t end up looking good enough.Other than this, it is the preferred cloth for cross stitch.
Aida generally is a somewhat stiff fabric but you get soft Aida too.
One problem with using Aida is that because of its weave it frays easily. Finish the edges before starting the work to prevent this.
3 Cotton-synthetic Blends
Blazer Poplin/Trigger cloth
This cotton-polyester blend is an inexpensive fabric used to embroider with Brazilian embroidery.
This evenweave fabric is a mixture of polyester linen and cotton (50% Cotton/42% Polyester/8% Linen) and has clear thread count which makes it as easy as Aida to stitch on. This cloth has a rough textured surface which is very interesting. This cloth is available in 14 count, 16 count and 18 count.
This is another cotton polyester blend fabric 51% Cotton and 49% Polyester(evenweave). This is a heavy fabric which is a blend of cotton and polyester and comes in a varied thread count from 16 to 32 counts. In this fabric every-other hole is slightly larger than the previous one.The advantage of blends is that they do not wrinkle much.
4 Hardanger fabric
This is a 100% cotton fabric with a 22 thread count ; In this fabric the ground threads are grouped in pairs like Aida, but with 2 threads instead of the 4 threads in Aida. It is a plain weave and an even weave. Jubilee is another 100% cotton fabric which is popularly used.
This is a blend of rayon and cotton (60% rayon and 40% cotton); Lugana is another cotton and rayon mix (52% Cotton/48% Rayon) as is Tula cloth.
6 Waste Canvas
Waste canvas is a fabric which is used as a temporary base for your embroidery; it is held together by starch and disintegrates easily in water or you can pluck it out from your work. It is used to embroider counted work on non-even weave fabrics.
The visible weave on the waste canvas fabric makes it easy for you to stitch any type of counted embroidery stitches on it and thus can be used on any ground fabric where you would other wise have a problem embroidering like denim. The waste canvas is removed after the whole work is done using a tweezer after dampening it.
7 Cotton Muslin
Cotton Muslin is a plain weave fabric. Muslin is the most commonly used cotton fabric for most embroidery – You get muslin fabric starting with a thread count of 70 going up to 250. As you would have guessed – 250 thread count gives you a very fine muslin fabric which is tightly woven with a smooth surface and which does not damage even when tightly stretched on any embroidery frame. It can even be used without any backing for any fine embroidery like needle painting.
The disadvantage of using cotton is in doing counted thread embroidery – you cannot see clearly where you should put the needle in unlike even weave fabric so it is more suited for free style embroidery than counted stitch work. Know more about the different types of cotton here.
Single thread cotton is a plain weave as well as even weave. It is a great fabric for pulled thread and drawn thread work.
Art linen – This is the general term used for the different types of linen used for embroidery.
Linen is a plain weave and even weave fabric; it is a great looking fabric which is great for any final project but it has an uneven nubby surface which makes the work done on it slightly uneven. But it is part of the charm of linen. The beauty of the fabric makes this slight rough surface bearable – this uneven surface is because of the thin and thick threads in its weaving.
One disadvantage of linen is that it is expensive which is where other even weave fabrics score over linen.
In specialty shops, you will get linen which is woven evenly, with x amount of stitches per inch (with the stitches per inch being equal vertically and horizontally) – this is especially meant to do embroidery. If you can get hold this (other than the linen used for making clothes which has uneven stitches) it is the best for embroidery.
Linen blended with silk is also used for embroidery.
You can choose linen brands like Edinburgh linen (36 count), Dublin linen (25 count), Belfast linen (32 count – suitable for delicate embroidery),Cashel linen (28 count) Linen Normandie which is a blend of cotton and linen, Cork linen (19 count)
Silk is beautiful and hence a choice fabric for dressmaking and other home decor. Embroidering in this fabric has been a practice for centuries. But it is difficult than on even weave fabric.
Use the sharpest needle you can find with a very small eye – as the material is tightly woven the head of the needle will have difficulty going through it; Big needles also leave holes. Use short lengths of thread. Check out the 50 types of silk fabrics used in dressmaking.
If you embroider on silk organza it can have a floating effect. You can use it for applique. You will have to use thin waste backing material to give strength to the fabric.
The smooth and shiny surface makes it look beautiful with embroidery. Think beautifully embroidered satin pillow cases or gift bags.
Choose good quality satin (cost will be high but the thread will not snag, the surface with be smooth and the weave will be tighter) or you will have trouble with thread snagging and texture difference after handling the fabric for some time. Check out more on satin fabric here.
When selecting the best fabric for your embroidery work, other than knowing about these broad categories and their particular types of fabrics , You will have to look at the space between threads closely and consider the work you will be doing on it to see the suitability of fabrics – for example for a pulled thread embroidery you need a fabric with more open space between the threads than a cut work embroidery or drawn thread work. In the same category and type of fabric these things will be varying. Also look at the thread count – more threads per inch the finer the cloth.
hpi – This refers to the number of holes (or threads) that a fabric has per inch. The higher the gauge, the finer the fabric.
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