A to Z of Stitching Terms
A Quick Guide Around the Jargon!
Aida (pronounced ‘ah-ee-da’ – named after the Italian opera!) is a cotton or cotton-mix fabric woven into blocks marked out by regularly-spaced holes. It is made in different ‘counts’, ie blocks per inch. The commonest counts are 6, 8, 11, 14, 16, and 18-count Aida, and obviously 6 blocks per inch gives bigger blocks and holes than 18-count. Read more about this in our Guide to Cross Stitch Fabrics.
This is a narrow strip of aida that has been finished off with a decorative trimming. It is handy for adding a cross stitch design to a towel or curtain tieback, and is ideal for bookmarks.
A type of stitching where the outline is stitched first and then the background is filled in with cross stitch, leaving the area inside the outline 'void' or unstitched.
An outlining stitch that is used to add final details to a design over the top of the cross stitch.
6-count Aida or ‘Binca’ is especially popular with children starting to cross-stitch, due to the large size.
A very fine metallic or glittery thread produced by Kreinik. It is usually combined in the needle with another standard thread such as stranded embroidery cotton, to highlight areas of design with a lightness or sparkle.
A 28-count cotton-based evenweave with a matt finish from Zweigart. If you want to know more about evenweaves, see our Guide to Cross Stitch Fabrics.
This refers to the number of holes there are per inch of fabric. It can vary from 6- to 55- count. The higher the number, the smaller your cross stitches will be, so choose a size that you're comfortable with. Read more about this in our Guide to Cross Stitch Fabrics.
A general term for fabrics that can be used for cross stitch instead of Aida. They have a single thread horizontally and vertically, with the same number of threads per inch vertically and horizontally. They are more loosely-woven and less stiff than Aida, and are usually stitched over two threads. Linda, Juliana and linen are three popular types of evenweave. Read more about evenweaves and other fabrics in our Guide to Cross Stitch Fabrics.
This is a kind of flexible plastic embroidery hoop. It can be used both to hold your work while you stitch and as a simple plastic display frame because it has a hanging loop at the top.
A term (originally American) that refers loosely to stranded embroidery cotton.
A modified form of cross stitch used by designers to create more natural-looking shapes and outlines on a chart. They consist of half, three-quarter and quarter stitches. Half cross stitches are usually given a separate symbol in the key; three-quarter and quarter stitches are shown by a tiny version of the cross stitch symbol in the corner of a square. Some stitchers detest them with a vengeance and it's certainly easier to stitch these on evenweaves or linens than on Aida, but the effort can be worth it to smooth the edges of a design!
A knot used in cross stitch to add detail to designs. They are particularly useful for such things as eyes, noses, punctuation and for adding detail to flowers. To see how to make this knot, we recommend Classic Stitches' Stitch Glossary
Half Cross Stitch
Used by designers in addition to full cross stitch to add depth and dimension to their cross stitch designs. Half cross stitch should be worked in the direction of the top arm of the cross stitch so that it ties in with the rest of the design. See Fractional Stitches above.
Holbein stitch is sometimes known as double running stitch. You work a row of running stitch in one direction and then work your way back, with a second row, filling in all the gaps.
An embroidery hoop is a round frame made of wood or plastic. This has an outer and an inner ring that hold your fabric taut while you are stitching. Stitching with a hoop can help to keep your stitches neat and even. It's usually recommended that you bind the outer ring with calico strips, masking tape or fine gauze bandaging, which adds a frictional effect, holding your fabric more firmly and preventing it from slipping between the two hoops and becoming less taut.
Iron-On Vilene Interfacing
Useful for backing finished cross stitch designs to stop fraying and make them easier to handle when mounting. Generally used for small items such as designs for handbag mirrors, coasters and keyrings.
Jobelan and Jazlyn!
Jobelan and Jazlyn are all 28-count evenweave fabrics made from 51% cotton and 49% modal, the man-made fibre giving them a slight sheen. They drape well and can be used for table linen as well as samplers and pictures. The two brands are very similar - just made by different suppliers! We stock both at Thread Bear, but we are in the process of phasing out the Jobelan in preference for Jazlyn and other evenweaves such as Juliana. If you want to know more about evenweaves, see our Guide to Cross Stitch Fabrics.
Juliana is a 100% cotton 28-count evenweave fabric from Zweigart, discontinued in spring 2007 - but there's a lot of it still around! It has a matt finish, so if you need an alternative that looks similar, Zweigart's nearest match is Brittney. If you want to know more about evenweaves, see our Guide to Cross Stitch Fabrics.
The commonest kind of knots used in cross-stitch to add additional designs elements are French knots and colonial knots. If you'd like to see how these are made, we recommend Classic Stitches' Stitch Glossary, but sometimes it just helps if someone can show you - in which case 'phone a friend' ... or better still, pop into the shop and we'll spend a few minutes with you, a needle and some thread!
Specialist threads, many metallic, of different thicknesses that are used in conjunction with standard threads to great effect on designs. We stock the commonest types required, and can order in any of the 'rarer' ones very quickly for you.
Linda is a 27-count 100% cotton evenweave fabric made by Zweigart. If you want to know more about evenweaves, see our Guide to Cross Stitch Fabrics.
Linen is an evenweave fabric woven from fibres found in the stem of the flax plant. The threads alternate between thick and thin throughout the weave. The thick part is known as the slub and gives the fabric a wonderful texture that sets off a cross stitch design really well. It is arguably the loveliest fabric to stitch on, but some are put off by the fact that a lot of linen is quite fine - harder for those whose eyesight is less good. However, we're delighted to have found some beautiful 20-count linen that we now stock at Thread Bear, which is a feasible alternative to Aida - and we also have a few 11-count and 14-count linens that all can see to stitch! If you want to know more about linen and other evenweaves, see our Guide to Cross Stitch Fabrics.
Try this method of starting off when stitching with two strands (the case for most patterns). Fold just one extra-long piece of cotton in half and thread the ends (ie the opposite ends from the fold) through your needle. Bring the needle up through the fabric to start, then take the needle down again, looping it through the loop. Pull it taut and your thread will be secured ... and no knots!
This thread can be used to great effect alongside stranded cotton to highlight parts of a design. It is available in typical metallic colours such as gold, silver, and bronze, and both DMC and Kreinik also have a great range of other metallised colours. It may be available as a stranded or unstranded skein or on a reel.
This is the best material to use when stretching your stitching ready to put in a frame. It consists of a strong card and is best used with the white side facing up, and you should ensure you use acid-free mount board to protect your stitching from becoming stained over time. DMC make an excellent acid-free mount board for stitchers that is self-adhesive on one side, making it much easier to stretch and mount your needlework without having to find five hands to hold and stretch your fabric, cut and place double-sided tape etc etc!
So many needles ... how on earth do you decide which ones to buy?! This little guide may help:
Tapestry/cross stitch needles - for cross-stitch, canvaswork and tapestry on canvas, Aida, evenweave or linen. These have a blunt end to avoid catching on your fabric, and a large eye for wool or thick embroidery threads.
Chenille needles - for surface embroidery on fine-weave fabrics. These have a sharp point to pierce the fabric, and a larger eye than normal 'sharps' to take crewel wool or thick embroidery threads.
Embroidery/crewel needles - similar to chenille needles except that the eye is usually a little shorter and they have a different numbering system. Whether you use these or chenilles is usually a simple matter of habit and personal preference.
Sharps - these are the traditional sewing needles for dressmaking and simple repairs. They have a sharp point for piercing fabric and a small eye as they are usually used only with sewing cotton.
Other needles - we stock lots of other specialist needles for quilting, punch-needle embroidery, trapunto and sashiko work, household repair and knitting/darning.
These are specialist threads where a pre-dyed single colour thread is taken and 'overdyed' with other colours with stunning results. We stock some of the most beautiful threads around, including the Caron range (Watercolours, Waterlilies etc), Weeks Dye Works, Gentle Art Sampler Threads and Gentle Art Shaker Threads, Thread Gatherer's Silk 'n' Colors ... and excuse the pun, but these threads really are to die for! Many American cross-stitch charts in particular use Weeks Dye Works and Gentle Art Threads, and we stock the entire range of these beautiful threads. See also Variegated Threads.
Perforated paper is a thin card that is punched with a grid of holes. It is available in a 14-count and can be stitched just like aida. It is ideal for Victorian-style cards, tree decorations and children's mobiles. The gold, silver, blue, green and red colours are always very popular near Christmas for making stitched decorations! Use three strands for the best coverage and handle it gently because it can tear.
A strong plastic pierced with holes, that can be used like Aida and is especially useful for making 3-D ornaments and boxes or other containers that need strong sides. It comes in large 7-count, 10-count and 14-count sizes, sold in sheets.
Stitching Over One/Two
When stitching a design on an evenweave fabric, it is normal to work each cross stitch over two threads of the fabric. This means you should count across and up two holes instead of only one to make each half of the stitch. On Aida, you stitch 'over one', in other words over one block for each stitch. Because of this, the a design stitched over one on 14-count Aida will end up exactly the same size if it is stitched 'over two' on 28-count evenweave/linen. Occasionally, a designer may require the stitcher to stitch 'one over one' on evenweave/linen - in other words, using just one thread over one hole, to make a very tiny design. This is not for the faint-hearted or short-sighted ... nor the impatient! However, if you're up to it, it may be worth the time spent ... but make sure you've got a magnifying glass!
This is the most popular thread used for cross stitch and is sold in skeins. The thread is made up of six divisible strands. Pull out one, two or more strands to stitch a design, as directed on your chart. The most widely known brands of stranded cotton are DMC and Anchor. You'll find that shops tend to stock one or the other, not both. We stock DMC stranded cottons, but often find a conversion chart to / from Anchor threads is very useful for customers. Gentle Art and Weeks Dye Works overdyed threads are also stranded cottons, in very lovely variegated colours.
This is the best needle to use for stitching a design on aida or evenweave. It has a blunt end that will pass smoothly through the holes of the fabric without damaging it, and a large eye for different kinds of thread. The commonest sizes preferred by cross-stitchers are 24 for larger-weave fabrics, 26, and size 28 for the finer fabrics. A good rule of thumb is to choose the size that passes through the fabric hole with the eye just touching the sides of the hole but not pushing the weave apart. More information on needles.
On a skein of variegated thread the colour continually changes from light to dark and back to light again along the length of the thread. A subtle and interesting effect can be created by using this thread to work a block of cross stitches. It's sometimes a moot point whether a thread is variegated or overdyed; the method may differ but the end result is often indistinguishable, except that some threads have light and dark variations of the same colour (technically variegated), whilst others blend different colours together (technically overdyed).
Wadding or batting is a spongy material used to stuff items such as pin cushions or is put behind a design to make it stand out well in a card or frame. We have wadding available off the roll (used by quilters for quiltmaking) - fine, needlepunched polyester or cotton/poly mix, and we also have the much thicker, 'higher-loft' 2 oz wadding available in small packs.
This is used for stitching an even design on a non-squared fabric, such as a tee-shirt or a hat. You tack the waste canvas over the area to be stitched, and stitch through the waste canvas holes onto the fabric beneath. The canvas is then wetted slightly with cold water, and you are able to then pull the waste canvas threads away to reveal the perfectly spaced design beneath ... magic!
Making a waste knot is a method of starting your stitching when there is nowhere to anchor your thread. You tie a knot in the end of your thread and take the needle down through the fabric, slightly away from where you are going to start stitching. You then bring the needle up at the position on the fabric where your first stitch will start, and stitch as normal. Once the thread at the back of the work is secured as you work the design over it, you can simply cut off the excess thread and waste knot.