Black aida with threads 3

The cloth you stitch on is possibly more important than the threads you use – and in this post we’ll get slightly obsessive about Aida fabric (or Aida cloth).

Known for its easy-to-count squares and user-friendly nature, Aida fabric is a favorite among beginners and experts alike. We think using it really sets you up to succeed with cross stitch. Once you’re comfortable using Aida  you can move onto other fabrics like beautiful linens, and even cross stitching on clothing!

But to get started, in this guide we’ll explore what Aida fabric is, its history, and why it’s such a go-to choice for cross-stitch enthusiasts.

Understanding Aida Fabric

Aida fabric is a unique, open weave fabric, often stiffened with starch. It has evenly spaced holes and a grid-like structure that makes it incredibly easy to count stitches and see where your needle should go next. The centre threads of each little square are raised, which helps to plump up the middle of each little cross.

Aida is not only ideal for cross-stitch, it was designed specifically for cross stitch!

It was first developed in the 1890s by Zweigart & Sawitzki, a well-known German textile company. They created Aida with the specific intent of making cross-stitch easier and more accessible. The evenly spaced holes and grid pattern were revolutionary, helping stitchers to create more precise and intricate designs without the guesswork of uneven fabric.

Why was Aida Fabric Made?

The goal was simple: to enhance the cross-stitch experience. Before Aida, stitchers often worked on linen and other evenweave fabrics, which didn’t always offer the clear, consistent structure that Aida provides. With its introduction, cross-stitch became more approachable, paving the way for intricate designs and detailed work.

Aida fabric’s invention was a significant turning point in the history of cross-stitch, making it a beloved pastime for many people all over the world, of any age, gender or culture.

Wikipedia says it’s sometimes called Java Canvas but we’ve only ever heard it called Aida.

Ayda-what-now?

Yep, no one can really agree on how to say this. Personally we say ay-da. We’ve heard other people say aye-ee-da, like the Verdi opera.

There’s some speculation that the name was changed from Java to Aida to take advantage of the buzz around the opera Aida. It was popular when Aida cloth was invented, so you know – maybe?

Though you can now buy other brands of Aida, we personally think the Zweigart brand is still the best. Some aida-like fabrics are so stiff they’re unpleasant to work with, and some are just too soft. But – it’s not always easy to get, depending on your local craft supply stores, so use what you can find.

Let’s delve deeper into the types of Aida fabric and how to choose the right one for your project.

Types of Aida Fabric

Size

Yes, size does matter.

Aida fabric comes in various ‘counts,’ which refers to the number of squares per inch of fabric.

‘Count’ means the number of squares in an inch. So 11 count has 11 squares to an inch.

That means you’ll have 11 stitches to an inch. The lower the count, the bigger the stitch. Bigger stitches use more thread.

Higher count means more stitches, slightly less thread, and possibly also needs a magnifying glass to see the holes. (Luckily there’s lots of options for these! )

Common counts include:

  • 11 Count: Larger holes and spaces, ideal for beginners.
  • 14 Count: The most popular choice, offering a balance between ease and detail.
  • 16 Count: Smaller squares for more detailed work.
  • 18 Count: Fine squares that make a much smaller design.
  • 22 count: You get the picture.

Color Options

Aida is most common in ecru/cream and white. Almost all designs look great on these colors. But it’s available in a rainbow of colors, including:

  • Classic Colors: White, cream, and black for timeless designs.
  • Bright Colors: Reds, blues, greens, and more to add a unique background to your project.
  • Patterned and Textured Aida: Themed patterns and textures for special projects.
Aida cloth
different sizes and colors of aida cloth

You can also buy hand-died Aida (or even dye it yourself!) for those special projects – really, your only limit with Aida is your imagination. But for now, you probably want to stick to white or ecru, which are usually the easiest to buy.

Choosing the Right Aida for Your Project

Decide how big you want your finished project to be. We stitch on all sizes, depending on how we want to use the finished piece. If you want it larger, use 11 count, if you want it smaller use 16 or 18.

  • Beginner Projects: Stick to 11 or 14 count for an easier stitching experience.
  • Intermediate and Advanced Projects: Opt for 16 or 18 count for intricate designs and finer details.

The color of your Aida can dramatically affect your project’s look. Choose one that contrasts well with your threads for better visibility.

Working with Aida Fabric

It really is as simple as taking it out of the package and stabbing it with your threaded needle. But there are a couple of things to consider before that first stab.

Prepare Your Fabric

Cut to size: You need to leave a margin around the design so that you have room to frame or otherwise finish your project. If in doubt, go bigger.

Prevent Fraying

You need to hem the edge of the fabric somehow because you’ll be handling it a lot! Threads to start to come out and then you’ve got pokies that will catch on your embroidery floss. That’s just annoying. And, the longer you take to finish your project, the more the edges will fray and you’ll end up with a smaller useable piece. That’s a problem if your design is only just fitting on to the fabric – no edges to wrap around a backing board or hoop.

Serged aida
black aida with a serged/overlocked edge.

We overlock (serge) the edges because that’s easy for us. A running stitch hem is fine too, or zig zag. Some people use masking tape and that works for them. Personally I’m always worried that the glue will stay on the fabric and cause issues (no idea what kind of issues 😊) so overlocking it is for me!

Pre-Wash (Optional)

Some stitchers prefer to pre-wash their fabric to prevent color bleeding and to soften it up. We don’t do that because we do a gentle hand wash afterwards to make sure any body oils are out, so they don’t stain your fabric over time.

Starting Your Project

Find The Right Side

Technically there is a right side and a wrong side to Aida cloth, but it’s very subtle.

Run your fingers across the fabric – one side will feel a little scratchy. That’s the wrong side. So the slightly smoother side is the ‘right’ side.

Honestly there’s not that much difference, so pick a side and get started.

Just keep using the same side as the ‘right’ side, and you’ll be fine!

Find the Center

Fold your fabric to find the center point for your first stitch. Most patterns recommend you start in the middle so that you don’t run out of space on one side. No one wants to frog all their stitches! Most patterns have lines that show where the middle is – I’ve marked the pattern below with a yellow dot – yours won’t have a yellow dot but it will have the intersecting lines.

Chart center marked

A work-in-progress chart of mine – I’ve highlighted the center marks added by the designer.

Some people prefer to start at the top left of the design. It’s really your choice. Like everything in cross stitch, there’s no one right way to do anything.

Hooping Up

If you’re using an embroidery hoop, hoop up your fabric, making sure the center of the fabric is in the center of the hoop. And make sure the fabric is tight enough but not overstretched.

Then – you’ll be read to start that first stitch!

What Needles to Use for Beginning Cross Stitch

You want a needle that slides easily through the holes in the fabric and is easy to thread.

The type of needle that meets both of these criteria is: a tapestry needle.

Tapestry needle
tapestry needle on black aida cloth

Tapestry needles have large eyes so it’s easier to use several strands of thread.

They also have rounded points so that it’s easier to slide through the holes in your Aida. Sharp pointed needles could instead slide through the threads of the Aida fabric, which will make your crosses wonky and make your floss fray faster as you sew.

You’ll find these in the sewing needles section of your craft supplies store.

What Size Needle?

Needles have a number size.

Tapestry needles start at #13 and go up to #28.

With Aida, low numbers mean big squares. It’s the same with needles – low numbers mean bigger needles: thicker and longer. The needles gets thinner and shorter as the numbers go up. Again, that size thing.

So use needle #24 for lower Aida counts like 11 or 14, and #26 or 28 for higher counts.

The Next Step in Your Cross Stitching Adventure

In the next post in this series, we talk more about threads (floss) and how to manage it. We hope that you feel you understand more about the different types of Aida, selecting the right one for your project, and preparing it correctly.


Our Free Printable Cross Stitch Ruler

Our Free Printable Cross Stitch Ruler

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