Types Of Embroidery Fabric: A Helpful Guide

Choosing a fabric for an embroidery project is one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make before you get started stitching. The type of fabric you end up using can either hinder you or take your embroidery to the next level.

I know it can be really confusing and frustrating to find the right fabrics. I have stitched on plenty of fabrics that were less than ideal for embroidery. We’ll go over some of the best embroidery fabrics to use and then you’ll learn about some tips and considerations to keep in mind when you’re fabric shopping. My hope is that this post helps you avoid the same mistakes I did, so let’s get into it!

This post is one of several about hand embroidery supplies.

linen embroidery fabric with greenery

The 5 Best Types Of Embroidery Fabrics

Different styles of embroidery sometimes require different types of fabrics, but all of the best embroidery fabrics have something in common: they contain natural fibers such as cotton, flax, or wool. Natural materials tend to be more durable and way easier to work compared to synthetic fabrics.

Here are some fabrics that are great to use:

  • Linen
  • Cotton
  • Denim
  • Aida
  • Evenweave
assorted colors of embroidery fabric lying on a flat surface with a hoop and thread snips

Linen

Linen is one of my favorite fabrics and it is one of the most popular choices for surface embroidery. It’s natural, durable, and has a lovely texture. Because of this, it’s number one on the list.

Projects To Use It For

Linen is great to use for essentially any style of surface embroidery and it can even be used for cross stitch and crewel work. Whether you’re planning to frame your embroidery, display it in a hoop, or even sew it into clothing, this fabric is very versatile.

Where To Purchase

  • You can find high quality, hand dyed linens online in shops like Stuart Moore’s Textiles and Earnest Quilt.
  • Linen is also available at most craft stores, but just be aware that some kinds found at large chain stores may be cheaper quality. I have certainly used my fair share of these, but be careful with linen blends: you’ll want to check that they don’t contain elastic in them and also make sure that the weave of the fabric looks even.
  • If you’re okay spending a little bit more, check out Needle N Thread’s post for some premium recommendations.
cotton fabric for embroidery

Cotton

100% cotton fabric is another great choice for hand embroidery. Cotton is lightweight, tightly woven, and a very affordable option. It has a smooth appearance and is made up of a smaller, less visible weave than most linen fabrics.

Projects To Use It For

Use cotton fabrics for clothing and quilting projects as well as surface embroidery projects you plan to display in a hoop.

Where To Purchase

  • Kona cotton is available online and at fabrics stores and has a wide variety of colors to choose from.
  • An even cheaper alternative is cotton muslin fabric that you can find online or by the yard at most craft stores.
  • Another great option to look out for at the fabric store is medium-weight cotton canvas.
a piece of denim

Denim

Denim is another great material to use. It’s usually a bit heavier than cotton and linen fabric, but still easy enough to stitch through by hand.

Projects To Use It For

This material is a great choice if you plan to stitch on your clothes. Most denim jackets and jeans are easy enough to embroider on. You can also recycle old denim and use it for patching clothes or displaying in the hoop.

aida fabric

Aida

Aida cloth is a stiff, evenly woven, cotton fabric with visible holes.

This fabric comes in different thread counts, which is the number of threads per square inch. The lower the thread count, the larger the weave / more spaced out the holes in the fabric are.

Projects To Use It For

The grid-like nature of this fabric makes it great to use for counted cross stitch.

You can technically do surface embroidery on this fabric, but I wouldn’t suggest using it for this purpose because of the large holes in it. From my experience, it can be hard to add in much detail or make your embroidery stitches smooth.

Where To Purchase

This fabric can be found in most craft stores and online from Etsy or Amazon.

evenweave fabric

Evenweave

This is the only fabric on the list that usually contains a little bit of synthetic material in it. (It’s usually made up of a blend of cotton and rayon.) The stiffness of evenweave is in between that of linen and Aida fabric, but the holes in the fabric are much smaller than Aida.

Projects To Use It For

Evenweave can be used for both cross stitch and surface embroidery. It’s commonly used for whitework embroidery, such as pulled thread or drawn thread work.

Where To Purchase

It’s easy to find at most craft stores as well as Etsy and Amazon.

Factors To Consider When Choosing Embroidery Fabric

There are, of course, many other fabric options out there. So what should you look out for when you’re shopping around?

close up of the weave of embroidery fabric
Even Weave DMC Fabric

Fabric Weave

Fabric is made up of fibers that are interlaced or woven together. These fibers can be loosely or tightly woven together. This is described as the fabric’s weave.

Too loose of a weave will create holes in your work when you’re embroidering on it, and too tight of a weave can make it difficult to pull the needle and thread through the fabric if you’re using thicker threads.

Look for fabrics where the weave is relatively tight and even: the grid of the fabric should appear even and the fibers should be the same thickness throughout. Unless you’re using Aida, there shouldn’t be any large, visible holes in the fabric.

If the fabric is in a package, look for the thread count, which is the number of threads per square inch. I like to use fabrics with a higher thread count for surface embroidery (~32 count and up). You may also see the term ‘plain weave’ when looking for fabrics, which means the threads run in a perpendicular pattern to one another, which is what you want!

Fabric Weight

Fabrics come in sheer, light, medium, and heavy weights and they are measured in Grams Per Square Meter or Ounces Per Square Yard. (Here is a helpful chart if you want to learn more.)

Fabrics that are sheer or super lightweight aren’t always ideal for embroidery because they can pucker or even get damaged when you stitch on them. It is possible to embroider on fragile fabrics (yes, you can even use tulle!) but they aren’t very beginner friendly and there are some extra considerations to keep in mind. You’ll most likely need to use an embroidery stabilizer and bind your embroidery hoop to protect the fabric.

Lightweight fabrics like Kona Cotton (which is right on the cusp of being a medium weight fabric) are easy to stitch through and relatively durable. They don’t always require hoop binding or stabilizer, but it never hurts to do both. You may also find it helpful to add a second layer of fabric to help keep the fabric tight and smooth in the hoop.

Medium weight fabrics will more easily withstand the tension of your stitches but will still be relatively easy to stitch through. Many types of linen fabric fall under this category.

Some heavy weight fabrics such as denim apparel are suitable for embroidery, but some can be more challenging to pull a needle and thread through. I’d steer clear of upholstery fabrics.

Extra Tips

Sample Or Shop In Person

If you’ve never bought a particular kind of fabric before, I would recommend first ordering a sample or going in person to look at it and feel it. It’s hard to see all the qualities of a fabric online. This will save you the headache of having to return it later and it will also allow you to test out many different kinds of fabric to see what you prefer most.

Pre-Wash Your Fabric

If you’re planning on embroidering on fabric that will need to be washed in the future, make sure you prewash it first just in case it shrinks a little bit. You don’t want to ruin your design!

Match Thread and Fabric Weights

Try choosing a fabric weight similar to the thread weight you plan to use. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it’s especially helpful if you’re working with thinner, more fragile fabrics.

For example, using 1-2 strands of floss on a piece of delicate fabric will allow you to use a smaller needle, which will lessen the chances of the fabric tearing or becoming damaged.

For medium to heavy weight fabrics, you can easily use thicker threads and yarns.

Fabrics To Avoid

Some materials don’t work as well for embroidery and some are just plain challenging to work with. Here are a few types that I generally try to avoid.

T-shirt Material

Due to the stretchiness and tight weave of t-shirt material and other various knit fabrics, it can be really hard to embroider on. If you absolutely insist on embroidering your favorite t-shirt, choose one that is 100% cotton or use some embroidery stabilizer with it.

Synthetic Fabrics

Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester blends, rayon, etc. are thinner and not as forgiving to embroider with. Many of these fabrics have a super tight weave, which means the holes you make when you embroider may become permanent. If you make a mistake and take out stitches, the holes you made may remain in the fabric.

Fabrics That Contain Elastic

Choose a material that doesn’t contain elastic or any stretchiness, especially if you’re planning to keep the embroidery in an embroidery hoop.

Stretchy fabrics can be a pain when you are embroidering because they can cause your stitch tension to be inconsistent, which can cause the fabric pucker, making your stitches appear messy and uneven.

In addition to this, the elastic in the fabric can stretch out and relax over time, which can ruin the look of a piece of finished embroidery.

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