Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
The first time I saw black Aida cloth I immediately rushed out and bought a few metres. I loved it so much, that I began charting some of Julie de Graag’s incredible woodblock prints while imagining luminous DMC Winter White on the inky black fabric.
Then I started stitching.
Ouch. It was so much harder than it looked.
The squares on the black fabric were very very hard to see, and when I was using dark threads, I found myself putting stitches in the wrong place or missing stitches altogether! There had to be a better way.
This short blog isn’t here to scare you off stitching black Aida, just to offer seven quick suggestions that worked for me and might help you navigate your next project. Check them out below, and let me know if they helped in the comments at the end of the post.
Table of contents
Seven stitching tips for black Aida
1. Thread count
Stitching on black Aida is much easier on fabrics with a lower thread count. If you’re new to black fabric, try stitching your project on 10,12, or 14-count cloth, rather than 18, 20 and 22-count. You can see what I mean in the images below.
If you enlarge the image on the right, you’ll quickly notice the squares are larger on the 12-count fabric than on the 18-count fabric and are much easier to see.
DID YOU KNOW? In cross stitching, thread count refers to the number of threads (or squares) per inch of fabric. So fabrics with a low thread count (eg, 10,12, 14 count Aida cloth) are easier to see and stitch than fabrics with a high thread count (eg, 18,20,22 count Aida cloth).
2. Hoops and frames
I definitely recommend using a hoop or cross stitch frame for your black Aida project. Hoops and frames stretch the fabric out nicely and open the holes in the Aida cloth. This makes it much easier to count and orientate the grid squares to your pattern.
You need good lighting to stitch on black Aida cloth, otherwise you won’t be able to see the grid squares. I like to sit under a good overhead light, plus have a bright lamp behind me — but this is a personal choice. Some stitchers prefer a lamp behind (or under) the canvas so it shines up through the holes.
If you are wearing dark clothes, put a white towel or pillow slip on your lap because this will create a contrast against the black squares.
IMPORTANT! No matter what coloured fabric you’re using, always stitch under good light. Poor lighting accelerates fatigue and eye strain and can lead to RSI and permanent eye damage. You’re worth it, invest in a good stitching light.
Gridding is a preparation technique that improves your stitching accuracy. While it takes more time at the beginning, you will spend a lot less time counting stitches and frogging mistakes.
Basically, you recreate the gridlines (10 x 10 squares) on your pattern using a long tacking stitch in a contrasting colour. If you’re not sure how to grid, I’ll cover this in detail in a separate blog.
As you can see in this image, it is possible to buy Aida cloth that has the gridlines pre-printed on the fabric. I’ve never seen pre-printed black Aida personally, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t out there.
5. Stitching Technique
When I stitch on black Aida I really need to concentrate, so I don’t watch TV or sit anywhere that’s too accessible to my teenage son’s barrage of questions and life updates. I also stitch a little bit differently — more by ‘feeling’ than ‘seeing’.
After I finish a stitch, I use the tip of the needle to feel for the hole in the next square. I also do this when I’m counting the squares on the fabric by gently sliding the needle tip over each square until it finds the hole.
It takes a bit of practice, but after a while, it becomes so innate you won’t have to think about it too much.
Black Aida cloth can get very dirty and is especially vulnerable to dust and sweaty hands. If you use cheap fabric, I recommend laundering your Aida cloth before starting a project. Even if you’re sure it’s colourfast, why not throw a couple of white/ecru stitches onto a square and do a test wash before investing your hard work?
Look at what happened to me.
After I made a big mistake on this challenging project, I threw the whole thing into the back of the cabinet. When I came back a few months later, you can see from the photos above, it’s now covered in dust and insect marks. No, I didn’t wash this cheap Aida before starting out and I’m worried the colour will bleed onto my finished work.
It’s not a full coverage piece, so I’ll definitely be washing the canvas before starting the whole project again. Well, after I frog all the mistakes.
Lots of frogging 🐸 and washing 🧺 for me this week.
7. Alternate colours
Finally, if you’ve tried all our suggestions but are still struggling with black Aida, another alternative is to experiment with a slightly lighter-toned fabric. You’ll still have a dark background but the stitching will much be easier.
It’s fun to experiment with different colours like navy, avocado green and dark grey, but I do recommend doing a small test stitch before investing in serious yardage or commencing your main project.
Project Ideas for Black Aida
If you’ve never stitched on black Aida but are keen to try it, here are some project ideas from the store. At the time of publishing, I have 37 cross stitch patterns that are specifically charted for black Aida. Let’s take a look.
These three charts are among the most difficult in the cross stitch store. Black Aida cloth works as a fantastic background, with just a scattering of stitches to reproduce the starburst, moonglow, and spider web. They look fantastic, but they are challenging.
Luminous White on Black
Black Aida cloth brings to life these vintage Art Nouveau monochromes — the shimmering DMC Blanc against jet black fabric just sparkles.
Black Aida is an awesome choice for portrait subjects with blonde hair, light skin tones, and featured elements coloured in pale pastels. The dark background lifts the portrait up close and personal, plus you don’t have to stitch all that black. Isn’t the definition incredible in Vermeer’s Girl With Pearl Earring?
These three patterns were charted from wildlife photographs and black Aida is the perfect background to give the feeling of the dark, dense jungle foliage — without all the extra stitches.
DMC pale pastels and white look simply incredible on black Aida cloth and give inclusive artists like Marvin Raphael Monfort the room to celebrate brown-skinned girls and haut fashionistas.
Black Aida is an incredible addition to your stitching arsenal and opens the door to a wider range of projects and sleek finishings. I hope this short article has given you the confidence to try it for yourself.
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