DETERMINING THREAD COUNTS OF SMALL-GAUGE LINENS

Lately I’ve been seeing discussion of linen, and whether or not it has to be even weave, sold specifically for counted thread work to be suitable for blackwork, cross stitch or other forms of grid-aligned stitchery. I maintain that while that does make things easier, and guarantees a certain precision look, it may not always be needed. Here’s a sample of a not-quite even weave being used for double running stitch.

First thanks to My Stealth Apprentice for the lovely linen remnant I’m using.

While it looks pretty uniform, it’s not. Up close you can see that the thread count is not even in both directions. Also you can see the combo of thin and thick threads that I admit can make stitching a challenge. But you can also see that both circumstances don’t quite matter as much as one might think.

My own counts, estimated by trying to take measurements between two pins placed an inch apart have been off up until now. But totally by accident, I’ve hit on a better way to calculate thread count, and it happened by using a standard US penny as a reference point to show relative scale.

The penny is three quarters of an inch across by specification. By taking a zoom-in photo, then counting the threads it obscures, we get a vertical thread count of about 33 threads in 3/4″ (counting the threads “tall”), and a horizontal count of about 25 threads in 3/4″ (counting the threads “wide”). A bit of math – multiplying both values by 1.33 – and that works out to a thread count of about 43.9 x 33.25 threads per inch. Not even weave in the least. But I can still work a (slightly squashed) rendition of the design on it. It’s distorted, but in a way that would not be apparent if this was to be done entirely as a strip. [Thanks to Dana for fixing my bad math.]

However, I AM working this design as a frame around my central motif, complete with corners, so the skeleton dance will appear rotated to fit all four sides. Just as this bit is slightly squashed north-south, when I get to the side 90-degrees from this, the design will be squashed east-west – making my bony bois and pomegranates taller and thinner than they will appear here.

Optimal? Maybe some folks would object. But I am betting that it will still look good.

Oh, and add a penny (or any other coin or flat object with fixed and known dimensions) to your stitching gadget box, along with your phone’s camera. It’s much easier than those pins…

5 responses

  1. Thank you! I always learn so much from reading your posts. And your work is, of course, amazing and inspiring.

  2. I have a dandy little gadget that is tied to my needlework basket that’s specifically for thread counts. I’ve been using it since I started doing blackwork.

  3. What a clever way to do it! If the actual number of threads per inch matters to you, though, and not just the ratio, you will need to multiply (threads per .75″) by 1.33, not 1.25, to get threads per inch. Apologies for the nitpicking, but someone sometime might care…

    1. Right you are! (I blame lack of tea). Revising the article.

  4. The fabric in my sideless surcote came out to 14×15 to the inch, IIRC.

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