Counted thread stitches are those which are worked on an evenweave fabric: the stitcher counts the number of threads and then inserts the needle between the threads of the fabric, rather than piercing it. The ground fabric is normally visible between the stitches.
The most common counted thread stitch is cross stitch which is often used to work an entire design.
Counted thread embroidery can only be worked on specific types of fabric. An evenweave fabric is normally made from linen or cotton and is sold with a ‘tpi’ (threads per inch) or ‘hpi’ (holes per inch) measurement (sometimes referred to as the ‘count’). This means that there are the same number of threads in a given area across both the warp and weft (measured vertically and horizontally) Aida fabric is designed for counted thread work as it is easier to count than most evenweave fabrics.
Stitches worked by counting threads normally have a regular pattern as the weave of the fabric prescribes their size and placement. The stitches included on the list below either feature as counted thread stitches in historic embroidery, or they require the structure of the evenweave fabric to dictate the size/placement of the stitch.
Some stitches e.g. cross stitch, herringbone stitch can be worked both as a surface stitch, where the stitcher choses exactly where to insert their needle, and as a counted thread stitch, where the weave of the fabric dictates where the needle is inserted.
Canvaswork is a particular type of counted thread work. It is worked on canvas fabric which, unlike most counted thread work, is completely covered with stitches. Most canvas stitches can also be worked on evenweave fabric, although the effect might be overly dense; conversely counted thread stitches can be worked on canvas but the coverage may be sparse. Sometimes this can be mitigated by varying the thickness of the thread.