F A B R I C
Regardless of how a piece is framed, it is the fabric itself that holds the stitches. The warp and the weave can support or suffocate, accentuate or detract from your work. Beautiful stitches can only achieve their full effect when supported by a worthy fabric.
When it comes to choosing a fabric for your embroidery project, there are three main things that I like to think about:
1) Fabric weight
2) Weave size
3) Color and pattern
You can stitch into any fabric you choose--quilter's cotton, apparel-weight fabric, linen, denim, velvet, anything goes! However for most embroidery projects, choosing a fabric of an appropriate weight can make things easier and help you avoid some common embroidery pitfalls. Ideally, you want to choose a fabric that is of a medium weight. You want something heavier than quilting cotton but not so heavy that you have difficulty getting your needle through it. A fabric that is too lightweight can cause several problems, the first of which is caused by sheerness. Sometimes as you stitch you want to cross your thread across the back of the fabric and begin again in a new spot, but when your fabric is too thin the thread will show through on the front side of the fabric, which can be distracting. The other problem with a lightweight fabric is that it is more prone to bunching. Keeping appropriate tension in your fabric and thread can be tricky, especially for beginners—your fabric is much more likely to bunch up under your stitches if it is too thin. I've seen masses of lovely embroidery pieces ruined by unsightly bunching.
From my experience, I have found that linen-cotton blend or linen-like fabrics (but not actual linen, (I'll explain the reasoning for this in a moment) are the very best for embroidery. Some of my favorite fabrics are from the Pond Essex series by FabricBubb. These fabrics are a divinely soft blend of linen and cotton. They are both the perfect weight and weave for embroidery. They have an assortment of really lovely colors, even some with metallic flecks of silver and gold! I also love stitching on apparel-weight organic cotton.
The second component to consider when choosing the perfect fabric is the weave size. A very tightly woven fabric can cause problems in embroidery for a few reasons. The thin threads that compose the warp and weave are often not strong enough to hold up to the tension of stitches; this can cause holes to appear at the stitch entry points. A very tight weave can also be difficult to keep straight in the hoop. As you stitch the fabric pulls slightly in the hoop and can cause a section to look wavy, warping your design.
Conversely, a weave that is very large can also cause issues, depending on your stitching style. I have experimented with embroidery on linen and have decided that the weave is just too wide, It can be difficult to make neat edges with satin stitch if your weave is too wide. I also feel that sometimes the wide weave can distract from delicately-designed motifs. The "holes" in the weave jump out at you when you view the piece and can end up competing with your stitch-work. Fabrics such as linen, canvas, or Evenweave usually have too wide of a weave for embroidery. That being said, some embroidery artists love stitching on linen--it's all a matter of taste and stitch style.
Deciding on a fabric color for your project is completely a matter of taste and style. I generally avoid using patterned fabric for my work because I find it distracting, but I've seen it used effectively with minimal stitching (like when you're just stitching words). I find that a helpful thing to think about as you choose your fabric is to make sure the fabric complements your embroidery design and doesn't compete with your design—I love my fabrics to provide a strong, clean background for my work, so I often use light, non-patterned fabrics. When I use a brighter-colored fabric, I like to make sure that the design and colors of my stitches will be strong enough to remain the focus of the piece. Check out this color wheel if you're unsure which colors are contrasting, complementary, etc.
I hope this information serves you well as you embark on your next project! I'm looking forward to digging into some of these fabrics as well as experimenting with some stitching on velvet. I'll be sure to report back and let you know how it goes.