I decided tonight to sit down and start a drawing of a sepia flower image I created in this post, but just as I was about to turn on my iPad and open up ArtRage I thought about what the photo might look like as a cross stitch pattern. So I opened up MacStitch on my laptop and started playing around with import settings. I find the advanced import settings are the best for me, as you have a lot of choice over the various options (thread count, number of colours, finished size, colour saturation, dithering, etc). I did a bunch of experimentation with my photo, here’s some of what I came up with at first (click on the photos to see more information).
One setting I’d never really played with was dithering, which can be used for photographs when importing them. For some reason I always thought dithering meant it was going to make the gradations smoother, but in actual fact what it’s doing is scattering colours in order to give the appearance of having more colours than you do. So it’s basically making up for having a limited colour palette. Here’s a good image of the difference between a dithered gradation of colour and one that isn’t.
So if you look closely at the two sets of the dithered versus un-dithered (if that’s even a word) images, you can see the images that weren’t dithered have a smoother, less “scattershot” looking background. I did find that once the detail in the image is of a certain resolution, the dithering effect isn’t as strong.
So for the purpose of this playing with MacStitch, I decided to stick with the 14″x19″ finished size (on 14 count). Before I completed the import process, I experimented with limiting the number of colours. I also played with amping up the saturation, but the effect was minimal as the colours are so muted in the photo. In the end, I stuck with the original setting (not choosing to limit the number of colours and leaving the saturation untouched, there were 47 colours in the finished design).
I imported the image at the settings I liked (14 count, finished size 14″x19″, no dithering, no saturation changes, using DMC threads), and here’s the side by side of the preview image (before import on the left) and the smallest image of the pattern (actually at 0%) after import on the right. The preview function is really good, it does actually give you a great idea of what your finished piece will look like. Of course it’s only a small size so you can’t see much detail until you actually import the photo, but it’s great that you can get a lot of information before you create the pattern.
Once I imported the photo, I wanted to play a bit with some of the functions. In my Sistine pattern I’d been wanting to change the colours just in a small section, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it other than changing those colours by hand. There are two select options (one for rectangular/square selections and one for rounded selections), and there’s a pop-up menu that appears to the side of your selection. I couldn’t get it to change the colours how I wanted, so I contacted Ursa Software (the makers of MacStitch). Even though I’d emailed on a Saturday afternoon, they got back to me within an hour and told me how to do it. So for this floral pattern I decided to try it. It turns out that once I select the area I want, I have to go into the palette menu at the top of the program and go to “search and replace.” You can select the colour you want to replace, then choose from your current palette and choose the new colour. If the new colour is currently in your palette, only that selected area’s stitches will change. If the new colour isn’t currently in the palette, then all the stitches of the old colour will change to the new colour. I figured out that if I wanted to use the select function, any “new” colours had to be in my palette (which is easy enough to alter). I was pretty happy about that function, that will help me in the future when I’m adapting my artwork to cross stitch patterns (as sometimes there’s just a small area that I want to change a colour, rather than across the entire pattern).
I also discovered there’s a neat function where you can reduce the number of colours in the palette by 10% (in the palette dropdown menu). I didn’t see a noticeable difference when I played with this (just reducing the colours once), but it’s a good way to drop down the number of colours in the pattern without having to figure out by hand which colours are close enough together to be combined.
Speaking of changing the colours across the entire pattern, I did do a little experiment with completely changing four colours just to see what the effect on the pattern would be. The pattern actually does have a lot of very muted purples, blues, and greens in it, so I chose a few of those to be replaced with much more saturated colours. I like the effect, I think I’d want to do more work with it if I was going to use that in my actual pattern.
So there you go, lots of options in the software with making the colours and definition of detail just what you want. The software has so many other options too, things like locating beads, French knots, backstitching, etc – but so far I haven’t designed anything with any of that so I haven’t done any experimenting with those functions. I really like MacStitch (in case you couldn’t tell), I find it’s so much more flexible than if you tried to do the pattern-making by hand. How about you, do you chart your own patterns or just stick to commercial patterns? Let me know in the comments below!