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Design ideas for stitched line drawings

Design ideas for stitched line drawings

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Sistine progress 9 Aug 2015

So as I’m nearing the end of stitching my current work in progress (my big Michelangelo piece pictured to the left), I’m considering what I would like to do for my next design. I don’t really need to stitch every piece I design as the MacStitch software I use generates a really good preview image. But, I do like to compare how it looks in real life with the computer generated image, and I’m obviously enjoying seeing my drawings and paintings come to life.


As I’ve been stitching my art, I’ve been noticing that the cross stitch pieces really do look like they’ve been rendered as a cross-hatched pen drawing. I love line drawings, I love the movement and expression you can get just from a line. In my last blog post I discussed how I was inspired by the patterns I found in Greek art at an exhibition, and a lot of that was purely the textures and movement created by lines. Yesterday I decided to start doing some experimenting with using backstitch lines in a pattern I created using MacStitch. I purposely used a small finished size for the piece (7″ square on 14 count fabric) as I wanted to see if I could render some of the finer detail using backstitch lines. For those who don’t know, backstitch is a technique of outlining a cross stitch design (or any needlework), and usually it’s in black. You see it a lot in patterns that aren’t replicas of artwork, such as teddy bears, lettering, etc (more “traditional” cross stitch patterns). It is used to separate blocks of colours, and also to give finer detail like whiskers, lips, eyes, facial expressions, etc.


When I uploaded my image to MacStitch, I did some experimenting with hand-drawing backstitch lines into the pattern. You can see the pattern next to my original image I uploaded into the software, and I was using the original as a “guide” to see where I could add more detail. For this particular pattern, I was focusing on making the outlines of the petals more visible. I know if I’d uploaded the image into a bigger finished size or used a higher thread count fabric that more detail would have shown up in the pattern. But I wanted to play with the backstitch option and see if I could create more detail by hand. I thought that would be a good way to keep patterns relatively simple as far as finished size, thread count, and number of colours, but still getting a really detailed end result. You can see in one of the photos that I did one section of backstitch by following the actual stitches horizontally and vertically (so the backstitch line kind of looks like little steps), and then I did another section with diagonal lines to try and make the petals look smoother. You can get “curves” in backstitch by using short and long diagonal lines, and even stitching into the centre blocks in Aida fabric to get more diagonals. If you’re using linen or other even weave fabric and stitching over one, it’s very difficult to do that.


And in case you don’t know, “over one” means stitching into each hole as it appears. Some people prefer using very high count fabric (like 28 count), but will stitch over two (meaning they stitch every second hole instead of each hole, so each stitch takes up two holes vertically and two holes horizontally. The reason for doing this is some people just much prefer the look and feel of finer fabric, but don’t want to make themselves nuts by stitching 28 stitches per inch by stitching “over one.” So in this example, if I stitched two over two (two strands of floss over two holes), I’d actually be stitching 14 stitches per inch on 28 count fabric (28 divided by two). I personally just use 14 count fabric rather than stitching over two on 28 count, I’m less likely to make a mistake and I don’t mind the look of the Aida fabric as all my pieces are full coverage (no fabric visible when the piece is done).


As I was doing the experimenting with the flower pattern, I started thinking about patterns just using backstitch alone, and how I could “draw” with backstitch or other lines. I found a really neat webpage with the fractal artwork of Larry Riddle, a mathematician. Fractals are really cool, they’re basically mathematical algorithms and formulas that create spirals and other repetitive but very interesting designs. In his stitched pieces, he actually went vertically, horizontally and diagonally with his backstitch but without the central Xs that comprise cross stitch. Below are some images taken from his webpage, if you click on the images you can see the incredible detail of these stitched mathematical formulas.



I know, I’m completely bonkers in that I actually really like math, so these kinds of mathematically-derived formulas are really interesting and beautiful to me. I love how just the line work creates such lovely patterns and textures, so I’d love to explore this further. I did a little research and ended up on Amazon, and of course it was recommending I look at a bunch of embroidery and needlework books. One that had a beautiful cover image that seemed to be just the thing I’d like to experiment with was “The Stitch Bible” by Kate Haxell. I have taken a screenshot of the cover image below.


Stitch Bible Kate Haxwell cover image
The Stitch Bible by Kate Haxell cover image


I really love the different line weights in the bird and I’d love to start experimenting with doing some line drawings and see if I can translate them into needlework patterns. I’m not sure if I could stick purely with cross stitch (and just use backstitch for the line work), or if I’d have to start experimenting with other needlework techniques like blackwork, crewel, etc. I’d still like to create easy to stitch patterns from my art, so I likely will buy a couple of needlework books like The Stitch Bible and see how they write and produce their needlework patterns. I want to see if there’s any way to generate a needlework pattern the same way I can with MacStitch (or even figure out if MacStitch can automatically add backstitch to represent the finer line details when importing an image). I’d love to keep any patterns I create simple enough that pretty much anyone could do them, but interesting enough even more advanced stitchers would like to do them.


How about you, what kind of patterns do you like to do? Have you ever done a pattern that’s mostly line work or do you prefer more traditional patterns? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to get feedback!

Design ideas for stitched line drawings
Article Name
Design ideas for stitched line drawings
Experimenting with design ideas to use line drawings in cross stitch and needlepoint patterns
Publisher Name
Peacock & Fig
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Follow Dana Batho:

Artist and Designer

I am an artist, veteran, analyst, and mommy to the sweetest dog ever. I am constantly thinking of ways to use my creativity in everything I touch despite my physical limitations, and I love encouraging others to do the same.

2 Responses

  1. Chrissie Arlington
    | Reply

    Great designs Dana. I am glad most of your patterns are full cross stitch. I’ve been working on a Christmas stocking for longer than I will admit and it is loaded with 1/4 stitches. I am sick of them. Looking forward to starting my new patterns from you. I will send a picture if I get it done soon Ha ha ,.

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Haha that sounds awesome Chrissie, I’d love to see your works in progress too! 🙂 And yes, I have one piece I’m slowly working on (Blaine Billman’s Spirit of the Sockeye) that has fractionals on black linen, and it makes me bonkers. I love the pattern and it will be stunning, but I’m not a fan of fractionals. I figure why torture stitchers, so that’s why I never use them in my designs. Some have backstitch, but I figure most stitchers can handle that. 🙂

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