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Cross stitch pattern design for beginners

Cross stitch pattern design for beginners

with 16 Comments

Why do cross stitch pattern design?


It can be daunting to try and design a cross stitch pattern for the first time, especially if you’ve seen how complicated some patterns are. A cross stitch pattern chart is usually made up of symbols that represent each colour on graph paper, but some are so complex it looks like a logo machine threw up all over the paper. It’s understandable that many stitchers wouldn’t consider making their own pattern. But there are many different methods to make your own pattern (either for yourself or for kids) – hopefully this article and video will encourage you to give it a try and stretch your creativity.


Ways to design


By hand


There are two main ways you can do cross stitch pattern design – by hand and using software. Designing by hand is quite simple – you can draw your image onto a sheet of graph paper with a pencil (or trace it or use transfer paper). Then you’d colour in the individual squares of the graph paper to represent each stitch (and you can use coloured pencils or felts if you want to use more than one colour in your pattern). If you’re wanting a more detailed pattern, you can either use larger sheets of graph paper or graph paper that has more squares per inch. It’s totally up to you as to how big or how complex you want to make the pattern, that’s the beauty of designing your own cross stitch pattern. It’s specific to your needs, so it’s as customizable as you want. If you’re doing this with kids, you can get them to draw out their designs themselves onto the graph paper, or transfer existing drawings to graph paper. It’s a great way to get them thinking creatively, and they can use their stitched pieces as patches for bags or clothing, name tags, etc. One major downside of designing your patterns by hand is it’s more difficult to use a big variety of colours and make your pattern easy to read. It’s also harder to translate existing images like family photos to a pattern by hand. To get a detailed pattern drafted up will take more time than using software. It’s not impossible at all, it just will take more time and effort to chart up a more complex pattern.


You can also create a pattern by hand by photocopying an image onto a sheet of clear acetate (like you’d use for overhead projectors, you can get sheets of it from most stationary shops or copy centres). I did this for my first pattern I designed – I colour copied my “David” painting onto acetate, and bought floss in the main colours by holding the colour copy up to the individual skeins in the shop. I then held the acetate copy in front of my embroidery hoop. I’d stitch a few crosses in one colour, put the acetate over the top and see if I needed to change the colour at all, stitch a few more stitches, etc. It took me about a month to do it this way, but I did end up with a not-too-horrible pattern. I was recording my stitches by hand in the iPad app Cross Stitch 2 Go (made by Ursa Software, the same company that does MacStitch and WinStitch). Here’s a picture of the painting I used and the finished piece – the stitched piece is not amazing, but it’s not bad for my first attempt at designing and my first stitched piece in about 20 years.


"David" painting and cross stitch, 5x7", 2014, cross stitch pattern design
“David” painting and cross stitch, 5×7″, 2014


Using software

Now when I design my patterns, I use cross stitch software rather than doing it by hand. I use the MacStitch/WinStitch software (depending on whether I’m using my Mac or my PC). I chose MacStitch as there are fewer good software programs for Macs as there are for PCs, and I’ve found it to be a great program. There are lots of other software programs available too (a popular one for PCs is PC Stitch). There are some free online cross stitch pattern generators, but these options are usually very limited and the colour matching is not accurate. They’re good for designing simple things like some text (such as this text generator called Caption Maker), but for images I’d really recommend spending a few dollars and getting real software. The last thing you want to do is spend hundreds of hours stitching a treasured family portrait that you loaded into a free software only to have all the colours tinted green because the colour matching capabilities aren’t good, or losing important details in the faces. Many of the software programs for purchase have a limited-functionality free demo version you can download to try it out (like MacStitch has a fully-functional free demo, you just can’t print or save any patterns in the demo). If you’re thinking about making more than two or three patterns, the software can significantly save you money over time. Of course, you need to make sure you’re only using your own images to make patterns from. Any image that’s not created by yourself (from online such as Disney characters, images and text from book covers, etc) are covered by copyright and you’d have to get permission to use them, even if the pattern is only for your own personal use. Most of the time you’ll get an enthusiastic “yes” if you ask to use an image in a cross stitch pattern, but it is important to always ask first before putting time into a design.


Video: Creating a simple cross stitch pattern design


Here’s the short video about how to use software to design a cross stitch pattern. There are also a few tips about how to do the design by hand.





  • Start with a small simple design to get comfortable with the process (whether doing it by hand or using software) – save the family portrait for another time
  • Do a small design (even 10 stitches by 10 stitches) and then stitch it, see if you’re happy with how your design translates from 2D to 3D
  • Ask for help if you get stuck – you can ask me for help at any time, just post your question (and photos if needed) onto my Facebook page and I’ll be happy to help you figure it out


Links mentioned in the video:

How to export your pattern using MacStitch and WinStitch

Cross stitch pattern design for beginners
Article Name
Cross stitch pattern design for beginners
Want to learn how to do a simple cross stitch pattern design? A quick tutorial for pattern design by hand or using cross stitch design software.
Publisher Name
Peacock & Fig
Publisher Logo
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.

16 Responses

  1. Melissa
    | Reply

    Hi! Thank you for the tutorial, it’s great. Do you have a link to purchase WinStitch? A Google search brings me to the Ursa website, but it’s just an ad page giving a bunch of specs on the software. Thank you, again!

  2. Lexy
    | Reply

    Hi there,
    I recently watched your tutorial on macstitch (winstitch) and was wondering if you need a certain license to use the software for a small business? As in commercial purposes, I cannot find anything definitive in their terms and conditions.


    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Hi Lexy! It’s meant for personal or commercial use, it’s designed to be easy enough for anyone to use, but robust enough for professional designers. That’s why you can’t find any information either way, it’s meant for both. If you’d like 100% clarification I’d email Ursa directly, but they know that many of the people using it are doing it for commercial purposes and have no issues with it. 🙂

  3. Caitlin
    | Reply


    I usually design with Adobe Illustrator. How accurate is MacStitch with creating patterns from imported images?


    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      It’s pretty decent, but it totally depends on how much detail you put into your AI illustrations (I use AI a lot too, but mainly for surface pattern design) and how big you want the finished cross stitch. Limiting the number of colours on import will help reduce the number of shades in a particular colour (like if you have a flat blue, the software can see shades of blue if you don’t limit the total number of colours on import). It can still happen even with limiting, but you can easily fix that up on the pattern by swapping out colours chosen. Also note that any xstitch software will not turn any linework into backstitch, it’ll read it as a coloured line and turn it into full stitches (or a shadowy line of stitches if the size of the finished pattern isn’t big enough to maintain the detail in the illustration). But you can preview how different finished sizes will affect the amount of detail the software can read from the illustration, any xstitch software would be the same, as it’s basically turning your vectors into raster images. The level of detail depends on your finished pattern size, same as DPI determines how pixelated a raster image is at various sizes. 🙂

  4. Jeannine Gomillion
    | Reply

    Hello, Dana. I did cross-stitch when I was younger. I am 80 and I want to pay someone to create a pattern of a prayer. The prayer is not long. It is for my son. How would I find a designer to do that? Any ideas? Thank you.

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Hi Jeannine! It depends on what you want, if it’s just a text-only quote I can do that for you (I have a custom alphabet pattern on the site, but it’s limited to the fonts that I sell as patterns). Or you could purchase one of the alphabet charts on my site, I do include instructions of how to lay out a pattern in each chart. You can see all the alphabet charts and the custom chart option at https://peacockandfig.com/cross-stitch-alphabets/. If you want an actual pattern with detailing and other design embellishments, I’m not taking on any commissions at the moment as I have too many projects on the go already (and full design commissions can run around $80 an hour). 🙂

  5. Kevin McFoy Dunn
    | Reply

    Your blanket statement about copyright is incorrect. For instance, I appropriate for various projects images derived, via the snapshot function in Acrobat Reader, from PDFs of 17th-century emblem books that I download, for free, from Internet Archive; everything downloadable there is by definition in public domain. One wants to be careful, of course, but the Internet is full of good stuff that can be had for nothing, and that will require not even pro-forma notices of commercial use to the provider.

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      No, it’s not incorrect. Many people assume that because something is on the internet that it’s “public domain” and they can use it for anything, which it of course isn’t. I’m referring to cross stitch patterns in my article, most of which would fall well within the “normal” 70 years after the death of the creator limit on copyright. You’re referring to books from the 17th century which is completely different. I’m not talking about sourcing vintage or antique art for use, the article is about stealing current companies works (like Disney), or blatantly illegally sharing modern patterns. I have tons of vintage art and images myself, gathered either from sources like you’re talking about or from purchased collections of such sources. That’s not what the article is about, it’s about protecting craft designers, and warning customers why they really can’t get a legal Disney chart unless it’s one of the older licensed designs… 🙂

  6. Nancy
    | Reply

    How do i create my own pattern

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      I explain how in the tutorial Nancy — you can either draw a design and import it into the software, or you can draw directly in the software. Or draw using graph paper, but that’s very difficult unless you’re doing really simple or graphic designs like a Quaker sampler in only a few colours. 🙂

  7. Rob
    | Reply

    Hey there,

    I’m trying to do this for my wife for our wedding anniversary 🙂

    I bought MacStitch, and added a photo of our wedding, it looks great in MacStitch, but it has 67 threads and 1600 stitches…

    The problem is I have no idea if it’s possible to do, or far too complicated? she’s advanced, and has done some big cross stitches.

    Does MacStitch always create patterns that are possible, and is there a way to understand the complexity?

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Hi Rob! You can adjust the number of colours used and the finished size in the upload settings, you can choose whatever you want. The bigger the finished size you choose (and the more colours), the better the detail it will end up with. Of course, bigger also means it will take a lot longer to stitch. You can see a preview of what your choice will look like before you create the pattern by clicking the preview button in the upload window. Good luck! 🙂

  8. brigette
    | Reply

    hi! do you have macstitch standard or premium? also do you think its worth it to pay for the updates for life? thanks!

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Hi Brigette! I do get updates for life, I’d recommend that as the developer is always making the software better and including more features. And, he updates it when there are big operating system updates so it stays working. 🙂

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