` Embroidery - Limitations of cross-stitch
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Limitations of cross-stitch.

    This article discusses basic limitations of cross-stitch technique and their illustrations. Knowing them, a person who designs a cross-stitch pattern and prepares it will avoid many errors and will understand why the effects of work obtained, including HaftiX results, are unsatisfactory and how to correct them.

    Article for: beginners and intermediate users.
    Author: Grzegorz Zochowski
    Copying text and images without author's consent prohibited. It is allowed to refer to the content by including a link or this page in a HTML frame.


    Dithering - a method for improving the quality of images, in this case, of cross-stitch. A function of HaftiX application to be found in the "Conversion" window. Detailed description included in the article.
    Palette - set of colours of one thread brand by one manufacturer.
    Conversion - converting a photo or an image into a cross-stitch pattern.
    HaftiX - a computer application used for creating cross-stitch patterns from images.
  1. Low number of colours

  2.     It is impossible to estimate how many colours a human eye is able to perceive. An average photo in digital version consists of several dozen to several hundred colours and it is not much, taking into consideration the fact, that a human can see much more than a computer screen is able to display or a printer to print. Designing a cross-stitch you have less or a lot less than 500 colours at your disposal. No manufacturer's products cover the whole scale of colours.

        Let's look at cross-stitch made based on the photo of a "sailboat" presented in the table below.

    Comparison of availability of bright blue colours in the individual palettes. Best results would be obtained with products by Coats (brand: Anchor). In other cases, please pay attention to the visible colour distortion caused by lack of relevant shades and loss of details resulting from relatively low hues assortment in the palette.
    1975891_Ariadna.jpg, 15kB
    1975891_DMC.jpg, 15kB
    1975891.jpg, 14kB
    Original image
    1975891_Madeira.jpg, 15kB
    1975891_Anchor.jpg, 15kB
    1975891_wgAnchor.jpg, 15kB
    Anchor tapestry wool

        From among the most popular embroidery floss available in Poland, the number of colours and prices are as follows (including hued threads):

    Palette Number of colours Price on 26 May 2009
    Ariadna 210 PLN 1.00 for 8 m
    Madeira 369 PLN 1.90 for 10 m (PLN 1.52 for 8 m)
    Anchor 460 PLN 2.40 for 8 m
    DMC 493 PLN 2.40 for 8 m

        As you can see, those manufacturers which have less colours in their offer, encourage us to buy their product with price. That is why – it is important! - a narrower palette is sometimes enough as it gives sufficiently good results. Thrifty persons should start the design with the cheapest solutions but – just in case – it is worth to check how a cross-stitch would look like if more expensive threads were used. Moreover, taking the example with "sailboats" as a basis, some people may like the distortion of colours which is a result of using, for example, Madeira palette, which makes water more turquoise.

        By the way, let's look at how dithering implemented in HaftiX works. It is an option, the usage of which at conversion into a cross-stitch pattern may cause an impression of a larger number of colours. This technique is similar to painting, when a painter, having only several colours, mixes them and obtains a wider palette. In this case mixing also occurs – crosses of various colours are placed one next to another. Cross-stitches with dithering are nicer if you look at them from some distance. When you are close to them, you can see "noise" of colours, medley of colours which sometimes may shock, although it usually helps, especially on large patterns. For sure, it is more difficult to cross-stitch.

    Two lower images were prepared with the same colour palette. When you look at them from several metres, the right one looks nicer and is not much different from the best simulation.
    1975891.jpg, 14kB
    Original image
    1975891_Anchor.jpg, 15kB
    1975891_Ariadna.jpg, 15kB
    1975891_Ariadna_dith.jpg, 20kB
    Ariadna + the dithering function which seemingly increases the number of colours

        When I design a pattern, I look for the best solution, making use of tools available in HaftiX. In this case, I chose Anchor palette. Since I did not like the fact that the brightest parts of the sky are drawn with warm colours (this is again the problem of necessary colours missing), I decided to try to replace them – and several other – with more bluish colours. As a result, the sky is less hued, transitions of colours seem too rapid (see table below). Dithering gives very good results when we look for more gentle transitions. A gentle colour change consists in the fact than there are many intermediary hues between one colour and another. The more colours, the more difficult it is to find a border between them, and with some number of them, a human eye is not able to differentiate the individual borders. When you have few colours to choose from, it is difficult to prepare gentle transitions without dithering. Dithering plays tricks on our sight by mixing colours and supplementing their shortcoming. In my opinion, finally the best solution is using Anchor palette and converting the photo into a cross-stitch pattern with dithering option set at minimum.

    Looking for the best solution
    1975891.jpg, 14kB
    Original image
    1975891_Anchor.jpg, 15kB
    1975891_Anchor_mod.jpg, 15kB
    Anchor with warm colours and colours with little saturation eliminated (greys)
    1975891_Anchor_mod.jpg, 15kB
    Anchor with dithering on, set at minimum

        Summary. What you can do to improve a cross-stitch pattern:

    • change palette, choosing the one with better fits our image. If you do not know which is the best, try to simulate the cross-stitch with each one available (that you can buy);
    • use dithering function to seemingly increase the number of colours;
    • get rid of or manually change colour of those elements of a photo, whose colours are not reflected correctly.

        At the end, another illustration of the issue:

    Another praise of dithering

    Original image





    Ariadna with dithering set at maximum
  3. The cross-stitch consists of one-colour quite large fields

  4.     Another disadvantage often encountered at designing a cross-stitch pattern is the fact that the target work consists of one-colour fields arranged one by another. What is more, they are quite large. The screen you are looking at also consists of one-colour fields but a single field is small enough so that a dot at the end of the sentence probably consists of four of them. Therefore, what we can see is quite clear and has discernible details.

        If you make a cross-stitch of a post stamp size, you would have canvas size from 10x10 crosses to 30x30 crosses, depending on its density. You should not delude yourselves that with such parameters, the effects would be satisfactory. And figures on post stamps are clear. The reason is difference in so-called images resolution. Resolution of a photo taken by a photographer is over 300 ppi (colourful pixels per inch), resolution of a photo in a high-quality newspaper – 150-1775 lpi (lines per inch, to make it simpler, you can treat this value as a direct equivalent of pixels per inch), in newspaper of lower quality – 115 lpi. As you can see, the smaller the resolution, the worse the quality of an image. What is the resolution of cross-stitch technique? The same as the canvas density expressed in crosses per inch. A typical value is 14. This is extremely low.

    A portrait of post stamp size prepared with a cross-stitch technique

    Portrait on a canvas of density of 43 crosses/10 cm

    Portrait on a canvas of density of 100 crosses/10 cm

        The smaller the canvas density, the narrower the possibilities of presenting details. One of the basic rules you should know is: a cross-stitch of the same size as the image it was created from will always be of much poorer quality.

        The possibilities to present details in a cross-stitch get wider along with the number of crosses covered by the cross-stitch. You can increase the number by using a higher-density canvas or by increasing the size of cross-stitch. The first method makes preparation more difficult since the crosses will be smaller and you need to have better sight to deal with them comfortably.

    Detail of a cross-stitch of the same size on various canvases

    Canvas 11 ct (43 crosses per 10 cm)

    Canvas 50 crosses per 10 cm

    Canvas 14 ct (55 crosses per 10 cm)

    Canvas 100 crosses per 10 cm

        By the way, here follows a converter of the most popular canvas densities expressed in squares or crosses per inch (abbreviated: cpt, ct) into squares or crosses per 10 cm. If you find, for example, "Aida 14" canvas, then "14" tells you how many crosses per inch there is on the canvas.

    Canvas density converter
    [crosses per inch, ct, cpt]
    [crosses per 10 cm]
    Cross size
    6.5 26 3.91
    7 28 3.63
    10 39 2.54
    11 43 2.3
    12 47 2.12
    13 51 1.95
    14 55 1.81
    15 59 1.69
    16 63 1.59
    17 67 1.49
    18 71 1.41
    19 75 1.34
    20 79 1.27

        Another problem resulting from low resolution are jagged edges and inability to get smooth lines. It is similar to an attempt to make a circle of squares. The more squares you have and the bigger the "circle", the more round it will be.

    The smoothness of edges depends on the canvas density. A helpful tool is the option of image resize with smooth at converting the image.

    Original image

    Canvas 43 crosses per 10 cm

    Canvas 79 crosses per 10 cm

    Canvas 43 crosses per 10 cm with smooth option

        The smooth option, which in the above example significantly improve the cross-stitch quality, can be found in the conversion window of HaftiX. It is used to process images scanned from newspapers and it makes the pattern more "smooth". It is not always required. Therefore, it is worth to check how the pattern will look like with smooth option selected and how – with sharpen option in order to choose the best solution. Cross-stitch prepared with the smooth option on will look better from a distance. At close range would make a foggy impression.

        There are, however, elements, which cannot be imitated with crosses only. In order to show a complicated ornament accurately and in detail, you need a very large cross-stitch, most often larger than size acceptable by the stitcher.

        When cross-stitching thin lines, you can use so-called "back-stitch".

    Cross-stitch technique is able to imitate small elements and thin lines only with use of so-called "back-stitch".

    Original image


    Cross-stitch with back-stitch

        Summary. What you can do to get more details in cross-stitch and smoother edges:

    • prepare a pattern for a more dense canvas;
    • increase cross-stitch size;
    • prepare tiny and thin elements of image with back-stitch;
    • resign of those elements of the pattern which so and so will be poorly visible;
    • select the option of resize with smooth in HaftiX and
    • allow the application to use more colours so that there is enough of them to generate smooth gradients;
  5. Colourful threads with one-colour canvas at the background

  6.     The number of strands to use in order to cover the background depends on the canvas density. Too thin thread will leave uncovered place. If the canvas – usually bright – is visible from beneath the strands, the pattern will be additionally lightened. Maybe it is not the most important issue but it also influences the general outlook of the cross-stitch. I will write more about it in a separate article.

    A part of cross-stitch prepared with thread so thin that the canvas is visible

    A part of cross-stitch where the canvas is not visible

        Summary. What you can do to obtain nicer cross-stitch:

    • cross-stitch it with appropriately thick thread;
    • use colourful canvas or a canvas in colour which would influence the image to the smallest degree;
  7. The effect depends on the method of cross-stitching and processing.

  8.     Being closer the the end, let me mention that the final result depends also on the aspects which I will call mechanical. Outlook of the cross-stitch allows the evaluation of mastery in technique of a stitcher. There are some features of cross-stitch, without looking at its inside and without the evaluation of size and content, which distinguish an experienced stitcher and they are as follows:

    • all crosses are even;
    • one cross-stitch direction is kept;
    • there are no boundaries visible between the individual tens of crosses;
    • no traces of washing and ironing are visible (in the previous item the image on the right bears such traces)

        By the way, I wonder whether it is justified to wash and iron fabric after cross-stitching. I get an impression that sometimes it violates a nice texture of the work. If you have experience in this area, all opinions will be gladly welcome. I deal with designing more than cross-stitching so I do not have many occasions to experiment with ready-made works.

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