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How to prepare a good cross-stitch pattern.

    Selected aspects of designing cross-stitch patterns with use of HaftiX application are described below.

    Article for: 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.
    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. Introduction

  2.     The first and basic principle I learnt at creating patterns and admiring ready-made cross-stitch is: “cross-stitch likes contrast”. Many of the suggestions you can find below may be reduced to this statement. But not all of them and they are not always valid. You cannot apply any principles in a situation when somebody likes something, and it is the core of cross-stitch. Personal pleasure and the feeling of being satisfied with the work are priorities in hobby cross-stitching. This text is rather a set of suggestions and not regulations and it is characterised with the author's subjectivity. There are departures from all the principles given below.

  3. Selecting the source image

  4.      In the article on the limits of cross-stitch I mentioned, among others, that cross-stitch loses minute details and it has significantly limited colour palette. It is possible to draw the following conclusion from the features: when selecting a photo or a source image to be transformed into a cross-stitch pattern, you should avoid a situation when the basic content consists of details or of elements similar in terms of colour.

        Let's see some examples of photos rich in details and patterns created from them.

    A photo with many details loses practically all of them after transformation.
    Original image
    Fotolia_9992345_M.jpg, 41kB
    Original image
    002.jpg, 28kB

        However, there are situations when losing details is acceptable since they are not the core of the image and their lack will not influence the reception. Let's look at the following examples of situation I have just described.

    Neither small waves during sunset, nor the individual hair of the pet are the most important. You can let them be "lost".
    Fotolia_5179358_M.jpg, 45kB
    Original image
    006.jpg, 45kB
    Fotolia_304800_M.jpg, 9,0kB
    Original image
    007.jpg, 20kB

        Now, let's look at photos which are uniform in terms of colours.

    Here are two examples of images which will not look too good after stitching them. The first one contains the main element which does not differ much from the background and is too small, in the other one, details of the calyx cannot be distinguished – as a matter of fact, everything is yellow. After cross-stitching it, you will get a yellow area with a minimum number of details. As a comparison – another flower which has distinguishable petals and which is definitely separated from the surrounding.
    Fotolia_443509_M.jpg, 36kB
    Original image
    003.jpg, 32kB
    Original image
    004.jpg, 321kB
    Original image

        Summary: what images are suitable to be transformed into a cross-stitch?
        The ones on which important figures and objects are easy discernible from the surrounding.

    Here are some examples – you may expect nice results from them:
    Fotolia_407140_M.jpg, 27kB Fotolia_4895811_M.jpg, 21kB
    Fotolia_13611242_M.jpg, 28kB Fotolia_11437036_M.jpg, 11kB

  5. Preparation of an image

  6.     Let's assume that we already have an image – is there anything else we can do with it? Yes, you can do much. I will enumerate only the most basic issues and problems which can be solved at the stage of preparing a source file. Unfortunately, it is impossible to perform the majority of them, using HaftiX only. You will need professional graphics software.

    • adjusting the colours
    •     The problem I encounter very often is lack of understanding of the phenomenon consisting in the fact that HaftiX uses purple or pink threads in portraits. "After all, a face is not purple."

          You need to take into account the fact that HaftiX and a computer create a computational team which has no idea about how a human face should look like. The application takes an image, performs a set of calculations and based on them, selects the best colour from the threads available. A human thinks in a different way. We know how a face should look like and it is difficult for us to notice what is in reality. The best example is evaluating a colour of a white piece of paper at night, at artificial light. What colour is it? White? Never! A white piece of paper – if you can see one and it is night now – is not white. Probably it is orange. On a bright day try to turn the light on when the sunlight gets straight to the room and check what colour it is. It is not white for sure.

          The initial amazement with purple threads on a face will disappear if we find a method of how prevent your senses from playing tricks on you. You can do it by zooming a part of the photo so that you do not see a figure but only a colourful area.

      Photo and its magnified fragments
      Fotolia_3589470_XS.jpg, 62kB
      Original image
      012.jpg, 740B
      Part of a cheek of the boy on the right; 012b.jpg, 1,8kB
      Part of a cheek of the boy on the left; 012c.jpg, 2,8kB
      Part of an ear of the boy on the left;

          Many photos contain purple colours on faces. If you do not want to use such threads, you need to adjust colours of the image before conversion.

    • contrast adjustment
    •     Cross-stitch likes contrast, sometimes even to exaggeration.

      In the following cases, the photos were modified with functions available in HaftiX.
      Fotolia_1589944_M.jpg, 18kB
      Original image
      1. Cross-stitch from the original photo
      2. Photo after applying the “Auto” function in HaftiX's "Image" window
      3. Apart from the “Auto” function, contrast has been increased. Compare it with the image above, which one is nicer?

    • retouch
    •     It is a good idea to cover bumps, add hair and fix what people are ashamed of and what they find ugly.

    • elimination of unwanted elements
    •     Sometimes it happens that our photo is nice but there is something wrong. A beautiful landscape is spoiled by overhead line or behind our Baby there is an unknown and ugly child. It is best to retouch it at the stage of working with the image.

    • colouring
    •     If you have a black-and-white photo (for example, a very old one), you may try to colour it. I have seen cross-stitch which looks quite good after such procedure (example in the cross-stitch gallery (PL)).

        Graphic processing is too extensive topic to be presented here as a course. Please refer to materials devoted to graphics software which you may have. Specific implementation depends only on your imagination and abilities.

  7. Selection of number and type of threads

  8.     Probably, each of us has easier access to threads by one manufacturer and more difficult to other, some are more expensive, other are cheaper, some are of better quality, other – of worse. When you select the threads you want to use at designing the pattern, you are guided by at least several factors, which ofter force some compromise, since cheaper threads may be, for example, a little bit worse than the expensive ones.

        If you want to have a good imitation of colours in the pattern, you should use the set of threads which contains the largest number of colours you need. A portrait cross-stitch is a good example here. You obligatorily need threads in the colour of skin. If a palette does not contain them, preparing a good pattern will be hindered. It is the first factor to be taken into account. At the stage of preliminary processing of a photo into a pattern, you may choose various sets of colours in the application and check the effect.

        After you already select a palette, transform the image into a pattern. You can do it without limiting the number of colours in the application but usually there is no need to do so. Experience proves that the typical number of colours which is sufficient for preparing a specific pattern is as follows:

    Type of image Number of colours
    Black and white, in grey shades up to 20. The limit results from the fact that there is no more than several dozen grey shades in palettes.
    Landscapes 20-50
    Portraits 30-60
    Large images (based on painted pictures) 60-150
    Single flowers 5-40
    Animal 10-40
    Colourful bouquet 30-150

        The above table is only an approximate and may not be true in specific cases.

        Going back to the conversion in HaftiX, let me add, that you will get the best results if you limit the number of colours to about 140% of the expected amount and remove the excess with optimisation tools.

        If you wish to get a realistic image, it is a mistake to limit the number of colours to a number lower than some minimum, which cannot be calculated with any formula but you can learn it with experience and practice. The table above may be helpful at estimating the number of colours in the first conversion attempt. If, however, you have no idea with what number to start, you may try applying unlimited number of colours and see how the pattern looks like and then, decrease the number of colours gradually until you see a significant difference in relation to the first pattern. But the principle of decreasing the number should be as follows (numbers as an example): without limits – limit of 100 – without limits – limit of 80, etc., and not: no limits – limit of 100 – limit of 80, etc, so that each time you can see a difference in relation to the original image.

    How many colours do you need for a pattern?
    Fotolia_7129679_M.jpg, 23kB
    Comparatively unicoloured images may be cross_stitched with a small number of colours
    009.jpg, 19kB
    17 colours and it is possible to use even less
    Fotolia_9995692_M.jpg, 33kB
    Many-hued photos have larger demands
    010.jpg, 21kB
    35 colours

    How to deal with too small number of colours? You may use dithering during the conversion.
    Fotolia_987220_S.jpg, 23kB
    Original image
    011.jpg, 20kB
    50 colours without dithering. There are 50 colours on the pattern, however, larger part of the sky consists of only 7. This palette contained such blue shades.
    011a.jpg, 26kB
    50 colours with dithering
    011b.jpg, 26kB
    20 colours with dithering

  9. Selection of canvas and cross-stitch size

  10.     The general principle says that the more dense the canvas, the more details will be included in a pattern. Too high density will not worsen the quality but it will make cross-stitching more time-consuming, whereas too small density may disappoint you with the result. Let's look at the example:

    Fotolia_10138906_M.jpg, 27kB
    Select a photo and define your goal – you want to have a cross-stitch which would include the "face" of the giraffe.
    013.jpg, 24kB
    This cross-stitch will be too small. The head contains too little crosses to make it discernible.
    013.jpg, 24kB
    Solution 1: you may increase the canvas density. In this example, the canvas is three times more dense.
    013.jpg, 24kB
    Solution 2: change the display frame. Choose the part that interests you.

        As an example, it is necessary to add solution 3: increasing the cross-stitch size. You can do it, there is not need to be afraid of it. Cross-stitch reproductions of large painted pictures look nicer if they are big. In the scale of time for creating cross-stitch, you can say that it is better to devote additional week or month for the work to make the effect better than to lose several months for producing an average result.

        A situation similar to the above example takes place when you work on a pattern showing several persons. In a natural way, faces occupy less space than if there was only one person and to obtain the same accuracy as in case of a portrait of one person, you need on average as much more crosses as more people there are. The more objects, figures, the larger the size of cross-stitch is necessary.

  11. Optimization of a pattern (simplification)

  12.     I mentioned previously that it is impossible to have to little number of colours. It is true. Is it possible – evaluating quality – that a cross-stitch has too many colours? I think yes. Definitely yes. A good cross-stitch pattern not only nicely presents the content but also is as simple in preparation as possible. When designing a pattern, you need to remember all the time on the cross-stitch technique, difficulty of work and person who will sweat over the design, even if it is you yourself. I have already written about my method of conversion – first with number of colours increased by 40% in relation to the expected one and next, manual elimination. It happens so because usually a photo contains colours which are not very frequent but specific, for which HaftiX selects separate threads. Most often it is possible to replace them with other, more frequent or resign from a given detail. If you command the application to limit the number of colours to 10, it will be possible to remove 2 or 3 colours due to their little frequency and significance, and therefore, the pattern will consists actually of 8 colours. If at the beginning you set the limit at 13, there is a chance that after optimisation, there will be exactly 10.

        The last image of a giraffe from the previous section was created after conversion with a number of colours limited to 50. If you open the “Tools” window in HaftiX and sort the list of threads used with regard to their amount, you will see that there are colours which are present only as single crosses (number of crosses is given in brackets at the number of thread). They do not contribute much to the pattern. It is not a pattern which would contain minute but important elements.


        Using the possibility of displaying only one thread colour, you may evaluate how you will modify the pattern if you replace one colour with another. If you think that the colour is redundant, use optimisation tools to remove it.


        HaftiX offers the following optimisation tools:

    Icon and which button you should click from the top in the tools window to find the tool Description
    eliminacja.jpg, 991B
    1st button
    enables a tool for eliminating single crosses. After clicking on a cross, in closest surrounding of which (equal to the distance of two crosses) there is no cross of exactly the same colour, it will be changed to the most similar colour "in the surrounding".
    elim_zazn.jpg, 1,1kB
    3rd button
    searches and selects such crosses on the pattern, that have no cross of the same colour in the surrounding. After executing this operation, you may edit only selected crosses.
    eliminacja.jpg, 991B
    3rd button
    replaces colours of the crosses selected with the previous tool with the most similar colour in the surrounding of each cross. After the replacement, the crosses are deselected and the whole pattern can be edited.
    szukaj_podobnego.jpg, 933B
    najpodobniejsze.jpg, 920B
    two buttons used to search for the most similar colours. The upper one searches the closest colour to the one selected on the list on the left. The lower one finds two most similar colours. Hold the Shift key on the keyboard and click one of the buttons to get a list of available suggestions. If you press the Shift key with the first button, you will see a list of ten colours most similar to the given one. If you click the second button, you will see a list of the most similar pairs of colours sorted according to their their similarity. Along with the name of the colour you can see a number of crosses in brackets.
    zmien.jpg, 961B if you select the colour which is currently being used (the left list) and one of the available colours (the right list), you will be able to replace the current colour with a different one in the whole pattern. If you replace a given colour with any other colour which is already used in the cross-stitch, the number of colours used will decrease by one. A set of colours is created from threads selected to the image conversion, which means that if you use all threads of one manufacturer, and the pattern consists of 20 colours, then you can still introduce changes with use of the whole palette of that manufacturer.
    kasuj.jpg, 811B It decreases the number of used colours by one, choosing the colour which is the least frequent and replacing it with another one from the others.

        An important problem and difficulty at cross-stitching is dispersion of crosses of the same colour. You may decrease the intensity of this effect at the stage of conversion. Although dithering, previously recommended by me, improves the outlook, it makes cross-stitching more difficult and increases dispersion. Therefore, I suggest to perform conversion several times, first without dithering, and then to try several settings of its intensity. You should aim at setting minimum dithering intensity or without it at all, which would give satisfactory visual effect.

        Another factor which hinders cross-stitching is a large number of colours, which has already been mentioned. You should not convert an image without limiting the number of colours, unless you have a reason. This way, there will be not as many colours represented by single crosses in the pattern.

        At the end, check if the pattern does not contain pairs of colours so similar to each other that it is possible to replace one of them with another. Are there any unimportant of infrequent colours you can resign from? After doing it, call a tool for selecting all single crosses and remove them manually or automatically.

  13. Pattern editing

  14.     The last step on your way to prepare a pattern may be editing. I personally use the “Pencil” tool to correct contours of objects, make them more discernible (I strengthen outlines with darker colours), smoothen straight lines if they are uneven or blurred, etc.

    You can influence the final result with simple drawing techniques.
    016a.jpg, 27kB
    Original image
    016b.jpg, 27kB
    Image after manual edition

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