My Design Process

Counted stitch designing is a very personal process. Each of us has our own individual way of coming up with a finished product. The way that I work out a design may not work for you, and vice versa. However, I think each method follows many of the same principles.

Capturing my subject

To start, I like to get a 'feel' for my subject matter. I regularly visit my favourite haunts with my camera and tripod in tow. Once there, I take sometimes hundreds of pictures of every aspect of my subject material.

For instance, at Cragside, I spent a couple of days photographing the house from a variety of angles and in different types of lighting. I also photographed the Rhododendrons, Azaleas and lonely little Iris that was desperately trying to compete amidst the riot of colour that met my eye from every direction. I also captured other aspects around the property in case they could suitably augment my design. The arches beneath the iron bridge became the running stitch open work in my Spring at Cragside design.

The other way I gain a 'feel' for my subject matter is to research its history. The more I learn about my favourite haunts, the more I appreciate the various aspects that catch my eye during my visits. A bit of research before hand also makes me search out the aspects that I might otherwise miss when distractions, such as blossoming spring flowers, draw my attention too far afield.

I also like to listen to what people have to say about the places I frequent. I spent most of my life in Canada so I tend to 'see' my favourite haunts in the North East of England through the eyes of a tourist to some degree. Capturing Saltwell Park required a different strategy because it is a place that is used more by residents of Gateshead than by visitors from outside the region. In this case, I listened to the stories told by visitors who are continuing to build upon happy family experiences there to this day. It didn't take long to identify Saltwell Towers as my main focal point followed by the lake (represented by the blue rows that divide my design), the bandstand, the aviaries housing some of Pets' Corner, and the salt well itself after which the park is named.


The next step in my designing process involves a lot of computer work and time. Although I could turn a single photo into a cross stitch design, I prefer to add my own interpretation to it. This makes it even more unique.

A lot of different factors are involved in my interpretations. These vary according to the subject matter. Each site I visit has a lot of interesting features. Including them all in one design is not really feasible because the design would lose too much detail by the time it was stitched at a sensible size. I therefore usually pick a central focal point and then add a few extra elements around it. My Saltwell Park design is a good example of this. My Spring at Cragside design even includes overlapping elements to pull everything together.

All of this takes a lot of experimentation which I find easiest to do on the computer. I load copies of my images as separate layers into graphic editing software. I move each layer around, resizing individual images as necessary until a pleasing photomontage emerges. I also experiment with frame shapes as these can influence my placement of various elements. The octagonal layout in my Saltwell Park design is a good example of this. It's also a shape that recurred time and time again in the Victorian flower beds within the park.

This part of the designing process also relies on a certain amount of experience. I am an avid cross stitcher so I have a sense of the cut off point for detail retention in a cross stitch design. Although I am not formally trained in designing techniques, I have amassed considerable experience photographing landscapes and animals for past employers. My finished designs are 'roughly' balanced according to principles of photography. I also rely heavily on gut instinct... I keep changing the layout until I like the result. All in all, I find it a hugely satisfying and creative process.

I'm a perfectionist so this stage takes me close to a month, full time. It's well worth the time though. I find that I don't have to rip out very many stitches in the model that follows on from this stage.

Converting to a cross stitch chart

Converting my design into a suitable form for you to cross stitch is the next step. And it's not as straight forward as I thought it was going to be. I was hoping that I could simply save my design as a .jpg file, load it into cross stitch conversion software, and have a cross stitch chart magically appear on my screen. Well, that did indeed happen, but the result wasn't what I expected.

Unfortunately, computers do not 'see' colours in the same manner as the human eye and brain. They process the data as small pieces of information. Almost every piece is interpreted as a separate colour. This means that each photo appears to have thousands upon thousands of colours. Most cross stitch designs use less than 50 colours although the conversion software that I use can handle up to 99 different colours. This software tries to substitute the thousands of colours it encounters, but it doesn't make the same choices as the human brain. Complex designs turn into quite a mess to say the least!

The first step I take to solve this is to reduce the number of colours in the .jpg file before loading it into the conversion software. Reducing the number of colours to something suitable for cross stitching doesn't work well either because the computer is still making the decisions. So much detail is lost that I find it better to go with something in the middle. I judge each design on its own merits and experiment with the number of colours until I end up with something that works reasonably well within the cross stitch conversion program. My definition of 'reasonably well' is to be able to see the most important features in their correct placement and proportions.

Next, I resize the .jpg file so it is the same size as the dimensions I've chosen for the stitched design. I add a grid layer that matches the count size of the fabric used for the stitched design. I compare each cell grid of the .jpg file against the corresponding chart square in the conversion software. I manually change the colours, and add backstitching and other decorative stitching as necessary to the chart. Once my design has sufficiently translated itself into a cross stitch design, I stitch a model from the chart, making any final adjustments as I go.

Achieving the design quality that I desire is therefore very labour intensive. At the moment, I can't see any other way around it. I look forward to the day when technology manages to more closely mimic the human brain!

Copyright © Linda Morris, 2009 - 2017